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Re: Maine Master Thread We planned to shoot the sunrise – got up at 2:00 AM, drove to Schoodic, hiked out to this spot in the pitch black, and were in position for the 4:00 sunrise. The sun, however, slept in.  ;D
September 20, 2011, 10:34:52 PM
Learn Photography Master Thread
Amazing pics!
I wish I knew how to take better pics.
Umm...can I get a photography class from you?

I've been getting the impression around here lately that there are a great many people here (not just Dan ;)) who would love to get more into photography. In every trip report, half the comments on the pictures is someone wishing that they could take pictures like that, that they could maximize their camera's potential.

For a long time I've wanted to start a thread on learning photography, starting from the very basics and progressing to more and more advanced topics. I've made a rough outline (see below) of what I would like to cover.

I'm thinking this could even be more than just a simple how-to. Have a question about a certain technique? Always wanted to get a certain 'look' in a photograph and don't know how? Want to know why all your indoor pictures are blurry :)? I'd be more then happy to give you my $.02. Hopefully other DDF'ers who are knowledgeable about photography could chime in as well..

This is probably gonna be a lot of work from my end, so I don't want to do it if there's not much interest. If you think this is something you'd enjoy please let me know by posting here.

Here's a rough outline of what I'd like to cover. If anyone has any ideas/recommendations/requests please let me know.


Choosing a camera
Point and shoot vs. mirrorless vs. DSLR
Camera specs and what they mean
Which specs to focus on and which to ignore
Balance between needs/price/convenience

Lenses 101 - technology, terminology, and specs, zooms vs. primes, basic/advanced/unique lenses

Lighting 101 - focusing specifically on easy to afford and easy to use setups
Small flash - on camera, off camera, modifiers and accessories
Studio strobes
Continuous lighting - fluorescent, LED, and halogen
Basic light modifiers - umbrellas, softboxes, gels, reflectors
Basic supports - lightstands, umbrella brackets, backgrounds, etc.

All about accessories - memory cards, tripods, bags, filters, remotes, adapters, grips, geotaggers, and more)

So I bought all my stuff - now what?

What makes a compelling photograph?
Exposure basics - the shutter speed/aperture/ISO triangle
Depth of field
Composition basics - rule of thirds, perspective, framing
Advanced composition - negative space, inclusion and exclusion, compression
Light - natural, golden hour, basic flash usage.

Let's start shooting...

In the park
Playing sports
At home

Landscapes and wildlife:
"Grand" landscapes
"Intimate" landscapes
Birds in flight
Shooting in bad weather

Babies and newborns
Single person - indoors
Single person - outdoors
Natural light
Artificial light - simple
Artificial light - complex
Mixed light

Close up and macro
Product photography

How do I...? (Some specific scenarios/techniques - Basic)
Shoot out of a plane window?
Shoot underwater?
Shoot compelling black-and-white?

How do I...? (Some specific scenarios/techniques - Advanced)
Long exposures
Light painting
Twilight landscapes
Milky Way
Star trails

Basic editing concepts:
Layers and masking

So... what do you think?

(A quick note on my photographic "record" and where I'm coming from:: I was a salesperson and later trainer in one of the biggest photo stores in the US, and trained salespeople in all topics I hope to cover. I currently work as a product developer for a large manufacturer, where I design and develop photo and lighting equipment and accessories. You could see a small selection of my photography on my Flickr page - click the little globe under my user name to get there.)

April 29, 2013, 01:24:23 AM
Re: Alaska Master Thread
What do you think about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Third from Can you recommend which lens to rent with it?

The OM-D is a great option, it's the best M4/3 camera on the market today. As far as lenses, for Alaska you'd want at least a wide-angle zoom for landscapes and a fast telephoto for wildlife. If you're willing to spend the money, for WA I'd recommend the Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED or the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8, and for tele the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD or the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8.

Or you could go the cheaper and more convenient way and get an all-in-one lens at the expense of quality and speed. The Olympus ED 14-150mm f/4.0 -5.6 would be a good option.

May 05, 2013, 03:06:41 AM
Which Camera Should I Get? Master Thread Can't decide which camera to get? Trying to decide between a Mirrorless or a DSLR? Ask away!

Please ask your questions here instead of in the Learn Photography Master Thread. Let's keep that thread to photography related discussions, not camera buying discussions.

May 07, 2013, 12:56:27 AM
Wyoming Photography Trip (2012)
Post some of those amazing pictures and you'll probably entice Dan more. I remember you posted some of them on ddf before.

Just a small selection (I'll post many more in my TR in the Wyoming thread when I finally get around to it):

(Click on any picture for full-res.)

Schwabacher Landing Sunrise:

Some 20 minutes later:

Oxbow Bend Sunrise:

Mt. Moran and Pelican at sunrise:

A shachris like no other:

Milky Way over Jackson Lake:

Star Trails and aurora over Jackson Lake:

Hendrick Pond sunrise:

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone and double rainbow from Uncle Tom's trail:

Minerva Terraces hot springs at sunset:

Pronghorn Antelope:

Bison on Antelope Flats:

Bison and calf:

Pelican at Oxbow Bend:

Foraging Moose:

July 17, 2013, 12:02:14 AM
Re: Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park

Would I have to drive a lot to see a lot?

Not in the Tetons.

July 26, 2013, 05:38:56 PM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
Based on your pics I doubt it would take you too long!

I'd have hired you for my wedding in a blink of an eye, most of our pictures are mediocre.

That's some compliment ^-^. I don't know what to say ;D

September 04, 2013, 05:37:32 PM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread There are two things involved in the use of flash - quantity and quality of the light.

You're saying that sometimes you need more quantity of light - it's simply too dark. Sky121's got a valid point too - if you raise the ISO on the Nex6 you could get some pretty high quality shots without using the flash at all. What neither of you are addressing is the quality of the light, which is far more important than the quantity.

Moish on the other hand is talking only about the quality, not quantity, so his point is correct too.

This discussion could cover a few full length lessons (and it iy"h will eventually), but the main idea is that while you may have a picture that has the right amount of light, said light may not be very pretty.

Look at the two pictures in your post above - while the second one now has the correct amount of light, at the end of the day the pictures aren't too pretty. They get the point across, of course - "here's what we ate, this is what it looked like", but if you'd pay attention to the quality of light the pictures could be some much better. For example, compare these two pictures (both from your Banff TR):

A plate of food, carpet bombed with light - direct, straight-on, point-blank harsh light.

Look at the fruit plate here, and notice the difference. The light is not coming from the front, but rather from the upper left. It's coming from a fairly large source (probably a fluorescent fixture), from a good couple of feet away. The end result is a much prettier light. Look how the fruits have dimensionality to them - every grape is distinct, each with it's own highlight and shadow; look at the soft shadows on the orange, slowly fading from light to dark. You could see every seed on the strawberry, and ecen the plate has texture to it. Compare that to the top picture - everything is flat, you don't know where a piece of chicken ends and where the next one begins, and the plate is just blown-out white.

So what happened here? I'm sure you weren't thinking of any of this when you took these pictures. But the basics of light are at play here:

- The larger the light source, the softer the light. A big light fixture is far bigger, thus far prettier, than an on-camera flash.
- The further the light source, the softer the light. Again, the ceiling or vanity light is further than the on-camera one.
- Most importantly, the direction of the light dictates the direction of the shadows. The bigger light, being off to the side, casts everything on the opposite side in shadow, creating dimensionality. The softer the light (larger+further), the more gradual and soft the shadows will be (note the orange).

What this means is that 99% of the time an on-camera flash will give you the worst results of any other lighting technique. Of course sometimes you don't have any other choice - a flatly lit picture is still better than a dark picture (and the two pictures you put in your post are proof of that); but there's usually some things you could do anyway.

Not going into off-camera flash here; let's stick to the basics - you have a plate of food and only a built-in flash. How could you take a well-lit picture?

The simplest answer is not to use the flash at all, and instead use window light. Remember that we want the light to be as soft as possible - cloudy days are best, as are windows with indirect sunlight. The light will hit the plate at an angle, creating directional shadows. Since the light is already soft, these shadows will be soft automatically. Worried that the other side of the plate will be too dark? Pick up you menu and put it on the opposite side of the plate - it'll act as a reflector and bounce some light back onto the dark side to open up the shadows.

What if it's nighttime? First, you could still simulate window light (to a degree) with your phone or ipad: turn the brightness all the way up, get a white screen (a new internet tab usually does this), and hold it 2-3 feet away (further with an ipad). It's not as good as a real window, but it's usually better than straight on flash.

In the worst case, when you do have to use the on-camera flash, you wan't to make sure that the light is as soft as possible (nothing you could do about direction). All you really need is a white napkin. Hold it a few inches in front of the flash, and viola - instantly better pictures.

In summary - the on-camera flash should only be used when you really have no other choice, and even then you should always try to diffuse it as much as possible. However, it can't be denied that it's a very useful tool and worth paying for in a camera.

On a side note, there is one situation when the built-in camera really shines. Paradoxically, it is usually the last place someone would actually think of using it - in bright sunlight. How many times have you taken a picture of someone standing in front of a beautiful lake or beach, only to have the subject come out as a silhouette? Since the camera usually tries to expose for the entire scene, it'll underexpose the person, since they're such a small part of it. However, if you force your flash to fire, it'll deliver just enough light to brighten up the person, while not affecting anything else.

September 08, 2013, 02:22:36 AM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
most new cameras have the option

No cameras have a diffuser option - the diffuser is an external part:

You're probably talking about lowering the flash power - this may help a drop, but the quality will usually be the same (just a little less bright).

September 08, 2013, 02:27:11 AM
Shutterfly Master Thread There are countless threads here discussing various Shutterfly deals and coupon codes. I think it's time we kept them all to one thread, a la the Groupon, Staples, Jos A Bank, etc. threads. Maybe we could also keep an up to date wiki with only current codes listed.

I'll start:

Free 8x8 book (new customers only) - use code BCFREEBOOK.

September 08, 2013, 04:00:08 AM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
Right after I choose a NEX  :-X


Right after you told me that you never plan on buying another lens except maybe a longer zoom ;).

October 29, 2013, 04:40:14 PM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
you say canon is a good long term investment, as opposed to nikon?

Not at all - my point was DSRL vs. NEX.

But regarding the age old Canon vs. Nikon debate, I always tell people to ignore the brand and get the camera they like; both companies make equally great cameras.

(Although Nikon rules and if you buy a Canon I WILL FIND YOU AND BEAT YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH MY TRIPOD.)

October 30, 2013, 04:24:07 PM
Re: Wyoming Photography Trip
Great TR.
How did you get the moose to smile for ya :D

I told him he could eat my friend when we were done :D.

November 29, 2013, 03:29:01 PM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread Lesson 3

Exposure Basics

Remember, click on the wiki if you want to see only the lessons and not the other posts.

I'm going to deviate from the order in the wiki a little here, since I'm finding it hard to continue in that order until some basics have been established.

Today I'm going to talk about exposure - the most basic recipe for a picture. Every time you click the shutter, you've made an exposure. What happens is simple: the thing covering the sensor - the shutter - opens up, exposing the sensor to the light coming through the lens, which is then recorded as an image. When the correct amount of light reaches the sensor - meaning the exposure is correct, the picture looks great. If not enough light hits the sensor, the picture will be too dark, and is considered underexposed, while an overexposed picture will be far too bright, due to too much light being let in.

These 3 pictures were taken one after another: the first one is correctly exposed, while the second one is overexposed and the third is underexposed:

There are three things which determine any exposure: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

Shutter speed is the time that the shutter covering the sensor is open. The longer it's open, the more light reaches the sensor. Shutter speed is indicated in time (usually in fractions of a second) - i.e. a shutter speed of 1/250 means that the shutter was open for 1/250th of a second.

Aperture, as already discussed, is the size of the lens opening. The larger the opening (lower f/number), the more light gets in.

ISO was also touched upon earlier; the higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive the sensor is to light.

So what does all this mean? Imagine a bucket being filled up with water. You need the perfect balance between the size of the bucket, the diameter of the water pipe, and the length of time the faucet is on. If these are all balanced, the correct amount of water will flow for the correct amount of time and the bucket will be filled correctly. Change any of these, and you end up either thirsty or with a huge mess on your hands.

However, imagine if the pipe was twice the size it needs to be. How do you prevent disaster? You could do two things: double the size of the bucket, or halve the amount of time the water flows. Same goes if the bucket is to small – you could either halve the diameter of the pipe or halve the amount of time.

The same applies here to us. If you double your shutter speed (1/250 > 1/125), in order to maintain the same exposure you will need to either halve your ISO (400 > 200), or halve your aperture (f/4 > f/5.6*). Conversely, if you halve your aperture, you'd have to double your ISO or shutter speed.

*"Wait a minute. Half of 4 is 5.6?! What's Fishy smoking?" Relax - I'm not outta my mind just yet. As discussed in the last lesson, since the f/numbers are a fraction, larger numbers are actually smaller. Now the reason half of 4 isn't, say, 8, is because these numbers define the area of the open aperture. Happens to be, as far as our math here is concerned, that half the area of f/4 is f/5.6. You're gonna have to trust me on this one.

A photographer is on a constant quest for a very simple thing - enough light. Outside on a sunny day light is in plentiful supply and it's no challenge getting it into the camera. But the minute the light starts dropping, say any indoor situation, the camera and photographer have to start making desiccation how to suck every available photon into the lens to achieve a nice exposure. Knowing what we just learned, grabbing more light could be accomplished three ways: a longer shutter speed, a larger aperture, or a higher ISO setting (I'll cover flash and supplemental lighting separately; for now we're talking camera only).

So now the question is, why should you even have to know this? Keeping your camera on Auto results in correct exposures 99% of the time, so why do you have to know the reasoning behind it all? The answer is one word: control. The easiest way of getting your pictures from looking like snapshots to looking like photographs is to leave the security of the Auto mode and venture into the wilds of your mode dial. Nearly all cameras allow you to control these three parameters to a certain extent - some more than others, some easily and some only through backdoor methods and tricks. We'll discuss HOW to change these settings later on, but first let's see WHY you should.

We have to understand that if we have three options available, why does it matter how we balance them? So long as the final result looks good, who cares if it was achieved using a large aperture or a high ISO? The answer is that there's a reason for having three options: each one does something completely different to your picture, and each one has it's own very important limitations. Understanding what each does and doesn't do is key to taking your photography to the next level.

Aperture: What the aperture really controls is not the amount of light, but the depth-of-field (DOF) in your image. The fact that it lets through more or less light is just a by-product of this function. DOF is the amount of in-focus area in any given image. A shallow (or small) DOF is one where only a small part of the picture is in focus, say a portrait. A large DOF, on the other hand, is one where things over a great distance are in focus, such as a landscape.

The following is one the most important photography foundations to remember, so repeat after me:

- The smaller the f/number, the larger the aperture, the smaller the DOF (less in focus), the more light gets in.
- The larger the f/number, the smaller the aperture, the greater the DOF (more in focus), the less light gets in.

Now lather, rinse, and repeat. I'll wait.

Here we have two pictures which are similar, yet very different. The first picture was taken at f/2.8 - a large aperture. There is a very shallow DOF here: only the bow of the kayak is in focus. Everything else - the mountains, the clouds, even the water a foot away from the boat - is out of focus.

The second picture was taken at f/11 - a moderately small aperture. As you could see, there is a tremendous depth-of-field. Everything from the bow a foot away from the camera to the mountains a mile away is in perfect focus.

So now back to our discussion on exposure: if you need more light, why not just use a larger aperture? Who needs longer shutter speeds or higher ISOs? The answer is because there are some very important tradeoffs:

- If you use a larger aperture, less will be in focus, right? But what if you want everything in focus? What if your shooting a group of people? You can't have only the first row in focus and the others blurry! Suddenly, you can't rely on your aperture to let in the light, since you can't open it too big. That's where your shutter speed and ISO will come into the picture. Not enough light coming in from the aperture? Use a slower shutter! Use a higher ISO!
- Another issue is that large-aperture lenses (f/2.8 and above) are large, heavy, and expensive. Most people simply don't have them or can't afford them.
- And the final problem is physical. Once you've reached your largest aperture, that's it, there's no going further. Using your shutter speed and ISO, you are able to move past that to get more light.

Next up: shutter speed. If you need more light, why not just leave the shutter open as long as needed? The answer is that the speed of the shutter controls the amount of motion in your shot. A fast shutter speed will freeze everything, since only so much movement takes place in 1/4000th of a second. The longer the shutter stays open, the more movement becomes apparent. What this means is that if your shutter stays open a smidgen too long, you will end up with the dreaded blurry picture.

So if it's too dark and you have to keep your shutter speed low, your options are - say it with me - using a larger aperture or higher ISO.

Keep in mind that a tripod (and Image Stabilization), will enable longer shutter speeds. However, since it eliminates camera movement only, it does exactly zilch for subject movement. Sometimes there is no choice other than using a fast shutter speed.

Here we have three different effects caused by varying the shutter speed, where you could clearly see all this.

The first picture used a fast shutter (1/250th of a second), so everything is frozen in place. The rocks are perfectly sharp, and the water has been frozen in mid-drop.

Next, we have a classic example of a blurry picture - the shutter was too slow, so everything is completely blurred.

For the final picture, I kept the slow shutter speed (2 seconds), but used a tripod. This illustrates how a tripod only compensates for camera movement - since the camera was completely steady, and the rocks of course didn't move, they are perfectly sharp. Everything that moves, however, is blurry. In the water this is a desirable effect, as it renders the waterfalls as beautiful ribbons of silky water. Note though how the wind caused the tree on the right-hand side to blur, too.

And then we have ISO. As discussed in the last lesson, the higher the ISO, the more noise in the picture. To keep a perfectly sharp and clean picture the ISO should be as low as possible. That's why when you need more light, you may have to go back to your aperture or shutter speed.

These two pictures (taken from the last lesson) show the clear difference between a low ISO (400), low noise picture (top) and a high ISO (8000), high noise picture (bottom):

The newer and more expensive a camera is (generally speaking), the higher ISO you could use without showing too much noise. A 5-year old camera for example may have enough noise at ISO 400 to be unusable, while a modern full-frame camera could go to ISO 3200 and stay clean. Same goes for larger sensors - the large the sensor, the more noise it could handle.

Now... Here's the deal: The camera does not know what it's shooting. How is it supposed to know how much of the scene you want in focus? Whether you're on a tripod or not? Whether your subject is moving or not? The answer is that it doesn't. It will choose an exposure recipe it thinks is most likely to keep it out of trouble, not necessarily one which will result in the prettiest photograph.

However, now that you know how the exposure triangle works, YOU could take control and tell the camera just what you want it to do. For example, most cameras will not normally go above ISO 800 - they'll use a longer shutter speed instead when more light is needed. Now you tell me: what would you rather have - a picture that's completely blurred, or one with lots of noise?

Obviously you'd choose a noisy one - at least it's something, as opposed to a blurry mess. But the camera itself will never make that decision for you. If you move out of Auto mode, however, you'd be able to tell the camera to lay off the shutter speed and instead raise the ISO.

Exposure is measured in stops - each stop means either double of half the light. For example, if you have a shutter speed of 1/250, a stop up would be 1/125 - double the exposure time, and twice the amount of light. A stop down would be 1/500 - half the exposure time, therefore half the light. The three example picture in the beginning of this lesson are about 3 stops apart - the correctly exposed one is has a shutter speed of 1/640, while the overexposed one is at 1/80 (1/640 > 1/320 > 1/180 > 1/80), and the underexposed one is at 1/4000 (1/640 > 1/1000 > 1/2000 > 1/4000 (at 1/1000 and above most cameras start rounding the numbers)).

Let's imagine a scenario for a moment. You're taking pictures of your 2-year old. It's nighttime, and there's not too bright in your living room. Half your pictures are coming out blurry, since he's running around in circles nonstop. You check your camera and see that your aperture is maxed out - let's say f/3.5. Nothing you could do about that, as it ain't gettin' any bigger. Your ISO is at 400, and the shutter speed is at 1/60. Do you:

a) Throw the kid in the bath, where he has to sit (fairly) still
b) Resolve to never again let him eat an entire package of gummy bears right before bedtime
c) Try to get your shutter speed fast enough to actually freeze him and get a sharp picture.

If you answered a or b then great, it's past his bedtime anyway. But if you want to get a decent picture, you do c. Since you can't make your aperture larger, how are you gonna get the light you need? Use a longer shutter speed? Definitely not, that'll just make everything blurrier. So you want to raise your ISO - but how much? Sure, you could do trial and error, but there's a simpler way. Knowing that if we cut our shutter speed in half, we'd have twice the chance of a sharp picture, the first thing you should is re-balance your triangle. Since doubling your shutter speed will result in half as much light, doubling your ISO form 400 to 800 will compensate for that! Now that your sensor is twice as sensitive to light, the picture will look the same even now that the shutter speed was halved. You lost a stop of exposure with your shutter, but you gained a stop through your ISO.

Look carefully at the following exposures and you'll see that at the end of the day the exposure will be identical. You would choose one over the other based on your need for that particular photograph, as far as DOF, motion, noise, etc.:

f/4, 1/60, ISO 400
f/5.6, 1/30, ISO 400
f/11, 1/15, ISO 800

In the second example, we lost one stop of light by using a smaller aperture, but we gained it back by adding one more stop of shutter speed. In the third example, we lost a full three stops from the first, but we gained it back by adding two stops of shutter speed (1/60 > 1/30 > 1/15) and one stop of ISO.

With this information in hand you will be able to control exactly how and when your camera chooses one setting over the other, and will be able to make your own creative decisions. In the next lesson we'll discuss exposure modes - the options and controls that make all this choosing possible.

Lesson Summary:

- The most basic part of taking a picture is exposure - making sure that the right amount of light reaches the sensor.
- Exposure is the correct balance between aperture size, shutter speed, and ISO level.

- The aperture is the size of the lens opening. It determines how much is in focus (depth of field) and how much light is let in at any given time.
- The smaller the f/number, the larger the aperture, the smaller the DOF (less in focus), the more light gets in.
- The larger the f/number, the smaller the aperture, the greater the DOF (more in focus), the less light gets in.
- The limitations are the physical maximum, and the required DOF.

Shutter speed:
- Determines the time that the sensor is exposed to light and the level of motion in the picture.
- A fast shutter speed (low fraction of a second) lets in less light and freezes motion.
- A slow or long shutter speed (a large portion of a second, or longer) lets in more light and shows motion.
- The limitations are the requirements for a sharp picture. Too long a shutter speed and camera and/or subject motion is recorded as a blur.

- Determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light.
- A higher ISO level lets the sensor absorb more light, but creates noise.
- A lower ISO level lets in less light but does not create noise.
- Better and newer sensors handle high noise levels much better.
- Limitations are the acceptable levels of noise and image degradation.

- If you change one of these parameters and want to keep the same exposure, you will have to compensate by adjusting one of the others.

- Knowing all this will allow you to take creative control of how your image will come out, as opposed to leaving it all at the mercy of your camera.

December 05, 2013, 01:54:49 AM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
1. Thanks again. Great job!

2. I'm curious, did you take multiple versions of these pictures with the intention of using them to illustrate the differences? Or did you just happen to have them from fooling around / trying to get the correct exposure?

The glacier pictures were bracketed for potential HDR, so it was taken that way anyways.

The kayak pictures was just fooling around, trying different effects.

The waterfall pictures were specifically taken to illustrate the effects of shutter speed on a dedicated trip.

December 06, 2013, 12:56:25 AM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
Thoughts on this one?

For $15 you won't get anything decent. That particular one will not be able to keep your camera still at all (and not only because it's a video tripod, not a photo one). I have countless samples of such tripods at work and I could tell you that they'll break just by looking at it.

December 06, 2013, 02:29:37 AM
Re: Which Camera Should I Get? Master Thread
I actually like those, but they are totally impractical. Hipster sells!

Oh, I love it. Played around with it for a while and it really is quite lovely. But what a waste of $3k :D.

...on that note, I fear I may be over-geeking up this thread with you!

Lol. I'm havin a good time...  ;D

December 12, 2013, 08:52:53 PM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread Lesson 4

Exposure Basics Part 2 - getting to know your mode dial, and other exposure controls

Remember, click on the wiki if you want to see only the lessons and not the other posts.

Continuing on from last lesson, we now know why you should move beyond your cameras Auto mode and start taking control. Today we'll talk how to take this control. Not all camera's will offer full control, but even those that don't still have ways of getting what you want, to an extent.

If you have any DLSR or mirrorless camera you will be able to have 100% control over everything, should you so choose. Most advanced P&Ss (such the Canon S110 and G15, Panasonic LX5, etc.) will also offer this level of control. However, a typical P&S (such a Canon Elph), will be quite limited.

A camera which offers full control is often referred to as having "PASM" - we'll discuss exactly what that means in a moment. Most of the time, there will be a physical dial on the camera for all options - this is called the mode dial. Sometimes, especially on low-end mirrorless or some P&Ss, these options will be menu-driven. Let's have a look at a typical mode dial, and discus what every exposure mode does, how it does it, and when you should choose one over the other. These modes could be grouped into three unique categories; let's have a look starting from the bottom:

Automatic Modes:

Auto: Usually indicated by a green square, this mode is exactly what it sounds like. The camera makes every single decision for you. Some cameras will let you turn the flash off in this mode, but that's about it.

Various scene modes: There will be anywhere from none, to one, to many of these on your mode dial. These are usually indicated by a tiny icon of the scene - a flower for close-up (macro), a head for portraits, mountains for landscapes, and so on. These modes are also fully automatic, but are somewhat optimized for the chosen scene. For example, Portrait will use the largest aperture available, so as to blur the background, while Landscape will do the opposite.

Smart Auto: sometimes also called Intelligent Auto, Enhanced Auto, or something similar. This is a mashup of straight Auto and Scene Modes. In this mode, the camera will attempt to figure out what type of scene it's looking at, and then choose from the available scene modes whatever it thinks is most appropriate. This mode is usually indicated by a green square and an asterisk, or by a proprietary logo.

These 3 modes give you no control over your picture in any way. Sure, the scene mode may give you a better result than straight-up Auto, but as discussed last time, the camera is only so smart. You, being somewhat smarter (no offense ;)), will want to move up to the next level of modes.

Program Modes:

These are the modes which offer the best balance of control and convenience. You make the decisions, but the camera does the heavy lifting. These modes make up the P, A, and S of the PASM we discussed earlier.

Program (P): This mode is just like Auto in that the camera makes the decisions, but with one critical difference: You are able to override everything. While in Auto mode all options are blocked out, in Program mode if you're unhappy with what the camera delivered you could tell the camera what to change. Think the camera underexposed a bit? Use Exposure Compensation. Don't like the White Balance? Change it. ISO? Focusing mode? Metering mode? All within your control, if you so choose. (We'll talk separately about all these features in depth later on).

- Some cameras have something called Extended Program (or something similar). This is usually accessed via a separate button or dial (as opposed from the mode dial), and may be denoted with a P and an asterisk. What this does is very camera-dependent, but it usually lets you temporarily access the functionality from modes A and S below.

Aperture Priority(A): Most camera companies call this Aperture Priority mode, while Canon calls it Aperture Value. Hence, on a Canon it'll be denoted as AV, while everyone else will mark it as A. In this mode, you choose the aperture, while the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. Since this mode is the most useful and is what most people are probably best off shooting at, I'll discuss it in far more detail once we're done going through the other modes.

Shutter Priority(S): As in A mode above, Canon decided to call this differently than everyone else; on their mode dial you'll find TV, for Time Value. This mode is the exact opposite of the Aperture mode; here you set the shutter speed, while the camera chooses the appropriate aperture. This mode will be expounded upon together with A mode further down.

Manual Modes:

Manual (M): This mode is exactly what it sounds like: 100% manual. The camera does absolutely nothing for you; you dial in every single setting. There are plenty of situations where you'd use this, such as shooting stars at night, where it's too dark for the camera to figure out how to expose, of if you're shooting with any sort of supplemental lighting (such as in a studio setting). The camera has no idea that all these other light are going to go off, so it won't know to set an exposure taking them into account.

Bulb: Most cameras only let you use up to a 30 second exposure, regardless of the mode. What if you want to use something longer? That's where Bulb mode comes in. It's exactly like Manual mode, but instead of a set shutter speed, it stays open as long as you like. You'd press the shutter button once to open the shutter, then press it again when you want the exposure to end. In this mode you'd want to use a remote to trigger the camera, since you pressing the shutter in the middle of the exposure will usually result in camera shake (even on a tripod), so you'll end up with a blurry picture.

Let's take a moment to discuss the A and S modes a bit more:

One of the first things you have to decide when composing a picture is how much of it do you want in focus. Are you shooting a landscape, and you want everything from the flowers at your feet to the distant mountains in focus? Are you shooting a portrait of your kid in the park, and want only his face in focus, while the distracting trees and people behind him should be a creamy blur? Or do you want the things in the background to be clearly distinguishable to provide context, but still want them slightly blurry to keep the focus on your kid?

In order to accomplish any of these effects you have to set your aperture correctly. With a little bit of experimentation, you will learn how your lenses render scenes. For example, in the third scenario, you don't want to be at your maximum aperture, since everything will be completely out if focus (that would be the second scenario). So you'd want to use a moderately large aperture, say f/5.6. That way the background will still be blurry, but clear enough for it to be obvious that you're in the park. For the first scenario, on the other hand, you'd want to use the smallest aperture possible, since that'll leave the most in focus. (This last sentence is somewhat oversimplified, as there are things like diffraction and hyperfocal distance to take into account. But these are very advanced topics, which will be discussed in due time.)

From these few theoretical examples, you see that focusing on using the correct aperture is a vital step. Now - as discussed in the last lesson, your choice of aperture will have a tremendous impact on your exposure. Imagine if there was a mode where all you have to do exposure-wise is choose an aperture, and the camera will choose the rest. Well, that's what Aperture Priority mode does. You tell the camera to shoot at f/4, and the camera will choose the appropriate shutter speed/ISO combination (more on ISO modes later). Lets say you take your picture, and you decide that f/4 was too much and you want more of the background in focus. All you have to do in A mode is adjust the aperture - the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to match.

It is very rare that if you choose the aperture and you let the camera choose the shutter speed that you will not be pleased with the results. This is why most of the time it's best to leave your camera in this mode. Your camera doesn't know if you're shooting a landscape or a portrait. But once you tell it the vital part - the aperture - it could generally figure the rest out from there.

Shutter Priority is the polar opposite of Aperture Priority. You probably won't need to use this very often, but when you do need it it's indispensable. For example, when shooting sports, sometimes you know you need a shutter speed of 1/2000th to freeze the motion. In such a case you set your mode dial to S, your shutter speed to 1/2000, and the camera figures out the rest.

Other exposure controls

You'll notice that that as far as exposure, the mode dial only seems to cover aperture and shutter speed. Whatever happened to the third part of the triangle, ISO? Well, here's the lowdown.

All cameras have at least two ways of dealing with ISO:

Automatic: The camera chooses whichever ISO it deems best. This is sometimes good, but of course sometimes it'd be completely wrong. If you're on a tripod for example, the camera won't know this and would jack up your ISO into the stratosphere, instead of giving you a longer shutter speed.

Manual: You choose the ISO. Typically a camera will offer options from ISO 100 to ISO 6400. These go in exposure stops, so as discussed, ISO 400 will be half as sensitive as ISO 800, and therefore requires either double the shutter speed or double the aperture.

Using manual ISO along with Aperture Priority mode, we have a perfect example of why taking control of your camera is so amazing. Imagine shooting the Eiffel Tower at night, on a tripod. Left to it's own devices, the camera will probably choose a very large aperture (since it's dark and a larger aperture will let in more light), an obscenely high ISO (again, more sensitivity to light), and whatever shutter speed it calculates it needs based on these two parameters (probably something like 1/10th of a second). What do you think the picture would the picture look like? Not only will the foreground will be out of focus due to the large aperture, but everything will be covered in so much noise that the picture may not even be usable.

However, if you take control of your camera, you could choose a small aperture, a very low ISO, and let the camera choose the shutter speed (say, 10 seconds). You won't have to worry about the fact that the shutter speed with inevitably be very long, as you know the secret that you're on a tripod.

What will happen is that everything you want will be in focus (small aperture), there will be no noise whatsoever (low ISO), and the picture will look great. Another benefit of this particular setup (small aperture + long shutter speed) is that it will introduce a number of lovely elements into the picture. The small aperture will cause points of light to appear as stars, while the long shutter speed will blur clouds, and turn car headlights into pretty streaks of light (these effects will also be discussed at length eventually). See Chaim'l's first picture here for a great example of this scenario, including the effects I just mentioned.

Back to ISO, you'd notice that some cameras have an ISO lineup that goes like this: Lo1, Lo2, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, Hi1, Hi2. What's going on here? Basically most sensors have what's called native ISO and extended ISO. The native settings would be the numbered ones; those are what the sensor is optimized for. The higher you go, the more noise you get. Extended ISO would be the Lo and Hi settings, and are usually the equivalent of the next higher or lower native stops. In our example, Lo1 would be the equivalent of ISO 50, Lo2 would be 100, while Hi1 and Hi2 would be 12800 and 25600, respectively.  While they're equivalent to regular ISO settings regarding exposure, these settings push the boundaries of the sensor and may cause undesired effects. For example, in certain situations, Lo1 could have more noise than ISO 800, even though officially it's only ISO 50.

Other ISO settings: Many cameras these days allow you to limit how high of an ISO it will choose in auto mode. This is very useful, and is a great thing to take advantage of. If you know that anything taken with your camera above ISO 1600 has a horrible amount of noise, you may want to limit your auto ISO to 1600 max. Don't worry that if you do that, there will be situations where you'd get blurry pictures due to the shutter getting too long, as you could always jump into manual ISO for a while if the situation warrants it.

Some cameras (generally newer SLRs) take this a step further, and let you fine-tune your auto ISO settings to an insane level. For instance, on my Nikon D600, I could set a minimum shutter speed to work along with my auto ISO. For example, If I set my minimum shutter speed to 1/500, the camera will use the lowest ISO it can and still keep me under that shutter speed. And not only will it choose from ISO presets (200, 400, etc.), it will choose the precise ISO it needs to keep to that shutter speed - I have pictures that show ISO 633, for example. It goes even further - the longer your lens, the shorter your shutter speed has to be, all things being equal. This will be discussed at length, but for now let's just say that the longer lens magnifies blur which would usually be invisible using wider lenses. Using these ISO fine-tuning settings, I could have the camera automatically adjust my minimum shutter - and therefore, my maximum ISO - depending on what lens is mounted. If your camera offers these options, I advise you to take the time and go through them. It isn't the simplest thing to set up, but once it is it'll save you an immense amount of time while shooting.

Exposure compensation:
This is one of the most important and useful features on any camera. This works in any program mode (P, A, S); some cameras allow it in other modes too. This setting tells the camera to shift every exposure up or down.

Let's examine this in more detail, and you'll see why you'd want to use this all the time. Imagine you're shooting outside on a sunny afternoon. The sun is behind you, lighting everything in front of the camera with a harsh, bright light. The camera looks at the scene, and decides on an exposure. (Remember that even if you choose the aperture for instance, it's still the camera that makes the decision on the overall exposure by choosing a shutter speed and ISO.) Now, the exposure may be "correct", but since everything is so bright, the colors are washed out. Lowering your exposure by, say, 1/3 stop should help keep the colors nice and vibrant by making everything very slightly darker.

There are two ways that you could make your camera do this. You could decide that the camera is not smart enough to lower the exposure a bit, so you switch over to Manual mode and dial in the settings yourself. You make the click, and voila!, the colors are all lovely. However, what happens half and hour later? The sun is a bit lower in the sky, so everything is a drop darker now. If you stick to manual mode, you'll now have to raise your exposure by, say, 1 stop to keep up with the falling light. Your other option is to switch back to Aperture Priority mode, where the camera could adjust itself to the changing light conditions. However, you're back to your original problem - the "correct" exposure is too bright! You'd be dancing back and forth, futzing with your exposure over and over again.

But there's a better way. The minute you notice that the colors are washed out, all you do is engage exposure compensation, and set it for -1/3 stop. What's happening is that you're telling the camera, "Hey - I'm gonna leave you to deal with the overall exposure, and change it along with the light as needed. However, whatever you do, knock it down by 1/3 of a stop." Now, you don't have to deal with changing the exposure, since the camera will adjust it when the light falls. However, now that you dialed in -1/3 exposure compensation, the colors will come out correctly too!

Exposure compensation is an incredible tool in dozens of everyday situations. Take your camera outside tomorrow and take a picture of the snow. Look at the picture and you'll notice that the snow is grey, not white. And I'm not talking about the lovely, sopping slush New York is blessed with a day after a snowfall. Look at some clean snow - and you'll see that it's grey. Why? Because the camera sees all that white snow as bright white, so it thinks it's too bright and exposes lower than it should. This is a problem with all modern cameras. How do you fix this and have the snow come out white in your pictures? Wait for it......... Exposure compensation! Set it to +1 stop and watch every picture come out beautifully. (In fact the 'Snow' scene mode (if your camera has one) does exactly this.)

Going to the zoo? Try taking a picture of a bear and have it come out properly lit. Since the bear is a small dark object surrounded by a bright foreground and background, the camera will expose for the scene and not the little bear. Dial in some positive exposure compensation, and walla, the bear looks great.

So how does it work? That really depends on the mode you're in. In P mode, since the camera chooses both the aperture and shutter speed, so when you choose to compensate the camera will again choose which of the two (or combination thereof) to change. In A mode, since you choose the aperture, the camera has no right to change that, so it'll use the shutter speed to compensate. So if you dial in -1 compensation, it'll double your shutter speed. In S mode, it'd do the opposite and use the aperture to compensate.

Note that most cameras have an exposure compensation limit of +/-3 stops. You should rarely need to get even close to that limit; if your camera routinely exposes things 8 times as high or low (3 stops) as it should, you should probably get it checked out ;).

All this is well and good if you have a camera that offers all these options and controls. But what if you have a simple point and shoot? Well first of all, the main reason why you should get a better camera (after image quality) is exactly this - the ability to manipulate and control everything. That being said, there are something every camera offers, and some things that the camera could be tricked into.

Auto, Scenes, and Program modes are offered by virtually every camera. The control possible in P mode varies greatly, but most will allow you to change the ISO and White Balance settings, as well as apply exposure compensation.

As far as controlling your aperture or shutter speed, your generally our of luck. However, now is a good time to explore your scene modes and use them for things they were not really intended for ;). Learn how your scene mode operate and you'll be able to trick the camera into doing stuff. For example, think about what Portrait mode does. Among others, it'll use the largest aperture available. Conversely, Landscape mode will use the smallest. That means that you now have a way to access both the largest and smallest aperture settings. Night mode will use a long shutter speed, sports a short one, etc. etc.

In the next Exposure installment we'll dig into how the camera sees a scene, and what makes it make the decisions it does. You'll learn all about metering, and how to use the different metering modes to your advantage.

Lesson Summary:

Automatic exposure modes:
- Auto: auto everything.
- Scene modes: Auto modes, but optimized for different preset situations.
- Smart Auto: a mashup of the tho others.

Program modes:
- Program: Automatic, but with the ability to change things as needed.
- Aperture Priority: You choose the aperture, the camera chooses the shutter speed and ISO.
- Shutter Priority: You choose the shutter speed, the camera chooses the aperture and ISO.

Manual modes:
- Manual: You choose everything, the camera does nothing.
- Bulb: Like manual, but allows unlimited shutter speeds.

- Auto: The camera chooses the ISO setting.
- Manual: You choose the ISO setting. Some cameras allow a tremendous amount of fine-tuning.

Exposure Compensation:
- Allows the fine-tuning of the camera exposure decisions.
- Very useful to get better colors, and for tricky exposure situations.

- If you have a camera that doesn't allow this level of control, you could use some scene modes to try to replicate some of them.
- Some settings may simply not be possible.

December 15, 2013, 01:02:17 AM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread Lesson 5
Remember, click on the Wiki if you want to see only the lessons and not the other posts.
All about memory cards
While buying a memory card appears at first glance to be an ultra-simple affair, there are actually many factors to consider. Your choice of card can make a tremendous difference in your day to day shooting. Let's have a look at the numbers, standards, and features you should be aware of when buying a card for your camera.
Types of card
There are a few different types of memory cards on the market today. Generally the type you need will be dictated by your camera; if it takes an SD card only there's no way you could use a CF card in it. There are however a number of cameras that accept more than one type. Since the most common card by far is SD, I'll focus mostly on that.
Compact Flash (CF): These are the bigger, square memory cards. These days they're mostly used in pro cameras such as the Canon 5DMkII or the Nikon D800. The advantage of CF over SD is mainly in physical strength. While SD cards are prone to braking, a CF card is virtually indestructible. On top of that, they tend to be a bit faster than SD cards, meaning that any new jump in performance will appear in the CF market before the SD market. The one disadvantage with CF cards is that the socket relies on a series of pins, which are easily bendable.
Secure Digital (SD): This is the most common card type in use by far. If you have a camera, chances are it takes SD cards. These are smaller than CD cards (about stamp-sized), and are not as strong physically. I have an entire collection of cracked and broken SD cards flying around the house. The 'secure' part of the name refers to the read/write protection switch on the side. To be honest this feature is mostly useless, and only adds to the complexity, and therefore breakability, of the card.
SD cards come in a couple different flavors:
- SD: This mostly obsolete standard was for cards under 2GB. They could still be bought today, but why someone would is anyone's guess.
- SDHC (High Capacity): This is the most commonly used standard today, and covers cards from 2 - 32GB. Virtually every camera in existence supports the SDHC protocol.
- SDXC (Extreme Capacity): This is the newest SD standard and supports cards from 64GB all the way up to a theoretical 2TB. This uses the exFAT file system, and so will not work on some older computers. Most newer cameras will support SDXC.
- MicroSD: This is a tiny version of a regular SD card, and also comes in all three SD flavors. Due to its size it'll be more expensive than a comparable full-size SD card, as well as being very prone to getting lost. It is used in most smartphones, as well as some point & shoot cameras and video cameras (the GoPro for instance).
- SD cards also come in a veriety of wireless models. These cards will automatically upload pictures to your computer via Wi-Fi.
Memory Stick (MS): This is a proprietary Sony card, and is used only in their cameras. At one point this was a horrible mess with as many as 10 types of Memory Stick on the market, none of which was compatible with the other. These days Sony has cleaned this up, with only the Memory Stick Duo surviving. More importantly, Sony finally buckled and now all their cameras accept SD cards as well, so you could easily forget about this overpriced card and move on with your life :).
There is also the new XQD card, which so far is used only by the Nikon D4 camera.
Card Speed:
This is the most important thing to know when choosing a memory card. Today's cameras move a massive amount of information to the card every time you take a picture or video. If your card is not fast enough, you will have to wait for a couple of seconds after every picture, as well as when looking through your pictures on your camera. Video-wise, if the card isn't fast enough the camera will drop frames, which will cause your video to be choppy and jittery.
Unfortunately, card manufacturers try their best to confuse the bejiggers out of you with an overwhelming amount of different speed specifications. Let's have a look at all these specs, and what they actually mean.
The first thing to remember is that pictures and video require a completely different type of speed in order to work properly. With pictures, you're throwing a huge amount of data at the card in short, intense bursts. On the other hand, the video data stream is much smaller, but continuous. With that in mind, let's have a look at the specs.
Rated Speed - written as MB/s: This is the maximum speed of writing chunks of data to the card, and applies to photos only. Common speeds you'll find are 45MB/s or 60MB/s. This means that the theoretical transfer speed will be 60 megabytes per second. Why is this important? Take a Nikon D600. Each RAW file is about 28MB. That means that if I use a card rated at 30MB/s, I will have to wait a second between each picture. Now imaging I'm shooting continuous - if I take 8 pictures in about 2 seconds, I then have to wait 6 more seconds until the camera is ready to shoot again, since it has to finish writing all this data to the card. This means that I will keep on waiting, and keep on missing shots.
Now imagine I had bought a faster card - say 90MB/s. This means that I would never have to wait between pictures (since each picture will take about a third of a second to write). Shooting 8 pictures in 2 seconds, I would have to wait less than a second until I'm ready to shoot again.
If you have any newer high-megapixel camera, this should be the number one spec you look for. It will be the difference between taking pictures and forgetting that a memory card exists, and between getting stuck waiting all the time and cursing the card out for making you miss the shot yet again.
X Rating: This will be written as 400x, 533x, etc. This means the exact came thing as Rated Speed, and is a direct conversion. It is simply another way for the card companies to drive you nuts. Each 'x' is equivalent to 15KB/s. Doing the math, 400x will be 400*15=6000, which would be 60MB/s.
Class Rating: This will be written as Class 6, Class 8, Class 10, etc. This applies to video only. What this is the minimum sustained write speed. A class 10 for instance, will maintain a write speed of at least 10 megabytes per second. Currently, no standard camera exists which can take advantage of anything over Class 10. This means that if you have a Class 10 card, your card will always be fast enough to keep up with the video data stream being thrown at it.
UHS Class: Again, this is a direct conversion from Class Ratings. UHS-1 simply means 10MB/s minimum sustained speed, which we already know is Class 10.
So basically you have to look at only two specs: Rated Speed and Class Speed. The Rated Speed will tell you how large a chunk of data (photos) you could transfer at one time, while the Class Rating will tell you the minimum continuous (video) data speed.
Read speed vs. write speed: Another very important thing to remember is that the Rated Speed applies both to read and write speed. That means you have to be very careful reading the specs, as some brands (ahem Lexar ahem) have wildly different read and write speeds, and write only the higher number in big obvious text. For example, their 60MB/s Class 10 SD card is actually only 20MB/swrite, while the 60MB/s is only on read. This means that it's still quite slow in your camera; only transfers to your computer will be fairly fast. This is of course extremely misleading, so keep your eyes peeled.
Memory Brands
Does it matter which brand memory card you got? Heck yes. Memory is cheap enough these days that you could afford to buy the best; saving $10 to go with a lesser brand in absolutely not worth it. Behold:
Chip Quality: At the very basic level of a memory card sits the humble silicon chip. These chips start their life as a large, circular wafer around 18" in diameter. This wafer is subsequently cut into a couple dozen square or rectangular memory modules. Due to the manufacturing processes, the closer to the center of the wafer the module comes from, the more perfect and free of defects it will be. Since flash memory is a commodity market, there are two or three companies which control most of it. These companies will take the highest quality center modules for themselves (or their partners), and let the little fish scramble for the inferior, cheaper ones.
What all this means for you is simple: The higher priced memory cards are priced like that for a reason: they use the highest quality chips. End of story. Sandisk and Lexar are on the top, followed very closely by Sony and Panasonic. Kingston is somewhere in the middle, and companies like Transcend are just about on the bottom of the food chain. The only thing lower are all the no-name brands - Dane-Elec, Wintec, Silicone Power, et. al.
Why do you need a high quality chip? Because a cheap one will eat your pictures one day. They are prone to getting corrupted and can't be erased and reused too often before they start to deteriorate. Would you trust your pictures to the lowest common denominator to save a few bucks? Personally, I don't think it's worth it. Now mind you - I've had Sandisk cards conk out on me; nothing's foolproof. But after years of hearing first-hand horror stories from countless people, the simple fact is obvious: It's not worth it to cheap out on memory.
Claimed Specs: Very often, you'll find with the cheaper brands that their claimed specs are often inaccurate and are actually slower then claimed.
Physical Quality: Look at any Sandisk box above the Ultra level (which is just about all of them): waterproof, temperature proof, and shock proof. I've put Sandisk cards through the wash and they work as good as ever. You won't find that with cheaper brands. Drop a card and chances are it'll break; leave it in the sun too long and it may not work again. The higher quality brand, the more the card will survive. Imaging coming home from vacation and finding that your full memory card cannot be read. With cheap cards, this is a far more common occurrence than with good ones.
Note that SD card are an inherently weak design and every one of them will eventually break. The difference here is how long it take until that actually happens, and if the data could still be read off it at that point. From my entire collection of broken Sandisk cards, all but one still technically work - that is, I could still read and write to them properly. Not that I'd want too; but the point is that I didn't actually lose any data when it broke.
Lesson Summary:
Card types:
- CF cards are mainly used in pro cameras these days
- SD cards are the most common:
--- SD is up to 2GB
--- SDHC is 2 - 32GB
--- SDXC is 32GB - 2TB
- MS is a Sony proprietary and could safely be ignored these days.
- Rated Speed gives you the maximum read/write speed in MB/s. Used for pictures only.
- X Rating gives you the exact same thing as 300x, 400x, etc. Multiply by 15 to get the MB/s.
- Class Rating gives you the minimum sustained data stream as 1 per class. Class 8 is 8MB/s, Class 10 is 10MB/s, etc. Used for video only.
- UHS Rating gives you the exact same thing as Class. UHS-1 is the same as Class 10.
- Be vigilant and check both the read and write speeds. They may be very different from each other.
- Cheaper brands use cheaper, lower quality chips.
- Lower quality chips are very prone to failure.
- Cheap brands often fudge their numbers so their cards appear faster.
- Cheaper cards are often physically weaker and may break earlier.

December 15, 2013, 06:08:04 PM
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread @ Centro & Achas Veachas - the latest lesson is dedicated to you ;D ;).

December 15, 2013, 06:32:51 PM
Re: Alaska Master Thread
Has anyone tried to order pre-packaged meals from Pomegranate, Noahs Ark...ect to bring on their cruise? I am taking

Norwegian Cruise Line to Alaska in the summer leaving from Seattle, and was thinking to order a few of these meals to bring to have better food.

Anyone have experience with doing something like that on a cruise line?

Thank you

You should probably ask this in the cruise thread.

ETA: Never mind, I see that you already did.

April 25, 2014, 12:19:04 PM
Alaska RV Trip (2013) Trip Report

We went to Alaska last summer for a couple of days, from June 30th to July 4th - I finally got around to writing up the TR.

Fair warning: It's long :D.

Click on any picture to see it in high resolution.

Planning and preparing:

The first thing we discovered while planning this trip is that Alaska is incomprehensibly large - there is absolutely no way to 'see it all'. You have to choose a region or two, and leave the rest of the state for a different time. We decided to focus on the Kenai Peninsula, which offered a tremendous variation of activities and sights, without involving crazy amounts of driving time. Even so, we weren't able to see all of the Kenai - even this tiny portion of Alaska is huge.

This map put the sheer size in perspective. The Kenai Peninsula is the little thing sticking out from the mainland in the south (directly above the "A" of Alaska):


The second thing we discovered was that the weather, no matter the season, is simply nuts. No matter what the forecast calls for, the weather will change in a matter of minutes. Our mindset was that we could expect to be cold and wet during the entire trip; if we weren't, it'll be a bonus. (We ended up with two days of pretty miserable weather and three which were quite nice.)

We also learned very fast that this is tourist country. Prices are insane all over - cars, hotels, activities. Cars especially - unless you book 6-12 months out, you could expect to pay an obscene $100-150/day for a compact, and that's with after status, codes, and all that. Want an SUV? Good luck with that.

Hotels presented a problem for us. Outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks there are hardly any big chains hotels. Everything is a small, private operation. The prices were not that horrible - they're around what you'd expect in a touristy area during the high season. However, Alaska being the size that it is, it's silly to be based in one spot, since you'd be driving hours every day to get where you want to go. We also hate switching hotels in the middle of a trip, so a different place every night or two was not the answer either.

After puzzling over this issue, and considering the cost of a car, we decided to rent an RV instead. The market there is dominated by one company - Great Alaskan Holidays. There's a Cruise America location there too, but not only were they more expensive, but they were closed on Sunday too. There are a couple of smaller rental places, but I found far too many horror stories online about them.

Even though Great Alaskan Holidays was the most expensive per day, it turned out that after taking into account all the fees the others were tacking on that GAH was actually the cheapest. We got a 25' Winnebago (sleeps 6) for $243 a day. The price included 400 miles (for all 5 days), with unused miles being refunded @ $0.20/mile (we got about $35 back in the end). Even including gas, this was still much cheaper that a car+hotel.

The RV was fantastic. We were able to go where we wanted, when we wanted. Every night we camped somewhere else, so we didn't waste time driving back and forth to the hotel. Tired? Just stop on the side of the road and get into bed for an hour. Hungry? Microwave leftovers from last night's dinner in the middle of nowhere. Covered in dirt and dust after ATVing for 5 hours? Take a shower in the parking lot! The sense of freedom you have is incredible.

This was our first time in one, but we're definitely hooked.

Most activities in Alaska are also quite expensive. While we usually like to do things on our own and shun tours and the like, Alaska is a wild place. Many places are either inaccessible by yourself (such as most glaciers), or unwise without a guide (ATVing in remote grizzly country). There are tons of outfitters available for just about any activity, but they'll cost you dearly. I scoured Groupon for months beforehand and was able to get some really nice discounts. The Alaska Toursaver coupon book is worth it's weight in gold and paid for itself with the first deal. At 100 bucks it's not cheap, but it saved us far more than that. Even better, I bought it together with YehudaS who was going two weeks after me, so it was only $50. You could also sometimes find them on ebay, just make sure to see which coupons were already used.

Another thing we were totally unprepared for was the midnight sun. In the summer, the sun hardly sets. Further north the sun doesn't set for weeks at a time, but even south in Anchorage and Seward it never really gets dark. The Sun sets around 11:30 and rises again around 3 - the "night" is really a perpetual twilight, never quite getting dark. We of course knew all this, but we weren't aware of the effect this would have on us. Since it's always light, your body thinks is time to run around non stop. We found ourselves getting exhausted and wondering why, before we figured out that we've been doing stuff for 15 hours straight. It's quite disconcerting to feel like it's 7, but knowing that it's actually 11 at night. It was quite the experience, although waking up on vacation at 2am every night for Maariv was quite annoying ;).

Midnight in Alaska (it didn't get much darker than this):

As far as clothing the trick is to bring layers - there's no real need for specialized clothing during the summer. I also picked up a raincoat and rainpants set in Walmart for $25. The raincoat split after two days, so it was obviously really crappy quality, but it was definitely good enough. Waterproof boots/hiking shoes are vital to keep you warm and happy. We also got these phenomenal rain hats in the general store across from the Seward harbor for $35 a pop - they were worth their weight in gold.

Day 1:

Sunday morning we flew United LGA-ORD-ANC. We landed at about 2PM, and caught the shuttle to Great Alaskan Holidays to pick up our RV. The process was painless, if not exactly quick. Before you take the RV, you have to sit through a 45-minute video giong over the systems (water, electric, generator, etc.), as well as learning how to deal with some driving issues unique to RVs (tailswing, leveling, backing up, etc.).

Eventually we were given the keys and did a walk around, with the attendant giving us a complete tour. We spent some time unpacking our stuff and getting settled. Our 25' Winnebago officially slept 6, so there was plenty of room and storage space. In addition to the closets and cabinets in the cabin, there were plenty of large outside compartments to keep our suitcases, lawn chairs, and whatnot.

The largest vehicle I had driven up until that point was a 15-passenger van, so the first couple of minutes driving such a large truck was a challenge, to say the least. It took a few miles for me to get comfortable, but a while longer for my wife to become convinced that we're not going to die just yet and put her tehillim down :D.

We stopped in Walmart in Anchorage to stock up on paper goods, rain gear, and bear spray. The only kosher food I saw was some Sabra hummus; there may have been more, but I wasn't really looking.

As soon as we were done we headed south on the Seward Highway. This is considered one of the most beautiful and scenic highways in the US. It's only about 125 miles long, but it could take a full day to do it properly; there are countless pullouts and amazing places to stop on the way. We had about 5 hours of full daylight left, so we had to take a bit faster than we had wanted to. The weather was pretty lousy, cloudy and windy most of the time, and raining and cold otherwise, but that didn't diminish the beauty of the road at all.

The highway winds alongside bays, rivers, and lakes. Huge mountain ranges, their snow-capped peaks hidden in the clouds and glaciers hanging precariously on are visible throughout. Every now and then a turnout leads to amazing views. It is absolutely spectacular.

I had a GoPro mounted inside the windshield - here are some of the highway highlights:

Alongside the Turnagain Arm:

Alaska Railroad tracks:

The Chugatch Mountains:

The first night we didn't have any campground reservations, figuring we'll stay in one of the 6 Seward municipal campgrounds on the bay. However, since we got into Seward relatively late, all campgrounds were full, so we camped in their overflow campground (basically a big parking lot). There were no hookups, but the RV had plenty of electricity and water to last the night (and longer). The picture of the "night" sky above was taken from this campground.

Day 2:

On Monday we had booked a cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park with Major Marine. Using the Toursaver book we got 2-for-1 tickets, saving about $160. When we were planning the trip we had to decide if we want to take a cruise out of Seward, or rather out of Whittier (which is a bit further north). After lots of research it seemed that the Whittier cruises focused mostly on glaciers, while the Seward ones saw much more wildlife in addition to the glaciers.

Most of the national park is only accessible by water, and is extremely remote. The six-hour cruise would sail out of Seaward and through Resurrection Bay, into the Gulf of Alaska, round Cape Aialik, and up Aialik Bay to the immense Aialik Glacier. Along the way we'd search for humpback whales, orcas (killer whales), sea otters, and bald eagles, as well as visit sea lion colonies and bird rookeries.

We woke up in the morning to freezing cold and pouring rain - perfect cruise weather ::). We bundled up in 3 jackets each, plus raincoats, rainpants, hats, and boots, and headed down to the Major Marine office by the Seward harbor. According to their website they would cancel the cruise in horrible weather, but they claimed that today wan't horrible enough.

Off we sailed...

Supposedly there are gigantic snow-capped mountains all around us... Yeah right :D.

It didn't take us long to start seeing wildlife - and lots of it:

Far-off bald eagle:

Humpback whale:

Cute little sea otters:

"Hey, look! Tourists!"

"I think it's Something Fishy"


Passing Pederson Glacier in the fog:

The weather was getting progressively worse. As we approached the Gulf of Alaska the captain ordered everyone into their seats, and as soon as we headed into open ocean the ship started jumping like a bucking bronco in the high seas. After a few minutes we rounded the cape and headed into the much calmer Aialik Bay.

A while later we approached the absolutely immense Aialik glacier:

50-foot icebergs were floating all around:

Every 2-3 minutes, house-sized chunks of ice would break off and fall into the water with deafening noise (it sounded just like thunder):

The size of this glacier is incomprehensible: the face (the wall entering the water) is more than a mile across and over 600 feet tall - imagine a 50-story building stretching halfway across Manhattan. The chunks breaking off every few minutes are as large as houses - big houses.

The scale really hit me when I was getting frustrated trying to shoot the calving (that's what the ice breaking off is called) - by the time I heard the crash, the event had long ended. It took about 5 seconds passed from when the ice hit the water until I heard the sound.  I had thought we were at most a couple hundred feet away from the glacier - turns out that the boat was almost a mile away from it, and the sound simply had to travel all the way over. That's when I realized how tremendous the thing I was looking at was - from a mile away it still looked like I was right beside it.

The crew lowered a bucket and scooped up some mini icebergs ("bergy bits" they call it in Alaska), and chopped it up and gave it to the kids on board, which was cute.

After hanging around the glacier for a while we turned around and headed back down the bay and around the cape, passing Three Hole Point:

As we headed into the the ocean ocean in the Gulf Of Alaska, the captain got a call that a family or orcas (killer whales) had been spotted not far from where we were. Orcas being somewhat rare around here, we headed straight over. By the time we got there, the weather had reached it's worst point. 70mph winds (!) were driving pouring freezing rain nearly horizontal, and 10-foot seas were tossing the boat violently up and down. Everyone was sitting in the relatively warm cabin trying to keep their lunches down, not exactly being interested in what's going on outside. I was the only person outside, crawling across the upper deck on all fours. One arm was wrapped around a chain for dear life, the other holding a camera and shooting madly ;D. Luckily a $5k+ camera and lens combination is built to take abuse, as both were deluged with icy water. They continued working just fine, although the viewfinder was completely blocked by water the water that had gotten inside.

All the tour companies cooperate with each other (in fact it was a competitor who called in the orcas in the first place) - as soon as we arrived other boats started showing up too:

After a bit we headed back into Resurrection Bay. This time we went along the other coast as the way out, and headed to an area called the Eldorado Narrows. 1000-foot cliffs tower above the ocean. Thousands upon thousands of seabirds nest in every tiny crevice, flying back and forth and feeding their chicks. Dozens of sea lion lie lazily on the rocks below, while puffins swim and fish all around them. Every now and then a humpback whale blows a spout of water high in the air. It is truly and amazing (and loud!) spectacle to watch. At this point the weather had turned almost nice - the rain and wind had died down, and the waves relaxed.

We then headed back to Seward. We spent some time in the RV warming up and drying out, then headed towards Lowell Point, where we were going to camp that night. It's only about 2 miles down the road from Seward, but gosh what a "road". Only a bit wider than one lane, with cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other. More potholes than asphalt, rocks all over, and pouring rain. All this in a huge RV, having to pull over for oncoming traffic, as well as anyone behind me... Oddly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed driving it. Go figure.

That night we camped at Miller's Landing campground. We had a beautiful spot right on the beach, with water and electric hookups.

Whenever an RV is parked for longer than half and hour, it has to be perfectly level, or the refrigeration system could break down. High-end RVs have a self-leveling jack system, but for most regular RVs you have to use leveling blocks. I discovered that night that attempting to level an RV on blocks on a pebbly beach, in the rain, with only inches of clearance to the water hookup post, is no fun at all :'(.
Hooking up:

Lovely location:

To be continued...

April 27, 2014, 03:07:11 AM
Re: Alaska RV Trip (2013) Trip Report Part 2 (Link to part 1)

Warning: this one's even longer than part 1.

Click on any picture to see it in full resolution.

Day 3:

We woke up to another cold and wet morning (surprise, surprise!). Looking out of the window of the RV we watched a couple of otters cavort around the early morning fishing boats right off the beach. According to the weather report it was supposed to stop raining soon, so we were a bit hopeful.

Miller's Landing, where we were camping, also offers guided kayak trips. We had booked the Caines Head Adventure from them through Groupon before we came. The guided trip included a 9-mile round trip paddle in Resurrection Bay to Caines Head Recreation Area, as well as a 5-mile hike.

By the time we were at the office and ready to go, the weather had cleared. It was still cloudy and quite cool, but actually very pleasant.

We met our group and guide, who gave us some paddling instruction and geared us up. This part was easier said than done. Ever see a 6'-8", 260lb guy try to stuff himself into a kayak? Trust me, it's a sight to behold. After trying all of their kayaks (and getting stuck in most of them too :D), I was finally able to squeeze my legs into one of them, kinda sorta.

First things first: let's get that GoPro mounted 8):

Before we knew it, we were in the water. It was an absolutely amazing experience (at least the first while, when our arms were still functioning :-[). The kayak sits four inches above the surface; your feet are actually underwater. It's completely quiet: the only sounds are the waves lapping at your kayak and the rhythmic splish, splash, splish, splash of the paddle hitting the water. All around you are snow-covered mountains as far as the eye could see; here and there, an otter floats lazily on his back. A pod of porpoises swims by.

Splish, splash, splish, splash.

After a while however, the magic started to wear off. 4.5 miles is a long way to paddle for first timers - and that's just one way. Our arms started hurting, plus our rudder wasn't working properly, so we were wasting a tremendous amount of energy just trying to go in a straight line. The splash skirt you wear which seals the opening of the kayak didn't fit me either (duh!), so each and every time I took a stroke with my paddle freezing cold water would land right on my lap. I was soaked to the bone.

Eventually we made it to Caines Head and landed on the rocky beach. We all sat on some logs and took a well deserved break. We got to know our guide a bit then - turns out she only lives in Alaska during the summer where she guides wilderness tours. In the winter she lives in a self-sustaining jungle colony on Molokini in Hawaii. They grow all their food, build their own shelter, and only come out into the real world once every couple of months.

She got curious when she saw us eat some Green's rugulach, so I offered her one. It was the weirdest thing - you could think I offered her the most exotic delicacy on the planet. She simply could not stop raving about them, and promptly finished the whole entire bag ;D. "Man, these Jewish pastries are awesome! You could get anything you wanted by trading this stuff!" I told her that she should save some for when we get back so she could try it with milk, as it's even better that way. Nah, she says, she hasn't had any milk in weeks: "I only drink milk from cows whose names I know". :D ::)

After the break we started the 5-mile hike up to the top of the head, where there’s an abandoned WWII fort called Fort Mcgilvray. The hike itself was exceedingly underwhelming - basically walking up a wide gravel pathway through the rainforest. It was more an "uphill walk" than a hike. The fact that it's actually a rainforest as probably the most interesting part of the hike, as you don't quite expect to find a rainforest in Alaska. On the way we passed some abandoned bunkers and storehouses, all uninteresting. When we got to the top we spent some time exploring the fort itself, which did actually prove quite enjoyable. There were also some great views from the top.

The very difficult "hike" ::):

Some interesting rainforest scenes - totally unexpected in Alaska:

The cliffs of Caines Head:

Abandoned bunkers and storage areas:

The view from the top:

The huge gun platforms:

We explored the fort for a bit and then headed back down through the rainforest to the beach, and another 4.5-mile paddle back to Lowell Point. On the way back the weather had cleared up a bit and the sun even peeked through once or twice:

We had planned on exploring Seward when we got back, but we were so exhausted and in so much pain that we just fell into bed and slept for a couple of hours. Basically we had bitten off far more than we could chew. Neither of us had ever been in a kayak before, and today we had paddled for 9 miles, plus hiked another 5 miles. Every muscle in our body was aching.

What I would recommend for anyone considering such a trip is to take it easy - don't go for such a long paddle if you've never done it before, and skip the Canes Head hike. Miller's Landing (and of course all their competitors) have many different trips to choose from, plenty of them shorter or less strenuous.

After a good long nap and shower we headed north again on the Seward Highway towards the Portage Glacier Highway, where we would be camping that night. The campground was called Williwaw Campground, and is administered by the National Park Service. We had a wonderful pull-through spot in a private, wooded area. Again here we were 'dry camping', meaning that there were no hookups whatsoever. No matter; the RV had plenty of water, propane, and battery power left.

The campsite has beautiful grounds, including views of Portage Glacier and a platform over the river where you could watch the salmon running. Unfortunately we weren't able to take advantage of any of those, as we arrived late at night and left early the next morning.

Day 4:

We left the campground in the wee hours of the morning, and headed north. Again onto the lovely Seward Highway and through Anchorage, and on to the town of Palmer to meet up with our ATV guide.

There are many companies that will take you ATVing in Alaska. All however do it in large groups. In addition, all of their 2-passenger ATVs are the side-by-side golf cart style ones. What I didn't like about those is that they're not nearly as powerful as regular ATVs, plus sitting in a bucket seat with seatbelts and a roof and windshield doesn't sound like too much fun to me ;).

Eventually I discovered Heiny's ATV Adventures, which is a small one-man operation and gives private tours on standard front-to-back ATVs. I was a bit nervous of having a random redneck take me into the Alaskan wilderness, and read every review I could find on the guy. Everything I found turned out to be very positive, with most people saying how much fun Marty (the owner) was. I decided to give it a shot and called him up. He asked me lots of questions about my ATVing experience (of which I had a bit of, but definitely not too much), then proceeded to talk me out of the route I had chosen. He said that the trail is really messy this year, and he had a few people tip over already. He recommended a completely different trail, one that was actually cheaper. I was fairly impressed by his honesty, and decided to book.

Since this was a private tour I was able to choose the starting time and meeting location. We met up with him in the parking lot of a grocery in Palmer, and then followed him for about half an hour to the trailhead.

Following our ride out of town:

Turns out Marty was a really funny guy and a great guide. He was armed too, in case we get into a confrontation with a mad grizzly (which unfortunately didn't happen in the end :(). We were a bit annoyed that he had brought a visiting friend along, but as it turned out the guy was also great company and didn't get in the way at all. He just hung back behind us and didn't make us feel crowded.

We did the Wishbone Lake Trail, and had the times of our lives. Up mountains and into valleys, from open meadows to deep forest and bushland. The trail itself was also a great combination of fairly smooth track and deeply rutted and rocky sections, with lots of steep ups and downs. There were plenty of puddles and river crossings to keep us nice and muddy ;D.

The weather was wonderful too, overcast and cool. Unfortunately we didn't meet any bears, but we saw plenty of moose. All told it was about 5 hours of driving.

I had the GoPro clamped to my ATV, and also put in on the ATV behind us for a different perspective:

Marty showing us some gold mining equipment from the early 1900's:

Crossing a stream:

Some of the scenery along the way:

Lunch by Wishbone Lake:

Shooting for the first time 8):

With Marty and his friend:

We then headed west on the Glenn Highway, another breathtakingly beautiful road. It follows the course of the Matanuska River, sometimes at its level, sometimes rising hundreds of feet above it. The mighty Chugach Range follows alongside the entire time, towering over the river.

While I found the highway beautiful, it was also quite nerve wracking. Driving a heavy RV along a curvy, high road, with everything in the back rattling loudly with every bump, and the wind buffeting it all the time is not for the faint of heart. On top of that there are lots of stretches with very long downhill grades, and going at fairly high speeds it always feels like you won't be able to brake in time. In reality it's a brand new, well maintained, and extremely safe road; nonetheless, I was not as comfortable here as I was on the Seward Highway.

Along the Glenn Highway:

In many places the road is cut right out of the mountain:

Our destination was Grandview Campground, located right on the highway. This was our fanciest campground yet. Every site had full hookups (water, electric, and sewer) and a fire pit and picnic table. There were beautiful grounds, as well as hiking trails. All for $37 bucks a night.

Walmart was out of those little barbecues, so we MacGyvered our own :):

View from the campground - the mountain to the right is called Sheep Mountain (supposedly it looks like a sheep's head), and the white area to the left is Matanuska Glacier, where we’re going trekking tomorrow:

Day 5:

Today was our last day, and we were going glacier trekking.

Most people who come to this region of Alaska and want to get up close and personal with a glacier visit Exit Glacier in Seward. This was our plan as well. In researching it we saw that while it's easy to get to the glacier, the only accessible part is the very edge of the ice - and even that is (officially, at least) not allowed. There is one path that brings you to the edge, as well as another which brings you to an overlook where you could see the entire thing. None of this sounded very exciting, so I started searching for alternatives. Then I discovered Matanuska Glacier.

Matanuska Glacier is one of the largest Glaciers in Alaska, and only 100 miles or so from Anchorage. This picture from Wikipedia was taken from 20,000 feet and shows the size of the glacier - an immense 4 miles wide by 27 miles long!

Only the 'toe' of the glacier (on the bottom right) is accessible - even that relatively tiny area is incomprehensibly massive.

The glacier itself is part of a state recreation area, but the road access is through private property. There are a couple of different outfitters leading treks and climbs, all of whom were pretty highly recommended online. MICA guides are the biggest, but we ended up signing up with Matanuska Glacier Adventures for a couple of reasons:

- MGA is operated by the landowners, so the access fee is included in the guide fee. With the other you have to pay their fee plus the access fee.
- Since they are run the place, they are able to take more - and therefore smaller - groups than the others, where it's a whole process of being shuttled in from a remote office.
- They actually had crampons for size 18 boots ;D, as opposed to MICA.
- We were leaving from ANC later that day, so we had to be on the road at a certain time. MGA had no problem letting us set up a tour with times which worked for us, whereas the MICA tours were all 'official' and inflexible.

The best part of setting a custom time for our tour was that we were able to start at 8:30 - a good hour before anyone else arrived at the glacier. This meant that instead of being in a loud, busy group, we had a private tour and the glacier all to ourselves.

Our campground was a short 10-minute drive away from the glacier, so before we knew it we were driving down the steepest, hairiest, dirt road and over a shaky wooden plank bridge to the glacier. Before we went I checked out the road on Google street view to see what it looks like, and couldn't believe that an RV could make it down there. But lo and behold, there were some 18-wheelers visible at the end, so I figured that if they made it I could too.

The "road" down (you could see the glacier off in the distance):

Oy vey:

We went into the office/gift shop to sign the waivers and meet our guide, Michael. We then headed out to the glacier proper and got fitted with crampons, helmets, and trekking poles. Michael also carried an ice ax, rope, first aid kit, and radio in case of an emergency.

Michael had been guiding treks on the glacier for a couple of seasons, and knew it like the back of his hand. More than once he held us back just before a yawning chasm in the ice. He was also extremely knowledgeable in the geology and physics of the glacier, and kept up a constant stream of fascinating commentary.

The snout of the glacier is actually buried in the rubble of rocks it pushes forward. While it seems like you're walking on solid ground, it's actually a layer of pebbles an inch or so thick. The meltwater cuts channels ahead of the glacier, and every couple of days the portable bridges have to be moved to keep up with the ever-changing channels. The cones in the background mark the rough path from bridge to bridge:

Right away the ice takes on fascinating shapes where the water had undercut it. In the beginning the ice is quite dirty, with lots of pebbles mixed in:

Soon though the ice becomes more pristine:

Now we were on the glacier proper, trekking across ridges, along crevasses, and into deep valleys. It was an absolutely amazing experience. It's absolutely, perfectly quiet, and you're surrounded by towering walls of ice in every shade of blue. It's like being on a different planet.

The glacier is so huge that it creates its own weather - very few glaciers are capable of that. The immense volume of ice absorbs all the moisture from the air, so even if it's pouring rain all around the area, there will usually be perfectly clear skies over the glacier. Indeed, even though it was cloudy when we arrived, as soon as we got onto the ice we were under beautiful sunny skies most of the time. The glacier also absorbs cool air, so while everything around you is ice cold (duh!), the air is warm and balmy. In fact this was the only time during the entire trip that we were able to take our jackets off.

The effect is so complete, that at one point I sat down on an outcropping to rest for a moment, only to jump right up with my pants sopping wet and freezing cold. Between the warm, sunny weather and the amazing grip crampons give, I had literally forgotten that it's ice I'm walking on.

Most of the ice surface was melted into this beautiful pattern:

The meltwater had carved deep crevasses, which are cracks only about a foot or two across but hundreds of feet deep. Michael, being familiar with every nook and cranny, kept us safely away from these. Whenever we came across a random rock, we would drop it into a crevasse and time how long it took till we heard the crash. We were able to estimate the depth of the cracks like that - they were all at least a hundred feet deep, some a few times that.

The way a glacier works is that its own weight presses down on itself, expelling every impurity from the ice down to the molecular level. This means that the meltwater is the purest water anywhere in the world. Since the glacier forms high in the mountains and is constantly moving forward, it means that the ice which is now melting is about 400 years old - perfectly perfect, with not a trace of dirt, pollutants, or anything else.

There are some spots where the water pours out above the surface, and we stopped to drink. Never in my life have I tasted anything like this - it was absolute heaven. I had prepared some bottles back in the RV to bring along, but of course I forgot them ::). I sat in an ice crevice and drank and drank and drank. The water comes out under extreme pressure, in a supercooled state. This means that it was about 25° cold and still liquid - delicious, but painful when you're using your hands as a cup :o. My hands were numb, but I didn't care; I simply could not stop ;D:

Soon we came to a massive icefall - tremendous pinnacles of ice all leaning against each other and ready to come crashing down at the slightest disturbance:

We then headed to a glacial lake, where meltwater had been accumulating:

We then reluctantly headed off the glacier and back onto terra firma. In total we had done about 4 miles on the glacier, plus another mile or two back and forth from the parking lot.

One last stop for a view of the glacier from the Glenn Highway:

We had a plane to catch :'(...


- Alaska is huge; don't try to see it all
- The weather can be nasty; don't be surprised if it's cold and wet the entire time
- RVs are great, and extremely practical in Alaska
- A Kenai Fjords National Park Tour is probably better than one out of Whittier
- Don't kayak 9.5 miles if you've never done it before
- Skip Exit Glacier - go for Matanuska
- Matanuska Glacier is awesome
- Matanuska Glacier is so awesome I had to repeat it twice :)

---The end---

May 14, 2014, 08:02:11 PM
National Free Day Coupons Master Thread Comes as a coupon code From the 1-2-Free promo.

Up to full size, and works for one ways.

Expires 6/16.

$25 each, $45 for both, OBO.

June 08, 2014, 10:07:23 AM
Writing a trip report? Here's how to add pictures. Updated 7/10/17:
- Sizes now work differently
- Photobucket no longer works as a host
- Flickr screenshots are updated to the current interface
- The process of embedding a private photo is now (somewhat) simplified

I can't even count the amount of times I've answered this question in one form or another, both on the forums and by PM. I figured I'll write up some detailed instructions and hope people will find this useful.

This tutorial has five sections:
  • Understanding the basics
  • Adding pictures
  • Sharing private pictures
  • Additional methods
  • Summary

Note that nothing in this post will show up properly in Tapatalk; use a regular browser to follow along.

Understanding the basics:

Hosting: The pictures have to live somewhere. They are not stored on DDF; the forum system follows a couple of codes which tells it where the picture is stored, and it "pulls" the picture from there and displays it in your post. What this means is that for any picture to be displayed on DDF it first has to be uploaded to an image hosting service.

There are many hosting services out there, including ImageShack, tinypic, and imgur. All work on the same principle: you upload your pictures, the site provides the necessary code and links, and will display your picture when called upon to do so by DDF.

My personal host of preference is Flickr, for a multitude of reasons:
  • They're part of Yahoo, so I know that it's not going anywhere soon. Many hosts have come and gone, and with it, your pictures and links. That's not something I'm worried about with Flickr.
  • They give you an entire terabyte of space for free, with no limits on the amount of uploads or views per day (like some others do).
  • You could organize your pictures in many different ways, such as by type, trip, etc.
  • You could name and describe your pictures (and have that show up on DDF too, should you choose to), and people could leave comments, etc.
  • You could keep your pictures private, making them only accessible if it's clicked through from DDF, should you choose to.
  • If someone wants to know more about the picture they could click on it and see the exposure info, tags, even a map of where the picture was taken from (considering the file has location information included).

The examples we'll examine below will all be from Flickr, but the steps generally apply to all other hosting sites.

BBCode: The forum runs on something called BBCode (BBC for short). Without this code all that could be displayed is plain text; adding BBC tags however will let you format your post in many different ways. You do not have to know any coding to use this; generally you could click on one of the icons while posting and the code will automatically be entered for you. However, understanding how the codes in question work, what each part means, and so on are all very useful to know and will be explained here.

Once your pictures are online on a hosting site, you will use the [img] tag to tell the forum where your picture is stored, what size to display it at, and what happens if the picture is clicked on.

Adding pictures:

Let's have a look at the different options and controls, and how they would show up on the forum.

Step 1: Uploaded your pictures. Sign in or create an account on your hosting site of choice, and follow the prompts to upload your pictures. 

Step 2: From your host, navigate to the picture in question and choose to "share", "get link", or whatever that particular website calls it. On Flickr this is designated by an arrow on the lower right-hand corner of the image:

Step 3: There may be many different sharing options. Here the choices are Share, Embed, Email, and BBCode. Click on BBCode (top box), and the correct code will be generated (bottom box):

Note that BBC can also be referred to as "Forum" or "Forum Code" on different sites.

This will generate the required [img] code needed, but don't copy and paste just yet.

Step 4: Choose a size; I find that Large 1024 seems to work best - it displays at a nice size in the thread, while not slowing everything down:

If the size you picked is too large, DDF will automatically resize it to fit the width of the page. That means that you're getting basically the same view as Large 1024, but it will run slowly due to all the resizing happening. And if you choose a smaller size, your picture will not be resized - it'll just show up smaller.

For comparison, here's what the picture would look appear like in Large 1024, Small 240, and Original, in that order:

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Note that the size options you get will vary slightly depending on the particular picture in question; however it'll be close enough to the options here.

Step 5: Copy and paste. Once you've chosen a size, copy and paste the resulting code into your post. While editing it'll look like so...

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

...and display like so once previewed or posted:

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Let's take a detailed look at what we have, and how it happened:
  • We have the picture displayed at the size we chose.
  • If you click on the picture it takes you to Flickr where you could see more details, different sizes, and move around my pages to see other pictures.
  • We have the image name as a caption, which itself is also a clickable link to the above-mentioned page.
  • We have a photo credit, which links to my Flickr profile page.

How did all this happen, and how could we manipulate the code to change which of these actually happen?

Let's break the code down piece by piece:

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

Red is the most important part - the [img] and [/img] tags notify the system that a picture should be inserted here, while the URL in between tells the system where to find said picture. This is static: all it does is show the picture - no links, credits, etc. If this is what you want, keep only this part of the code and erase the rest (see example 1 below).

Green is a [url] tag. This is what makes the picture clickable. Since this tag surrounds the [img] tag, it means that the entire picture is clickable, not text, as is typical. This is how I personally post my pictures, since I'm not a fan of the caption and credit parts. By only using the red and green parts of the code, it shows the picture only, but clickable. See example 2 below.

Blue Is the caption; the [url] tag makes the "Haleakala Sunrise" clickable.

Purple is the link and text to my profile page. You could eliminate either the profile link or the caption by deleting the applicable parts of the code (personally I delete both, like I said above). See example 3 below where I kept the caption but got rid of my profile link.

Brown is pure text and is there to turn the caption into a coherent sentence.

Example 1 - Static, non-clickable picture. The code used shown first, then the result:


Example 2 - my personal preference. Clickable picture, no caption:


Example 3 - As above, but with the caption and no profile link:

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url]

Haleakala Sunrise

Sharing private pictures:

The above steps only works if the picture is public. What if you want them private, but viewable (and clickable) only through DDF? For this we use something Flickr calls a Guest Pass. It generates a special link for your private photos, and only someone with that link (and in this case, DDF) could view the picture.

This adds two more steps to the process:

Step 6: After step 5 above, jump back to Flickr's sharing menu, and choose Share. A special link will be generated:

Step 7:Replace the red part of the original code below with the new link, and everything will work as if it was a public photo:

[url=][img][/img][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

Flickr has a couple of options for the Guest Passes, such as setting expiration dates. See this page for more info.

Additional methods:

DDF hosted: The forum actually does have a built-in image hosting feature, but that is only for extremely small file sizes (meaning the pictures will be very low quality). Additionally, the pictures only show up at the bottom of the post, and as thumbnails only. All this means that it's is generally not a good option for trip reports. To use this feature, click the "Attachments and other options" link below the text field.

Tapatalk hosted: If you have your pictures on your phone you could click on the camera icon to upload a picture. This works in a similar way to Flickr - the picture will be uploaded to Tapatalk's servers, and it will automatically generate the code and insert into your post. The disadvantage of this method is that you have no control on the size of the picture - it will be displayed like the Original sample above.

Other websites: If the picture is hosted on any other website, you could copy the image link (generally this will not be the page link) and paste the address between [img] and [/img] tags. As with Tapatalk, you will have no control on the size of the image.

  • Upload your pictures to an image hosting site.
  • From their "share" or "link" dialog choose BBCode or Forum, and select a size.
  • Paste the resulting code into your DDF thread.
  • Tweak the code if desired to change some settings
  • If your picture is private, use a Flickr Guest Pass

October 25, 2014, 11:11:43 PM
Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Trip Report
Planning and booking


In November of 2012 I went to Kauai and the Big Island for the first time, and was promptly bitten by the Hawaii bug. I have been to many beautiful and interesting places, but none have smitten me like Hawaii. No other place made me want to return so bad that it hurt.
So when I got a DDMS text one cold and dreary December morning that Delta was having a major pricing glitch, I know exactly where I'm going. After half a nail-biting hour of browsers hanging and Priceline misbehaving, I had my prize in hand: three ticketed reservations, flying JFK-LAX-LIH on 8/10, and returning OGG-HNL-SEA-JFK on the 18th. Total cost? $582.90. Within a few minutes of booking the deal was dead; prices were back up to normal.
Of course I know that this being a glitch, it's very likely that the tickets won't be honored. However, after just a few minutes, another text arrived: Delta announced that they're honoring any and all tickets! Thinking this can't get any better, I settled back down to work. But what do you know - another text: the glitch had worked for first class as well! I hadn't even thought of searching for F and J, and now I was kicking myself for it. On a whim, I figured I'd check my tickets again - if Delta was so broken, who knows, maybe they put me in first class too. Sure enough, there it was - all but one leg in either First or Business Elite! The only leg that was not - LAX-LIH - had booked into B class, which would entitle me to free Economy Comfort.
The original plan was to spend half the time on Kauai and the other half on Maui, but we later decided to skip Kauai this time and just focus on Maui. Delta was more than happy to let us change our flights – so long as we paid the difference in the fare. No, thank you :P...
Since this was more than six months out, I knew that it’s almost inevitable that there won’t be a schedule change, so I decided to wait for that and change the tickets then. Sure enough, in early March, I got an email that the LAX-LIH flight had been pushed off by two hours. A quick phone call later and I was confirmed on a new itinerary: JFK-LAX-HNL-LIH. This was perfect since I would now be flying to LA lie-flat on the B767 instead of recliners on the B757, but more importantly, I could now drop the HNL-LIH leg and jump on a HNL-OGG plane instead.

A week before leaving I suddenly get an email notifying me of a completely new itinerary: JFK-ATL in F on an MD-88 (>:( >:( >:(), and ATL-HNL on the A330 in Economy Comfort. The really annoying part was that my original flights were still scheduled as normal - but for some reason they had bumped me off those flights! I called Delta right away and expressed my disappointment on flying 2 hours in "first" and then 9+ hours in economy, vs. 5.5 hours in a lie-flat bed. The rep was extremely helpful (and annoyed at the change as well, since she could not see any reason for it), and asked me how she could make things right.

Make things right? Hmmmm... difficult question... "Well, ma'am, I think if you could put me in J on the ATL-HNL leg that would make the itinerary change easier to handle..." She put me on hold and came back a minute later: "Well Mr. Fishy, I'm happy to let you know that you're confirmed into the last three remaining Business Elite seats for your flight to Honolulu". Woo Hoo  ;D ;D ;D! Not only was I in F/J all the way through, but this was on the internationally configured, brand-new, A330! Not a bad way to get to Hawaii...

On our return flights we also had a couple of minor schedule changes, which ended up in switching the original OGG-HNL-SEA-JFK to OGG-LAX-JFK. The advantages were a later flight out, so more time in Hawaii, plus lie-flat on the 767 on the LAX-JFK leg.

All in all I found Delta absolutely amazing the deal with. From the very beginning when they announced that they're honoring the glitch tickets, through the multitude of schedule changes (there were 11 of them in total, each of which worked to my advantage), to the flights themselves. Pity their FFP is so lousy.

Final tally per passenger:

Out of pocket: $196.33.
F/J throughout.
Mileage earned:
- 630 UR (booked using CSP)
- 14,716 AS (@1.5x actual mileage)
- 14,716 DL (yes, they credited both my AS and DL accounts ;D)

Assuming 1.5cpm, total cost p/p: $-254.60.

Not a bad deal... Not bad at all.

November 16, 2014, 10:37:17 PM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Food (in which Pomegranate dares me to eat six meals a day):

For this trip we decided to use Pom meals for the first time. We had read plenty of great things about them in other people's trip reports, and figured it'll make a nice change from preparing meals beforehand and/or cooking on vacation. We were also moving 10 days after coming back, so any cost of the meals was absolutely worth it in time not spend shopping and cooking.

Since their menu changes often, they sent us the latest menu by email. You simply reply with your choice of main and two sides, and they ship or deliver it. Right away however we started running into problems. We were leaving on vacation the Sunday after Tisha B'av, as was half the Jewish community it seems. This level of demand meant that all orders had to be in earlier that usual. I didn't know this little detail, and placed my order a day after the deadline. To Pom's credit, this earlier deadline was clearly mentioned in their email; for some reason I didn't notice it. I got a call from Pom that day letting me know that even though I missed the deadline, they will still deliver on time, albeit later in the afternoon on Friday.

Sure enough, the order showed up as promised, except that it wasn't exactly right. They has mistakenly swapped one of our dishes with one from someone else's order, but more importantly, everything was wrapped for warming in the oven, instead of two being microwave-wrapped. This presented a more serious problem, as we were going to spend the last night in a cottage in Hana with only a microwave. I called Pom, but kept on getting bounced around (this being their craziest Friday of the year and all). It was the eleventh hour and I was getting desperate.

After a while I finally got through to the manager (Shimmy, if I remember correctly), who promised that he'll call me back within 15 minutes from somewhere quieter. Yeah, right. At this point I had given up on getting any help.

However, a few minutes later my phone rings and he's on the other end. First he tried confirming that everything actually was oven-wrapped (I had never seen the microwave wrapping so I wasn't 100% sure). He gave me his personal cell phone (talk about customer service!) and we switched to texting so that I could send him pictures of the packaging. After some back-and-forth he confirmed that yes, everything is in fact oven-wrapped, and also that it is far too late to do anything about it now.

At that point I had what must have been the most backwards customer service argument ever: I said it's okay, I guess we'll manage and figure something out (remember - I had ordered after the deadline and should be grateful that I'm getting anything at all). Shimmy on the other hand was insisting that he refuses to not satisfy a customer 100% percent, and I should give him my address in Hawaii and he'll overnight the missing food. I said that's absurd, he's not spending that money on shipping for two meals. He said I should cut it out and send him my address :D. By that time is was close to Shabbos so we dropped it for the time being.

Throughout the day Sunday, whenever we landed and got cellular service back, there would be a message from Shimmy asking how everything was going and reminding me to end him our address. Eventually he broke us down and we gave in :D.

A day later, a box from Pom far larger than it should have been arrived at our rental. Instead of just resending the one missing dish and two microwavable ones, Shimmy had resent our entire order! We were in awe. Pom had gained a lifetime customer, that much was certain.

Needless to say, we had feasts every day after that :D...

Taste-wise, we were disappointed though. For example, the General Tso's chicken was just chicken nuggets - not a trace of sauce. Some of the other dishes were just... plain. Some dishes were quite delicious (chicken capons, Swedish meatballs), but I failed to see why everyone here seemed to go crazy for their food.

However... Once the second batch arrived I understood. Every single dish, whether a fancy rib steak or simple tzimmes, was absolutely delectable. The General Tso's was saucy, spicy, and delicious. A complete turnaround from batch 1.

The explanation I think is obvious - they were simply overwhelmed with the post-Tisha B'av crush. Once they were back to normal operations the food went back to normal too.

In the end, I highly recommend them and will definitely be using them again. And I highly commend Shimmy for setting a new standard in customer service - talk about going the extra mile.

Weather Woes (in which we almost cancel our trip):

The flights are all confirmed (for the 11th time), the food is ordered, and we're ready to go. Except that for the only the third time since 1950, a hurricane is headed straight for the Islands. And for the first time in recent history, there are actually two of them. Both Hurricane Iselle and Julio are expected to make landfall on Maui with 75-80mph winds and up to 12 inches of rain. Iselle is expected the day before we arrive, and Julio the day after.

Airlines (including Dleta) had started canceling flights to the Islands; Hawaiian canceled all inter-island ones. The Big Island and Maui were expected to be hit the worst; schools and businesses closed, long gas lines formed, and Costco was cleand out of bottled water. Even if the hurricanes didn't hit while I was there, there was sure to be blocked roads, closed beaches, and a whole host of other problems. In fact, a rainstorm earlier in the year had closed the Road to Hana for over a week.

We were seriously considering canceling or postponing our trip. However, since we were moving right when we came back this wasn't really a very realistic option. I started obsessively following the local weather news; there were a number of websites and Facebook pages which had up to the minute on-the-ground information.

Sure enough, right on schedule, Iselle roared onto the Big Island, causing a tremendous amount of damage. However, wonder of wonders, other that some moderate rainfall, Maui was not hit at all. The worst of the damage was a fallen tree blocking a road; the hurricane had fizzled over the BI.

However, the danger was not over - Julio was barreling towards Maui and growing stronger. By Friday afternoon we were still not 100% sure if we're going or not.

The second I got home from Maariv on Motzei Shabbos I jumped onto the computer and checked my flights. Not canceled - that's a good sign. I then went to check Julio's path. Unbelievable! In maybe a 1-in-100 freak occurrence, it had veered north right before the islands and was now tracking a hundred miles away from Hawaii and getting further!

The trip was on.

November 17, 2014, 12:36:48 AM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 1, Sunday:

As always, click on any picture to see it in full resolution, along with more info (exposure, map, etc.)

We got to JFK bright and early, and headed to the lounge. I met up with a couple more DDF'ers who were flying to LAX, also on glitch tickets :D. In fact another DDF'er had planned to fly on my daughter's ticket (as we didn't bring her in the end), but in the last minute decided that he can't really pass for a 2-year old girl...

After davening shachris and eating a quick breakfast we went to board our flight. First class on the MD-88 was... well, better than coach. At least my knees weren't banging into the seat in front of me.

Takeoff from JFK - the A train, Cross Bay Boulevard, and Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge:

The Kosher "meal" was (surprise!) fairly terrible:

The person sitting next to me had ordered the far more gourmet-sounding salmon and cheese dish. We had quite the laugh when the flight attendant brought him a bagel with cream cheese and lox ;D.

After a short and uneventful flight we landed in Atlanta. We hung out in the lounge again during our very short layover, and then headed to the gate. This was going to be the first time either of us had experienced a "real" premium cabin, plus this was also the longest flight yet for both of us. Needless to say, we were pretty excited.

We were welcomed aboard and found our seats. Amid many "Aloha"s and "much mahalo"s from our Hawaii-based crew, we took off.

Our seats were 1C and 1G, located in the "nose" of the cabin. According to Seatguru these seats are not recommended due to high traffic volume. I have to say that this was definitely not our experience; in fact I highly recommend these seats over any other for people traveling together. At no point during the 9+ hours in flight did I feel bothered by any traffic; the seats are private and partitioned enough that I didn't even notice when someone went by. On the other hand, these are the only seats in the row, so you really don't see anyone else 99% of the time. It felt cozy and private.

Long way to go:

Lunch was an improvement over breakfast, but not by much. The potatoes weren't half bad; the pastry on the left may have been good, if only it hadn't been frozen solid. The couscous on the other hand still haunt my nightmares sometimes:

The beds were fantastic. For a guy who's 6'-8" and gets crushed in a standard coach seat, being able to sleep like this - comfortably - is just amazing. The Westin Heavenly bedding was just that - heavenly:

After a couple of hours of rest we awoke for dinner service (it was around 7pm eastern time). Dinner ended up being the same stuff as lunch, but with the frozen pastry replaced by chocolate mousse. We sent everything but the dishes and mousse back, and asked the crew if they could warm up a couple of Pom meals for us. They were extremely accommodating, and within a few minutes we were feasting happily:

The mousse as it turned out was sublime. Perfectly creamy and chocolaty, it made a perfect end to the meal:


We landed in Honolulu right on schedule, and rushed to sort out our luggage. Remember - our actual itinerary was to continue to Kauai. The skycap at JFK refused to short check our bags, so it was tagged all the way to Kauai.

I want over to the gate agent and told her that I'm not feeling well and will probably be spending the night in HNL before continuing on the Kauai, and could she please help us retrieve our luggage ;). Withing a minute she had printed out a couple of tags and directed me to baggage services. Five minutes after that, I was in line with my luggage checking in to my separately purchased flight to Maui ;D.

Our ride to Maui:

Hawaiian Airlines KSML :P:

Flying over the uninhabited island of Kahoʻolawe:

Molokini Crater, and our first glimpse of Maui:

We landed, collected our luggage, and went to get our rental convertible. At one point I had 8 different reservations running, and kept on updating them as the prices fell. In the end Enterprise turned out to be the cheapest.

Our Mustang didn't have much trunk space...:

Off we went to Kula, to the cottage we rented via airbnb. We arrived a little over half an hour later, to find this perfect little slice of heaven waiting for us. The cottage was bright, airy, and set over a stunning orchard and nature preserve. It was also 3000 feet up the slopes of Haleakala, so the views were absolutely insane.

We went for a short stroll in the garden:

Self portrait (that's the cottage in the background):

Each afternoon we were treated to other-worldly sunsets. I don't think you can imagine a more perfect sunset the first night in Hawaii:

Last light - you could see the island of Lanai in center-left:

A perfect ending to a perfect day.

November 19, 2014, 01:02:31 AM
Re: Hidden City Ticketing
My grandmothers been usining hidden-city since way before the interweb was around.

Good travel agent.

November 25, 2014, 10:53:33 AM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 2, Monday:

We woke up on Monday to a beautiful Hawaiian morning, with nary a sign that two hurricanes had passed through only days ago; everything was quiet. However, as we were to find out, there actually were two remaining effects on the island. The first was that the storm had completely stopped the usual trade winds; instead of the normal, constant ocean breezes, the air was absolutely, perfectly, still. Without the trade winds, you suddenly remember that you're in the tropics; the day was to turn out extremely hot and muggy. Thankfully, as the week went on the winds came back, but on this first day the exceptionally hot weather made us skip out on a few hikes that we had really been looking forward to.

The second thing was that the storms had completely churned the ocean up. Most lifegaurded beaches were closed to swimming, and all beaches had extremely dangerous surf. Stirred up water also means that the waters were far from their usual clarity. This also slowly returned to normal as the week wore on, but again it limited us as far as activities went.

In any case, we had plenty of things planned and so headed out for the day. We stopped at Long's Drugs in Kahului for some essentials, and headed toward the infamous "Over the Top" highway. This road follows the northern flanks of West Maui Mountain, and is similar to the Road to Hana, but shorter and less lush. It is also has no traffic, no guardrails, is not completely paved, and has miles of one-lane stretches along sheer cliffs. In short, my dream road :D.

Most people who drive this road (and there aren't many!) drive it from West to East, since this would keep them on the safer inside of the road. We took it East to West, so we were driving along the cliffs most of the time:

(This picture is a video freeze-frame from a GoPro that was suction-mounted on my side-view mirror, hence the low quality. All other pictures with the nose of the car in it are freeze-frames too.)

Following the contours of the mountain, the road climbs up and around ridges, hangs on to the edge of the cliff, and slowly meanders down into the jungle valley. Up another ridge, and back down again.

You could see the road cut into the cliff, climbing up and disappearing around the ridge:

At points the road was a good 500 feet straight up:

At every turn, in every valley, a different stunning view would appear:

There were many one-way stretches and bridges:

We made a quick stop at Curley's fruit stand for a quick stretch and picked up some local passion fruit at 25 cents each:

I was driving merrily along on one of the no-guardrail stretches, with nothing but a 12-inch embankment between me and the cliff, when the thing every driver on this road dreads happened: I found myself face to face with a row of cars. Hawaiian etiquette dictates that the driving going uphill should be the one to back up.

Yay, just yay.

Luckily, there was something resembling a turnout a short way behind me, so I didn't have to back very far.

(This GIF is obviously sped up; I did not back down that road anywhere near as fast.)

We had originally planned on doing the Waihee Ridge and Ohai trails, but had to skip them due to the extreme heat caused by the hurricanes. Now having a more open schedule then we had anticipated, we were on the lookout for something different than the typical stops, preferably something with air conditioning ;). Our chance was not long in coming - spotting an 8-foot giraffe made out of driftwood on the side of the road, we turned down the driveway to investigate.

The place turned out to be the Turnbull Gallery, an eclectic place filled with stunning artwork and sculptures made be local artisans:

"Angel Dance":

The prices were right too; I was sorely tempted:

A cool coffee table:

We spent some time looking around, and had a nice schmooze with Steve, who was working on his latest sculpture in the back.

It was a nice stop, but if you're on this road and the weather is cooperating there's really no reason to stop in - take a hike instead.

On the road again:

More jaw-dropping views around every bend:

And my personal favorite:

Presently the road opened up a bit as it turned somewhat inland and passed some large ranches:

If you gotta be a cow, I think there's no better place you could hope to live:

We rounded the famous Kahakuloa Head (the cows above are actually grazing on the east side of it), and headed up to the other side to a pullout with some amazing views:

On one side of the pullout was the Head:

On the other was the ocean crashing relentlessly against the cliffs:

And in the middle was the oddest ice cream stand you will ever lay eyes on ;D:

Onward we went to the Acid War Zone, which would take us to the Nakalele Blowhole. The description of this hike in Maui Revealed is fairly accurate, but there are simply too many false trail and tracks for the directions to be very helpful. It's in a spot like this having the companion app is incredibly useful. Simply make sure that you're not straying too far from the blue line and it's impossible to get lost.

The views from the hike are absolutely incredible.

Note the island of Molokai off in the haze on the horizon:

Dangerous and mostly inaccessible tidepools:

You could get some sense of scale from the tiny people perched on top of the cliffs:

Soon the landscape changes from dry scrubland to the tortured rocks that gave this hike its name - they really do look like they were dissolved by acid. In reality it's the tons of saltwater coming out of the blowhole that's been wearing down these rocks for who knows how long:

Rock detail:

After about half an hour's hiking you get to the blowhole itself. The waves are constantly pushing masses of water in underneath the lava shelf, and every minute or so this water sprays out of a small hole with tremendous force. While I was there the water easily reached a good 60-70 feet every other time. The spray from this column of water reaches dozens of feet all around and was exceedingly refreshing in the stifling heat:

When the burst is over all this water flows back into the hole, creating pretty dangerous conditions. You have to maintain a safe distance, or you could be swept away by the rushing water on the slick rocks:

Here's a video I took, complete with some slow motion footage:

Heading back we took the blowhole trail instead of doubling back through the acid war zone. The trail climbs more than 200 feet over a pretty short distance, and is very steep in parts. Being an out of shape lump, I was pretty winded by the time I got to the parking lot - which was still a 15 minute uphill hike up the road from the acid war zone lot, where my car was parked.

We then headed to the Dragons Teeth for a quick hike, where the surf was still going bonkers from the hurricanes:

Here, too, the unrelenting ocean had carved interesting patterns in the rocks:

The highway past Dragons Teeth:

By this time it was late afternoon, so we decided to skip our plan of exploring Lahaina. Instead we took the still-under-construction Lahaina bypass around the afternoon traffic. Only part of the bypass was completed and open to traffic, and we didn't come across another soul on the road. The views were stunning, and very different from what we had seen all day. Instead of lush jungle and raging seas, there was the green and brown slopes of West Maui Mountain, lit up by the setting sun:

Making a new friend:

I also took a few beauty shots of our car:

Back on the main road past Lahaina, I stopped for mincha. And just in case we hadn't seen enough beauty that day, we were treated to another incredible Maui sunset:

Then it was back in the car for the long drive back home.

December 14, 2014, 01:37:05 AM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 3, Tuesday:

We woke up to a gray, drab day. The forecast called for nicer weather later, so we pressed on with the day's plans. Not that the forecast means much in Hawaii - there will always be a shower or two during the day, but beautiful otherwise. But what with the hurricanes having messed up the normal patterns so thoroughly, we figured we may as well check the forecast.

A turkey family taking a morning stroll in our yard:

The plan was to head to La Perouse Bay and the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. There are two spots in the reserve called the Fishbowl and Aquarium, which are famous for the best snorkeling on Maui, maybe even all of Hawaii. The reserve has however been closed for years to visitors under pain of death (or a fine of $1000 and jail time, but close enough :P). The closure was set to expire the week before we came, but there was no info readily available if it did in fact open or not. We were hoping to snorkel the reserve, with the legalities and surf hopefully cooperating.

If the reserve turned out to be closed, our backup plan was to hike the lava fields to the remote Keawanku Beach described in the Adventures section of the Maui Revealed.

As you could see from the map below, the road situation in Maui is kinda batty. Instead of driving from Kula to South Maui - less than 10 miles as the crow flies - you are forced to take a roundabout route all the way around, more than quadrupling the drive. This isn't like the north coast of Kauai where the terrain make roads impossible - this is simply bad planning. Apparently the county has been planning a connecting road for years, but other than spending $15m "studying" it, they've done nothing. In the meantime Oprah built her own private road to go from her upcountry house to the beach, but unless you're worth a couple of billion you'll have to drive through Kahului traffic like everyone else  >:(. This craziness also affects anyone going to and from Haleakala.

For some reason my GPS didn't send me down on obvious Hwy 37 route, instead directing me down a side country road called Pulehu Rd. I was glad it did, as it was far prettier and more relaxing than taking the highway. It weaved in and out of charming little towns, the road lined with flowers in all colors of the rainbow. Soon we were wending our way through the sugar fields, the tall cane closing in on both sides of the car. It was an exceedingly enjoyable ride (except for the short stretch which went past the main recycling plant. Ugh :P).

I would highly recommend people take this road instead of the highway on the return from a Haleakala sunrise, heading to either south or west Maui. Here are the directions from Haleakala to Wailea and Lahaina; according to Google it's only 3 minutes longer than the regular route.

While we were on the road the weather cleared a bit and we got our hopes up. In Kihei we stopped at a dive shop for a bottle of sunscreen, and we were told that as far as they know there is still no safe swimming on the island; in fact they had canceled that morning's dive >:(.

Further down we stopped at each of the three Kamaole beaches and chatted with the lifeguards. They all agreed - no swimming if you value your life.

So much for snorkeling... On to Plan B: off to the lava hike we go.

The further south we went, the worse the weather got. By the time we reached La Perouse Bay the rain was coming down in buckets. Passing through Ahihi-Kinau (the road cutting through is open for traffic - see map), we met a couple of state employees patrolling the area. Turns out that not only did the reserve not open yet, but they're taking it so seriously that even in this weather there are still patrols. In the end the closure was extended till 2016, but it seems likely to stay closed forever.

La Perouse Bay is the end of the road - you can't go any further south. It is a wild and wonderful place, where the sea is still battering the young lava coast. You could see up the slopes of Haleakala, and clearly make out the path of the latest eruption. The plain is fresh and raw, with jagged lava as far as the eye could see. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of the Big Island, even though this lava is older (it's a machlokes haposkim if the eruption that created this area was in 1490 or 1790). Seeing this sight through the pouring rain was absolutely awe-inspiring.

The parking lot was packed with cars full of dejected-looking people who've had their plans dashed by the weather. We decided to give it half an hour: if the rain lets up - even a little - we're heading out.

As we were finishing lunch in the car we saw a couple come staggering over the lava, soaked to the bone. I hailed them down.

"You've been down thataway?"


"All the way to Keawanku?"


"In this weather?? Was it worth it?"


That was enough for us. We grabbed our stuff and headed out into the pouring rain.

We were carrying food, water, my Sony NEX camera and 18-55mm lens (no shlepping all my gear on a hike like this), and the GoPro. On top of that we carried a diving bag with all our snorkel equipment - fins, masks, towels, the works. We were going to get into the ocean, I don't care how the weather is! Carrying all this, in the pouring rain, for 6 miles on a vague trail over slippery and extremely sharp lava sounds like the beginning of a horror story.

But wonder of wonders, this hike turned out to be one of the most fun things we had ever done on vacation.

There are two ways to hike from La Perouse Bay to Keawanku Beach. The first one is about two miles each way over what's called the King's Highway. This path was built 200 years ago and is very well-defined and relatively easy. The second route is three miles long, hugs the coastline, and is far more interesting and challenging. We decided to take the book's recommendation and make it a 5 mile loop. Taking into account all our side trips and detours, it turned out to be over 6 miles.

Here's the GPS trace of our hike: La Perouse Bay is on the upper left, and Keawanku Beach is the bay on the lower right. The top, relatively straight path is the King's Highyway, while the bottom detour is the longer route. You could see that the first part of the hike is along the beach, under a grove of kiawe trees. After that the two routes diverge, only to meet again a mile or two further on:

Once again the Revealed app was invaluable, since it's really not clear where to pick up the second trail, especially in the rain. Without the app's GPS we would have stayed on the King's Highway and not done the most interesting part of the hike.

By the time we left the shelter of the trees the downpour had slowed to a shower, and was to continue for another hour or so.

The beginning of the second trail during a momentary lull of the rain - you could see how indistinct it is:

The same spot, looking toward the volcano. The tiny bits of white coral (lower center and right) were the only indicators that this is the trail:

Walking was extremely treacherous and slow going; every step had to be calculated. One wrong step or slip and down the cliff you go:

And slip I did, right alongside this narrow hole in the lava shelf. Luckily I caught myself; all I got were some nasty cuts from grabbing onto the sharp lava:

The ocean was absolutely raging; it was impossibly violent. Remind me why we were shlepping snorkel gear again :o?

Eventually the rain stopped. The views were absolutely spectacular. Note the lava flow on the slopes of the volcano; this is the flow we're hiking on. In some spots the trail was fairly well defined, but in most all we had to go on were the bits of coral pointing in a general direction:

Walking on lava is extremely strenuous. It is jagged, sharp, and points in all different directions. You can't grab a boulder or lean against one for support; you WILL get cut. Your foot doesn't land on anything solid, as everything is basically loose rubble. You put a foot down, the lava crunches underneath, your foot shifts, and you feel every stone right through your soles. This hike will murder your shoes - my sneakers were in pretty good condition when I set out. By the time I got back to the car the soles were shredded into strips.

However even with all this we were having an amazing time. There was not a soul around and the landscape was like from a different planet. There were things to see and explore around every bend: green anchialine ponds, reeking from sulfur and lined with bacteria in all different colors, monster waves trying to take down a sea arch, volcanic cones in the distance. It was a hike unlike anything I've ever done.

Presently we met up with the King's Highway again. It made the going simpler, if not easier. The pebbles lining the path were even smaller than what we had encountered so far; they crunched and shuffled underfoot, so it was like walking on broken glass. It was however far smoother; no more clambering over boulders and getting scratched up - there were actual bridges filling in the gullies:

On top of the bridge:

After a little more than two hours, as we crested a hill, the sun burst out and illuminated a magical scene: below us lay Keawanku Beach, an oasis of green among the stark lava. Gentle waves lapped against the pebbled beach, protected from the ocean's fury in the bay. We scrambled down the lat bit of the path and collapsed on the beach:

Alas, this peaceful scene was not to last. This picture was taken exactly 4 seconds after the one above, looking back the way we came. You could see how fickle the weather was; already the clouds were overtaking the sun, and the wind was churning up the waves:

Being that we carried our snorkel gear all this way, we weren't going to waste it (do you have any idea how much a single size 17 fin weighs ????). We geared up and tried to enter the water. The ocean was having none of that; time and time again it rebuffed our advances and told us in no uncertain terms that it was. not. interested. This is as close as I got to snorkeling:

So we just sat in the surf, rested up and relaxed. All too soon it was time to start heading back.

On the return we took the King's Highway all the way:

I'm not sure I want to know the story behind this, or how its owner made it back:

Two miles of uneventful hiking later, we were back under the kiawe trees and in the company of some wild goats:

Before we knew it we were back at the parking lot, with one last glimpse at the wild coast:

Our Plan B had turned out to be a long, cold, wet, difficult, and painful hike. But we were exhilarated. It had been absolutely fascinating, exploring a corner of Hawaii that is so different then what the millions of tourists see every day. The Revealed book puts this hike in the Adventure section, and I couldn't agree more. It was worth every second.

We dragged our tired bodies into the house just in time for yet another spectacular sunset. Different, but no less spectacular:

Tomorrow we would have more luck - both weather- and snorkeling-wise - in one of the most amazing places imaginable. We were flying to Lana'i for the day.

December 16, 2014, 01:32:26 AM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 4, Wednesday:

Today we woke up bright and early to be by the airport for our 6:30 AM flight to the island of Lanai.

Lanai is a small island off the southwest coast of Maui with one tiny community of around 3000 people. The entire island except for the airport and beaches is now owned by Larry Ellison, the 5th richest person in the world. Other than  two or three main roads, the island is crisscrossed only by 4WD dirt tracks. The main activities on the island are off-roading and swimming in remote and otherworldly beaches.

The vast majority of visitors (and there aren't many) who come from Maui take the Expeditions ferry out of Lahaina. Right away it didn't seem very practical - we would have to drive all the way from Upcountry to Lahaina, and then the crossing itself takes around an hour. Had it been whale season I suppose it would have been more enticing, but in the summer it's just a not particularly pleasing, bumpy trip. At $30 per person, per way, it wasn't cheap either.

Looking around some more I discovered that Mokulele Airlines is running a $39 fare sale Maui to Lanai - and my dates fit perfectly!

Mokulele is a hinky dinky airline who flies tiny little 7-passenger Cessna Grand Caravans between some of the islands. In Maui they fly from the commuter terminal, so no lines, no TSA, none of that garbage. For only $9 more per person per way than the boat, we would be getting a fantastic and unique flight, plus get there far faster as well.

So off I go to book - and hit error after error. None of the dates on sale were pricing out properly, no matter what. Calling customer service I was told that there are only a limited amount of these tickets per day, and they were all sold out. I pointed out to her the fact that for the entire week around my dates there was not a single ticket sold yet on any of their flights (they were all showing 7 seats available - the entire plane). I may as well have talked to the wall. Limited quantity blah blah blah.....

So I HUCA'd - and got the same lady ;D. Turns out they only have one CS rep. Oops ;). So I switched to email support and got their only email rep, who - luckily - was very helpful. First she couldn't find any record of such a sale, but thankfully I had screenshots. A while later she emails back - they had found the sale, but the person who loads the fares onto their website is on vacation now, so no fares could be loaded until he comes back. Oy oy :D.

After a couple of days I hear back from her - they guy is back at work and the fares are loaded. Five minutes later and I was booked  ;D.

The commuter terminal:

We parked our car in the lot on the right and were checked in 20 seconds later. After a couple of minutes a lady went around announcing that whoever is going to Lanai should follow her onto the tarmac.

The flight before ours preparing to taxi:

Heading out to our ride:

Not a bad looking bird, I think:


The pre-flight safety demo was epic: the pilot twisted around in his seat and rattled off the no smoking, no cellphones spiel in about 15 seconds flat:

I was assigned (by weight, supposedly) the back seat, which was actually a bench across the entire width of the plane. It was also the "exit row", so I had gobs of legroom and space:

(Yeah, yeah. I'd like to see you find a size 21 sneaker that looks less crazy  >:(. At this point the soles were being held together with crazy glue, as they had been shredded on the lava the day before. They would not survive the day :'()

Waiting for an Hawaiian inter-island flight to land before we could taxi:


West Maui Mountain (you could see the Over the Top road and Kahakuloa Head all the way on the right):

The craggy, eroded south side of West Maui Mountain:

The Kaheawa wind farm:

I wish all airplanes had such large and beautiful windows:

Approaching Lanai - it's a dry, arid, dusty place:

Manele small boat harbor (where the ferry from Maui docks) is on the right, and the spectacular Four Seasons Manele Bay is on the left:

Note the reef on the right side, off Manele Beach. It's one of the best snorkeling in Hawaii, and that's where we were headed first:

Approaching the airport:


The flight turned out to be tremendous fun. The views were incredible, the plane was unique and comfortable. As far as the smoothness of the flight, it felt exactly like riding in a minivan. We were doing 60mph, and every bit of wind felt like a bump in the road. Considering that most people don't take a helicopter ride on Maui (at least not as many as do on Kauai or the Big Island), this is a great - and relatively cheap - alternative. Of course it doesn't compare, but it's still fantastic.

Other than a couple of hangars and the like, this was the extent of the airport:

Gotta love the high-tech flight info board :D:

There are two places that rent Jeeps on Lanai. Dollar is quite popular, but they have far too many rules - you can't drive to certain places, and if you do any damage to the Jeep you're screwed. Maui Revealed however mentions a place called Adventure Lanai Ecocenter which has far better prices, no restrictions, and better service. There are also Hummers available from a third company, but these are quite expensive and don't really add anything over a Jeep.

I made my reservation with Adventure Lanai Ecocenter over the phone. The owner, Mikey, wouldn't stop talking - he told me about the sights to see, the history of the island, and made fun of New York weather. We arranged that he would meet us at the airport with the Jeep.

I had read reviews online that what he does is meet you at the airport, then asks that you drive him back home to Lanai City (more like Lanai Village, in reality). People were complaining about this "waste of time", but after my phone conversation with him I saw that he's a real character and looked forward to meeting him.

When we landed, there he was waiting for us, looking even more like a "character" than I expected.

Besides his rental business, he also grows "herbs" for "medicinal purposes":

On the way back to town we had a great schmooze about the island.

Up until a few years ago Dole Pineapple owned the vast majority and grew pineapple on about 90% of the land. When they pulled out of the island, the economy tanked and unemployment soared. In 2012 Larry Ellison bought the island and started to put it back in shape. He has full control over everything that happens on the island, and is more or less the only employer. The two run down hotels were turned into world-class and ultra-expensive Four Season resorts, and he reopened the farms. Instead of pineapple, he started growing all manner of odd crops. As we drove Mikey pointed out palm farms (the trees are sold to places like Texas, which doesn't have any native palms), grass farms (the most expensive golf course turf in the world comes from here), and all sorts of organic fruit and vegetable farms.

One thing we saw a disproportionate amount of that morning were grass mowing crews. Turns out that a few days earlier Larry had issued an edict that all grass on the island be cut to two and one-quarter inches; not more and not less. All these crews were busy bringing the island's grass up to snuff.

I asked Mikey a question that I had been wondering about: don't the locals resent living under what's essentially a king, who's every whim they have to bend to? His answer was very simple: "Yes, we totally resent the fact that everyone on the island has their own house, instead of the homelessness epidemic there used to be. We totally resent that everyone on the island now has a job. And what we resent most of all is being able to send some money to help out relatives on the mainland instead of the other way around".

According to Mikey the only people who are resentful at the moment are the gardeners. Instead of using their weed whackers all willy-nilly like they've always done, they now have to use motorized mowers which they claim takes all the fun out of it. You can't get the 2-1/4" precision needed with a weed whacker...

Right outside the airport:

As soon as we turned out of the airport and onto the main road, we started to "feel" Lanai. It's not something that can adequately be described in words; it just a certain level of tranquility, of relaxation, that I have never felt anywhere else. You could practically feel your bones melting away. The island is not particularly pretty, but it has this silence around it.

And no, Mikey didn't share any of his herbs with us ;D; you'll find online that this feeling is extremely common to visitors to the island.

We drove for miles without seeing a soul; whoever we did meet greeted us with a wave or shaka (that's the Hawaiian greeting Mikey's doing in the picture above). Even in town - every person on the street, every oncoming driver, even a group of kids, all waved to us. Pulling out of the gas station into traffic was almost an ordeal. "You go first". "No, you go first". "After you..." After a minute or two I gave in and went first. During this whole time there was a line of cars being held up - and what do you think they did? The waved at me! For someone who's driven in New York all his life, it was a bit freaky to drive in such an environment ;D...

The main highway on Lanai:

The weather of the day was typical Hawaiian - bright and sunny here, cloudy and threatening half a mile over, but warm and delicious as a whole.

Driving down the main street in Lanai City:

The only gas station on the island (amazingly enough their prices weren't insane by Hawaiian standards):

Lanai City must be one of the most misleading place names out there - Lanai Village would have been far more appropriate. This is just about the entire town:

So we dropped Mikey off at his house, and he loaded up the Jeep. Unlike the other rental place, he includes beach chairs, a cooler, and snorkeling or surfing gear (which we didn't need as we had brought our own). The Jeep itself was a 4-door Wrangler Unlimited Sport. Mikey gave us a hand-drawn map of the island as well as the important dirt tracks, along with a mountain of tips only a local would know, such as which rock on Shipwreck Beach we could expect turtles at between 1 and 2 o'clock (and turtles there were, right on schedule!).

Unfortunately, one of the things were had wanted to do most - the Munro Trail - had been permanently close to motorized traffic. No matter; there were plenty of other options. Off we headed to Manele Bay, one of the best snorkeling spots in all the islands.

Heading down to the bay:

Manele Bay is a spectacular bay on the southeast side of the island, and is quite close to Maui. The ferry puts in just on the other side and is about a five-minute walk away.

Since Lanai is arid, there is hardly and runoff so the ocean around it is crystal clear, second only to the Kona side of the Big Island. But unlike the Big Island, there are only a fraction of the amount of visitors here; that means far more fish and healthier coral. The reef here is famous for it's underwater topography, which looks like miniature canyons and ridges (it is actually sometimes referred to as an underwater Bryce Canyon).The beach itself is a perfect crescent of golden sand, fine and clean.

The water itself was still suffering the aftereffects of the double hurricane, so it was actually quite cloudy. However, even in this less than perfect state, it was still absolutely spectacular and the best snorkeling we had had, ever. I could only imagine what it would be like in normal conditions...

The surf was a tad choppy, but since there are no real places for the waves to bread offshore, once you were in the water is was completely calm; you'd just go a bit up and down with the swells. It was getting into the ocean which was tricky. At one point I got hit by a wave and drilled into the sand multiple times head over heel, but other than getting exfoliated by the sand in places that should not be exfoliated I was perfectly fine :P.

(A note about the underwater pictures: this was the first time I had done underwater photography of any sort, so the pictures are definitely not up to my usual standards. I had no underwater lighting, and it was all taken blindly with a GoPro (no way to see your composition or what you've shot). Some are still images, while others are video screen grabs, so these would be even lower quality. Add the fact that the water was far from its usual clarity......The vast majority of these picture were taken at depths of 15-20 feet.)

Looking back at the beach:

Most of the beach drops off to simple sand:

It's off to the left where the spectacular reef is.

Three Black Triggerfish, known as Humuhumu'ele'ele in Hawaiian:

Hawaiian Sergeant:

Orange-Spine Unicornfish:

Yellow Tangs:

You could see some of the interesting topography:

Blue-Spine Unicornfish:

Yellow Tangs and Orangeband Surgeonfish:

Brown Surgeonfish:

Another Black Triggerfish:

Something Fishy Fish:

After a couple of hours of snorkeling Manele Bay we reluctantly packed up and headed to Shipwreck Beach, a wild remote beach only accessible by 4WD. The snorkeling is not supposed to be too good, and the channel between Lanai and neighboring Molokai is frequently to dangerous to swim. However, the appeal of this beach lies in its raw beauty and remoteness. Miles and miles of sand, an amazing view of Molokai, a WWII shipwreck, and not a soul around.

Mikey had pointed out on his map a spot along the beach where he had a so-called clubhouse. According to him, we could expect turtles to swim up to a certain rock in front of the clubhouse between 1 and 2 o'clock. We figured we'll see how well Mikey knows his turtles...

Leaving Lanai City and heading down to the ocean, the road starts out paved, but quickly turns into a deeply rutted and sandy track.

You could see Maui to the right, and Molokai to the left:

Before we know it, we were driving over this:

The "road" varies from dried mud, to rock, to deep sand. We were having the time of our lives speeding like maniacs, the Jeep bucking and bouncing. There wasn't anything that stood in our way; we just bounced over it. In fact we were having so much fun that we drove certain crazy stretches of the road over and over a couple of times  ;D:

Eventually we got to the "clubhouse". No word on how many serial killers were living in the compound:

The ocean was quite calm, so we went for a quick snorkel. However, the water was not very pretty, plus there weren't many fish or any reefs. To top it off, the area is notorious for it's shark population. Between the murky water and being this far from civilization we got out of the water pretty fast.

Instead we hauled out and got settled for some hardcore relaxation. Heaven on earth:

Right on time, a line of little bobbing heads became visible off in the ocean off to the right. The turtles have arrived, right on schedule :D. I counted at least 8 turtles; there may have been more. I got into the ocean hoping that they'll come up to me, but they were too skittish and went wide. The one turtle who let me come close enough to touch turned out to be a floating coconut ;D.

Funnily enough though, when I went over my videos from that time, I found out that a turtle had come up to within 6 inches of me. I was so focused on the ones avoiding me that I didn't even notice him at the time:

(Yeah, epic pictures 8). I know.)

The shipwreck off in the distance (this is a crop from a far larger picture, hence the blurriness):

All too soon it was time to leave the beach, and the island:

Back to Lanai City, where we picked up Mikey, and on to the airport:

You could think this guy is flying Air Force One, not a tiny puddle jumper :D:

Safety briefing:

Coming in for landing in Maui, over the sugar fields:

I was far too tired to shoot a proper sunset that night, but our little cottage looked spectacular in the late afternoon light:

Overall, I'd highly recommend Lanai as a day trip for anyone staying on Maui, especially if you could fly. It's unique, quiet, and is a fascinating place. But most of all is a feeling which can't really be described - a sort of deep relaxation, or peace. Even while running around all day there was always this tranquility.

That day on Lanai was the first (and so far only) time I told my wife, "forget about the stupid camera, I'm having too much fun". I was just in a different zone. (And let me reiterate: I did not try any funny herbs of Mikey's ;D)

Off to bed for an early night; it's sunrise on Haleakala tomorrow. One of the most spectacular things I have ever witnessed, yet one of the most irritating.

January 19, 2015, 02:11:03 AM
Re: Paradise Found: A "Holiday" to New Zealand in the Chariots of Kings

 ;D ;D ;D

February 07, 2015, 09:26:19 PM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 5, Thursday:

We had barely fallen asleep after our long day on Lanai when our alarm went off. It was 3:30 in the morning, and we were heading to watch sunrise from the summit of Haleakala.

Sunrise was scheduled for 6:04, and we were hoping to get there around an hour earlier. Since we were staying in Kula, our ride up would be an hour shorter that most other people's. The road up is great, well paved and marked. There are no lights, so you don't really get a sense of how high up you are or how close you are to a ravine. Even at this crazy hour there were lots of cars sharing the road with us.

On the way up it's really cool to watch the outside temperature display if your car has one - every minute or so it would move down a degree. We lost almost 30 degrees on the way up, and that was even considering that we started from 3000' up. 

We got to the upper parking lot with plenty of time to spare, and were greeted by a madhouse. Dozens of cars, lines of buses, and hundreds upon hundreds of people, all trying to get a spot at the tiny little overlook. On top of that it was freezing cold, with a ferocious wind blowing. We had brought along coats, gloves, hats, and even a blanket,but with all that it was still bitterly cold.

We headed up the path to the lookout, and right away decided that it's not worth it - the place was absolutely mobbed. Instead we got back in the car and drove down to the lower parking lot, which is about 250' lower down and generally far less crowded. This lot was also quite full, as was the lookout. However, here I had an ace up my sleeve - I knew of a relatively unknown spot called White Hill, the path of which is right off the parking lot. We hightailed it up there, as the sky had begun getting brighter. It's not a long hike - maybe 10 minutes or so, but it gains about 150' of elevation. Due to the altitude, we were extremely winded, not to mention numb with cold.

The trail wraps around the little rise:

When we got to the top however, we saw that it was absolutely worth it. It's a little open area maybe 10 feet wide, sheltered from the wind a bit by outcroppings on both sides. The spot looks out onto a smashing view of the crater, a thousand feet straight down. On the horizon was a wall of cloud, the sky just starting to show deep twilight colors. Best of all, we had all this to ourselves :D.

First light:

You could see the sheltering outcropping, but even with coats and a blanket it was still freezing:

Finally the sun broke through the clouds. In a couple of seconds the entire crater lit up in glorious golden light, showcasing its immense scale:

Here you could see the Sliding Sands Trail on the right, which leads into the crater. On top of the trail you could make out the immense volcanoes of the Big Island in the distance - Meuan Kea on the left, and Meuna Loa on the right:

As the sun rose it bathed the scene in front of us in a kaleidoscope of colors. Every minute the color and feel of the light changes, giving different feelings to different parts of the scene. The crater itself is packed with otherworldly formations, catching and reflecting the light:

This hardy little silversword was right in front of me, a thousand feet down:

As the sun climbed higher the wonderful sunrise color started to fade and be replaced with a morning haze.

A closer look at the Big Island's peaks:

You could just about make out the telescopes atop Mauna Kea through the haze:

Another view of the crater:

Warning sign at White Hill:

Heading back down to the parking lot you have a fantastic view of the Haleakala telescopes:

And of course the obligatory shot of the parking lot above the clouds:

After sunrise we went back up to the upper parking lot to warm up a bit and decide what we want to do next. The original plan was to do part of the Sliding Sands trail, but at this point we were frozen solid and still quite tired. The idea of a difficult hike didn't sound very appealing, so we decided to skip it. Instead we just walked around at the summit and checked out the silverswords (actually it was just me; my wife was a popsicle and refused to leave the warm car :D).

The Hawaiian Silversword is a beautiful plant that grows only in one place in the world: the summit of Haleakala. It lives for 50 years as a ball of sharp sword-like leaves, then flowers once and dies. There are a few scattered around the summit and crater, but the vast majority of them live in a protected area in the upper parking lot (vast majority in this case meaning maybe 50 or so).

They truly are majestic plants. You feel a kind of respect standing in front of a flowering silversword knowing that this is the only time this rare and lovely plant will look like this in its lifetime:

A Chukar Partridge among the silverswords:

All too soon it was time to head back down.

Sign at the entrance to the parking lot:

The way down in the morning is spectacular in its own right. You're driving above the clouds, with all of Maui spread out below you. Occasionally you catch a glimpse of the islands of Lanai, Kahoolawe, or Molokini. The terrain looks like a lunar landscape, slowly giving way to low shrubs and finally, thick forest.

One of the common activities on the mountain is biking all the way down. The internet is full of debates whether this is worthwhile or not; on the one hand it's definitely a lot of fun, but on the other there's no doubt that it's dangerous - deaths are not uncommon. One thing is certain: this is one thing I will not be doing, ever.

On the way down we found the road blocked, and this sight met our eyes:

You guessed it - a biker. I haven't been able to determine the outcome, but the firefighter I spoke to would only say that it was extremely serious. And unfortunately, these accidents are fairly common.

The entrance to the park:

There's no question that sunrise from the summit is a must-see; it's an amazing experience (if you could stand the cold :P). But the experience could be totally ruined if you have to share it with hundreds of tourists packed onto a tiny observation deck. In the beginning I was sure that the morning is a bust; it wasn't until I got to the lonely summit of White Hill when I started to enjoy the experience. Even considering that we did eventually get a group of about five people to share the spot, they were presumably escaping the crowds as well and were great company - just watching the amazing show in silent awe.

We then headed back home for breakfast and a good long nap, and then it was time to get ready for a two day Shabbos. I also went to our hostess, Anne, and explained the exact situation to her, since I knew that chances are that we'll need her assistance at some point. She was absolutely fascinated by the entire concept. She said she wished all her tenants would do something similar, as all too often she sees them run around constantly without stopping to appreciate a slower pace of life.

Of course as soon as my wife lit candles I saw that we had forgotten to unscrew the bulb in the fridge ;D... Thankfully Anne came to the rescue.

We then got settled in for the longest and most relaxing Shabbos of our lives.

February 08, 2015, 05:42:50 PM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Days 6 and 7, Friday and Shabbos:

Based on the psak we got the first time we went to Hawaii, we kept two days of Shabbos. The first time we did it was on the Big Island, so we know what to expect this time around: two days of doing absolutely nothing but relaxing. After running around for a week, being forced to relax for two days is absolute heaven.

We spent the time reading and taking long walks in our garden and the adjacent orchard. There was a pair of binoculars in the house, so I spent a while watching the planes come and go into the far-off airport as well.

Of course, it goes without saying that the prettiest sunset of the trip was on Friday afternoon when I couldn't take any pictures ;D... But standing on that porch singing Lecha Dodi was simply otherworldly.

All our Shabbos food was brought along, and we had full and complete Shabbos meals - down to the dips, chrain, and chick peas. The only thing we had different than home was soup at the day meal instead of cholent; I wasn't gonna risk eating it once it's been on the flame for two whole days :P.

(All of the following pictures were taken on Sunday before we left for the Road to Hana.)

The midday view of the garden; the orchard begins at the far trees. There were countless fruit trees interspersed with flowers in all colors of the rainbow; scores of birds kept up a never-ending chatter:

The property is a certified wildlife habitat as well:







Macadamia nuts:


Bird of Paradise flower:

Orange Zinnia:

Red Hibiscus:

Aloe vera:

Unfortunately hardly anything was ripe, but on Sunday our hostess brought us a couple right-off-the-tree figs and macadamia nuts which were ripe enough.
On Motzei Shabbos we sat on the porch watching the Milky Way rise overhead:

The sky was studded with a million stars; this 9-minute exposure reveals the Earth spinning in relation to the North Star - the stars all appear to move around it:

I then headed down to the garden to capture one of my all-time favorite shots:

Up next: the Road to Hana!

March 09, 2015, 01:13:07 AM
Re: Lake George, NY Master Thread
I'm planning a trip to Montreal before pesach and would like to stop in lake George, possibly overnight, does anyone know how i can find out when attractions and activities open up for the summer?
Thank you

This newfangled thing called Google may be worth a try.

March 20, 2015, 09:33:28 AM
Re: Photography Lesson DO
Not my pic, but taken in CLE that night by someone that obviously knows how to focus :P


<Ducks and runs for his life>

March 23, 2015, 01:51:37 PM
Re: AJK's YVR Surprise: A TR by His (Much Better) Half Hmmm. Looks like some of the men around here could use a support group as well.
April 22, 2015, 11:43:29 PM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 8, Sunday:

Sunday morning we woke up and got ready to leave for the Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana (RTH) is one of the most famous drives in the world, and rightly so. Cut into a cliffside by hand, the road runs along the coast, past unbelievable waterfalls and pools, and transports you through stunning jungle and more shades of green than you ever knew existed. Past the town of Hana, the road swings around the east edge of Maui and continues along the vast, barren, and wild south flanks of Haleakala. The road is never straight - the official number of curves is 620. There are nearly 60 bridges on its 65 miles from Pa’ia to Hana; most of those are one lane.

This screenshot from Google Earth gives you a good idea of how crazy this road is:

The trick to enjoying the Road to Hana is to take it slow and be flexible. You’re in no rush to get anywhere; Hana itself is relatively boring. You want to drive slow (preferably with the roof down!) and let paradise sink in.

There are countless possible stops along the road, and it’s pretty much impossible to see them all. We made a list beforehand of the sights we wanted to see, and ranked them in order of importance. In reality however, we found that we weren't always in the mood of stopping at a particular spot for whatever reason; having a pre-determined list allowed us to make quick and easy decisions. In the end, we skipped a few of our highest-rated stops and did some which weren't on the list at all – and had no regrets at all. Being flexible is key.

There are three ways to do the RTH. The vast majority of people start out in the early morning, make a beeline for Hana, and then swing right back. This makes for a very long and tiring day, and you can’t really see too much either.

The other option is to do the full loop – you’d continue past Hana to the south side of Haleakala and on to Kula. This is more preferable by far, as you see the wild, hardly traveled side of Maui. However, it’s still one long, rushed day.

We were going to do option three, which is to split the drive into two days and overnight in Hana. This lets us get a later start, avoiding most of the traffic, and gives us twice as much time on the road than most people. We will be able to see more and do more, and not feel rushed.

The RTH is notorious for car break-ins, so it is not recommended to keep too many things in the car. Since we would be flying home the next evening, this meant that we were leaving our cottage now and would be schlepping all our luggage to Hana. On top of the risk of theft, this would make our car extremely crowded. To avoid all this, we were going to leave our luggage at a storage facility next to the airport for around $40. In the end however, our hostess graciously offered to let us keep our luggage in the cabin while we were in Hana. Since the house was in Kula, we would be passing by on the way to the airport anyway, so this worked out perfectly. We were also able to keep the last of our Pom meals in her freezer so that we could have them on the plane.

We ate one last breakfast on the deck of our glorious cabin, and then packed up all our stuff. I took some pictures in the garden and we then said goodbye to our host. All we took with us was a little carry-on with the essentials for the next two days, some food, and the snorkeling and camera equipment.

We made the traditional stop in Pa’ia – the official beginning of the RTH – for gas and ice for the cooler, and then hit the road.

The first stop we made was at the grove of rainbow eucalyptus trees. The bark on these amazing trees have amazing patterns in all different colors, hence their name:

I knew before I came to Maui that I want a picture of these trees that I could hang as a giant abstract in my living room, so I went searching for the perfect bit of trunk. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. Why people feel the need to deface every beautiful thing they come across is something I'll never understand, but each tree was etched and scratched with people's initials till at least five feet off the ground. Eventually I was able to find a couple of spots near the roots of some trees which worked well:

This picture now hangs as a 4x4 foot canvas on my wall:

From here it would be a while till our second stop, so we put the roof down and simply enjoyed the incredible drive (the lower quality pictures are GoPro screengrabs):

At one point we passed a classic car club going in the opposite direction - talk about a cool way to experience the drive:

Other times the traffic was more annoying - being that the road is often only one or one and a half lanes, you'll find yourself waiting for traffic to pass. Thankfully things like this didn't happen more than once or twice:

a couple of the 49 one-lane bridges along the way:

Eventually we got to the turnout to the Ke'anae Peninsula. This is a spectacular spot place to stop and have lunch along the rocks.

The shoreline along here is absolutely wild:

Back on the road, we stopped at the famous 14 mile marker pullout for the classic view of the Road to Hana:

A while later we arrived at Chings Pond.

What a wonderful place! Completely hidden from drivers on the road, this is a beautiful waterfall and the most amazing pool. You park on the right side of the road (just before the bridge), and then take a short but very steep hike down the gulch to the pool. The water is ice cold, and most welcome after the heat of the day. The pool entry is extremely shallow (and slippery!), but gets progressively deeper. Closer to the falls, the bottom drops off suddenly to maybe 40 or 50 feet. This is a must-do, whether to swim or snorkel. We had the place to ourselves most of the time as well.

The first picture is right before the drop-off, and the second one is after. The bridge on top is the RTH:

The first part of the pool is maybe two or three feet deep and makes for a very easy entry:

The middle part is around ten feet deep and has the best swimming:

This is a straight-down view of the bottom falling away into the abyss (at least it looked like an abyss to me ;D; you just see the blue fade to black and no sign of the bottom. Took my breath away the first time I swam over it.):

We spent around an hour here, then back on the road. A quick stop at the Wailua Valley State Wayside pullout, with some incredible views.

Wailua Village:

Kaupo Gap on Haleakala:

An interesting note about these two pictures: they were taken from the very same spot and less than a minute apart; all I did was turn 180 degrees. Yet look how vastly different the weather and terrain is! This is Maui: unbelievably varied in every way.

Next up was the world-famous Three Bears Falls (official name Upper Waikani Falls). But instead of stopping, we breezed right past it. We simply weren't in the mood of seeing another waterfall right then.

Blasphemy, I know. But the key to the RTH is not to run around around collecting all of the must-see sights. It's doing the road at your own pace, and choosing to stop at only the places which interest you the most at the time. So instead of seeing what is probably the number one sight on the road, we instead decided to do something that wasn't even on our list of possible stops: explore the lava cave past mile marker 23.

A couple of tips regarding this cave. First of all, I highly recommend checking it out. It's very different than many of the sights along the road, and is tons of fun. But if you're extremely tall, be prepared for a world of pain ;D. The entrance is maybe three feet tall, and you'll have to crawl or walk folded over most of the time. I actually bloodied my entire back from scratching it on the ceiling of the cave. Also, don't do what I did and shlep a gigantic camera bag and tripod along with you ;D; there's barely any room for you, let alone your bag.

All that being said, we had a heckuva lot of fun exploring. We went in through the entrance on the side of the road, went through the entire cave (it's a couple of hundred feet long), and came out through the back. From there it was a ten-minute hike back to the road.

Trying to figure out how in the world to squeeze myself in:

Crawling through (with all my stuff ::)):

These roots are everywhere and will really hurt you if you're not careful:

The exit of the cave, and what made carrying all my gear worthwhile 8):

Back at the car, I'm loading my camera bag into the trunk, when it occurs to me that the bag feels a bit too light. I open it up, and to my horror I see that half my gear is missing! I hadn't noticed this in the dark cave, but now I stood looking disbelievingly at my half-empty camera bag. Turning the trunk upside down yielded nothing.

My first suspicion was theft, which is unfortunately not uncommon along the road. I forced myself to think, trying to figure out when and where everything could have disappeared. Thinking back, the last time I used one of the missing lenses back at the Ke'anae Peninsula. However, I took stuff out of my bag at both Chings Pond and Wailua Valley State Wayside, and didn't notice anything amiss. Standing there all confused, it hits me that I still have my camera and main lens, as I've used them in the cave just now. Why weren't those stolen as well? Turns out that at Wailua Valley I had grabbed just the camera and lens and left the rest of the gear in the locked trunk. This means that while I was out of sight (there's a little trail to the lookout there), someone had popped the trunk and cleared out everything of value from the bag.

However, we decided to retrace our steps back to Ke'anae and stop at all the places we had stopped earlier just to double check that I simply hadn't left anything there. An act of desperation for sure, but I was grasping at straws. Needless to say, I did not find a thing.

My $2000 14-24 f/2.8 lens... gone. My $500 85 f/1.8... gone. A multitude of accessories... gone, gone, gone.

Standing there back at Ke'anae, my wife and I discussed our options. Other than filing a police report, there was absolutely nothing else we could do at this point. We decided that instead of letting this ruin the rest of our trip, we'll try to put this out of our mind as bast we can and focus instead on having an awesome time. We decided to take care of the police report when we got to Hana, then put the loss firmly out of our minds and moved on. I'm happy to say that this attitude was successful (mostly :P).

Back on the road, we discovered a flaw in our planning. As the Revealed book sensibly suggests, we had relied on our odometer to let us know when and where the next stop or sight is. We had set it to 0 when we got on the road, and used that in lieu of the very hard to find mile markers. However, the instant you double back, all that goes out the window... Luckily we had the Revealed app; it proved, once again, to be a lifesaver.

By this point it was late afternoon, as we had spend a lot of time trying to find the gear. Next on our list was Nahiku Road, a little road off the RTH which is supposed to be even lusher than the RTH itself. Our destination was Nahiku Pond, a place described in the book as being "so perfect it can't possibly be real".

Surprisingly enough, the description of Nahiku Road held up; it was even lusher than the RTH. How that's possible I still don't know, but you simply have never seen so much green as on that little road. We got the the bottom, parked at the shore, and followed the directions on the app. Alas, the stream and the pond were utterly and completely dry; there was not a trickle in sight. Apparently our luck for the day had given up and curled itself into a fetal position. Thankfully, our day could only get better from here.

Ha! Whom am I kidding. It's about to get worse, much worse :'(...

At least the view and the sunset were stunning, and we actually did manage to enjoy it:

We drove the rest of the way to Hana in the dark. Of course, this is absolutely not ideal, as we didn't see any more of the the road's beauty. However, there was one great and unexpected benefit. During the day, it's impossible to drive the RTH at anything past 30 MPH or so, and that's only in spots. You're usually driving much slower. There are cars in front of you, cards opposite you, and a thousand blind curves. That's all good and well, of course. But at night, there's hardly a soul out. Blind curves are suddenly not blind anymore, as you could see headlights lighting up the vegetation even from afar. The result of all this is that at night, you could drive pretty darn fast. On a curvy, twisty road like this, this is an incredible amount of fun. And here, 60 MPH feels closer to 100 :D.

Roof down, music blaring, driving too fast... it almost made the delays we had worthwhile ;D.

We got into town around 8 o'clock, and headed to the police station to file the report. They were nice and helpful, and it was pretty painless (the paperwork that is, not the reason for it :'(). They were not at all surprised, and said that the Mustang convertible is known to be extremely easy to break into, locked or not. There was not even a sign of forced entry or scratches around the lock - it simply takes almost no effort to get in.

We had booked a room from cottages for $125+tax, to be paid in cash upon arrival. This was not a fancy place by any means, but it was fresh, clean, and had a small kitchenette. Perfect for one night. The place was about 15 minutes past Hana, right across from Venus Pool. Crucially, it had a microwave so that we could warm up our Pom meals (we had specifically gotten two meals microwave-wrapped).

We show up around 8:30, tired, hungry, and grumpy. I park and head to the room, only to find it locked and the promised key nowhere to be found. I go around to the office, and - surprise! - it's dark and locked. Getting annoyed, I give them a call. From outside, I see the office phone light up. Of course, no one picks up. Instead I hear a message telling me to call an after-hours number in case of emergency. I head back to the car to call, and whaddya know! No service. Back to the office, pick up a tower, call the number, and listen to it ring. 5 times, 10 times, 20 times.

For the next 45 minutes I play this sick game. Getting service, losing service, calling and calling and calling. At this point I'm ready to kill people. In the meantime, there is not a soul to be seen on the entire property. The entire time I'm trying to go online to find alternative accommodations, but I don't have enough of a signal to get to Google, let alone any website of value.

At 9:30 we come to the realization that we are getting absolutely nowhere. We decide to go back to Hana and see if we could find a place ourselves.

The first place we passed turned out to be the Hotel Travaasa Hana. A more welcome sight could not be imagined: lit tiki tourches lighting a huge circular driveway, leading to an open-air reception desk. The place looked absolutely wonderful.

Not five minutes later, our car had been whisked away by a valet, and we were on a golf cart being driven to our suite, complimentary leis blowing in the breeze :D. I did not care how much it cost for the night; all I wanted was food and a bed. (We ended up paying $340 all-in for a garden suite, which was the cheapest room available then.)

The room was wonderful. I'm a vacation rental guy who's never really stayed in a fancy hotel, so I don't really have a good baseline to compare it to. But the suite was absolutely tremendous. Two queen beds, a living room, dining area, lanai, and the largest bathroom I've ever been to. For some reason there were four roll away beds in the room as well, and with all that there was still gobs of space left.

The only thing missing was a microwave, which they were't able to provide. However, the front desk staff was nice enough to let me into the employee area to use their own microwave.

Funny thing is that I had never even heard of this hotel before. But it turns out that they're consistently rated as one of the top hotels. For example, they've been in the list of the top 100 hotels in the world by Conde Nast a couple of times. We ended up having a fantastic experience with them in the end.

All in all, we had a pretty wacky day. I never did hear from my lenses again, but regarding the hotel all's well that ends well I guess. Looking back now nearly a year later, we only have good memories left. The bad parts of the day are just an another part of the adventure.

And I'm happy to say that for the next day - our last one on this trip - I'll have no bad times to report ;D ;D ;D.

May 10, 2015, 04:15:36 AM
Re: Something Fishy's Maui and Lanai Trip Report, Courtesy of Delta Day 9, Monday:

Today was our last on the island.

I woke up before dawn to see if I could catch a nice sunrise over Hana Bay while my wife slept in. The hotel is fantastically located, just a two-minute drive from Hana Bay and down the street from the Red Sand Beach trailhead.

The beach at Hana Bay is a beautiful crescent of black and white sand with a long jetty off to the right, where I set up and watched the sunrise. After the craziness of the day before, this was a nice change of pace. It was quite lovely sitting there all by myself while the town behind me slept:

First light hitting Hana and Haleakala behind it:

After sunrise it was still quite early, so I decided to head over to the world-famous Red Sand Beach (actual name Kaihalulu Beach). The advantage of going this early was two-fold: I was dying to see (read:photograph ;)) the beach, while my wife wasn't interested at all. And at 6:30 in the morning, it was virtually guaranteed that I'll have the place to myself.

Getting to this beach is difficult - and dangerous - in the best of times. The trail consists of a notch in the cliff, often only a couple of inches wide. The cliff and trail are both made out of loose volcanic cinders, which makes for extremely unstable footing. The ocean here is ferocious; at times you're 40 feet above the waves crashing on the boulders below. One wrong step and you're toast. The many exposed tree roots along the trail serve as both occasional handholds and terrifying stumbling blocks which have to be climbed over. Thankfully, the trail isn't very long, maybe 1000 feet or so.

I parked at the trailhead (facing the correct direction! The cops here are bonkers about that.) and headed out. It occurred to me (premonition :o?) that no one knows where I'm going, so I texted my wife my plans along with my GPS location. The trail is not exactly deadly by any stretch of the imagination, but should I slip or something it could be hours before I'm seen.

Taking the trail nice and slow, it took around 10 minutes until the bend where the beach appears. What an amazing sight! A little beach, red as can be, sat nestled underneath a towering red cliff. A line of jagged rocks stand sentinel and protect the beach from the ocean's fury, where gentle waves lap quietly.

I stood there drinking in the view, when suddenly drip, drip, SPLAT!

In the space of two minutes, the sky had gone from sunny to dark and stormy. The skies opened and it started pouring.

I knew that I couldn't remain there; there was no shelter whatsoever, and the distant rumblings of thunder could now be heard. Everything I had read about this trail said the same thing: do not even attempt if it has been raining. Nowhere were there instructions on what to do if you're stranded...

The trail was becoming more dangerous and slippery every minute. I whipped out my camera, took two pictures through the rain (priorities ;D!), and tried to figure out where to go. I couldn't head down to the beach, since the trail got even steeper in that direction. The only solution was to head back before the trail became impassable.

The return trip was harrowing. The rain had loosened the zillions of cinders on the trail, and every step was a fight to keep from slipping off the edge. If I tried to grab onto the side of the cliff for support I just came away with a handful of cinders. At this point it was lightening as well...

After half an hour or so of this I finally made it back to the car, soaked to the bone but happy to be back on terra firma :D.

It of course goes without saying that as soon as I got into the car the sun came right back out ;D ;D ;D. But success: I got my pictures and made it back alive  :P:

(Unfortunately, the rain made the reds appear brownish. Too bad... But I like the pictures anyway.)

In hindsight, I think it was incredibly stupid of me to head to that beach by myself, without checking the weather forecast and taking along any rain gear. Lesson learned.

After all this it was still quite early, so I headed for another photo stop at Koki Beach, around 10 minutes down the road:

I then headed back to the hotel to begin the days "official" activities. The plan was to head to the Venus Pool after breakfast, hang out there for a while, then back to the hotel to check out. However, when we arrived at the pool's trailhead, there were seven cars parked there already (even though this was still quite early in the morning). This meant that there were at least 15 people sharing the pools already, and this obviously didn't appeal to us in the slightest.

When we had checked into the hotel the night before, we were given a schedule of the following day's activities. These were all free for guests, so we decided to take advantage of 'em. We figured that since we're paying so much more for the night than we had originally planned we may as well get our money's worth. We were also in the mood of something more toned-down, after yesterday's (and this mornings!) excitement.

Unfortunately our first choices didn't fit our schedule, so we went with the archery instructions. It was just us, the instructor, and two other guests, and in a lovely setting up-mountain from the main hotel grounds. While not a typical "Hawaiian" activity and not something we would ever have planned on ahead of time, we ended up enjoying it a lot (even though it turned out that we were terrible at it ;D).

We checked out at around 11, and headed back on the the Road to Hana and towards 'Ohe'o Gulch. This is better known as the Seven Sacred Pools, and is part of Haleakala National Park. If you pay the entrance fee for the summit you could show your receipt here and get free entry withing three days. However since we had gone up for sunrise five days ago, we had to pay again. No worries; it was only $10 or so.

The Pipiwai Trail is also here, and is up the mountain from the parking lot. The Pools are in the opposite direction, towards the ocean. Our plan was to head down to the pools, and then do at least two miles of the Pipiwai Trail (till the bamboo forest).

In the parking lot we bumped onto the local Chabad Shaliach and a couple he was escorting. We had a nice conversation, and he suggested we join them on the Pipiwai. I was more interested in the pools, so we declined. (This would turn out to be one of the only regrets we had on this trip.)

The hike down to the pools was longer than it seems from the maps, so it took us more time than expected to get down. Quite frankly, I was disappointed when we finally arrived. The place was packed - there were literally hundreds of people in a fairly small area. True, the falls and pools were beautiful, but you had to see past the group of teens climbing behind the falls, the busloads of octogenarian slowly picking their way from rock to rock, and the piles of kids running every which way.

I had envisioned a quiet and peaceful spot; instead I got a zoo. Supposedly the place is supposed to be empty before 1 o'clock or so (when the RTH day-trippers arrive), but that was definitely not the case that day.

Most pictures of the pools look about the same, so I wanted to see if I could get something unique. Careful positioning enabled me to get a fresh perspective on the oft-photographed scene:

By the time we got back up to the parking lot we were hot, tired, and disappointed. We decided to skip the Pipiwai Trail and move on. Now we were wishing we had gone with the Shaliach earlier; I'm certain it would have been far more fun. From the short conversation we had he definitely came across as someone who it would be great to spend more time with.

Back on the road:

Past the park is where the road stops being the lush Road to Hana and turns into the wild "other half". Though technically called the Piilani Highway, it's generally referred to as the other half of the RTH. The road here starts out as a one-lane, generally unpaved road hugging the cliffs. Soon it passes through shrubland and pastures, which eventually changes into bona fide desert, not unlike the American Southwest. Finally it climbs Haleakala's flanks and back to greenery and Kula.

On this half, the road is more about the jaw-dropping scenery than activities, waterfalls, and the like. There's not much to do here, but I found myself pulling over and gawking at the scenery more often than on the first half.

(Fair warning: there are lots of road pictures coming up, as that's the star of the show here.)

The first part of the road is an astonishingly beautiful nail-biter:

Some spots are downright alarming:

Some areas had guardrails...:

...but most didn't:

In some areas the guardrail has simply given up:

The one-lane bridges are even hairier here than the first half:

A curve in the road takes you back to the jungle for a moment, and reveals a tiny but stunning beach through the foliage. Perfect spot for lunch:

Many people think that a regular car can't make it all the way around. This is simply not true. In fact, there are many large tour buses doing it just fine. Whenever we had one of those behind us, I'd pull over and let him go ahead. That let us keep our pace nice and slow:

A tiny, localized rain shower up ahead:

Rain like this means just one thing, so I promptly put my wife on rainbow-spotting duty ;D. Not five minutes later she called out a target:

The other side of Haleakala's Kaupo Gap:

Another beautiful double rainbow:

Slowly the road went from green jungle to scrubby land. With this change came the cows: dozens of them, in multiple herds, meandering mindlessly wherever they pleased:

The landscape changed yet again, this time to desert. Without thick foliage in the way, you have marvelous views of Haleakala on one side and the ocean on the other. The road itself is often visible for great distances, a winding ribbon wending its way to the horizon.

Every rise and every bend provides yet another - and completely different - vista:

The Pokowai sea arch is off to the left:

One of the most incredible-looking areas on the island is on this part of the road. In between mile markers 28 and 27, the road takes a nearly 180-degree turn around a hill. At you round the turn, your breath is taken away. The road falls sharply away from you, revealing a landscape that would feel at home in Utah or Arizona. This is the Manawainui Gulch, a deep, dry canyon which makes its way down the mountain.

The road drops 123 feet in around a tenth of a mile - that's a 40-degree grade. For comparison, the maximum allowed grade in the Interstate highway system is 7 degrees.

When people think of Hawaii, something like is is not what they imagine... The diversity on this island is unbelievable.

On the other side of the bridge the road climbs back up:

After this some plants start to appear again, as the road turns more inland towards Kula.

Someone appears to have had a lot of fun on a motorcycle here:

It was getting late in the afternoon when we came to the Auwahi Wind Farm overlook:

A shower over the island of Kahoʻolawe:

A cinder cone from Haleakala's last eruption:

The darker looking area on the left (in front of Kaho'olawe) is the Molikini crater:


My wife dared me to drive with the roof down and wearing my snorkel gear. I added a lei for good measure ;D:

(My motto in life is "Why be normal when you could be yourself" 8).)

Once you're back upcountry, green abounds:

Back in Kula, it's off to our cottage to pick up our luggage:

We had just enough time to our flight to collect our stuff and have dinner. One incredible Hawaiian sunset later and off we were, homeward bound.

The end :D

May 31, 2015, 09:03:35 PM
Re: Funny Tweets
June 12, 2015, 05:54:12 PM
Aurora, Storms, and Snowpants: An Icelandic Saga by Something Fishy, whYME, and ChAiM'l
August 01, 2015, 11:57:21 PM
Re: Pictures taken from or on the plane/airports (only taken yourself) HAV airport with a Cubana Ilyushin IL96-300:

Cubana Tupolev Tu-204CE:

Old Havana:

Panama City in the rain:

August 30, 2015, 04:40:31 AM
Re: Best of DDF Oldie but goodie... Still my all-time favorite DDF anecdote.

Suave, in his Cambodia TR:

I bribed the Guard $1 at the Anti-Corruption Unit to let me into the building - Just for the novelty.

December 16, 2015, 11:32:04 PM
Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report Awesome so far, looking forward to the rest. Patagonia has been on my bucket list for a long time.

My favorite part so far - around 1.5 seconds in, I see that you were planning this trip report already ;D ;D ;D:

December 22, 2015, 11:58:23 PM
Re: Aurora, Storms, and Snowpants: An Icelandic Saga by Something Fishy, whYME, and ChAiM'l [Something Fishy] We had been on the road to Jokulsarlon for only a couple of minutes, when it started to snow >:(. If we weren't annoyed enough at the Icelandic weather, we definitely were now... The road was very well marked, with evenly spaced reflectors along both sides, but our progress slowed considerably.

Luckily, after about half an hour, we passed the area of bad weather and left the snow behind completely.

whYME was driving at the time,
([whYME] naturally :D) while I was in the passenger seat gloomily watching the sky for the aurora I knew was not coming. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a point of light. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what it was - a star! This can't be right... the entire country is cloudy! whYME slammed on the brakes, turned off the lights, and I jumped out to investigate.

Thousands of stars were twinkling at me. Here and there a small patch of clouds still hung, but unbelievably, the sky had cleared!

Adrenaline pumping with excitement, we hit the road again, this time all three of us watching the sky intently. Not ten minutes later, I shouted for whYME to stop. Unless I was very much mistaken, I had just seen the faintest glimmer of green in the sky.

Again I jumped out of the van, rested my camera on the hood, and pointed it in the general direction. Lo and behold, there it was! While incredibly faint, there was no doubt about it. Even though it was hardly visible to us, my camera's long exposure had seen it clearly:

Like maniacs, we threw on whatever layers we could find, grabbed our cameras and tripods, and ran (literally) out into the night. We parked the van on a little outcropping of road, turned off all the lights, and sprinted to the other side of the road for a better composition.

We were a sight to behold. Three nutjobs, running and slipping across a frozen field, shouting instructions and tips over the wailing wind, trying to take a picture of what was really the lousiest aurora display you could imagine. Two minutes later the display brightened up a drop, and we had our primary objective for the trip completed: a picture of a real, live aurora. Sure, it was as meh a picture as I ever took, but at least we had seen something:

Let me digress for a moment and address the elephant in the room: the vast majority of the time, the aurora doesn't look as bright or as colorful as you see in all the pictures and time-lapse videos. Often, there is a lot of Photoshop put into each picture to bring out the aurora and show it the way people want to see it. Additionally, since a long exposure is needed to properly capture the lights, there are no videos to be had, only time-lapses (this has since changed with the introduction of the incredible Sony A7r camera). This means that the quick "dancing" we're used to seeing does not exist at all; reality is more like a shimmer, or a quick-moving cloud. Mercilessly, I kept on reminding Chaim'l and whYME about these facts; we must be prepared and not have our expectations exceed reality.

[whYME] Although I heard Something Fishy's warnings, it never quite registered with me because even though I knew not to expect it to look quite like the time lapses, I wasn't expecting it to be that bad.

[Something Fishy] As we were bundling back in the van, I mentioned this yet again. We were of course hoping that this display was just a teaser, but we know that it won't look like the videos we had seen ahead of time.

The above pictures are pretty much exactly the way we saw it in real life; as a demonstration, here's what they look like after some Photoshop wizardry:

Heading back to the van Chaim'l continued his clothing-losing streak, when his glove blew away into a pitch-dark, fenced-in field. From my end, my memory-card-losing trend appeared to be over, thankfully.

Our low spirits were now very definitely gone.

[whYME] Um, what? I guess SF and Chaim'l were happier, but me? That was quite another story.

Uch, such a disappointment. At this point, in a sense, I was even more disheartened and dejected than when we were looking at total cloud cover. And SF's insistence that this is how it often is didn't help matters. At least beforehand there was hope for the clouds to clear and we'd still see something, but now you're telling me that it's all a bunch of BS and I won't actually see the aurora looking anything like they appear in the pictures and videos?

Of course on one hand I was excited to have at least seen something, and was certainly hopeful and optimistic that we'd still get somewhat better views. On the other hand, with the full reality of Something Fishy's dire warnings setting in, I couldn't help but think "Really? that's what the fuss is all about? What a bummer."

Little did I know...

[Something Fishy] Back on the road, we got into the real hunting mode. We layered up everything we owned, from balaclavas to ice spikes for our boots. We set our cameras to manual mode, ISO 400, f/2.8, and 8 seconds (a good exposure starting point). We manually focused our lenses to infinity, and taped them down in that position. Bubble level in the hot shoe, wireless remotes receivers plugged in and set. We put our cameras on our tripods, fully extended legs their legs, and put those on our laps. The point of all this was simple: if the aurora appears again, we're ready to shoot in two seconds flat.

Turning off the car's heat so that we don't melt, we hit the road again. I don't remember who it was, but at this point someone pointed out that we must look like the yidden eating the korban pesach for the very first time - מָתְנֵיכֶ֣ם חֲגֻרִ֔ים נַֽעֲלֵיכֶם֙ בְּרַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וּמַקֶּלְכֶ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֑ם  ;D ;D ;D.

It was around half an hour later when the sky EXPLODED. We ran out into an otherworldly scene, one whose intensity took our breaths away. Auroras stretching from horizon to horizon; curtains of green, pink, and purple twisting, dancing in a cosmic dance. A thick green line drops, stretches, expands in all directions. It spreads into the vertical, the upper reaches changing from green to pink to purple. The dark, black landscape is transformed: the brightness of the aurora lights up even distant mountains; every patch of ice and snow glows eerily green. The silence was absolute; nothing could be heard but the melancholy wail of the wind.

Pictures? Who could think about pictures now.

We did however take some ;D. After drinking deeply of the incredible phenomenon before us, we now tried to capture it in camera. I should point out that these pictures are pretty much as we say it; other than the typical RAW adjustments (sharpness, contrast, etc.), these pictures are barely edited. We were truly luck to catch an exceptionally powerful display:

Photo by Chaim'l:

Photo by whYME:

Photo by Something Fishy:

Photo by Chaim'l:

Photo by Something Fishy:

Photo by Something Fishy:

Photo by whYME:

Photo by whYME:

Photo by Chaim'l:

Photo by Something Fishy:

[Something Fishy] For a couple of seconds, we even even lucky enough to see a somewhat rare coronal aurora, where the rays all appear to emanate from one point directly overhead:

Photo by whYME:

Photo by whYME:

Photo by whYME:

[Something Fishy] Once we had our shots, we put the cameras down and just watched.

In my opinion, this is something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. There's something spiritual about it; words cannot begin to describe the feeling of lying on the ice, in the middle of nowhere, in the freezing cold, and watching the spectacular display of Hashem's work. I don't think I've ever made as heartfelt a birchas Osah Massai Bereishis as I did that night.

[Chaim’l] There isn’t much I could add to SF’s excellent oratory. It was a most amazing experience, lying on the snowy ground beside my tripod in the stillness of the night, watching the most awesome display of dancing colours across the sky. At that moment you cannot help forgetting about lost gloves and any other trivialities. This was Nifla’os HaBorei at its best.

[whYME] Wow! Just wow.
There's not much for me to add other than after thinking of Something Fishy's earlier dire warnings, I've never in my life been so glad to be able to tell someone "Ha! you were wrong!"

[Chaim’l] I took the opportunity to capture some pictures of SF and whYME lying on the ground spellbound by the show.

Photo by Chaim'l:

Photo by whYME:

[Something Fishy] After 35 minutes, the show began winding down. With a final burst of pale green and pink, the display came to a close:

Absolutely exhilarated, we got back in the van. After such a disappointing weather forecast, to be witness to such a spectacle, was just beyond our wildest dreams.

Once again, we headed to Jokulsarlon.

Except that we didn't. Fourteen minutes into the journey we, once again, hightailed it off the road. That sky!

Photo by Chaim'l:

Photo by whYME:

[Something Fishy] This video I took - while absolutely abysmal in quality - allows you to get an idea how the aurora dances, shifts, and fades in real-time:

This display was quite short; after 11 minutes, this one, too, faded to black:

This was turning into a pattern, and no sir, we did not mind one little bit ;D. Back in the car, drive a couple of minutes, screech onto the side of the road, and see display after marvelous display:

Photo by Chaim'l:

[Something Fishy] Sometimes we didn't bother taking pictures. For example, at one point in this weird and wonderful night, there was no aurora to be seen save for single, thick, bright green stripe stretching from horizon to horizon. Like a giant celestial snake, just hanging there, overhead; sometimes still, sometimes hypnotically waving from side to side. No way a camera could capture this otherworldly apparition. But we stood there, spellbound, until it faded into a memory.

[whYME] Perhaps there was no way for a camera to capture it, but I was still willing to give it a try :):

Meanwhile Chaim'l and Something Fishy just enjoyed the show:

[Something Fishy] As the hours passed, something incredible happened. Unbelievably, we were getting aurora fatigue. Spoiled by utterly epic displays, we'd see a medium-sized aurora and say, "Eh, not worth stopping for. We've seen better than that". I think that's the only reason we actually made it to Jokulsarlon in the end, by forging on and ignoring multiple "lesser" displays.

[whYME] Some lessons learned while driving that night:

1. If you're the one driving, try and leave the sky-watching to the passengers. I know it's important to know if there's any new aurora displays, but it's more important to pay attention to the road.
2. When disobeying rule #1, if you're approaching a one-lane bridge, be extra cautious and make sure you're not about to hit a tractor trailer head-on.
3. When disobeying rule #2, you darn well better hope the tractor trailer flashes his high beams and honks his air horn at you to get your attention with enough time for you to stop before the bridge...

[Something Fishy] At around 3:00 AM, we finally pulled into the parking lot at Jokulsarlon. The weather had turned overcast again and the parking lot was deserted, save for two cars whose occupants were fast asleep. Our goal now was simple - get some sleep ourselves. Other than a 2-hour nap on the plane, we had all been up for 40-something hours at this point; we were running on pure adrenaline.

Now the real fun started. While the camper supposedly sleeps five, it only really fits three adults - on two beds. The bottom bunk was not bad: there was plenty of room for two, and a camera bag divider did a nice job of maintaining, uh, a secure Demarcation Line. The top bunk, on the other hand, while being plenty wide, only had a clearance of twelve inches or so :o. I volunteered to climb up and be the guinea pig.

Oh. My. Flipptin'. Felusa. You have never felt something as claustrophobic as this. Once I was in, my fate was sealed; no way I'm getting out of there without some major gymnastics. I couldn't roll over; I couldn't bring my arms up or down. In fact I woke up at one point in the middle of the night freezing cold, as my blanket had fallen down and there was simply no way for me to retrieve it.

And it goes without saying that the bed (shelf?) was not exactly long enough. Chaim'l and whYME were laughing for half an hour straight when they caught sight of this:

[Chaim’l] This was probably the most comical turn-ins I've ever experienced. Due to the cramped space inside and ferocious winds outside, it was nigh on impossible to get undressed properly. We went to sleep almost fully clothed save for our snow boots and mid-layer tops. Although not the most comfortable sleepwear, it kept us warm and meant that when we awoke we were almost ready to go.

On the note of ferocious winds, it is recommended to check the wind’s direction before answering nature’s call outdoors in these conditions. An airfield windsock attached to the vehicle would do nicely.

[whYME] Indeed, the wind can be a bit of an issue when standing at the edge of the water and aiming for an iceberg, but with a little effort it's doable :D.

[Something Fishy] Sunrise was scheduled for 8:54. That meant we wanted to be ready to shoot by 7 o'clock, the latest. By the time we had settled down it was 4:00; we had two whole hours to sleep before our alarms went off at 6:00.

We were asleep in seconds.

December 27, 2015, 03:43:12 AM
Re: Welcome to the Forum
How about now?

It's called Whatsapp.

February 18, 2016, 10:08:12 AM
Re: Good Shabbos! Good Shabbos from the Lofoten DO.
March 11, 2016, 10:56:09 AM
Re: How to create photo Book with Hebrew Text If you build each page in Photoshop you could make whatever you want. Upload it one page at a time.
March 23, 2016, 12:39:14 AM
Re: Pictures taken from or on the plane/airports (only taken yourself) Was going through some old pictures and came across these. All were taken EWR-LAX.

Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado:

The San Bernardino Mountains and Bear Mountain ski area. RBF airport is visible in the lower right-hand corner:

April 05, 2016, 12:01:10 AM