Normally I start the month of July with a long weekend of hometown festivities for Independence Day but this year my brother turned 50 so we all road tripped to Indy for a backyard party complete with karaoke, a crackling bonfire, an outdoor chocolate fountain, an endless variety of beers on tap and dozens of people I'd never met in my life. My (much, much) older brother is serious about his big birthdays.
I didn't take any images at his party (being content to sip vodka tonic and laze about in front of the bonfire) but my cousin, her husband and I zoomed home incredibly early the next day so that we wouldn't miss too much of my village's 4th of July activities. We did miss the Independence Day Parade, which I usually photograph, but managed to squeeze in our usual al fresco cocktails and dinner at Emmet's, followed by a half-mile walk to Community Park, lugging chairs, blankets, bug spray, dessert and of course, more cocktails. Oh, I had my camera too :)
While I normally bring my tripod to shoot the fireworks, this year I just carried my Canon 5D Mark III with my new 50mm 1.4 prime lens. I had a Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens for a long time but the day before Thanksgiving 2015, my purse fell off a counter, landed upside down on the floor and my heavy Canon 5D Mark III camera body crunched the mostly plastic lens. The cracked not-so-nifty-fifty stuck stubbornly to the camera body and I actually had to have it cut off the camera by Mr. Kim at Metro Camera Repair. It's not a difficult decision to sacrifice a $125 lens to save an expensive (and beloved) camera body. I finally replaced my broken 50mm with the f/1.4 version in February. I mainly use it for pet photography but thought it would be a great option for low light images of the crowds and carnival at Community Park.
My Canon 5D Mark III handles low light and high ISO very well so I was pleased with the results from what can only be called very casual shooting efforts. Afterall, I did have a cocktail in my hand for most of the evening! I don't have an image gallery for my hometown but since I am pretty sentimental about where I live, I do have a dedicated Land of Lincoln gallery. Many of the images are from my northwestern suburban Chicago town, a place I'm oddly proud to be from. It's no Gilmore Girls Stars Hollow but it's a pretty nice place to live.
July continued with a quick trip to Toronto to visit some great photography friends of mine. We met a few years ago on a photography trip to Iceland and since then have gotten together yearly. Last year they visited me in Chicago so this year I flew to Toronto. Rob and Michelle live in a perfect area full of single family homes and within walking distance of the subway.
We started the weekend with a trip to the CN Tower. We had an early dinner reservation at 360, the rotating restaurant at the top of the tower. It might sound corny to but the prix fixe menu was very good, service was also good and from a budget perspective, eating dinner at 360 with its complimentary access to the the observation deck makes excellent sense. With our dinner reservation we also didn't have to wait in the long, long line for the observation deck elevators, another (almost) priceless bonus. After dinner and image-making at the CN Tower, we dashed around downtown Toronto a bit. It started to rain and I was exhausted from my flight so we ultimately turned in pretty early.
The following morning we hit the road for a day trip to Niagara Falls, which I had never visited. I totally loved it, too. Yes, maybe I was in the running for a Super Cheesy Tourist badge while I was in the Toronto area but there's a reason these places are bucket list travel destinations. If you've been there you know what I mean and if you haven't, you should really go. I tried to add a soupçon of je ne sais quois to my Niagara images by using my Singh-Ray Gold-n-Blue Polarizer but they look just like everyone else's and I'm totally OK with that. For me, Niagara was really just about enjoying being there with good friends I only see once a year.
After oohing, aahing and shooting at Niagara Falls, we headed to the charming town Niagara-on-the-Lake, stopped at a few wineries for some wine tasting, walked along the lakeshore, checked out an old military fort and then had a delicious farm-to-table dinner. I learned all about ice wine, a specialty of the local wineries. I normally don't care much for sweet dessert wines but there was something about ice wine that caught my fancy, and I've regretted not bringing home a bottle or two.
One of my favorite parts of my trip to Toronto was learning about and photographing Ward's Island. Ward's is one of a small chain of tiny islands a short ferry-ride away from downtown Toronto. The history of these islands fascinated me and I was very intrigued about the almost counter-culture feel of this community. The houses were like tiny little cottages seemingly built for fairies and I used my Singh-Ray Gold-n-Blue polarizer to much better effect here. The gold end of the filter worked really well to lend a soft, golden light to my late morning images.
My other favorite part of visiting Canada was the maple syrup. Rob and Michelle sent me home with the biggest can of maple syrup I have ever seen. I'm afraid to open it. I love it so much, I might just drink it straight from the can...
August always marks the beginning of my selling season for my primary income business and it's a hard shift for me to transition from almost daily photo shoots and fun travel to long days of emails, phone calls and trade shows. One of the highlights of August - this is going to sounds crazy - is the squirrels. While I get back into the swing of things in my home office, they descend upon my backyard tree to gorge on the seeds. I leave both my cameras out with zoom lenses attached and in between phone calls, I take quick 15-minute breaks. I stand on my balcony and photograph them as they leap acrobatically from branch to branch, eating the seeds and the whipping the spent husks at my head. I work on this backyard squirrel project every August and of course, I have a squirrel gallery.
My cats love this time of year too - even Carter maybe a little too much. He's only three afterall. Celia, at almost 20, has seen the the squirrels enjoy the tree's buffet for many years. She can hardly be bothered to look anymore much less harness the energy to peddle her back feet or chirp in anticipation. Carter, on the other hand, at a burly 15 pounds, harnessed a little too much energy one day and launched himself through the screen door trying to get to the squirrels. The squirrels weren't phased by Carter's sudden appearance on the porch but he was certainly a bit dazed by his impact with the metal screen
The other big deal in August is my birthday because what do photographers do on their birthdays? They buy new equipment of course. Not wanting to break any photography "rules," I ordered the Canon f/4.5-5.6L 100-400 IS USM II telephoto zoom lens. I mainly plan to use it to photograph wild horses but it worked surprisingly well for my backyard squirrel project too.
What did you all get up to this past July and August? Did you buy any new gear? Or photograph any fun projects?
Up next, Part III, September and October.