Dec 212011
36 Hanukkah Dreydels

36 Dreydels

Tonight is the first night of Hannukah, which has, in English, more spellings than Gadaffi, and is a lot more fun.

Why thirty-six dreydlekh? The Hebrew word for life is “Chai,” represented by the letters chet and yod. It so happens that these two letters also represent the number eighteen, so eighteen symbolizes life and all good things that go with life (think l’chaim!, which also derives from chai)

So if chai is a good thing, obviously twice chai is even better, no?

By the way, the word dreydel comes from the Yiddish verb, dreyen, which means “to turn.” Yiddish is about 1000 years old, and the word dreydel is almost as old.

The Hebrew word for dreydel is sivivon. Hebrew is much older than Yiddish, but sivivon is a neologism, invented by Itamar Ben-Avi in 1887, when he was five years old. Itamar was the son of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the man who almost single-handedly brought about the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the modern era, and his son Itamar was the first native speaker of modern Hebrew.

Dec 122011
Lookng up at the inner dome of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City

Lookng up at the inner dome of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in NYC

I got up at the proverbial oh-dark-thirty Saturday morning to take a 5:30 Megabus to Manhattan for a lesson in post-processing workflow with the incomparable Dave Beckerman. Specifically, Dave shared with me his more than two years of using NIK Software’s suite of impressive add-ins for Photoshop or Lightroom.

It was a great experience – Dave is very creative and an excellent teacher. If any of you get a chance to spend some time in NYC, try to look him up, or even better, take a lesson from him. You won’t be sorry.

After our lesson, I went to St. Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue and 51st Street. It’s a beautiful Byzantine-style basilica. It’s one of those special places where even if think you haven’t seen it, you probably have – Hollywood loves it for scenes of high-falutin’ weddings. Both the original and the remake of Arthur used St. Bart’s for their wedding scenes. The church also had a very big part in the Angelina Jolie film, Salt.

I took several interior shots with a tripod at St. Bart’s before a docent came up to me and said that tripods were not allowed. To get this photo of the interior of the dome, I laid my camera flat on its back on a table just underneath the crossing, set it for Automatic Exposure Bracketing, and triggered off the three exposures with my infrared remote shutter release. Back home, I assembled the three exposures using NIK’s HDR Effex Pro to get what you see here.

It’s very interesting… I could barely make out the detail in the dome, it was that dark. But thanks to 21st-century electronics, our digital sensors just keep sucking up photons until the image processing chip says “enough.” And unlike film, long exposures don’t suffer from reciprocity failure. What a great world we photographers now live in!

p.s. Sorry about that photo of Russel Brand running out of St. Bart’s in his gatkes.

Dec 092011

Abandoned house on MD Route 3 in Crofton, Maryland

I pass by this old abandoned house every day on my commute – it’s on the west side of Route 3, about 1.1 miles south of Route 424. In the summer, the vegetation you see here almost completely hides it from view.

Whenever I do notice it, I always wonder who lived there and what happened.

Dec 082011
Dahlgren Hall US Naval Academy Annapolis MD

A midshipman passes in front of Dahlgren Hall

When you exit the security entrance at the Naval Academy Vistor Center, walk straight ahead for a block, and this facade of Dahlgren Hall will be on your right.

Dahlgren is one of several buildings, all designed by Ernest Flagg, that form the heart of the Naval Academy campus, or as they call it, “the Yard.” These imposing buildings comprised a major expansion of the Academy in the early 1900’s.

Flagg was one of the preeminent American practitioners of the Beaux-Arts style, and his commissions included the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC and the Singer Building in New York City. His designs are what gives the central core of the Yard its neoclassical atmosphere (contrast this to the Gothic architecture of West Point.)

Dec 072011
US Naval Academy Chapel Dome Annapolis MD

Looking up at the inner dome of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel

I took this last Saturday during a spur-of-the-moment visit to the Naval Academy while I was in Annapolis. Fortunately, I had The World’s Third Best Pocket Camera in my pocket.

Seriously, now, although Ken Rockwell does think highly of this camera (and I sorta like it too,)  you could do just as well with almost any digital point-and-shoot produced in the last several years. An $80 Canon Powershot A800, for example, would do just fine.

I pressed the camera against the aisle end of one of the pews in the nave in order to steady it for the longish exposure. It always pays to take several exposures in this sort of situation. Most of them were shaky, but a few, like this one, were tripod-sharp.

Dec 062011
Cherry Hill Fountain in Central Park, NYC

Cherry Hill Fountain, with one of the towers of The San Remo in the background

This large, elaborate Victorian fountain was designed and installed for the benefit of … horses!

You see, once Central Park was completed around 1870, up-and-coming young men would go speeding around the drives in the Park in their horse-drawn carriages (think Corvettes and Porsches.) This was foreseen by the architects of the Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux – in fact, that’s largely why they put the vehicle paths in the Park in the first place – for pleasure-driving.

On problem with the horse-and-carriage setup is that it’s very hard to back up; there’s no reverse gear on a horse, you know. So Olmsted and Vaux designed Cherry Hill on the south side of the Boat Lake with a circular drive, so that the carriages could enter in one direction and come out the other way. And while they were at it, why not let the horses take a break and have a drink? So that’s what the fountain, designed by the polymath Jacob Wrey Mould, was for. Mr. Mould contributed a number of other designs to the Park, including the sculptural details of the grand staircase at Bethesda Terrace.

No more horse-drinking, or human-drinking, for that matter is allowed at the fountain, but it still looks beautiful and works great.  When I lived in Manhattan in the late 70’s, Cherry Hill was a mess, and the fountain was dry, chipped, and covered with graffiti. Thanks to the Central Park Conservancy, along with a gift from Elizabeth and Clement Moore, the fountain and its operation has been fully restored since 1998.

Dec 012011
Nave of the Washington National Cathedral

Nave of Washington National Cathedral as seen from the West balcony

As you know, I always wanted to pretend to be an architect.

I’m now near the end, the Gothic period, of the first part of a two-semester course in history of Western architecture. By a wonderful coincidence, my “part-time boss,” David Luria of Washington Photo Safari, asked me to volunteer as a photo tour instructor for last Saturday’s WPS National Cathedral Benefit Photo Safari. All of the proceeds for David’s two safaris, which totaled over $5600, have gone to the Cathedral towards a fund for repairs to damage by the recent earthquake.

I was happy to volunteer for such a good cause, and doubly happy, since I now have some understanding of Gothic cathedral design. I also now have an appreciation of the two millenia of cultural, engineering, and architectural legacies that led to the development of this inspiring style some 900 years ago, and ultimately, to this very edifice.

It’s also gratifying, and frankly a lot of fun, to know the names of the various “pieces” of a structure like this… “yep, there’s the nave, up there is the chancel, wow check out the decoration at the triforium level!”

For the record, I took this photo with my tiny, carry-everywhere Canon S90. I was able to brace it on a railing for the 1 second exposure required.

If you haven’t yet been to the Cathedral, you won’t regret making a visit. If you want to take interior photos in the Cathedral, I strongly recommend a tripod. Just let them know at the Visitors Center that you’re bringing the tripod inside.

Dec 012011
Quiet Cove - upper Severn River, Severna Park, MD

A quiet cove on the Upper Severn River - Minolta SR-T MC-ii, Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm

Here’s another film photo that I took on Thanksgiving morning along the upper Severn River. I used a Minolta SR-T MC-ii body with a Vivitar Series 1 70-210 mm, f/3.5 zoom and Kodak Gold 200 film.

The Minolta SR-T series of cameras were built like the proverbial tank and produced continuously from 1966 through 1981. This particular variation, MC-II, was made by Minolta for J.C. Penney and K-Mart, but, allowing for minor differences, is pretty much like the original 1966 SR-T 101. A great source of information about this line of cameras is at this page on Antony’s superb website, The Rokkor Files.

From what I can see from the photos I took with the Vivitar Series 1 zoom, it lives up to its excellent reputation. Actually, as Mark Roberts explains here, there were five versions of this lens, the last two of which were not up to par. Fortunately, mine is the second version, manufactured by Tokina for Vivitar.

Dec 012011
Pond Reflection Grasonville MD

Pond Reflection (Minolta XE-5)

Lately I’ve been collecting 35mm manual-focus SLRs from the period when I first started doing photography, late 1960’s to about 1980. There are many that I’ve always wanted to own, or at least try, but back when a camera and normal lens was $250 or so, this just wasn’t possible.

Enter the Era of Ebay, and many of these same cameras are available for a song. For the most part, I’m just going to put them on shelves for display, but I’m trying to run at least one roll of film through each.

I took this photo with my recently-purchased thrift-shop Minolta XE-5, which I bought with a 50mm lens for all of $29.95. The body and lens looked great, and all it took was two small batteries, and it worked perfectly. It’s solid and heavy, but very nice to work with and easy to use.

This model was built from 1975 to 1977, when it was replaced by the XG-7, part of a new Minolta SLR line that was more compact and lighter.