Crouching Tiger, Hidden Husband

(Originally posted January 6, 2013)

Double Arch - Arches National Park - Utah
Double Arch – Arches National Park – Utah

Whenever we’re traveling, my husband usually gets treated to my asking him for little photographic favors like, “Sweetie… could you do me a favor and crouch down behind that rock for a sec?” or “Sweetie… could you do me a favor and tuck yourself around that corner for a second?”  Usually I get a small eye roll, a quick sigh, and then he moves out of the way so I can get my shot.  (When we get home, he appreciates the results in the picture though!)

This shot of Double Arch in Arches National Park outside of Moab, UT was one of these shots where I needed my husband to do me a solid.  Somewhere, behind one of those rocks, he’s crouching and hiding for me so I could capture this scene sans people.  Lucky for me he’s so obliging.  Even better that I got the shot when I did because not long afterwards, a swarm of people came up the trail and there would be no more getting this shot without people in it!

So this quick post is really a tribute to my husband who puts up with some simple (and not so simple) requests for me when it comes to my photography.  Without his help – big or small – shots like this wouldn’t be possible.



A Season for Lights

(Originally posted December 19, 2012)

The Wanamaker Light Show Finale - Philadelphia, PA
The Wanamaker Light Show Finale – Philadelphia, PA

Well, it’s time to start wrapping things up for 2012.  But before we take a break for the holidays, we wanted to wish everyone the best this holiday season and share a quick memory before we left!

The image above is one of my favorite traditions of the Christmas season – the Wanamaker Light Show in Center City Philadelphia, PA.  (Macy’s now owns and operates the store, but for those of us who grew up with the tradition, it will always be Wanamakers!)  This light show is over 80 years old and runs every hour of every day of the holiday shopping season each year – for free – at the Macy’s store in downtown Philadelphia.  The show runs for about 20 minutes, with Julie Andrews narrating various Christmas tales as the lights play out each scene on a pallet that is 4 stories high.

Growing up, my favorite part of the Christmas season was taking the train ride with my mom and my sisters into the city where we met my dad after he finished his day at work and we went to see the Christmas sights in the city.  Sure, there were visits with Santa, rides on the monorail that circled above a department store’s toy section, and a walk through Dickens’ Village, but the Light Show was always my favorite!

As Wanamaker’s changed hands several times in recent years, many worried about the fate of the light show.  Luckily, Macy’s recognized the strength of this tradition and its historic value and started fixing the elements of the show that had been disappearing one by one as parts failed or became unsafe.  Time had not been kind to the equipment, but slowly it’s been coming back to its full glory.

While we may never see the dancing waters at the base of the show come back (due to safety reasons), the Magic Tree did make a triumphant return in 2008.  Upon seeing that news, I made sure to take my camera to the show to capture the grand finale from our viewpoint on the 2nd floor.  Every time I see this picture or think of the Light Show, I get the warm & fuzzies thinking about holidays past.

So, on that note, we here at Alpha Pup Photography wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and that you enjoy whatever holidays you may be celebrating this season!!  Thank you for all of your support as we launched Alpha Pup this year.  2012 was just the beginning for us, and we’re really excited about things to come in 2013!!



I Need a Margarita NOW

(Originally posted December 1, 2012)

Flowered Flower Pots - San Diego, CA
Flowered Flower Pots – San Diego, CA

Whenever I see this picture, I always think of how close I was to having a much-needed margarita in San Diego.  Here’s why…

When my husband finished his master’s degree, his parents generously offered to send him to a one-week Spanish language immersion class in Ensenada, Mexico (along with his father – that’s an even longer story!) as a graduation present.  The school also offered cooking classes on the weekends, so it was an easy two-fer for our family, and that’s why my mother-in-law and I flew down to see our spouses at the end of their week of classes.  Here’s what the original plan was:

  1. The guys fly to San Diego at the start of the week, cross the border and get settled into Ensenada.
  2. My mother-in-law and I would fly into San Diego on Thursday, cross the border on Friday, and meet the guys in town after their classes were done.
  3. All four of us cross the border back into the States on Sunday and head home the next day.

Simple enough, right?  Well, not when it came to the planning.  Thanks to an abundance of frequent flyer miles, the flight planning was tricky, but doable.  We even got it set so I would fly from Philly to Dallas and I would meet my mother-in-law in Dallas (since she was coming in from Chicago), and we’d continue onto San Diego together on the same flight.  It was a nice thought to have some company on the last 3 hours of the flight to SD.  (Full disclosure:  While some folks would welcome this situation, I’m one of the lucky ones who really gets along well with her in-laws, so it was a bummer that we couldn’t hang out on the flight.)

My flight went smoothly, but then I couldn’t find my mother-in-law in Dallas.  If you’ve never been to that airport, it’s HUGE!  I checked different gates, different terminals, and kept calling her cell phone – no answer.  Where the hell is she!?!  At worst, I figured I’d see her on the next leg of our journey to San Diego.

After a quick bite of lunch and one more sprint through the airport, I got on my flight to San Diego, sat down (in my middle seat, no less), and suddenly I was flanked by 2 people I didn’t know.  Where the hell is my mother-in-law?!!

So at this point, I figure I would find her at the airport in San Diego.  Sure enough, that’s where she was!  She had been waiting for me at the coffee shop in the baggage area in San Diego for almost 4 hours.  Know why?  Because when she asked to get on the stand-by list out of Chicago, they didn’t just stand-by her to Dallas… they managed to get her on stand-by all the way through to San Diego!!  Very cool, but very confusing because it meant that she was on the ground while I was in the air (and vice versa) and we could never get in contact with each other aside from leaving “I’m at x, where the heck are you?” messages.  Quite comical, in retrospect.

When I finally found her in San Diego, things went relatively smoothly from that point on.  (There were many comical moments during the short trip, but that’s a different blog for a different time.)  Once we got into our hotel and grabbed a bit to eat, we caught a cab over to the Old Town Market in San Diego to check it out and eventually grab dinner.  This picture is from a really cool home decor place that we found in the market.

So after a crazy day of travel and some walking around Old Town, I was probably overdue for a drink and a little relaxation.  Since Mexico was our next stop, I figured a margarita would be the perfect choice alongside my tacos al pastor when we finally sat down to dinner.  And dang skippy if we didn’t have fun that night before we started our adventures in Mexico!

– JC

PS – This week’s foot update:  It’s still on the mend.  I’m getting around a little better each day, but the healing’s going a bit slower than my doctor anticipated.  I’m hopeful that I’ll be back to normal soon because I want to get back to shooting some fun stuff during some travels we have coming up on the calendar!!

It Gets Dark After Sunset, Ya Know

(Originally posted November 20, 2012)

Sunset Ripples - Great Sand Dunes National Park - Colorado
Sunset Ripples – Great Sand Dunes National Park – Colorado

You’d think it doesn’t take much to remember that it gets dark after sunset, right?  Not the case when you’re so focused on getting your sunset shots as the light and weather start cooperating at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado!

This day’s sunset shooting session wasn’t shaping up to be much of anything as we set out on the dunes.  That’s when the light started to change and the clouds started coming in to make the scene potentially more dramatic, if not fleeting.  Time to hustle a little to get a great spot for shooting…

Sure enough, in the swirl of my mind that was taking in all of the fantastic shooting options and rushing to get to my position to set up before the conditions vanished, I forgot to bring our headlamps so we could find our way back to the parking lot and our campground.  No problem though because my husband – ever the Boy Scout – would surely have them.  Turns out he forgot too… whoops!

So the sunset session went on as planned, and I pushed it as long as I possibly could while mentally balancing how the scenery was changing, the photographic potential, the rate at which it was getting dark, and how quickly we could get back to the car before the skies were completely black (and the animals – big and small – started to come out for their nightly fun).  I got some really fantastic shots on this particular evening, this image being one of them.

After the sun went behind the dunes, the clouds filled in too much for dramatic sunset colors, so we started back towards the car and our camp.  Much to our surprise, we walked a lot further from the parking lot than we had originally thought!  Double whoops!!  No worries though, because we did make it back with a hint of dusk to spare and went about our night.  (Stargazing at this park is fantastic – so much to see in the night skies!!)

This picture always reminds me of the new addition I made to my routine for sunset shooting sessions – putting a headlamp in my camera bag just in case I need it.  Something so simple, full of common sense, that I simply forgot that day that I won’t let happen again.  Definitely a “duh” moment for me, even though I got some amazing shots!  🙂

– JC

PS – Yours truly is still on the mend after foot surgery.  Things are healing well, just a little slower than little ol’ impatient me would like them to.  Unfortunately, that also means I’m still hobbling and am limited in what I can do.  Hopefully that doesn’t last much longer and our work on the Alpha Pup site (and life in general) can get back to normal!

Foggy Drama

(Originally posted November 5, 2012)

Foggy Morning - Valley Forge NHP
Foggy Morning – Valley Forge NHP

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… and that was certainly the case on this steamy August morning when I grabbed this shot at Valley Forge National Historic Park!

Things were lining up perfectly for a foggy, sticky sunrise shoot on an early August morning, so I made a last-minute call the night before to go for it.  The day started with a 4:30am wake-up to get myself and the gear together so I could arrive at the park, find my location, and get setup by 5:30 or so to catch the first rays of sunlight as they split through the trees and the valley.  The nearly-full moon was going to be setting within an hour of the sunrise too!  Sounds like a recipe for some good pictures, right?  Well, life had some different thoughts on the matter.

I dragged my sleepy body, cup of coffee, and my camera gear into the car.  Then I turned the key in the ignition – nothing.  Absolutely nothing from the car.  No lights, no turning of the engine, no clicking.  Just silence.  Not good.

Thinking of ditching the shoot and just heading back to bed was certainly an option, but my husband let me borrow his car for the morning so I could get on with my day.  Wonderful – problem solved, and quite easily.  After a quick switch of vehicles, I was frustrated and wondering what was up with my car, but I put that in the back of my mind and headed off to the park.

As I arrived at the park entrance in the darkness and thick fog, the gates were still closed with nary a sign of life that they would be opening anytime soon.  Dang it!  I’ve gotten sunrise shots in the park before during the winter without problems – I just needed to figure out how to get in for today’s shoot.  With nowhere to put the car, I headed down the street to the local casino (of all places) knowing that I could park there in a well-lit area and do some research on my phone.  That’s when I remembered that the park doesn’t open until 7am – not at dawn.  Double dang it!!  Clearly, the fog wasn’t only outside of the car because it seems I needed more coffee or more sleep.

After this latest blip, I was determined to get some kind of session in because the fog was making the scenery really eerie and that couldn’t be passed up.  The park is big, with some main state roads going through it, so I figured there had to be a way in.  I drove around a bit more and managed to find a parking area along one of the main public drags that would suffice, so off I trekked to see if I could find something good.

It wasn’t long after I setup that I came upon this scene behind the Maurice Stephens house.  The tree and the fog in the valley certainly play a big part in the scene, though I think the thing I like most about this shot is the little optical illusion I was able to create.  On a quick glance, some may think that the structure next to the tree is a small house or a cottage.  It’s not – it’s a chicken coop or some kind of colonial shed structure!  The way it was positioned next to the tree made the building look smaller than it was (or the tree look bigger than it actually is).  Quite a lovely surprise!

So, with this shot and a few others tucked away, I returned home to start working on my car troubles.  It turns out it was – thankfully – just a dead battery.  It was so dead that the first time we jumped it, it only kept the car running for about 500 feet before it lost power again and we had to get it towed to our mechanic!  After a bumpy start to the day, it all worked out with a couple of fantastic summer shots in Valley Forge and a minor car repair bill.  Phew!!

– JC

PS – We were extremely fortunate and only sustained a little minor damage during Hurricane Sandy, so our lives returned to normal quite quickly.  Others were far, far less fortunate, and we here at Alpha Pup Photography are sending out our thoughts and prayers to everyone – both along the coastlines and in the mountains that were pummeled with snow – who have lost so much and face a long road to recovery.

Some Bright Before the Storm

(Originally posted October 28, 2012)

Bright Spot - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Bright Spot – Mesa Verde National Park – Colorado

Well, we’re all bracing for the impacts of Hurricane Sandy/”Frankenstorm” here on the East Coast.  I thought it might be a good time to brighten some spirits before the storm comes in.  The wind and the weather and the anxiety around the approaching storm reminded me of this shot from a few years ago in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

The sunflowers were in full bloom across Wetherill Mesa on our arrival.  While awaiting our guided hike to one of the restricted areas of ruins in the back country, I nabbed this shot.  I loved the cheeriness of the flower contrasted against the wind and the stormy skies.  To this day, this shot always reminds me that despite the storms that swirl around us, there’s still a bright spot to be found somewhere.

I’ll certainly be thinking like that as we ride out the storm, hoping for the best for us and everyone in the storm’s path…



The 4th of July, Some Rain, a Bridge, & a Happy Accident

(Originally posted October 22, 2012)

Under the Gay Street Bridge - Phoenixville, PA
Under the Gay Street Bridge – Phoenixville, PA

Now that the Schuylkill River Highlands Association show is over, I can share the two images that were included in the show!  The picture of The Colonial Theater was quite popular at the show (it’s the theater where the original version of “The Blob” was filmed), it’s this shot of the Gay Street Bridge has a better story to share because of circumstances and happy accidents.

Since we had a really busy summer schedule, there wasn’t much time available to set out on some shooting sessions in the Schuylkill River Watershed to prepare for the show and the last-minute invite I got, so I used the restored downtown area of Phoenixville as my inspiration.  I had always wanted to shoot the steelwork of the reconstructed Gay Street bridge, but never had a chance to… and this was my chance… at sunrise on July 4th!

Alas, the sun wasn’t cooperative that day.  As daylight began to break, there was very little of it because it was cloudy and raining.  Sure, it made for less than ideal situation, but the bridge provided some cover.  (My husband came with me and we brought our dog, so she loved dragging him around sniffing along the trail and the creek underneath the bridge in the light rain!)

Even though the scene wasn’t what I had hoped, I took my shots, only reasonably pleased with what I came home with.  As I processed my shots the next day, I started to play around with some techniques that combine several images of different exposures into one and can make a shot look really cool or really awful.  My results were somewhere in between.

So… I continued playing with the images.  I made it understated.  I changed it to black & white.  I changed it back to color.  I reprocessed it with different settings.  And again with yet different settings.  I exaggerated it.  Still, nothing grabbed me.

Then I decided to take a really, really over-exaggerated color shot and twist it into black & white… and found what I had been looking for all along!  I think I almost fell out of my chair I was so pleasantly surprised by the result of that experiment!  The glow the processing had given to the bridge – the glow I had hoped to get when the sun came up – was back, and with some funky dramatic license!!

I think I learned a few lessons with this shot.  First, the world of photography is wonderful in that you can play and play and play around with a shot and try some really fun things – you just need to try things out and sometimes odd combinations really do work well together.  Second, the weather hardly ever cooperates when you really, really, really want it to (or need it to).  And last – and definitely not least – it’s simply awesome to have a supportive husband who will get up with you at the edge of dawn on a holiday, wrangle the dog, and serve as a watch/bodyguard so I can do these fun and creative things at weird hours in all kinds of locations!



Youthful Daisies

(Originally posted October 5, 2012)

Purple & White Daisies
Purple & White Daisies

I always think of daisies in general as cheery or happy flowers.  This picture reminds me of some flattery too…

A few years ago, my husband was thinking of pursuing a PhD in his field and Penn State has the top-ranked Geography department in the country.  What better excuse than that to take a long weekend in State College, PA during the fall!?

My husband had a bunch of meetings with the Geography folks during the day, so that set me free to spend an entire day taking pictures to my heart’s content downtown and on campus.

I snagged this shot of the late-blooming daisies on the west side of campus near Rec Hall and the Nittany Lion Shrine.  Knowing I’d be trekking all over the place, I was dressed comfortably and my short hair was in pigtails to keep it out of the camera’s way.  (Hats + camera usually don’t work well for me.)

While taking this shot of the daisies and other things in that part of campus, an older gentleman stopped and asked if I was working on a class project.  If only!  I explained that it was just a hobby (as it was at the time) and I was getting a break from my usual daily grind.  That’s when the said that he thought I was a student, thus his inquiry.  Considering I was on the other side of 30 at the time, he made my day!  I probably didn’t thank him nearly enough for mistaking me for a student!!

So, this little photo session was fantastic on two levels – I got a lot of great shots that day and someone thought I looked young enough to still be a PSU student.  Outstanding!!  Now the trick will be to keep that youthful mojo going for the long haul.  I think my photography will go a long way towards keeping me young.



Mmmm… Green Chile Beer

(Originally posted September 26, 2012)

Green Chile Beer San Luis Valley Brewing
Green Chile Beer San Luis Valley Brewing

One of the many things my husband misses most about Colorado is the beer.  While more Colorado craft beers are becoming available on the East Coast, there’s one style that has yet to arrive – green chile beer.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking to yourself, “What!?  Chile pepper in a beer!?!  Ewwww…”  I know that was my first reaction years ago, but I’ve come to learn that there’s a chile beer out there to fit most tastes because each brewery has their own take on it.

In Denver, Wynkoop has Patty’s Chile beer – light, but sort of spicy.  In Fort Collins, Coopersmith’s has their Sigda’s Green Chile beer – another light style with some zing.  Durango brings us Steamworks’ Prescribed Burn – medium color with tons of chile heat.  And Alamosa has San Luis Valley Brewing Company’s Valle Caliente – a light color beer with minimal heat and all of the flavor of the green chile.

My husband is a connoisseur of all of these chile beers, but I’ll always be partial to SLV’s version.  It’s simply a fantastic beer that tastes even better after a long morning of hiking in massive piles of sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park (located about 45 minutes from the brewery).

The day that this picture was taken, SLV Brewing was our oasis.  Situated in an old bank building in downtown Alamosa, Colorado, the pub gave us warmth, shelter, food, and drink as a a sunny morning in the Valley gave way to a showery afternoon.  We had a fantastic morning of hiking at Dunes before the skies opened, so we topped it off with a trip to town for lunch while we waited for the storms to move through.  By the time we were done, the rain was nearly over and it was time for some late day hiking.

The chile beer never tasted as good as it did that day, especially when paired with a basket of sausage and other snacks!



Rainbows & Farmers Markets

(Originally posted September 23, 2012)

Rainbow Umbrella - Farmer's Market in Golden, CO
Rainbow Umbrella – Farmer’s Market in Golden, CO

If I’m having a bad day, I know I can always count on this picture to cheer me up.

Whenever we’re in Golden, Colorado, we make a point of checking out the farmers market that they host downtown every Saturday during the summer.  It’s a small, but really nice, farmers market with the requisite touches of the Colorado vibe – most people are walking around with their dog, kids are riding in buggies attached to the back of their parents’ mountain bikes, chile peppers are being roasted fresh on site, and an old western horse-drawn carriage takes folks on free rides through historic downtown.  They have something to offer everyone, and for us, that’s the food!

People may not think of Colorado as a place where there are a lot of farms because of the mountains, but the state produces gobs of great produce and some of it comes to Golden each summer weekend.  For us, it simply turns into an easy breakfast.  And while I may have a taste of the fresh fruit and the veggies, my sweet tooth usually makes a beeline for the fresh bakery goodies!  (Side note – I always marvel at how this particular bakery is able to churn out so many great breads & pastries at altitude because baking can be really hard to do well in Colorado… but that’s a different story for a different time!)

On this day, our trip to the farmers market involved breakfast as usual and we scored some seats at one of the tables scattered throughout the lot.  While we were munching away, the sensationally bright colors of the umbrella at our table caught my eye.

No matter how many times I look at this picture, every time I see it, it makes me smile.  Hopefully it brightens your day a little too…