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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Skyline Drive and Calvert Cliffs State Park

Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive

Last week was the annual trip to Skyline Drive to enjoy the Fall colors and a scenic drive.  The trip is always all about the cars.  This year I was packing two brand new 600EX-RT Speedlites from Canon to try out at dusk for some dramatic car photography.  To date, I've never had the equipment to shoot photos of cars like this, so I've never had a decent picture of my car.  Overall, the shoot went well, with no problems with the 600EX-RTs, with the exception of the Camero not being properly waxed - in the end, I used it as an exercise in Photoshop to clean up the black car.

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Of course we shot the cars while there.

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Once night fell, it was time to pull out my new flashes to test.  The 600EX-RTs were triggered via PocketWizard Flex TT5s.  You may be asking why I am using PocketWizards on flashes with built-in radio triggers - firstly, because I currently only have two 600s, and was using both off-camera and need a way to trigger them.  Next, I like the AC9 ZoneController's ease of adjusting my flash groups better than Canon's Group setting, which also isn't compatible with my 5D Mark II (only compatible with the 5D Mark III or 1D X as of this posting).  The 600s don't support remote 2nd curtain sync or high speed sync stock, nor are they compatible with studio strobes such as Alien Bees; the PocketWizards allow me to use these features and remotely adjust power levels on studio strobes.  And finally, my other flashes are "legacy" now, and do not have built-in radio triggers - I will eventually be selling my old flashes and upgrading to an all 600EX-RT system (and possibly ditching the PocketWizards too... we'll see).  The Speedlite 600EX-RTs work perfectly with the PocketWizard Flex system, with none of the range or power issues that plagued the 580EX and 580EX II.  I have nothing negative to say about the 600EX-RT as of right now, except that the included CTO gel and gel holder are useless and will break easily - leave these at home and use commercial grade gels you can rely on; I prefer the HONL Photo Speed Strap and Color Correction Gels.

All night photos were shot with two bare 600EX-RTs with Full CTO gels.

I'm also sad to announce that this beautiful ride was cosmetically damaged in yesterday's Hurricane Sandy.  The owner suffered worse losses though - the same tree that hit this Cougar totalled 3 of his other vehicles when it fell; the Explorer was smashed in half, and his Jetta and Caravan have caved roofs, severely dented body panels, and shattered windshields and rear windows.  Of the four, only the Cougar is still drivable, and has less than $100 of damage.

You can see his damage photos here.

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While I was shooting my car, a guy asked if he could get pictures with my car.  While I was setting my lights up, he leaned against my driver's door while his friend took photos of him.

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Finally, Chris' car required the most work.  Wax on, wax OFF!  The car was freshly waxed, but not properly wiped down.  Chris tried to wipe it clean with his sleeve, but to no avail.  I ended up shooting the car anyway, and using it as a practice photo in Photoshop to clean up the car.  This was the first time I've edited a car this way, and I'm sure there were better ways to do it with better results, but not bad for a first time.

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Interestingly enough, both the Camero SS and Cougar V6 are 35th Anniversary Editions.  And then there's that green car which is actually an Eclipse just pretending to be a Chrysler.

Here is the unedited "Before" with a peek at all the folders of layers required to clean this beast up.

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Calvert Cliffs State Park

Last Friday, less than a week later, and just a few days before Hurricane Sandy hit the US East Coast, I decided to escape for a day to Maryland's Eastern Shore.  I chose to go to Calvert Cliffs State Park because while I'd been to the park previously, I wasn't able to see the cliffs; I've wanted to go back ever since then because I've always felt my previous visit was incomplete.

For this trip I also brought along my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and Extender 2X III, both of which had arrived back from Canon Professional Services the day before.  The 70-200 developed a strange "soft-focus" halo effect around in-focus areas; photos shot with the 2X III only amplified the problem.  I originally got the 2X III in preparation for the Space Shuttle events... even with the issue, I'd say I did OK that week :-)  This time I was eager to test out the newly fixed and calibrated lens combo (a misaligned lens element was calibrated, an improperly installed and programmed autofocus lens group was replaced, and both the lens and extender were calibrated with one another).  Because I wanted to run it through its paces, I shot primarily telephoto in the 140mm to 400mm range the entire day.

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I got about 1.75 miles into the hike to the cliffs and came upon a Park Ranger who was looking for somebody from Hood College who'd illegally parked their RV across 6 spots.  I told him that I wasn't from Hood, though I have a friend who went there.  We talked for a bit, and he offered me a ride to the Cliffs in his ATV, just a short distance up the trail; he was heading there next to look for his Hood College driver.  When we got to the cliffs, the beach was deserted, and he told me about the geology of the cliffs and how the sand used to attract people for making Sand Art, the fossils and debris that wash up onto shore, and the history of the surroundings, to include the offshore Natural Gas Plant and Cove Point Lighthouse, all while I shot pictures.

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During this, the Ranger told me about a closed area of the park, several miles away, on the Northwestern edge of the park that is home to a good number of Bald Eagles.  He knew I'd want pictures there, so we got into the ATV, and he began driving me to the spot.  We talked about Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge while riding along, and how I've wanted to go there for several years now to see their Eagle population.  We soon came across a group of students from Hood College's Costal Studies Program; the group was finishing their day of site visits in Calvert County by hiking to the cliffs and learning about the Chesapeake Bay's and the park's ecology.  Interestingly enough, the one professor with the group knew my friend from Hood, and taught several Biology classes she took.  The other professor was wearing a Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge shirt, which both the Ranger and I commented on, since we had just been talking about it.  A few of the students were curious about my camera and why the Ranger was giving me a special photo tour - I spoke with a few of them and they told me about the Coastal Studies Program at Hood.

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Clearly this day was not going anything like how I'd expected.  I'd done practically no hiking, and instead of photographing the beach and the cliffs, I was about to spend several hours spotting Eagles in a remote area of the park.  Certainly not complaining; I love raptors, and always want photos of Eagles.  The day was just going completely differently than I had intended.

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After passing through several miles of abandoned trails (which I learned were originally built as logging roads) and bumpy terrain through the active hunting grounds, the Ranger and I finally came to Grove Creek where the Eagles thrive.

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Immediately, we spotted at least 6 adult and juvenile Bald Eagles; unfortunately, however, without the benefit of a blind, they spotted us just as easily.  The adults kept greater distance, flying down the creek, trying to lead the juveniles to safer ground.  The juveniles were more curious, and spent their time flying overhead to get a better look at us.  Several of the adult Eagles also flew closer to get a better look, but were very stealthy, flying just above the treeline and sometimes doubling back to investigate us from behind.  The adults that flew overhead were very fast and thus very difficult to photograph quick enough, especially since it was unpredictable when or where they would come from.

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Eagles weren't the only birds moving about.  A flock of Redheaded Woodpeckers were in the surrounding trees tapping away looking for snacks, which is somewhat interesting since they are more common in the midwest than the East Coast.  There were also a few Belted Kingfishers on overwatch, searching for fish to dive for in the creek.  Additionally, there were many other wildlife enjoying the area, including several different snakes and toads (lots of young toads hopping about), a heron, and a beaver that made several trips in and out of its dam.

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Finally, the sun was going down, and it was a good 15 minutes even by ATV out of the woods.  The Park Ranger and I headed back to the trailhead, passing some of the historic farmgrounds along the way.  Finally, on my drive back to Virginia, the sun set, and the sky was painted a lovely pink and gold to end a very relaxing and fulfilling day.  And my repaired EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and Extender 2X III seem to be fixed and playing nice together and independently again.  Next month I may venture out to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to learn what it's all about.

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Thanks to the wonderful Park Ranger who made my visit to Calvert Cliffs State Park in Maryland very memorable and enjoyable.  I've never had such a unique and informative experience at any park before; it was definitely a welcome albiet unexpected way to spend the day, hunting Bald Eagles with a telephoto lens.

It's friendly Rangers this this, as well as caring and responsible visitors, who keep our wilderness clean, and Calvert Cliffs State Park is spotless.  This is perhaps in part due to the park's connection the the Chesapeake Bay and the efforts to rehabilitate the waterway, however the park is SO clean that it stands out - the only foreign objects at this park are the fossils, bones, and teeth that wash ashore, along with a large log of a non-indigenous tree which washed ashore with Hurricane Katrina.  I'm curious to go back to Calvert Cliffs to see what washed ashore with yesterday's Hurricane Sandy.

UPDATE:

I finally had my film developed.  None of the film had anything terribly important on them, so I opted to go with cheaper processing at Dwayne's Photo, rather than more expensive processing and scanning at another, higher end, photo lab I have in mind to try.  I only shot photos with my Holga while at Calvert Cliffs; one roll of Portra 400, and a roll of Provia 100F.  I like the color rendering of Portra 400 better.

I'm apparently had the film counter set to 16 instead of 12 when shooting these rolls, and I overlapped.  This is something I've never done before, but given that the one roll was in the camera for a good 9 months, I clearly haven't paid much attention to the Holga's settings.

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