Posted tagged ‘lights’

SPOOKY REST AREAS LATE AT NIGHT

March 17, 2015

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After miles of drizzle and fog on an early December night, I needed to stop for a break. A blue rest area sign caught my headlights, and I decided to pull over two miles ahead. Rolling to a stop in front of the restroom building with only one other car visible, I scanned the grounds for potential trouble, then got out of the car, carefully locked it, and went inside. All was quiet, and nothing untoward happened.

Tree Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter Landscape in MichiganI took the photographs in this weblog post in three different rest areas during the winter of 2014/2015.

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Plains Indian Tipi Motif in a South Dakota Rest Area

For me, visits to highway rest areas are often like that: a little spooky and unsettlling, especially late at night. When I leave the comfort zone of my vehicle I make myself more vulnerable, but usually the short stop is uneventful and barely registers in my memories. It is worth remembering, however, that danger can sometimes lurk in quiet and remote places.

Shortly after I drove through Minnesota on my way to Michigan, I read a news story about a young man from Washington State who had been murdered execution-style around midnight by another man from the same state–in Minnesota’s Elm Creek Safety Rest Area. Someone reported the murder, and a red SUV speeding away from the rest area. That led to a 115 mph chase in which the suspect was shot and killed by police after crashing his vehicle in the median and emerging with a gun. Since both men were dead, the circumstances and motives were unknown. Apparently my apprehension about stopping at night is justified …

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Tree Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter Landscape in Michigan

While lying in bed this morning and thinking about writing this weblog post, I remembered a story from long ago. It seems that two guys I knew in grade school and junior high had moved to the Boston area and were working in a camera store. According to the news accounts, they forced a coworker to accompany them to a rest area, where they robbed him and stabbed him to death. I had repressed this memory for decades until I started writing this story, then it popped into my mind like a nightmare. The thing was, I could understand how one of the boys could end up as a killer, because he had always been a mean little snot, but the other kid was just a sweet, normal boy who apparently followed the other into a life of horror.

Plains Indian Tipi Motif in a South Dakota Rest Area

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Tree Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter Landscape in Michigan

Those stories and others like them feed the fear factor in my brain, but they also gave me some of the inspiration for this series of photographs. These pictures can be seen as beautiful in their own right, but they also have an edge of spookiness that is appropriate for the subject.

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Signs and Parking Lot in Rest Area along Interstate 90 in South

Tree and Photographer Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter LandscapeAnd if you see a photographer late at night in a rest area, please let him quietly go about his work. He really doesn’t want to talk to strangers at midnight.

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To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my NEW website at Lee Rentz Photography or go to my Flickr Photostream.

HAWAII MANTA RAY ADVENTURE: Night Snorkeling with Huge Winged Fish

May 30, 2013

Manta_Ray_Snorkel-129A Manta Ray glides toward us in the Pacific Ocean, lit by the lights of divers and snorkelers

Manta_Ray_Snorkel-77A magical view of fish gathering in the lights

The idea was intriguing. We would go out at night in the Pacific Ocean and snorkel with huge Manta Rays with 15′ wide wingspans that would come within inches of us. Or maybe the idea was just plain scary! Anyway, we decided to do it.

One key thing to realize is that Mantas are not carnivores who would eat people. That helped. Yes, their mouths gape wide and could swallow Jonah or Karen, but that has never happened (to the best of our knowledge!). They eat the ocean’s small stuff, such as shrimp and plankton and small fish, much as many kinds of whales eat small krill and some Grizzly Bears eat moth larvae (oops, not a good example, because they eat much bigger stuff too!).

We checked in at a dive shop at a strip mall in Kona. The enthusiastic staff outfitted us with wetsuits and prepared us for the experience. They had us sign the waiver form, and told us to meet at a marina at 5:30 p.m. We drove there and met up with our group, and with the staff who would be guiding us.

We signed up to go out on a tiny boat with three crew members. Our group had ten snorkelers and two scuba divers: four Swiss, two French, two Canadians, and four Americans. All of us had some previous experience in the ocean, though in the case of Karen and I it was just a few hours previous snorkeling, and that was in shallow waters.

When the boat was ready, we climbed aboard and motored out of the marina and into the choppy Pacific Ocean. We surged north along the coast, bouncing along the waves in the early evening. When we reached our destination, we set anchor and wriggled into our wetsuits, enjoying and enduring all the joking of the crew. The staff really went out of their way to make us feel at ease in what was a really alien experience for all of us. However, we were there long enough, bobbing in the ocean, that Karen grew queasy with the motion; we should have taken two tablets of Bonine.

Manta_Ray_Snorkel-4Preparing for the experience, putting on wetsuits and checking our gear

One guide asked the divers if they were sure they could handle the idea of a huge Manta brushing right by their heads; one tiny young woman from Switzerland looked scared to death, but she decided to do it anyway. The divers were told not to wear snorkels attached to their masks, because the Mantas can sense the electrical fields of the human body and not touch living flesh, but the snorkel projecting above the head wouldn’t be sensed, and they could collide with it, ripping off a diver’s mask. I don’t even want to think about that possiblity, but I suspect it happened once upon a time.

Viewing Manta Rays is a surprisingly social experience. Several companies take out clients to one spot in the ocean, near the Kona airport, where the Mantas are known to feed. The people who want to scuba dive go down to the ocean bottom with bright dive lights. They are spaced out by the boat crews so that they cover perhaps a 100 x 100′ area of the ocean floor, and they project their dive lights upward. Those who want to snorkel grab onto a floating square made of PVC pipe with their two arms, and look downward. Each boat has its own floating square, and each square is equipped with lights projected downward. The night we went there may have been about 100 people participating, with perhaps twice as many snorkeling as diving.

Manta_Ray_Snorkel-52Snorkelers holding onto a square assembly of PVC pipes that holds lights (looking up toward the ocean surface)

Manta_Ray_Snorkel-53Self portrait at night, using a noodle float to help stabilize me and my big camera housing

Manta_Ray_Snorkel-73Bubbles rise from the scuba divers below; Karen was wearing a shorty wetsuit and said that the bubbles uncomfortably tickled her arms and legs

The whole experience hinges upon the lights, so the more lights the better. With all the lights in the ocean, plankton and other small prey creatures swim toward the lights, which concentrates this source of food for the Manta Rays. The rays have come to expect this, so they come to feed near the lights. Which is why we get to see these otherwise hidden creatures of the deep. Over two hundred different Mantas have come to feed here; the staff can identify them by the markings on their bodies.

We climbed down into the dark water and swam over to the floating square. As a group, we moved out away from the boat and began peering down into the water, at once seeing the magic of all the lights projected up from the ocean bottom. I felt like I was in a spaceport, expecting the alien Manta spacecraft to arrive any second. By this point on our Hawaii trip, breathing through a snorkel became almost second nature, so we were able to relax in the ocean. The ocean was warm enough that we felt entirely comfortable in our wetsuits.

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Manta_Ray_Snorkel-89Hawaiian Flagtails gathered in the lights to feed, attracted to the concentration of plankton

Actually, it took some time for the Manta Rays to arrive. In the meantime, fish swirling in the lights kept us entertained and gave my itchy shutter finger something to do (I can’t stand it if I can’t take pictures!). Eventually, two Mantas swam gracefully into view, and I discovered that my alien spacecraft vision was not very far off. They truly do look alien.

At one point, a big Manta swung up from the ocean bottom and came directly toward us, with its gaping mouth open, and circled within perhaps a foot of us–not touching any of us. It was a thrill beyond belief for this landlubber from the great Midwest.

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Manta_Ray_Snorkel-131The huge mantas wheeled gracefully in the ocean

Eventually, the lights on the ocean bottom switched off as the divers started ascending, and we kicked our way back to the boat and climbed aboard, adrenaline and endorphins coursing through our thrilled bodies and minds.

That night we only saw two Mantas, but some nights they see about 25. It was such a profound experience that I would love to do it again.

Video by Karen Rentz of the experience

The company we used for this trip was Big Island Divers, and we were extremely pleased with their competence in dealing with all of us novices.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date). 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

WASHINGTON STATE FERRIES: Ferryland at Night

April 30, 2010

The bright lights of a Seattle night

Crossing Puget Sound on a Washington State ferry is a magical experience at night. When the city is alive with lights and activity, I think of it as ferryland, almost as wonderful as an eastern marsh filled with fireflies. But not quite (given a choice, I always choose nature).

In the past, getting film-based photographs from the ferry at night would have been virtually impossible for me, unless I bought or rented a gyro stabilizer to compensate for the boat’s movement (tripods are useless on a rocking boat). Now, high ISO speeds and lenses with built-in stabilization allow good hand-held photography, even on a dark night. I took these photographs during a ten minute period at the beginning of a crossing from Seattle to Bremerton. With digital, the colors are bright and beautiful and I was able to get a pretty good percentage–maybe 50%–sharp at the relatively low shutter speeds.

Enjoy the pictures and, if you ever get the chance, take one of the Seattle ferries at night. It is unforgettable. If only we had fireflies here …

A China-based Cosco vessel loading/unloading at the Port of Seattle

The Smith Tower, once the tallest skyscraper on the West Coast

The Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest, is sometimes called the Darth Vader tower because it is clad in shiny dark panels of glass and metal

Port facilities hard at work

Trade appears to be picking up; is the end of the recession near?

Container ships have become the standard means of transport over oceans

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to leerentz.com.  For a large selection of my work, go to Photoshelter.

January 13, 2009 A Rainy Night in Washington

January 15, 2009

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For most of Earth’s several billion years, the night was a time for stealthy, quiet movements by night predators and prey. Other animals, creatures of the day, hunkered down until the return of the light. During the short history of people, our ancestors were the hunkering down kind of creatures, until the invention of fire began to 2009_wa_7029wppush back the blackness to the cave entrance. Now, fast forward a million or so years, and we drive fearlessly for long distances through the inky depths, thanks to headlights, taillights, neon signs, stoplights, billboards, streetlights, and lights in businesses welcoming us inside. We think of this as normal, but it was not a widespread part of human life until we entered the prior century.

For this series of pictures, created during an early evening drive from Shelton to Bremerton in the Puget Sound region of Washington, I wanted to capture an impressionistic view of the lights along the way.  This was a night of torrential rain, which caused flooding throughout western Washington. But with all the puddled and pooled rain on the roadways, it was a beautiful night of lights reflected off pavement.

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I set my digital camera to a high ISO setting, enabling me to fire the camera without agonizingly long exposures. I set the lens on autofocus, then steered the vehicle with my left hand while taking pictures with my right hand through the wet windshield. 2009_wa_7080wpWhen I later described this to my wife, her first reaction was: “Do you want to die?!” Well, no. And I can’t recommend this as a safe procedure. But I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder during any of the moving exposures, so my eyes were still on the road. Autofocus and autoexposure took the place of my normal fussiness about photography and, without looking through the viewfinder, careful composition took a backseat to instinct. The exposures ranged from perhaps half a second to maybe eight seconds (I couldn’t check while driving), and I bracketed to some degree. When stopped at a stoplight, I was able to get some photographs while quickly composing through the viewfinder.

When I got to my destination, I quickly downloaded the 100+ photographs and was pleased with the results. My favorite pictures, shown here, have a hint of impressionism and vividly portray the gaudy colors that greet us when we venture out at night. 

And, no, I don’t intend to do this again (at least in the near future), so you can feel safe on the roads, as long as you realize that the oncoming high-beams may hide a cell phone user, drunk driver, text messager, GPS follower, makeup applier, video watcher, face shaver, or some other modern multitasker behind the wheel!

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs below for larger versions with captions.