Lori Carey Photography

Monday, March 31, 2008

Mojave Road

Mojave Road Mail Box

I had wanted to travel along the Mojave Road since I first read about it's historical importance to the California desert. A 183 mile trail through the harsh Mojave Desert, it begins at the Colorado River between Needles, California and Laughlin, Nevada and ends at Camp Cady (it actually ends at Afton Canyon now) near Barstow, California. It originally began as an ancient trade trail that connected the villages of the Mojave Indians from the Colorado River to the California Coast. It later became an important travel route for early American explorers. Edward Fitzgerald Beale oversaw the improvement of the old Mojave Indian Trail to an official wagon road in 1858 using camels (!), but when emigrants attempted to use the route to travel from the east to the California, brutal fighting with the Mojave Indians began and the army moved in and established Fort Mojave.

The discovery of gold in the mountains of Arizona brought greater use to the trail as the Arizona territory was dependent on California for supplies. The trail also became an important mail route. Still the bloody battle with the Indians raged on, now with the Chemehuevi Indians, and the US army established several forts, or redoubts, along the route to provide protection for mail and government wagon trains. When the Apache Wars in Arizona ended in the 1970's, the Mojave Road saw more travelers as it was used to drive cattle and sheep to Arizona.

But when the Southern Pacific railroad connected Barstow and Needles across the East Mojave, wagon traffic (and later autos) began following the line of the rails (his later became the National Old Trails Road; Route 66; the Mother Road), and travel on the Mojave Road declined significantly. As roads were built along better routes, Mojave Road became a fading memory. Most of the trail is in the same condition it was when the pioneers traveled it, and the desert country remains mostly unchanged since prehistoric times.

This was the REAL Wild West!

There are no signs marking the Mojave Road, just rock cairns. If you've never run the trail before it is highly recommended that you read the definitive guidebook by Dennis Casebier (the man responsible for generating interest and forming Friends of the Mojave Road to preserve this treasure of a trail), the Mojave Road Guide. In addition to all of the wonderful history of the trail, the book has mile-by-mile narrative detail, maps, and advice about traveling through this harsh region.

So I bought the book, studied the history and made notes in the margins. You really need three days to run Mojave Road, and you should always travel with at least one other vehicle; it's harsh, remote territory and there are no services. My attempts to plan a trek last fall kept failing; first there were the wildfires, then the nasty flu season which took out almost everyone I knew for weeks at a time. Interspersed with all of that were trips that had been previously scheduled, and then the holidays. So when WayOfLife told us he was going to organize a run for Project-JK over a 3 day holiday weekend in February there was no question that I'd be there. WayOfLife tried to limit the group to six jeeps, but there was such great demand that he finally conceded to 15. That required a permit and was going to be tough logistically - where would find places to camp that could fit 15 jeeps and 35 people? But WayOfLife is never intimidated by tough organizational challenges. Going with a large group also meant that I would not be able to put an emphasis on photography, but I knew that there'd still be ample opportunity to use the camera. So yippee! I would finally get to travel on the historic Mojave Road for the first time.

Bill and I left at 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday (the soonest he could leave work), and after seven hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic (I'd swear that every single person in all of SoCal heads to Las Vegas on the weekends!), we finally pulled in to the Tropican Express in Laughlin, Nevada (the newly remodeled rooms in the tower are very nice - comfy beds!). Our friends were having a good time waiting up for us (maybe too good of a time), and shots of Wild Turkey American Honey were handed to us, courtesy of Fish who somehow smuggled a bottle into the bar, as soon as we walked through the door of the hotel (if you've never tried American Honey you should - although I wouldn't drink a lot of it because it is too sweet for me, it tastes great and most people who normally don't like straight whiskey really seem to love it.) A few more rounds to get rid of the road stress and catch up with everyone, then we all hit our rooms to get some sleep in preparation for our big weekend.

Just have to mention here, our group loves our whiskey, but never while we're wheeling - on or offroad, and we won't wheel with anyone who does drink while they're behind the wheel. 'nuff said.

Next - Day One and photos

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beta launch of free on-line Photoshop Express, and a sneaky rights grab

A lot of chatter on the boards the past two days about Adobe's beta-launch of their new free, on-line photo editing program Photoshop Express. It's a photo-sharing site (you can store up to 2G) packaged with some simple photo editing tools, aimed at the point-at-shoot market who find Photoshop Elements too difficult or time consuming.

I'm not going to review Photoshop Express because there are several good reviews posted from people much more qualified than me, and after poking around their site and reading the TOS I decided I didn't even want to play with it anymore. But I do want to post an important warning to anyone who is considering giving it a try.

If you take the time to read the Terms of Service, you will find that Adobe is claiming the right to use any photos you upload to a public gallery and use them however they want. Here is the exact wording:

"8. Use of Your Content.

1. Adobe does not claim ownership of Your Content. However, with respect to Your Content that you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other Materials or works in any format or medium now known or later developed."

"Perpetual"and "irrevocable" means forever, "derive revenue" means making money. Yes, they will forever have a right to use and to make money from any photos you upload to a public album. They can even license the image to another company.

There are a lot of good amateur shooters out there using p&s cameras who don't know the first thing about intellectual property rights and wouldn't even think to check for this in the TOS. I think it's pretty sneaky of Adobe to try to take advantage of that market. Okay, maybe a lot of people in this target market wouldn't care if one of their photos was published by a major corporation and they didn't get paid. Some might even be proud of it. But they shouldn't be; if the image has value the photographer deserves to be compensated. Period.

Personally, I'd recommend that if you still want to give the beta version of Photoshop Express a spin you at least make sure you keep all of your albums private. Better yet, protest by not using it and let Adobe know how you feel about this sneaky rights grab.

It will be interesting to see if Adobe changes the TOS after pressure from the community.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wildflower Bonanza in a surprise location

Yeah, I know I said I wasn't really into photographing flowers, but it seems to be the thing to do this year since we've been having a spectacular bloom, and I was driving to the grocery store the other day when a splash of color caught my attention and I just had to go investigate.

And I am so glad I did.

California Poppies and Bermuda Buttercups on a hillside in San Juan Capistrano, California

On this mostly hidden hillside in some open space right in town I found the best assortment of wildflowers I've seen to date.

In addition to the ubiquitous black mustard, there were hundreds (thousands?) of poppies, the most beautiful yellow Bermuda Buttercups (aka African Woodsorrel or Bermuda Sorrel), Wild Radish, Popcorn Flower, Lupine, Goldfields, wild pea, California Filaree (aka Redstem Stork's Bill) and California Brittlebush (aka Bush Sunflower).

I'm still working on processing all of the images I got (and the stuff from last weekend!), but here's a few:

Goldfields on a hillside in San Juan Capistrano, California

California Filaree:
California Filaree on a hillside covered with wildflowers in San Juan Capistrano, California

Popcorn Flower:
Popcorn Flower blooming in San Juan Capistrano, California

Wild Pea - not sure of the exact species?
Wild Pea blooming on hillside in San Juan Capistrano, California

It was a great opportunity to practice my "focus and sway" with my new macro lens; much different than using it in a controlled "studio" environment, to say the least.

I realized that I could definitely use a good field guide because trying to identify exact species via the internet [is that an oldschool term these days? ;)] is not always easy, especially given that the info out there is not always correct.

If you're in Orange County, California and want to check out the location for yourself, it is in the hilly open area that is bordered by San Juan Creek Road, Valle Road and La Novia. Parking and access is easiest on La Novia; you can follow the old paved road down to the San Juan Creek side - you won't be able to miss the colors!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Data Storage

I began shooting 100% digital in mid-2005, and 99% of that was RAW by the end of that year. As my Photoshop knowledge and skills improved over the next few years, so did the size of my saved layered files. So it really came as no surprise when I maxed out my 160 GB backup hard drive late last year.

As I was researching my options I realized I had been neglecting the importance of off-site storage. I had stopped making backup copies on CDs quite some time ago after running into problems with corrupted data on several CDs from a few years ago. I never used DVDs because I didn't trust their longevity either. Now Blu-Ray is about to become the next big thing but it was plagued with problems from the start. I just think that optical media technology has yet to be perfected...My thought was always that I could just take my external hard drive with me if I had to leave, but IRL I know that's not a foolproof answer. SmugMug stores my high-res jpegs, but I am more concerned with my original RAW files and layered psd's.

Two on-line backup companies quickly came to my attention; Amazon's S3 and Mozy. Everyone who uses S3 has nothing but the highest praise for it, especially when paired with JungleDisk, and at $0.15 per GB (plus $0.10 per GB for upload) the pricing is competitive compared to other similar services. But I was now up to 200GB of photos, which meant it would cost me $30 the first month, plus $20 for the upload. I seem to be accumulating approximately 10GB of image files per month lately, so my cost would increase $1.50 every month, plus another $1 for the upload. Still very affordable compared to similar services, but I could project how it could quickly get out of hand. I started thinking about how many external drives I could buy for the cost of S3. I think it's a great solution if you're a pro and can charge it as a business expense. For the amateur hobbiest who is a prolific shooter, I wasn't convinced it was the best way to spend my money.

I read several user reviews of Mozy and Carbonite and corresponded with one photographer who has a significant amount of data stored with Mozy while I was researching and Mozy seemed to be the clear winner. They have four levels of service; Mozy Free provides anyone who asks with 2GB of data storage, Mozy Home offers unlimited data storage for just $4.95 per month, Mozy Pro is $3.95 per desktop license plus $0.50 per GB for storage, and Mozy Enterprise is $6.95 per server license and $1.75 per GB of storage.

Obviously Mozy Home was the right choice for me. Paying for a year in advance would bring the cost down to $4.08 per month. After downloading the software and setting the parameters for the initial backup, incremental backups are automated. The data is encrypted (you can even choose your own encryption key if you want, but don't lose it!), the software runs in the background and hasn't caused any performance issues with my computer, and you can choose how much bandwidth you want to utilize at any given time. I haven't tried using it yet, but restoring files seems simple - the Mozy server appears as another drive in Windows Explorer, making it easy to select the file(s) you want to restore. The files are apparently packaged in a self-extracting zip file for download. For bulk restoration Mozy offers the option of having your files FedExed to you on DVD for an extra (unspecified) cost.

I've been using Mozy for two months now and so far I am pleased, especially given the cost. I had occasion to contact customer service to ask a question (because I didn't read the user manual ;) and the response was quick and accurate. I was aware that my initial backup would take at least several weeks because upload speed is slow, but to be fair I've been told the same thing about Amazon's S3. S3 does allow you to send your data in on DVDs for the initial upload to avoid this problem. I usually run Mozy at 3/4 speed, and I did suspend it while I was watching every single episode of "Lost" in HD streaming (I am now addicted!). With that in mind, I have been able to upload 98 GB of data so far. A bit slower than I had planned for - I had estimated that it would take 2.5 months to complete my initial backup - but again that's party my own doing. I'm less than halfway through, and at the rate I add new photo files I'm guessing it will take another three months to be caught up. Lesson learned; do not wait until you have 200GB of data to start an online backup!

I do still plan to add to my external hard drive backup system, but I still need to figure out how many TB of external storage and in what configuration. Even worse, I have just about maxed out my internal hard drive; I only have 45 GB left! So now I'm faced with needing to purchase two new hard drives of at least 1TB each. I'm feeling old - I can remember when I 20 MB hard drive was something to dream about (okay, honestly I remember punch cards). Now one image file can be larger than that. I'm mad because I can't figure out how to format and wipe clean that old Maxtor One Touch so I can reuse it's 160 GB for additional storage until I figure this out.

We're just going to continue to generate more and more data, and all of the storage options available today are just short-term interim solutions. If I managed to generate over 200GB of images in just over two years, with most of that occurring in the past year, how will I ever be able to store ten years, twenty years worth of images? And I'm not shooting every day! All of the discussions on the photo forums I frequent seem to focus on solutions for today; no one talks about having to transfer a TB of data from an old hard drive to whatever the new technology will be. I sure hope someone develops faster data transfer methods quickly. And if you fill up a hard drive, you can't exactly stick it in a closet for a few years and hope it will work when you decide you need to access one of those image files.

And I'm old (he-he) - what about someone just starting out who will eventually accumulate 40, 50, 60 years worth of data?

I can't be the only one dealing with this problem, but it seems like everyone is not worrying and just assuming that the technology will be there when they need it. Me, I get hung up on visions of having to transfer endless data from one drive to the next every year or so and hoping it survives.

There's something to be said for negatives and chromes!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Menafee Valley Wildflowers

Yikes, I read a post by Jasmine Star on ProPhotoResource where she wrote about how much she hated new blogs that have weeks between posts. I just "know" that she was talking about me (as if), so a new commitment to stay more up to date.

I thought the 2008 wildflower season was just about over - it started early in a few places after some December and January rain (Amboy Crater was in full bloom mid-January), but the lack of recent rain seemed to have had a detrimental effect on what had initially promised to be a good season. Most of the reports from many of the favored locations seemed to confirm what I had being seeing myself; what had been blooming is already dying off, and the higher elevations aren't blooming yet.

Another photographer told me Friday that "the other side of the Ortega" had been magnificent a few weeks ago, and that there were good blooms in the burn areas of Santiago Canyon. I'm not usually one to run out during wildflower season to hunt out the best blooms, I tend to be more of an opportunist and will photograph them if I happen to come across them. I skipped the Easter Jeep Safari trip that most of my jeep friends left for Friday/Saturday, so I had a weekend to kill and I was dying to burn some megapixels, flowers or not. Saturday we took a ride out through Santiago Canyon but had no luck finding blooms and nothing caught my eye.

I was skeptical about finding any wildflowers in good shape on the other side of the Ortega, but it's always a fun ride and Bill remembered an abandoned building I had mentioned wanting to photograph so we decided to head out that way Sunday afternoon. A funky, patchy storm was raging; we got caught in it at the top of Ortega and when we hit the overlook at Lake Elsinore I took a 12-frame panorama of snow piling down on the mountains, rainstorms in the valleys, and a spot of sunny blue sky in the middle. Even printed at 17" wide it doesn't do it justice to show all of the detail.

We drove out to Wildomar so I could photograph the building I had remembered and actually found another one as well. I haven't processed them yet because I've been busy processing panoramas, which take a lot of time. The weather was cold and the storm was all around us, but we seemed to be staying in a little bubble that kept us dry. Most of the time the sky and clouds were gorgeous, but the light wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. We were heading back toward home, not looking forward to traversing Ortega Highway in the rain again, when Bill decided to turn onto Railroad Canyon Road in Canyon Lake. We didn't have to go far before we saw hillsides right along the road covered with wildflowers. They were also covered with people picking the flowers! We kept going as Railroad Canyon turned into Goetz Road and could see colorful hillsides in the distance. We found a field filled with Baby Blue-eyes, Blue Dicks, goldfields and a variety of Monkey Flower, but the sun had dipped behind the clouds again and although I took several photos the light didn't excite me.

A little further on in Menafee Valley we found a jeep trail through the hills, and that's where we struck gold. The hills were covered with poppies, goldfields, Popcorn flowers and more that I haven't yet identified. The sky was mostly overcast as you can see in the first photo I posted, but there was one little section of beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds. This is another large pano, I'm not sure if it even makes sense to post it at this size. Bill says he hates that it just looks like colored hills unless you look at the super large original size. But you can see the jeep trail winding around the hills.

I'm still working on processing the individual frames that should show the flowers themselves a bit better. I think I might like this location better in the morning and might shoot back out that way again to see if I have better luck with the light. If you'd like to go check this location out yourself, the coordinates for the trail are N33 43.273 W117 13.860. It was disappointing to see that people use this area as a garbage dump - depending on where exactly you are you may need to watch your composition or do a little cloning. Or even better, bring a garbage bag and help with a little cleanup.

I have realized that I really need a macro lens - I'm tired of being frustrated because nothing in my bag will allow me to focus closely enough - so I've ordered the Canon 100mm 2.8 USM macro lens. All the reviews I've read say this lens is as sharp as L glass, and it seems that it will be perfect for a lot of things I've been wanting to photograph lately since I don't really want an extreme macro lens and everything that entails - focusing rail, twin-flash, etc. --- Yet--- :)