#27 in the Judging a Photograph Series

.Eye contact in photographs (Climbers) on Falcondale Life blog. What difference does it make where someone is looking in a photograph or portrait? A shot of two climbers. Composition tips on eye contact between subjects.

If you take a photo of a person – whether a formal portrait or not – then you will get a different feel to the image depending on where they are looking. If their eyes are looking straight into your lens, then it’s all pretty unambiguous. It starts to get more interesting when they are looking somewhere else. You are drawn to follow their gaze.

When you have two people in a photo together then it’s great to get a shot of them looking at each other. Wedding photographers do this a lot but it can easily go a bit stale. You can’t have all the shots like that. If you keep asking two people to look at each other then they just begin to lose the natural expression on their faces. One way to improve this is to get them to look at each other then ask them “do you like each other’s smiles?” Yes, that is an inane question but it does get a natural reaction and a much better photo. Perhaps you can think of something better to say.

Eye contact in photographs (Climbers) Judging a Photograph on Falcondale Life blog. What difference does it make where someone is looking in a photograph or portrait? A shot of two climbers. Composition tips on eye contact between subjects.

Two Climbers or One?

If you can catch two people looking at each other naturally without being asked, it’s often quite interesting. This shot of two climbers on a cliff is actually a composite made using Photoshop. I took dozens of photos and they kept looking at each other just as the other person looked away. I was convinced it would be better if they did actually look at each other – as they had tried to do. It was a matter of ten minutes in Photoshop to put two images together. I submitted the shot for judging at my club and was quite surprised at what the visiting judge said. He felt that the man’s head was a distraction and the shot should be of the woman alone.

Was the judge right? What do you think? Please comment below, I read them all!

Read the Judging a Photograph Series from the start or read the next one in the series by clicking here.

Previously: Tips for Cropping Photos.

Photalife

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. View of lower Manhattan and the Empire State building from Top of the Rock, Rockerfeller Center.

In August we went to the USA to see relatives in the north of New York state. I’m not a city-break person but who could pass up the opportunity to see New York City just one time? We do like to tick boxes on our family trips and now I can say we have done the Big Apple.

It’s quite difficult to plan a good trip to NYC when I have never held any ambitions to see it. Most people I’ve spoken to seem to get pretty excited and have dreams about the place. It’s easy to get recommendations from other people so that’s what we did. I think we had the perfect itinerary to try the variety of experiences in this great city and tick those tourist boxes – with a little inspiration from Frank Sinatra’s song!

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. Yellow Cabs and Manhattan.

1. We Can Make it There – Ride a Yellow Cab

The yellow cabs in the streets are a classic image of New York City and we took a cab from the airport to our hotel on arrival. It’s a good way for a family to travel to Manhattan as it is a fixed price. The JFK cab dispatcher will allocate a car which will fit all of you and your luggage. The highway was dirty and the neighbourhoods were drab and run down at first. Fizz said her heart began to sink on that journey as it all looked a bit grim but then we got to Manhattan and impressive skyscrapers rose around us. At the hotel the cab driver unloaded most of our luggage but drove off with my new hiking stick before I could stop him!

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. The Wellington Hotel NYC.

2. Wake up in the City that Never Sleeps – Wellington Hotel

Things immediately began to look up when we got to the Wellington Hotel. Not knowing what we wanted to do in New York, we selected the best located hotel we could find with lots of tourist fun on our doorstep. The Wellington Hotel completely nailed this. Just a step outside the front door and we could see Central Park to the right and Times Square to the left. The subway entrance was adjacent to the side door of the hotel. It all seemed so easy!

Our room was a deluxe suite. When you are jet-lagged you all want to sleep at different times so it was an absolute godsend to have the living room with a comfy sofa and separate bedroom. There were two big beds – in fact one of them was so huge it was as wide as it was long. Each room had air conditioning and a large TV.

There were large closets and several tables, two desks and drawers plus a little dining area. The kitchenette had a fridge, kettle and microwave and the hotel provided Styrofoam cups on request. There were not any plates or cutlery available, but this is normal in a USA hotel, as my frequent-flyer husband will tell you. It’s just a 3 minute walk (past Carnegie Hall) to a supermarket selling paper plates and plastic cutlery.

We couldn’t hear traffic because our windows overlooked the central light well, although there was a hum from the hotel fans. We didn’t have mobile phone service in the room, I think the tall building was blocking it out, but it worked fine in the hotel lobby. Wifi is an additional charge, but you can connect two devices free if you book direct with the hotel. The room was always promptly cleaned to a high standard and there were plenty of staff including porters. It was a great stay.

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. The Wellington Hotel deluxe suite.

More photos of the Wellington Hotel deluxe suite are at the end of the blog post.

3. These Vagabond Shoes – A Walk in New York

Everyone told us to walk New York, the best way to see it. Despite losing my hiking stick, my sore foot was having a good week and we walked miles. Through Times Square, past TV crews recording entertainment news. Along the High Line, which was once a raised railway line but is now a very long, thin park. Through Central Park where five brides and two dance-troupes were having professional photo-shoots. Along Broadway, past buskers, limousines, pretzel sellers and people hawking horse and carriage rides. Visiting famous shops like M&Ms and B&H Photo. It’s undeniably lively. We also took the Staten Island Ferry as foot passengers which is free. That got us a closer view of the Statue of Liberty.

New York City Times Square Point of View shot on Falcondale Life blog. A perspective on what it is like to walk through this busy and vibrant city.

4. King of the Hill! Make it to the Top

Manhattan is famous for its skyscrapers so we had to get to the top of one and see the awesome view. We chose the Rockerfeller Center aka “Top of the Rock”. We wanted a view of the Empire State Building and you can’t see it if you are on it! It was a great choice with good views of Central Park and the classic view south towards lower Manhattan. M hates heights but he was completely fine because the terraces were huge with big edges and fences. I loved seeing the rivers and the shape of the island. Thanks to jet lag we were in the queue at 7.45 am and so it wasn’t crowded.

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas.. Top of the Rock, Rockerfeller Center Manhattan.

5. In Old New York – The Museum of Natural History

It rained heavily one day and we abandoned our idea of an Ellis Island boat trip and chose the Museum instead. I love the movie set here “A Night At The Museum” so this was a great box to tick. We saw a few of the star exhibits of the movie such as the Easter Island head, although many others don’t exist in real life. It’s a huge museum and we were there almost seven hours. In fact we had a big argument near the end of the day about whether we had seen it all. We hadn’t! Thankfully we did go on to find the moon and planetarium exhibit which was incredibly impressive.

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. Natural History Museum.

6. Find A Number One – Stardust Diner

Even I know that New York is famous for song and dance routines. Without actually going to a Broadway show, a great way to get a flavour of the entertainment scene is to eat at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. The waiting staff are professional performers from Broadway, film and TV who work there between jobs. They get up on the tables and sing; there is entertainment the whole time. It was a fabulous atmosphere and our cheeks hurt from smiling!

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas.. Ellen's Stardust Diner.

I think we picked a great selection of things to see and do for our three days in New York City. It hasn’t turned me into a city break person but I do feel we have properly ticked the NYC box!

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. The Wellington Hotel deluxe suite NYC.

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas.

New York in Three Days as a Family - With Help from Frank Sinatra on Falcondale Life Blog. Tick boxes on this Sinatra inspired 3 day itinerary of New York City. A family holiday stay at the Wellington Hotel. A list of vacation tips and tour ideas. Statue of Liberty from Staten Island Ferry.

Disclosure: We paid for our own accommodation at the Wellington Hotel but were offered a free room upgrade in return for a review. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Oregon Girl Around the World

I think I should have realised years ago that turkeys are wild animals in the USA. Unlike here in the UK, they don’t  just live in a Bernard Matthews enclave, spending the whole year dreaming of Christmas. The first hint that I got about this alternative turkey lifestyle was on a trip to the supermarket.

In a modest branch of Walmart (only twice the size of my local Asda) I found myself in the hunting section. The “entry level” hunting aisle was dedicated to turkey shooting. Clearly turkey shooting is a mild hunting activity. Only extreme sportsmen go in for shooting deer which are quite a bit heavier to pack up and take home.

Pic of the Week, Wild Turkey Feather on Falcondale Life blog. Turkeys are wild animals in the USA and hunting them is a leisure activity. Photography blog series.

Not all turkeys run the gauntlet of hunters. We found a wildlife “preserve” (they mean “reserve”) near Minneapolis airport with a big visitor’s centre. Sadly it was shut on a Monday but the turkeys were hanging out on the rear patio. They turned their backs and walked off but left us a beautiful feather to admire.

I’ve been to the USA quite a few times but I have never seen much wildlife. Years ago in Colorado I saw a rattlesnake and a marmot. I saw deer and a bluebird in Yosemite one time but that’s it. On this trip through the midwest we saw dozens of swooping bald eagles (pity I have no functioning telephoto lens), deer, a red and orange snake, ants half and inch long, butterflies the size of our hands and caterpillars as big as my thumb. We smelt a skunk once near New York too, bleurgh!

Wildlife and Hunting

I can’t imagine living in a country where wild animals exist in such abundance that hunting is a normal leisure activity. Near where I live in Yorkshire there is a popular grouse shooting season but landowners have to go to great measures to maintain the habitat and population of birds. Sometimes those measures are controversial. In the USA the hunting lobby point out that their members donate large sums for conservation. The work done to maintain habitats in the USA is much less of an intervention than it is in the UK. For British grouse, moors must be burned and other wildlife excluded.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of hunting may be, I always feel tremendously lucky to see wildlife. Have you had any good sightings this year?

The Judging a Photograph series will return next week. Please let me know if there’s anything you would like me to cover as the series returns.

Pic of the Week, Wild Turkey Feather on Falcondale Life blog. Turkeys are wild animals in the USA and hunting them is a leisure activity. Photography blog series.

 

Photalife

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Diamond ring solar eclipse phase.

Years ago my husband and I said to each other that we would go to see the total eclipse of the sun on 21st August 2017 in the USA. There were several good reasons.

  • We wanted to go to the USA anyway to visit family. Having a date to aim for helped us to save up to see them.
  • We had seen a total eclipse in France in 1999 and knew that it was worth showing this sight to our children.
  • Total eclipses over populated land are so rare that most people never see one, but once in the USA, it would be easy to access a viewing spot as it ran from coast to coast.
  • Unusually for an eclipse, this one co-incided with the school holidays.

Travel Plans

We chose Nebraska because of the availability of flights, hotels and good weather reports. We flew into Minneapolis, and drove the six hours south to Lincoln, Nebraska. Before the eclipse we had a full day to get our bearings but unfortunately my 12 year old daughter was unwell with some kind of sore throat and virus. She slept most of that day whilst we swam in the hotel pool and worried about her and the forecast for a cloudy eclipse day.

Cloud Forecasts

In our eclipse Facebook groups there was a lot of chatter about the cloud coming our way. I was reassured by locals who said clear mornings are common in the region. Totality was due around 1pm. People also said that the towns a couple of hours west were far less likely to have cloud. I know from experience that light cloud can easily dissipate just before totality, but would the cloud cover be too thick? Although NASA were holding a big eclipse event to the south of Lincoln near Beatrice, we decided to head west instead.

Our Trip to Totality: the day we saw the 2017 total solar eclipse on Falcondale Life blog. Travelblog. Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup.. Instagram stories.

Image from my Instagram stories on eclipse day. (iPhone)

Illness and Aurora

In the end our planning was also influenced by our poorly youngest daughter. If she had been well we would have driven several hours west to get out from under the cloud. I knew there would be horrible traffic jams to endure on the return so it would be a long day in the car. Instead we opted for Aurora, a small town just one hour away. I discovered the town using Xavier Jubier’s interactive eclipse map, then I searched “Aurora eclipse” and sure enough they had a website. I could see that the town had plenty of parking and facilities all set for eclipse day. The town name is perfect as Aurora means ” light”!

The field at Aurora was ideal. We parked next to a shady tree and a picnic bench, close to the refreshments stall and other facilities. There was a lot of space and I think they were only at about one third capacity. I suspect many people will have driven further west but at first the cloud above us was thin. My poorly daughter slept most of the way and woke up feeling brighter.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup.

Our eclipse viewing spot in the field at Aurora

Camera Calamity Again

Eight years ago when we visited California, my camera broke down and I struggled to get good shots of Yosemite. After that holiday it was mended and all my cameras and lenses have been fine since then. But guess what? On this trip to the USA, my DSLR camera broke down. Can you even believe the bad luck?! The errors and funny motor noises had started while we were in New York. We didn’t try using it for the eclipse. Instead my husband put his Pentax bridge camera on the tripod, and as we had spare eclipse glasses and tape, he ripped some up to make a solar filter for the lens and took some shots of the partial eclipse.

I took a few shots on my small Sony Rx100III and my phone. Neither have a decent zoom so I took pictures of us, our picnic spot and the light through our colander, which we used to look at the semi-circles of light from the partial eclipse.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup.

Crescents of light through a colander in the partial phase of the eclipse.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Diamond ring solar eclipse phase.

The teen checks her phone in the crescent-shaped dappled light under a tree.

Settling in for the Event

The locals were so friendly. We bought a commemorative T-shirt and got a postcard of Aurora. From them we learned that Nebraska sits atop one of the worlds most vast aquifers and that’s why the state is full of irrigators. This circular crop machinery pumps water up from below. If you look at satellite views of the area you can see circles all around made by the rotating irrigators. We showed them the crescent light circles from the partial eclipse through our colander, and they were wowed by it. We had a lot of fun with that.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Eclipse souvenir t-shirt.

Eclipse souvenir t-shirt

The Sun Disappearing

As the moment of totality drew nearer, the cloud thickened. We could see clear blue sky not far to the west but the sun was slightly east. Using a cloud radar report we found we would have to drive another hour to get out from under the cloud. We couldn’t risk putting our poorly girl through a long extra drive. So we stayed put. It seemed we wouldn’t be seeing totality. With about thirty minutes to go, I went to sit quietly in the car; I just needed a bit of time to myself. My main concern was for the others, but what a thing to come all this way and not see it! I didn’t think about photos any more, I felt they were not possible. I thought it was all over and felt really low.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup.

Looking south west. Eerie light; dark but colourful

Amazing Totality

Seven minutes before totality, the call came that the cloud had cleared. I got out of the car and took in my surroundings, I could hardly believe it. The sky was dark blue, the light was low but the colours of the world around us were still unnaturally vibrant. The shadows were soft and the dappled light under the tree showed slivers of crescent moons. The clouds to the southwest turned orange and pink like a sunset. Those last seven minutes went in a flash and the sun was finally swallowed up. Shouts of astonishment from far and around came to our ears as people removed their eclipse glasses and saw totality.

“Totality” is such a perfect name for this sight. It is all-consuming, emotionally shattering and unnatural. It’s worth mentioning that in 1999 in France, totality was monochrome, otherworldly and shocking. This time it was achingly pretty. The corona was pink and orange in places, the sky was blue, purple and blush. The clouds made a dappled canvas for this extraordinary focal point of the covered sun. We had the best of it in Aurora I think as we could see the circle of the moon’s shadow move across the sky because it was cast upon the cloud cover. Without these thin clouds none of this colour and shade would have been visible.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup.

Totality shot on the iPhone 7+

Eclipse Photography – NOT!

I spent those two and a half minutes taking all the wrong photos, badly, with automatic focus accidentally switched off on the Sony RX100III. The phones struggled with focus too in the half light. I had given up on both hope and photography in the minutes beforehand. In truth I was fairly unprepared, and if it wasn’t for all my friends asking to see photos then I just would not have cared because I was so relieved that we were seeing it AT ALL! Thankfully my husband had his camera under control on a tripod and got some great photos.

I wanted shots of our surroundings during totality. I thought I’d missed these shots but when I got home I found that I’d taken more photos than I’d realised. My plans for eclipse photography went mainly out of the window but at least we saw it; hooray!

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup.

South east view after totality. The moon’s shadow moves east across the cloud cover.

Aftermath

As expected, driving back to Lincoln the traffic was very heavy. Everyone set off home at the same time. It took over 90 minutes to get back in stop-start traffic. The interstate looked like an evacuation with almost all the traffic going in one direction. I think the jams took the edge of the exhilaration but I felt so relieved we had seen totality.

My children were both really impressed by the total eclipse and want to see another but they are both keen to point out that the best part of the trip was visiting family. I’m glad the eclipse was a pretty sight and less alarming than last time.

Take a look at these Facebook groups and pages for some even better photos.

Solar Eclipse Chasers  Eclipse Travel and Discussion Group  The Great American Eclipse

Future Eclipses – My Picks

The USA is lucky enough to get another total eclipse on 8th April 2024 lasting around 4 minutes and occurring near the middle of the day. It runs south to north-east and takes in Mexico and Niagara Falls. If you’re based in Europe and fancy making a long-term plan to see a total eclipse, then 12th August 2026 in Spain looks like a good option. The sun will be quite low around 7.30pm in the evening so the ideal location is surely the coastline west of Palma, on the island of Mallorca. Totality will last about 96 seconds, so it’s quite short.

Sydney Australia will get 3 minutes and 45 seconds of total eclipse on July 22nd 2028 but as it’s winter, will it be overcast? Durban in South Africa will have a dawn eclipse on 25th November 2030 which could be misty. Beijing and Japan north of Tokyo are good destinations for 2nd September 2035. The next total eclipse to pass over the UK will be when my daughter is 90 years old, so I am glad we didn’t make her wait!

Here are my husbands fantastic photos shot on the Lumix.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Partial solar eclipse phase.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Diamond ring solar eclipse phase.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Totality solar eclipse phase.

Story and photos of our family trip to see totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, Nebraska USA. How we did vacation planning, eclipse chasing and camera setup. Totality solar eclipse phase.

With thanks to ThreeUK who loaned me the iPhone 7+ with USA roaming for promotional purposes. 

This restored railway carriage is an American “Caboose” or guard’s carriage. It is now a lovely Airbnb on a rural Iowa farmstead.  Lots of original features have been kept, such as the conductors’ chairs, but there are now comfortable beds too. The Caboose sits next to a typical American red barn, and the deck looks over thw horses’ field and some great sunsets too. Do you know a railway enthusiast who would love this?

The Judging a Photograph series will return after the school holidays.

Photalife