28 January 2010

New Digital Camera

So after many months (almost a year) of trying to coax my simple point-and-shoot camera into doing anything interesting, I finally broke down and bought a digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera. I opted for a Canon EOS Rebel XSi, which although extremely expensive, I am assured is an entry level DSLR camera.

DSLRs are amazing pieces of equipment. I learned more about photography during my first 15 minutes with this camera than I had ever even had the chance to learn before. Unlike a point-and-shoot camera, my new camera lets me control the exposure time, focus, and aperture settings manually. Of course, being an entry-level DSLR, this thing also has an automatic mode.(which I hate, because it always wants to use the flash...) Anyways, still learning how to use it, but I can already do some fun photographer tricks. For example, check this out:

Taken on the mode where I can vary the shutter speed, the photos are all taken in sequence varying the speed from 1/4000th of a second to 1/80th of a second. The best part is that it took me all of 30 seconds to take the whole series -- snap, adjust, snap, adjust. These things are fast.

On the other end of the spectrum, I took two pictures of my wife, one with a normal capture speed and the other a 2 second exposure. In the second photo, she seems to vanish because she was walking around, completely oblivious to my photographic endeavors:

Anyways, I haven't quite gotten this to do anything interesting outside just yet, but I'm still learning how to do things aside from auto-mode. I did take about 300 photos on a walk yesterday, but half of them didn't turn out for reasons I haven't figured out just yet. I'll probably organize them into another post. So, I guess for the future of this blog, look forward to more photos (or something...)

18 January 2010

Santa Barbara Index

I think that about covers our Santa Barbara trip. In chronologic order (i.e. opposite the typical bloggish order), the posts are:

Santa Barbara Day 4: Leaving and Solvang

Our final time in Santa Barbara was spent out on Stearns Wharf, where we found a great place to eat dinner (after El Capitan) at a shellfish house. This place was incredible -- their entire menu was made with local crab, lobster and other crustaceans. Most of the items on the menu were sold by the pound. I couldn't talk Urmi into the four pound spider crab meal for two, but maybe next time. Most of the restaurant was full of tanks of live crabs, lobster and abalone. The pictures didn't turn out great, but here's a local rock crab:

The next day we hiked back out to the wharf (to the exact same restaurant, in fact) to see the Channel Islands and wharf. Along the way we passed a bizarre protest against the Iraq and Afganistan wars. I don't agree with these wars, but I wouldn't expect Santa Barbara to be a really right-leaning town. The protest had assembled a graveyard on West Beach, right next to the wharf.

Anyways, coffee in hand, we got some great photos from the end of the wharf. The channel islands are tough to see in a photo, but they were obvious in person.

Eventually, we had to leave Santa Barbara if we were to make it back in time for me to pack and head back to DC. Along the way we stopped in a little town (which they insisted should be called a 'village') called Solvang. Solvang was originally founded by Danish immigrants, and the entire city has been built in a Scandinavian style:

Note the sloped roofs -- perfect for those heavy, Southern California snowfalls. The lower building housed a Subway and a liquor store. It was pretty much just the shops which looked like this; a few of the houses continued the architecture, but not very many. The highlight of Solvang? We found a restaurant which sold Aebelskivers, a danish pancake shaped roughly like an egg. We make them better at home, but it was exciting to see a restaurant selling authentic scandinavian dishes that don't involve meat and gravy.

Santa Barbara Day 3: El Capitan Beach

There probably should be an accent mark in the name of this park, but oh well. El Capitan is a classic beach about twenty miles west of Santa Barbara, and it's quite deservedly a classic. The beach is framed by bluffs stretching directly into the ocean, and we were given an excellent view of the sunset. The beach was a bit rocky, though, so I don't know if it'd really be appropriate for traditional beach activities.
We had a great time here, even though we were only there for about an hour. We got some gorillapod work in, as well as some wading in the (freezing!) ocean:

We also took entirely too many pictures of the sunset, due to the sheer beauty of the landscape. Here's one of the best:

El Capitan ended up being a great way to close a fun time in Santa Barbara. We had to leave early the next day, so we called it a night after sunset and headed home.

Santa Barbara Day 3: Around Town

Santa Barbara is a pretty old city, and has several buildings that have been there since the city was first settled in the mid 1700s. Chief among these is the Mission, featured above. We couldn't actually get inside the church, but it was still beautiful to behold. I took a number of more artistic shots around here.

After wandering around the mission, we decided to head downtown and do a walking tour. Our first stop was the Santa Barbara courthouse, which was built in the early 1900s and is a truly remarkable building.

The entire building is packed with artwork, some of which is attributed to a set designer who worked with Cecil B. De Mille. We were actually allowed to go up into the tower, where we had even more beautiful vistas around town:

Many of the buildings were built in this same fashion, with whitewashed walls and clay tile roofs. It didn't seem to matter whether the building was two hundred years old or seventy -- they all followed the same basic design.
The remainder of our walking tour was largely uneventful. Most of the landmarks were old Adobe buildings, which eventually all looked about the same. We did see some interesting alleyways and streets, though:

Thoroughly tuckered out after our hike, both in the hills and around town, we took a brief siesta in a park and then headed out again to watch the sun set.

Santa Barbara Day Three: Searching for Inspiration

All of our guidebooks highly recommended a single front country hike in the Santa Barbara area: A hike up the Tunnel Trail towards Inspiration Point, apparently rewarding the steep, uphill journey with breathtaking views of the city and coastline. None of the above, however, were willing to tell us how to get there. After quite a bit of googling, we discovered that we had not one, but two routes to Inspiration Point, a 'Tunnel Trail' and another trail called the 'Jesuita Trail'. The trails were both supposed to be gorgeous, too, passing through thick wilderness with occasional sweeping views of the city.
Once we reached the base of the wilderness, we discovered that not only was the trail closed and parking severely restricted (at this point our only conclusion is that Southern California hates hikers), but we appeared to be in the wrong place. We couldn't see a single bit of thick wilderness, and no living plants more than two feet tall. In fact, the entire wilderness looked rather like this:

While this was quite pretty, we decided that we had actually stumbled upon a different trail, one that had been through a rather rough time of late. All the signs were caked in mud from landslides, and the road was littered with dead branches (also caked in mud). We did have the promised views of the city, though, so we tarried on up the trail.
A passing hiker informed us that we were indeed on the right trail, and that the locals were ignoring the 'trail closed' signs. She gave us some directions to inspiration point, although they were vague enough that we kept going the wrong direction. We did end up with some great vistas, though, including:

We continued up the mountains until we found a sign that actually indicated the Jesuita trail. By this time, though, we were a bit pooped and after a bit of wavering, decided to turn back. Urmi wasn't well equipped for a three or more mile uphill hike in the burning sun (and I probably should stay out of the sun alltogether), so it was probably for the best. About here we ran into another group of inspiration seekers who had apparently been more successful than we were. Highlight of the trip? Their response to our question: I have no idea where Inspiration Point is, but if you go up thataway, you'll definitely be inspired. Just keep at it.
Here are a few more photos from our quest:

Our next quest was to treat Santa Barbara as right-and-proper tourists, and visit all the things with Santa Barbara in their name, such as the Mission and Courthouse.

Santa Barbara Day 2: Mulholland Drive, Santa Monica and USC

Our first stop was to a presumably secret overlook above Hollywood, right off of Mulholland Drive. However, much to our chagrin, we discovered that the lookout was not only well known, but completely devoid of parking. One of the 'Star' tour companies took their groups to the overlook as well, and they had occupied nearly every square inch of the parking. Those tours are a real ripoff, too -- $60 a head to ride in the back of a modified van? We didn't pay that much to go see humpback whales in Hawaii. Our guidebook (thanks library) probably told us nearly as much as the tour companies, and all without the stalking atmosphere.
Anyways, the overlook gave us some incredible views of the city, including the famous Hollywood Bowl (which I had never heard of?) and some other landmarks. We aso picked up a better picture of that infamous sign, making me regret elbowing everyone out of the way down in the mall. I also wondered why more people didn't, you know, go someplace else to take their endless snapshots of the sign?

After Hollywood, we were planning to meet up with a couple friends for dinner. We had a few hours to kill in LA, so we decided to head to the Santa Monica pier. Urmi had read that a park in Santa Monica was supposed to be a beautiful place to watch the sunset, but with the New Years crowd, there were simply too many people to get anywhere. We ended up getting part of the way out into the pier before it was time to leave. We did get some nice shots of the beach back towards LA, though.

And my personal favorite, yet another Seagull. We had some remarkably cooperative birds in LA.

Eventually, we turned back towards downtain LA to meet our friends at USC. We got there just as the sun was setting, which gave us some great photos of the area.

And that capped off our second day in Southern California. On the third day, we get back to more outdoorsy pursuits, including hiking in the Jesuita wilderness over Santa Barbara.

05 January 2010

Santa Barbara Day 2: Hollywood and Highland

There. Now that we have the obligatory hollywood signage out of the way, let's talk about our experience in Hollywood. In one word, disappointing. Our guidebook prepared us for people dressed as famous characters, all looking for a few bucks for a photo, but it didn't prepare us for the thousands of people all wanting pictures with the Michael Jackson star, nor for the overpriced parking and trinkets sold in the stores nearby. The architecture was kind of cool (I particularly liked the Chinese theater), but not worth the fifty minutes it took us to get from Santa Monica to Highland.
A sampling of the Hollywood experience:

Hollywood was an interesting place, if only because it seemed so fake. All the decorations were focused on the TV and film -- I even saw a quote, built out of tile on the floor of the mall, attributed to a dog actor talking about how awesome it was to work in movies. Remember, the 'person' quoted was a canine. The fact that heading two minutes away from the intersection left you in some seriously seedy territory didn't help convince you that the Hollywood experience was more than a millimeter deep.
The people dressed up as famous stars were more annoying than otherwise, too. We were approached by one of them offering to get a picture, but we couldn't even figure out which star she was supposed to be. My best guess -- Alice in Wonderland -- is probably not right. Maybe she was Mary Poppins? I'm afraid Urmi rather forcefully rejected the offer, so we had no way to find out who she was supposed to be.
We did see one actual celebrity, but since Urmi and I aren't too much into the whole show business culture, we have no idea who she was. She was walking a terribly ugly (but still purse-sized!) dog, wearing about two hundred dollars worth of makeup, and followed by no less than three paparazzi, though, so I presume she was fairly important. I narrowly avoided colliding with her as I tried to get through the crowd; that probably would've ensured that I ended up on the cover of US Weekly or something. I can see the headline now: Lunatic Tourist Assaults Starlet, Story and Pictures page 11!.
The Hollywood sign was another source of entertainment. There was exactly one place in the mall where you could get a good view of the sign, and it happened to be right next to where we ended up eating lunch. We spent most of lunch watching the hundreds of shots people were trying to get with them in front of the sign -- pointing at it, framing their heads with it like a halo, and more. Our lunch mates -- a group of five people in their late teens or early twenties, sitting at the next table -- provided endless commentary on the people taking photos. Probably the highlight of our LA trip thus far.
Wanting to end our Hollywood experience on a positive note, I give you Grauman's Chinese Theater:

Eager to escape the crowds, we decided to go anywhere in LA that wasn't Hollywood and Highland. Our first stop was Mulholland Drive, a twisty road snaking through the mountains over the city.

Santa Barbara Day 2: Malibu Canyon

On our next day in Santa Barbara, we opted to head into LA, mostly because Urmi had never been there and I don't remember a thing about when I went there (at the ripe age of six or seven). We several guidebooks with us (courtesy of the Peninsula Library System), none of which really suggested the sort of LA trip we were interested in (seriously, these books were suggesting tours of LA called 'As Seen on TV' -- a tour of only the LA landmarks seen in TV shows), so we sliced up a couple tours from different books and ended up with a more outdoorsy trip to LA.

Malibu Canyon
Our first stop was Malibu Canyon State Park, a somewhat overpriced part of the 'As Seen on TV' tour. The park consists of land formerly belonging to Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope and Fox Pictures, who filmed MASH, Swiss Family Robinson and Tarzan on the property. After wandering aimlessly through the park for a couple hours, we finally found the trail we were looking for, but only via the process of elimination. (What's with So Cal parks and missing trail markers? We couldn't even get a map of this place.) This wasn't a complete loss, however, since we were able to get some great views along the way.

The trail snaked back into the canyon onto property formerly used by Fox. Our goal was a rocky pool back by the canyon, which, according to our guidebook, was the setting for Swiss Family Robinson. A very pretty place, and not exactly what we were expecting less than ten miles from the LA outskirts.

Once we finished with our hike (and after we managed to get lost on our way out, our trail forcing us to cross a creek), we decided to continue following Malibu Canyon road down past Pepperdine University into Malibu itself. The canyon was very picturesque, but we didn't get any opportunities to actually stop and enjoy the scenery. Our only photo came from a turnout we used to let other cars pass us.

Once we hit the coast, however, it was a completely different world; considerably more people, all of whom just had eyes for the beach. The LA beaches are pretty, of course, but none of the people passing seemed even aware of the pretty canyon just a few miles to the north.

We followed the Pacific Coast Highway into LA, passing through locales such as Santa Monica, Hollywood, and others. Along the way, I picked up a great picture of one of my favorite subjects -- Seagulls:

This gull doesn't care a thing about our photographic habits. I love it. Anyways, after Malibu, we decided to head to our next tourist stop in LA, the Hollywood and Highland area.