Monument Valley from the Air

On my way back from Alaska, I drove through Utah and stopped at Moab for several days. I reserved an airplane from Redtail Aviation to fly me around the southeastern quadrant of the state, certainly one of the prettiest parts of the world. On the appointed morning, as I drove to the airport, heavy rain started to fall. I almost cancelled the flight, but went ahead with it. My feeling was that the weather might help tell the story of the extraordinary land forms. Monument Valley is in the Four Corners area on Navajo land. I had photographed these buttes from the ground many times before on sunny days. But somehow, those shots don’t match this one. Ironically, the overcast skies softened the heavy shadows found on sunny days. The rain also deepened the redness of the rock, creating a very saturated, vivid landscape.

If you have additional information about Uptown Photos…

If you have information about any of the people or places in my Uptown photos, please email me (see contact page) or post a comment below. Your help will broaden the understanding of this neighborhood’s history.

Several readers have written me with details about photos. I want to thank you all. I am updating the captions as time permits and appreciate your help.

Back Braces for Photography

Back braces, while technically not photographic equipment, are as essential to street, bird and wildlife photography as shoes and a camera. The weight of lenses, tripods, gimbal heads, teleconverters and cameras can add up quickly. Now consider that you may have to hike miles with all this equipment to get to your location. It can be hard on an old back. And it can turn young backs into old backs quickly – faster than jumping up and down on a concrete basketball court.

Years ago, my chiropractor sold me a simple, effective, super comfortable back brace which I wear during photo expeditions. It’s a giant elastic affair that wraps around the waist and fastens with velcro. Two “wings”, one on each side, let you tighten the brace for additional support. They also fasten with velcro. It’s a little more complicated than putting on a jacket, but not much.

The back brace is a bit like wearing a corset and during hot weather can get a little sweaty, but it’s a lifesaver on long treks into the woods. With it, I can hold a D4 fitted with a long lens out in front of me without stressing my lower back. And I feel great when I return to my vehicle and take it off.

I usually wear the back brace over a T-shirt and under a long-sleeve outer shirt that protects me from mosquitoes. A good back brace costs a pittance compared to the cost of photographic equipment.

I bought my back brace directly from my chiropractor, but I have seen them in medical supply and drug stores. You can also buy them online. They are pretty easy to find. Just google “back braces” and hundreds of models will pop up. Most are in the $20-$30 range. A few are more expensive and a few less. Women will even find models designed just for them. The one I have has lasted 25 years and will probably last the rest of my life.

The bottom line is this. If you’re in pain, you’re not going to want to go out shooting. If you don’t go out shooting, you’re never going to get the shot. And all that expensive gear you bought will gather dust and make you feel guilty.

In my humble opinion, tound for pound, a good back brace is one of the best investments you can make in your photography.

Uptown Chicago: Mid-1970s

Hydrocephalic man in front of Uptown halfway houseA lady named Joanne Asala edits a website called It contains a history of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. She discovered my Uptown photos yesterday and asked if she could post a few on her website. I gladly agreed. There must be a great deal of interest in them. She posted the shots around 10pm last night and by 4am this morning, I already had more than 800 new visitors to my site! I have approximately 4000 images that I took in Chicago Uptown in the mid-1970’s. See the story about how and why I shot them in the About section, then review some of the photos. I’ll be posting more in the coming days and weeks as time permits.

Digitizing the Past

Most of the photos were originally shot on film with a Nikon F2, though some were taken with a Rollei SL66 medium format camera. Digitizing all of them may take a while because I have a business to run. But I’ll try to post at least a dozen new ones each week. Please check back from time to time to see updates.

Portrait of a Neighborhood

Most of these Chicago Uptown images are NOT landmarks. I tried to capture a sense of the place through the people that comprised it. Be forewarned: Uptown in that era was a pretty rough neighborhood, so some of these images may be hard to look at. However, it was also a place of love and compassion. People thrown together by poverty somehow struggled through it and managed to survive … with the help of each other.

A Gimbal Head: An Essential Tool for Bird Photography

A gimbal head for your tripod is an essential tool for capturing fast-moving birds in flight with a heavy camera and long lens.

Birds in flight move at tremendous speeds. Small songbirds like wrens and sparrows fly 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) per hour, while ducks, geese, and pigeons can fly at speeds up to 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour. Some birds, like the peregrine falcon and golden eagle, have been timed diving at speeds exceeding 170 miles (274 kilometers) per hour. [1]

Getting good action shots requires nimble equipment. Somehow “nimble” and a 12 pound 600mm f4 lens with a four pound professional camera attached don’t seem to go together.
Fortunately, there are some tools you can buy that will help even the odds. For years, I struggled to mount heavy cameras and lenses on a traditional tripod head mounted beneath the lens. The problem: the camera and lens get too “tippy” the moment you point up or down. You’re always fighting with a runaway camera/lens combo. Then, I discovered a marvelous tool called the Wimberley head. It has a gimbal mount design.  (See pic below.)
The Wimberley gimbal head is a bit pricey but it’s worth every penny in my opinion. It makes the difference between getting and missing the shot. Why spend thousands on great cameras and lenses if you’re going to miss the shot because of a tripod head that wasn’t designed for the task?
The Wimberley gimbal head puts the center of gravity of the camera/lens combination at the exact center of the vertical and horizontal pivot points. This, in essence, makes that 15 pound camera lens combo virtually weightless.
You can move the entire gimbal head, camera, lens and teleconverter combination with a single finger. And when you move it, it stays put without having to lock down the tripod head. The Wimberley L-shaped arm moves up or down so that you can center the weight vertically. And the adapter plates that mount to your lens have horizontal tracks on them so you can shift the center of weight forward or back until everything is perfectly balanced.

Now, instead of fighting your equipment, you’ll find that a gimbal head moves weightlessly and without friction – in a word, effortlessly.

I have no experience with a gimbal head other than the Wimberley. Others may be perfectly satisfactory. But its hard to imagine any gimbal head moving smoother than the Wimberley. It certainly took my game to a new level. I remember thinking the first time I used it that it gave me the best of both worlds – the stability of a tripod and the freedom of shooting handheld. It’s not quite like shooting handheld because you can’t point straight up, but it’s pretty close.