Posts Tagged ‘photography’

365 Project

February 2, 2012 1 comment

So my life’s been pretty much everywhere recently.  I graduated from Penn State last May.  I took a trip to Alaska with my friends, and then spent the summer in Calgary with Kat.  In September, I started into the PhD program in medical physics at the University of Chicago.  After a few months, I had to leave the program due to some personal issues.

But things are looking up!  Kat just got a job, and I applied to some new medical physics programs in Canada.  We also just got an apartment up in Calgary.

But to expedite things, I’m going to jump right into my version of the 365 project.  The 365 project involves taking a picture every day.  Different variations exist, but for mine, I have to be in the picture each day–at least some part of me.  I realize I’m a few years and a month later for this, but I figure better late than never.  Now I can’t promise I’ll upload my picture each day, but I will take the photo each day, and upload at least once a week (assuming I can get internet sometime that week).

I’m into day 4 so far, so I’ll go ahead and post everything I’ve got so far!  Enjoy!

Crusty Bread

I've been cooking a lot of bread recently, partly because it's so much cheaper than buying it at the store, and partly because having warm bread come fresh out of the oven is a sensory delight. I most make loaves from the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, but I've found that my breads often come out a little dense and chewy. For this loaf, I altered the recipe a little by allowing longer rise times, and then treating it with an egg wash before baking. The result was exactly what I was looking for -- a bread that was fluffy on the inside, but crunchy and tasty on the outside.

Crusty Bread

If I don't eat often enough, my body gets a little out of whack, and I have to munch on something to quickly get myself back in the right mind. Here I'm snacking on a block of peanut butter fudge that I got for Christmas. Not the healthiest treat, but enough to hold me off for the hour or so until dinner.

Crusty Bread

Today, I ate my first egg in three months. Though I used to eat eggs regularly, often daily, three months ago I started getting sudden stomach pains everytime I would eat one. I felt as though someone was stabbing me and twisting the knife in circles in some sort of sick, egg-filled torture. So, naturally, I stopped. I decided to retry them today, and to my delight, there was no pain. Welcome back, eggs!

Crusty Bread

Prior to university, I played piano on a regular basis, first on a Lester from the 1950s. Right before I went off to Penn State, I got spoiled with a baby grand Kawai, but had to leave it behind for obvious reasons. Since then, my playing has become very sporadic, playing here and there on whatever piano I could scrounge up. Recently, I got hold of my dad's old Roland EP-50, a 76-key keyboard with weighted keys. Despite it being from 1985, the action on the piano is great, but the sound is horrendous. There are only 3 piano sounds available, and all sound like a dying organ mixed with a robotic banjo. To fix this, I connected the keyboard by midi-to-USB to my laptop and ran it through Cakewalk Sonar X1 software to produce perfect piano sound. This, combined with my recently digitized sheet music collection brings back the piano playing I've missed.


Together Without Limits

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

A photo I took from on shift at THON today.

Expect more photos of THON (as well as a few shots from Chicago) in weeks to come, after exams and traveling like crazy are done.

Day 11: Surf and Turf

July 24, 2010 4 comments

10 June, 2010

Wow, I am completely exhausted. The trip is almost over (I’m sitting in the airport about to board the plane to Wellington), but I still have a massive cram session for my biology exam remaining. As of 4:30pm tomorrow, though, I’m done until my physics exam two weeks later.

We got up this morning and basically scrambled all day. By 8am, we were out of our camping spot and driving towards Greymouth. While it was slightly out of our way, we needed to check the condition of Arthur’s Pass (Route 73). This road passes through the mountains and is routinely closed due to snow. Luckily, there was no problem (“but make sure to take it slow, and you remember that you could get turned around if the forecast changes,”) and we headed out.

The drive was incredibly beautiful. We started out with some rain, but it died out after a while and gave way to blue skies. Unfortunately, we were a bit pressed for time, so we didn’t get to stop much. (I only ended up taking one or two pictures, despite the spectacular scenery.)

Arthur's Pass

Despite the fact that Arthur's Pass was completely gorgeous, I only got one decent photo out of the drive. We were a bit rushed trying to get to Christchurch in time to drop off our van and didn't get a chance to stop for pictures.

We actually got pretty lucky making it back to Christchurch on time. Our van was due back at 2pm (though I got it extended to 3pm). We left at 8am, and it was set to take 4 hours…in perfect conditions and if you knew the road. On top of that, we still had to pack everything away and find out how to get to the drop-off depot. We did all this, plus cooking and eating lunch, in the parking lot of a restaurant just outside of Christchurch.

We ended up with a little extra time and tried stopping by the airport to see if we could check our bags early so we didn’t have to carry them around Christchurch all afternoon. Unfortunately, after wandering aimlessly and dealing with some annoyingly long lines, we weren’t allowed.

When we dropped the van off, we were a bit nervous about the damage report. We didn’t get into an accident or anything, but we did get a chip in the windshield. We were driving down a main road (Route 6) which had some “grit” (cinders—those little rocks to prevent you from sliding on ice). A campervan passing on the other side was going a little too fast, and we ended up with a sizable chink in our windshield. Luckily, it was near another, less prominent chip, and the guy checking damage mistook one for the other. In other words, despite the chip and the insurance that didn’t cover the windshield, we didn’t pay a penny, and the crewman initialed off an “All ok!”

After dropping the van off, we took a free shuttle to Cathedral Square, the town center of Christchurch. We found a Base Backpackers that let us store our bags, and we explored the city. Katrina got a ring, a small, sterling silver band with a shiny shell in the center, at the Cathedral Square markets.

A Little Ring

A ring that Kat got down in Christchurch. The main setting is a shiny, multicolored seashell.

We also took a trip to the Christchurch Art Gallery, looking at the Observation/Action/Reflection collection. The main piece in this collection was an attachment of two long, counter-rotating rods. As they rotated, live wires on the ends of the rods pulled across a copper strip on the wall and created a mini Tesla arc.

Christchurch Art Gallery

The art gallery in Christchurch. It's one of the most modern I've seen.

We walked around the city a bit more, but we were losing sun, and it was getting cold. I was feeling pretty sick from a combination of head congestion and (what I just realized) was pretty strong dehydration. I grabbed a 250mL bottle of water and chugged it. This held me over for a little while, but what I really needed was some food.

We ended up at The Tap Room on Oxford Terrace. I chugged some more water, and we ordered seafood chowder as a starter. This was not your typical US chowder. Besides being nearly enough for the two of us as a meal, it was filled with huge chunks of fish, scallops, and prawns. It even had two whole, shell-on mussels floating on top. Delicious!

Seafood Chowder

Our appetizer at The Tap Room in Christchurch. It was one of the heartiest seafood chowders I've ever eaten. It was corn and potato based and had huge chunks of seafood in it. Everything from fish and squid to scallops and even full mussels on top.

For dinner, they were having an early bird special: 1/2 off their Stonegrill meals. Your meal comes out on a 400° C stone, almost fully raw. You can cook the meat just how you like, along with a variety of sauces. I got the Surf and Turf: a 200g steak, 2 prawns, and 2 scallops. Kat ended up with the Ocean Fare: a lobster tail, 2 prawns, 2 scallops, and 2 mussels. For the $14 NZD ($10 USD) that they each cost, it would have been a steal just for the raw meat!

Although stuffed and completely satisfied, the food was too delicious to pass up dessert. We finished with a white chocolate raspberry tartlet with an almond crust and a scoop of plum ice cream, one of the tastiest desserts I’ve had in a while.

And that brings me here to the end of our trip. By this point, I’ve already boarded the flight, and we actually just started our decent into Wellington.

In the Airport

We spent 15 minutes trying to take this picture of ourselves at Mojo in the airport. We ended up with 30+ photos and only got a few to turn out.

This trip, I can easily say, was (and probably will be for a long time) the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken. When else can I say that I’ve gone skydiving, climbed a glacier, and cruised through one of the most beautiful National Parks in the world? And all of this, even the driving, was through the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to find a place where you can go from a coastal dream to sheep farms to snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and more in the span of one day’s drive. (Not to mention my amazing companion through this whole thing.)

Still, I can say I’m a little glad to be getting back. I’m starting to get sick; I think that’s about all my body can take of sleeping in a cold, confined, and slightly damp van. (Don’t get me wrong—our van was wonderfully comfortable in itself. But New Zealand nights can get pretty chilly this time of year.)

My last word of advice: take the trip to New Zealand, especially the South Island, at some point in your life. I know I’ve said this a thousand times, but I have to say it again. Out of all the people I talk to, nearly all of them, be they from North America, Brazil, Europe, or Asia, have said that New Zealand is, by far, the most beautiful place they’ve ever seen. If you can make the trip, you’ll be glad you did. Who knows, you just may never want to head back home.

-Brandon M. Koger

See the full set on Flickr! (Photos will be uploaded as I go through each day.)

Day 10: Weeeeeeeeeee!

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

09 June, 2010

And today held yet another amazing adventure: skydiving.

Katrina and I had a time set to skydive at 11:15am. We ate a quick breakfast in our van and grabbed coffee at a little café before leaving.

The original plan was to skydive in Queenstown. It’s the adventure capital of New Zealand, and most people will either dive there or in Taupo on the North Island. Just as I was about to book in Queenstown, though, I randomly stumbled across Skydive NZ, a skydiving company based out of Fox Glacier. Besides allowing you to skydive over the most beautiful scenery in the country (including Mount Cook and the glaciers), they let you take your own camera on the dive with you. Sadly, they don’t allow DSLRs, but I took my little Flip video camera and was able to videotape everything after our chute opened up.

We pulled up to the hanger and checked in. Within five minutes, we were given a very quick briefing and shoved on a plane. The plan was tiny, the same size as the one I used to skydive near State College—just big enough to hold a pilot and four passengers seated on the floor.

On the Skydiving Plane

We were allowed to take our camera up on the plane with us before our skydive. Of course, I wasn't allowed to take my DSLR on the dive with me, but I would have been able to take a point and shoot if I had one. (I ended up taking my small videocamera on the dive with me, which was still great.)

The ride up was beautiful, circling around the Fox Glacier valley, Mount Cook, and the other mountains in the area. You could also see the coast of the Tasman Sea. Needless to say, I took quite a few pictures through the window of the airplane.

Out the Airplane Window

A panorama I took using three shots out the window of our skydiving plane.

Mount Cook

The summit of Mount Cook, as viewed from our plane.

As we were about to hit 12,000 feet, I put my camera away and got ready to jump. The instant the altimeter read 12,000, the door swung open, and Kat and her instructor disappeared out into the perfectly blue sky. My instructor helped me towards the door. My head went back against his shoulder, my legs back in the “banana shape.” As he sat on the edge of the plane with his legs dangling out, my entire body was suspended in the air, held up only by my attachment to him. He swung forward, and we fell out into the open air.

A few of the thoughts that ran through my head during the 45-second freefall: “Wow, this is cool. I should scream. Wow, it’s cold. Wonder if I should have worn boots; the air is going right through my running shoes. Oh, my mouth is open. What if I swallow a bug? I remember seeing people skydiving once with their mouth opened. They looked silly. Oh, a chute below. Is that Kat? Of course it is, who else is parachuting from this exact spot at this exact moment. She’s far down. Hmm, wonder when he’s going to pull the chute?”

And he did pull the chute. I was yanked upwards and felt my body become weightless for a second before continuing my descent, this time much slower than before. My instructor pulled my goggles off, and I took out my video camera to film the rest. (As of the time of writing this, I have no idea if my video is any good, as I haven’t watched it yet. I tried to get the scenery, as well as a few shots of my face. I also watched Kat land below, and myself skim across the grass as I landed.)

It was quite a fantastic experience, but I think the initial shock of it is gone since I did it the first time in State College. Comparing the two, I think I honestly liked State College (technically Reedsville, PA) better. While this had amazing scenery, the staff at skydive NZ was a bit cold. Kat said her instructor was friendly, but mine barely talked. I felt like I was rushed through, like they were just trying to turn a profit and didn’t care if you enjoyed the experience or not. They even made a snide remark when we told them that we didn’t want to order pictures or videos. (“I thought the recession was over? Guess not!”) (And don’t get me wrong, the jump itself was still utterly amazing, but the staff and mood in Reedsville were much more inviting, making for a more enjoyable experience overall.)

Within 45 minutes, we were back in our car. We took some photos of the town (which we hadn’t done in the previous two days of being here).

Glacial Junction

This is in the center of town in Fox Glacier. The two glaciers are to either side, and the picturesque Lake Matheson cuts right down the middle.

We also took the 5-minute trip to Lake Matheson, right outside of town. Wow, totally worth it. It’s “one of New Zealand’s most famous lakes,” and for a good reason. It is perfectly still, and it acts like a mirror, giving a brilliant reflection of Mount Cook and some of the surrounding mountains.


And only dingy fence I found heading towards Lake Matheson. Kat continued towards the lake, but I stayed here for a few minutes to take pictures, sprinting (and getting completely out of breath) to catch back up to her.

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson, one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand. You can see Mount Cook and some of its neighboring mountains in the distance, but unfortunately they were mostly covered under clouds for this photo.

After that, we took a quick trip to Fox’s neighbor, Franz Joseph. This time it wasn’t to see the glacier, but the boundary of two tectonic plates: the Indo-Australian and the Pacific. One point of the fault line lies right under a gas station: this seems recipe for disaster. Kat also spotted the boundary in the Franz Joseph Glacier Valley: a giant crack in the wall with different types of rock on each side. (Kat is a geologist, so she was pretty much in heaven in all of New Zealand, but especially here.)

Faulty Petrol

This petrol station lies right on the fault line between the Pacific and the Indo-Australian tectonic plates. Seems a little dangerous if the plates decided to make a decent sized move. (Taken by Kat)

From there we took the drive to Greymouth for the night. We stopped at a few places along the way to take pictures, but nothing worth mentioning by name. Although, at one of the stops, Kat accidentally touched an electric fence. Needless to say, her arm is not feeling the greatest right now.

Self Reflection

A reflection of myself in Lake Mapourika. We stopped here just after leaving Franz Joseph to grab a bite to eat.

Final South Island Sunset

We were trying to find a decent place to see the sunset, but were so landlocked that we couldn't find anywhere. It seemed that anywhere that would be decent for a photo was private and fenced off. (This is also the place where Kat touched the electric fence.)

Lake Ianthe

Lake Ianthe. We stopped here for a few moments to take photos on our way back up. I think we interrupted something going on in a car by the lake.

There really is nothing interesting in Greymouth, and we didn’t even bother going into town. We’re just camped in a picnic area outside of town, set to wake up and finish the drive to Christchurch tomorrow morning. We hope to take Arthur’s Pass, though it’s possible that it could be closed due to snow, and we’d have to readjust our schedule. Our car needs to be back by 2pm either way.

Crazy how fast this trip has gone: 24 hours left until I’m back in Wellington.

See the full set on Flickr! (Photos will be uploaded as I go through each day.)

Day 5: On to Milford!

July 18, 2010 Leave a comment

04 June, 2010

Turns out we picked a pretty nice spot to pull over.  After being honked at by a bunch of passing trucks, we woke up to find two really cool things.  1) Out of our side window was a range of snow-capped mountains, and 2) It was warm out—like really warm—enough to be in a t-shirt when the wind wasn’t blowing.

We ate a quick breakfast of eggs and bread and were on our way.  We had another hour or so to Te Anau, so we passed the time listening to Eddie Vedder in the Into the Wild soundtrack.  It set the mood perfectly.

We pulled over at one point to take pictures along a river.  When pulling in to park, though, I pulled our front tires into mud and got stuck.  A few quick turns of the wheel and a burst of gas got us out, luckily.


On our way to Te Anau, Kat and I stopped on the side of the road to take some photos looking into Fiordland. This is where we got stuck.

By the time we got to Te Anau, it was nearly lunch time.  A quick trip to the grocery store got us stocked for the next few days.  We saw a nice looking lunch stop, The Sandfly Café, across the street.  I got a flat white and Kat got “the best latte I’ve ever had.”  (It’s true, I even agreed with her.)  It had just enough coffee and the smoothest vanilla I’ve ever tasted.

Sandfly Cafe

Once we got into Te Anau, we grabbed some coffee at the Sandfly Cafe--it had the best latte that Kat or I have ever had.

We walked around town a bit, especially down by Lake Te Anau.  It was very pretty and the sun was hitting in just the right way for some great shots.


Lake Te Anau, and one of the seaplanes that could take you on an air tour of the area.

The drive to Milford is only 120km (80 miles), but it takes just about 2 hours.  The first half is easy, but it quickly gets windy and icy, drastically slowing the trip down.  Still, it is by far the most beautiful drive I’ve ever done.  You start out along Lake Te Anau with rolling hills.  As you enter Fiordland National Park, though, the rainforest quickly takes over.  Great expanses of dry riverbed (at least this time of year) stretch out beneath the vast mountains of The Southern Alps.  Some areas are permanently frosted because they never see the sun, and others are so warm that you could get a suntan there.  One of the most diverse areas I’ve ever seen.

Only a Boat

The boat that heads towards the start of the Milford Track lands at this dock. Not sure if this is the ferry that takes you or not.


The Mirror Lakes, one of the stops along the way to Milford.

At one of the lookouts at which we stopped, a large bird swooped down from the trees just as I got out of the car.  I tried to take a picture, but he was too quick.  When I turned around, though, he had plopped himself down right on top of our van and sat firmly.

Kat and I took tons of pictures of him, not sure what type of bird it was.  At a cross between a parrot and the kaka I saw at Zealandia, I assumed it was unique to New Zealand.  We played with him a little while longer before saying goodbye to Kyle (our name for him) and driving off.  (We later found out that it is a Kea—a mountain parrot.)


Kyle, our Kea.


Though we didn't know it at the time, we found out that you're not supposed to feed the kea. Not only does it screw up their diet, but it makes them less afraid of humans, sometimes leading to their death or (more likely) them eating the rubber molding on your car door frames. Apparently it's a tasty treat for them. (Taken by Kat)

To get to Milford Sound, you have to drive through the Homer Tunnel, a 1000+ meter tunnel cut through the mountain.  It’s too small for steady 2-way traffic, so stop lights at either end alternate every 15 minutes.  While waiting for the light to change on our side, we took a chance to explore a huge (mansion-sized) block of ice that had fallen off from one of the mountains into a nearby valley.

After getting through, it’s like a portal, and you’re transported to a place even more beautiful than the one you came from.  The road sloped down in sharp bends as gorges and peaks alternated around you.

Heading Towards Milford

The view after getting through the Homer Tunnel and down the bottom of the valley.

When we finally arrived at Milford Sound, it was nearing sunset.  We hurried out of the car and walked the 15 minutes from the car park to the actual sound to try and see it.  Though you can’t quite see the sunset on the horizon as I had hoped, I still got a few nice shots.

Milford Sound

One of the most photographed areas of New Zealand.


So many tour boats in the harbor at Milford.

We cooked a quick spaghetti dinner and then went back out to the water for some pictures.  By this time, it was dark and the stars were out, so I took my tripod and remote, hoping to take some long exposures.  We walked out to a spot we had been earlier in the day, only to realize that the tide had gone way out.  It looked as though half of the sound had dried up, but it was so dark that it was difficult to tell for sure.  Still, it felt eerie to be in a spot that had been covered in 2-feet of water just a few hours earlier—like I was doing something wrong and the sea would soon come back in to punish me.

I took a series of long (>5 minute) exposures.  Out of the four that I took, I got one great one from a shot that took just under 10 minutes.  You can see the star movement very clearly, appearing as shooting stars.

Starry Night

Kat and I walked out to a sandbar in the middle of the the sound and took this ~10 min. exposure. I wish I had more time to try a longer shot, but it was getting cold and the tide was coming in. Also, I was mostly shooting in the dark on this, as I couldn't really see anything through the viewfinder and didn't get an idea of what I was looking at until at least a 5-minute exposure.

The nearest DOC site was back through the Homer Tunnel, at least an hour back towards Te Anau.  So, once again, we looked for somewhere on the side of the road to park.  Most of the car parks here have signs for no overnight camping, so it was a little more difficult.  We finally found one that looked good, so we pulled over.  We weren’t quite off the road as far as I would have liked, so I backed up to try and get further off.

And I got stuck.


This one took a lot more finesse to get out of, and took us a good 5 minutes of fidgeting.  The good news is that if we were stuck, we could just sleep there (albeit on a weird slope).  No worries though, as we got out just fine.

Now we have found a much more secure location—a mini-car park just down the road.  This one is pavement, so we won’t get stuck.  (That was our rule after this: no more trying to sleep in anything that isn’t pavement.)  It’s pretty far off the road, and seeing as the closest two towns—each with population < 100—are more than 2 hours apart, I don’t think we’ll be getting too many people driving by overnight.  It’s looking to be a decent, albeit cold, night.

See the full set on Flickr! (Photos will be uploaded as I go through each day.)

Day 2: Swinging Around

July 15, 2010 1 comment

01 June 2010

Happy June!

Last night was cold.  I ended up sleeping with my head under the covers, which was just warm enough.  Still woke up a few times though.

We woke up this morning and took a short hike down Hooker Valley.  After two swing bridges and lots of snow, we got a spectacular view of the valley, something Lena and I never had a chance to see when we were down here.

Dead on the Ground

I was doing some running between rocks around the first swing bridge on the walk. I made it between the rocks just fine, but when I went to climb back up onto the main track, I bumped my knee against a rock. Unfortunately, this is a very sensitive spot on my body, and a small bump causes me to start to black out. This was my recovery. (Taken by Kat)

Looking Down

I took this picture while laying down on the ground, recovering from my near blackout. It was below freezing and in the shade for most of this walk, so we obviously had to bundle up quite a bit.

Hooker Valley Panorama

This is the view about an hour into the Hooker Valley Track. At the point, the sun first started to peak out over the mountains, and it got really warm. We could hear some small avalanches as the snow and ice began to melt, giving way under the pressure of the snow above.

We made our first real meal with our cooking supplies: chicken rice soup and grilled cheese.  It was tasty, and the burner worked much better than I expected.

Oh, and we heard avalanches up on the slopes throughout the night, and even got to see a small one way up on the mountain during our hike.  So cool!


Our van, and home, for the next 10 days of our trip. We rented from Escape Rentals and were very happy with it. Our van was called "Pohutakawa"; named after the red flowers that were painted along the side by a local artist.

We set off down the road towards Dunedin, not really sure where we were going to stop for the night.  Quite a few cool places along the way, and we stopped to take pictures.  I especially liked an area with a large pond, really yellow, full colored trees, and a tree swing.  Reminded me of Pumpkinville a little.

Fall in New Zealand

Saw this alongside the road during our drive from Mount Cook to Dunedin. This tree was right along a small pond, one of the Waitaki Lakes, just before Lake Benmore.


(Taken by Kat)

Fun Times

Kat's turn.

Fantail Above the Leaves

We spotted this fantail skimming above the trees on the pond.

About an hour in, I realized that I forgot both of our water bottles back at Mount Cook in the little kitchen are where we washed them.  I’m a little upset about that because I really liked that water bottle, and Kat had just gotten hers.

We stopped at the Moeraki Boulders and ate dinner.  It was Satay chicken with onions and rice.  So classy for a camping meal!

At the same place we went outside and saw more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life.  I figured out how to use my remote on my camera (something I’ve been struggling with) and got a three-minute exposure.  It’s a bit blurry (probably because of wing), but you get the picture.

Looking Up

Kat and I stopped for dinner near the Moeraki Boulders. It was so clear out that I decided to go outside and try my new remote control for the first time. I was able to take this photo, a ~3 min. exposure of the Southern sky.

We finally ended up on the beach in a small town called Wairunga that was just north of Dunedin.  Not quite sure if we can camp here, but we didn’t see any signs that said otherwise.  We’ll see by morning!

Also, I love my headlamp.  Probably the best purchase I’ve made in a while: makes navigating (and writing) at night so easy.

See the full set on Flickr! (Photos will be uploaded as I go through each day.)