A Glow in the Fog

It has been said many times, “luck favors the prepared,” or something to that effect.  Such was the case this past weekend.  I love getting cool images in the fog.  Simple photographs are the most interesting and fog tends to blur or hide the details that make a photograph look too “busy.”

Fog tends to be fleeting, so you kind of plan for one shot in one location.  But where?  Hearing the forecast for thick fog in the morning, I posted a quick comment on Facebook asking my friends for ideas- where would make a good fog photo?  Tom hit the nail on the head… a lighthouse!  Cool- but which one?  There are three within easy driving distance of my house.  But only one of the three is still lit… Sandy Hook, NJ.

Up before dawn, gear ready, I got dressed and headed out the door.  Quick stop at the local coffee shop for some “go juice” and a donut and I was on my way.  Normally a 20 minute or so drive turned into 45 minutes in the fog- so thick I could not see the car in front of me.  And as I got closer to my target, the fog got thicker.  Sandy Hook is a peninsula or barrier “spit”… a sandy area about 6 miles long and between 0.1 and 1.0 miles wide.  It is known now for its summer beaches at the northern end of the Jersey Shore.  It has also been home to Ft. Hancock, an active Army Base in the last century, coastal gun batteries during WWII, nuclear tipped Nike missiles during the cold war, and an active Coast Guard base now… but the most enduring feature of Sandy Hook is its lighthouse.

The Sandy Hook lighthouse is the oldest, active lighthouse in the United States.  She still stands proud at the northern tip of the island, protecting mariners entering New York Harbor.  She was first lit in 1764 and was briefly under British control during the Revolutionary War.  She is a single white structure of 103 feet.  She originally contained a 3rd order Fresnel lens… she was automated in 1965 and has a continuous (non-flashing) white light.  Her keeper’s quarters are located right next door and is now a visitor’s center mapping and explaining all the lighthouses of the state of New Jersey.

Given all the history, how could it not be part of a great fog photo?… if I could get there.  Once on Sandy Hook, the fog was so thick I could barely see the front of my car.  The six mile crawl north to my target took most of my trip.  But arrive I did…

Sandy Hook Lighthouse, New Jersey

Sandy Hook Lighthouse in fog

… and she was spectacular.



Getting Back Your Mojo…

Sometimes you need a break.  Sometimes you’re given a break, whether you like it or not.  Divorce can do that to you.  Life changes have a way of forcing their will on you.  So it is that I took two years or so off from writing this blog.  I had such good intentions when I started it, but my life was in turmoil and I didn’t even realize it.  Family changes, job changes, address changes, and the addition of a new person in my life, along with time to heal and, well, I’m back!

With the ability to focus on my photography, it was time to get back my mojo and start making things happen.  I discovered that, at least for me, motivation is everything when you’re trying to make things happen.  OK, when it comes to mother nature, you don’t really make things happen- but, you can certainly be prepared for when they do.  Such is the case with this photo.

I’ve always wanted to get a shot of the waves breaking over the rocks during a sunrise.  It requires several elements.  For the location I had in mind, Avon by the Sea on the Jersey Shore, a normal high tide wouldn’t do it… it had to be an above normal high tide.  Well, with the Weather Service sending out “Beach Hazard Statements” about the rough surf, we had our waves.  Next was to time the arriving tide with a sunrise and decent weather… a nice marine layer of haze in the distance made for a beautiful sunrise this morning… and the late summer date meant I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night.

Some coffee and some luck, and I think I captured the power of mother nature…

Jersey Shore-3253-Edit

Waves crash over the jetty during sunrise in Avon by the Sea, NJ


… along with my mojo…

Inspiration… Waiting for Your Train

Creativity is sometimes fleeting.  The more you want to create something, in my case an image, the harder it is to even come up with an idea.  Such was the case recently.  You put pressure on yourself.  You look at other artist’s work (which is sometimes the worst thing you can do… they’re all so GOOD!).  Why can’t I make something good?  You start to doubt yourself.  You start to feel like you will never create another good image again.  Every artistic endeavor eventually experiences “writer’s block.”

I found myself near a favorite location in Belmar, camera in hand, and zero inspiration.  It’s a semi-industrial area, not necessarily “picturesque,” but certainly not devoid of image-making potential either.  There’s a marina full of boats, a river, a bridge, roads, train tracks.  I often shoot sunsets here where water meets land.  I walked under the bridge.  A train went by.

Ding!  That’s it!  It can happen just like that.  When you least suspect it.  When you’re not even trying.  (Actually, that’s always when it happens.)

If I could get the sun setting, under the bridge, when a train goes by, that would be really cool.

So, how to coordinate all this?  It actually took quite a bit of technology!!  The first step was to find out if I could stand somewhere and see the setting sun under the bridge.  I have software called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) which provides you with just about any piece of data related to sun/moon rise/set times, the angle and height of the sun and moon at any moment on any day.  And it superimposes this on Google Maps.  It’s almost cheating.  So a few clicks and drags later, and I had a pretty good idea that around 8:05 PM the sun would be “under” the bridge if I stood on the corner, just off the railroad crossing.  Perfect.

Then off to my weather app.  A line of thunderstorms had moved through the area.  Would they be out of Belmar before sunset?  The weather radar says yes, it looks like they would… clearing skies behind the storms would give me my sunset.  Maybe even some nice colors.

Next, I needed a train.  I popped open my NJ Transit train app.  Yup.  The 7:56 PM train from Asbury Park to Bay Head would be in the area.  That’s the best I could do.  I had no idea if the train would be crossing that exact spot at precisely 8:05 PM.

Well, I’m here to tell you…. It does.


Sunset Crossing

Sunset Crossing – The sun sets under the Rt. 35 bridge while a NJ Transit train rolls by.


The other unknown, of course, was the condos in the distance.  The sun had to be above the roofs of the condos, but below the bridge.  It turns out there’s just enough room!

I had one shot at this picture.  Not only did the timing have to be right, but there’s no other train until well after the sun is gone.  So I mounted the camera on my tripod and waited.  As the sun dipped below the bridge and the colors in the sky began to turn, I could hear the familiar chime of the railroad crossing several blocks away… it was gonna be close!

Finally, the gates on the 7th Ave. railroad crossing came down and #2313 came rolling through!

Photo details: Nikon D800, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 27mm, 1/5 sec. @ f/8, ISO 100.  Post processing in Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC.  (Click on the image for full size.)

When inspiration is at zero, and creativity isn’t happening, just clear your mind, have faith… and wait for your train.

The Monolith of Asbury Park

The Asbury Park boardwalk.  In one word, iconic.  About a mile of New Jersey history.  The Casino.  The Palace.  The Carousel.  The Paramount.  Tillie the Clown.  Convention Hall.  The Berkeley Carteret.  The Stone Pony and Bruce Springsteen.  Mrs. Jays.  The list goes on and on.  But there’s one building that almost never gets any mention.  One building that is just out of frame on so many famous pictures of the boardwalk.  One building that, as I walked along the boardwalk countless times in the last 34 years, was a mystery to me.  It stood, seemingly married to the Casino, a partner but still alone.  Lonely.  Dark.  Abandoned.  Forgotten.  Mysterious.  Long fenced off and closed to the public, it rises at the southern end of the boardwalk, behind the Casino and adjacent to Wesley Lake, like a monolith to the dark side of the history of the town.

The Steam Plant.

The east side view of the exterior of the central chimney.

The east side view of the exterior of the central chimney.

The History

Many of you know it as “the old steam plant.”  It is interesting how it doesn’t have an “official” name, so it’s always preceded by “the old.”  We don’t say, “the old Paramount Theater,” or “old Convention Hall”  yet those buildings are both older than the steam plant.  A remnant of technology long gone and forgotten, entering operation in 1930, it has been marking the southern end of the boardwalk for 84 years now.  In that time there have been fires, floods, hurricanes and superstorms, political and social upheaval, economic rise and fall, riots, wars, and shipwrecks at her feet.  Asbury Park has risen, fallen, and is rising again.  And still it stands.  Unchanged.  A monument.

The “icons” of the boardwalk had one major design flaw.  As Asbury Park struggled to compete with the likes of Atlantic City, and New York, the buildings on the boardwalk lacked a major convenience during winter… heat.

So, in the hope of attracting patrons all year round, in the late 1920’s Asbury Park Mayor Clarence E.F. Hetrick commissioned the steam plant.  Famous architects, and icons in their own right, Warren and Wetmore from New York, were hired in a very controversial no-bid contract to build the steam plant.  Of course, they designed the building to complement their other work on the boardwalk- the Convention Hall/Paramount and the Casino were also designed by this team in the Beaux-Arts style of the time (they also designed the Berkeley Carteret Hotel in the 1920’s).  Warren and Wetmore also claimed such accomplishments as the Helmsley Building, The Commodore Hotel, the NY Biltmore Hotel, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Grand Central Palace, and many more now historic buildings.  So, their pedigree and qualifications were a given.  When you look at the four buildings together, the design consistency is obvious.  In fact, the steam plant was an almost identical design to a library they built in Louvain, France with its tall, slanted tower.  And while classic now, one can see that they fit the 1930’s like a glove.  (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire boardwalk was revitalized in this style?)

The Northeast view from the solarium.  The Casino to the north, the "inkwell" beach to the east.

The Northeast view from the solarium. The Casino to the north, the “inkwell” beach to the east.


This is the view of Wesley Lake from the roof of the Steam Plant.  I wish I could come back and take this when the light was better and the construction was complete.

This is the view of Wesley Lake from the roof of the Steam Plant. I wish I could come back and take this when the light was better and the construction was complete.


The original proposed location for the steam plant was to be adjacent to the municipal sewer plant on Eighth Ave., near the boardwalk.  But Mayor Hetrick saw a way for it to serve a dual purpose.  One must remember the era in which it was built… the 1920’s and 30’s.  “Things” were not as they are today, unfortunately.  Mayor Hetrick saw the opportunity to bolster his constituency a bit with the location of the steam plant and Casino.  Since the Casino originally extended onto and over the beach like Convention Hall still does, the steam plant’s location, shape, and size blocked the view of the beach to the south and east from the rest of Asbury Park.  It created a “private” beach that was designated “blacks only.”  This beach was nicknamed “the Inkwell” and was not visible from the “whites only” beach north of the Casino to Convention Hall.  As I said, times were different.  This was also convenient because the City of Asbury Park ran the steam plant and Casino, and Mayor Hetrick staffed both buildings with African American workers, further segregating them while also providing jobs.  Sadly, discrimination was alive and well in the 1930’s, as was political corruption.


So, in 1930, the steam plant became operational.  Little is written about it or what was inside.  And, at least in my research, it is not known how long it was in operation or if the equipment it started with was what it ended with.  As it was described to me, it had at least three massive tube-type boilers, approximately 20x8x15 feet each, covered in a silver material with brick and asbestos fireboxes.  The whole operation was fed by four fuel tanks adjacent to Wesley Lake (where the Casino parking lot is located now), each holding 15,000 gallons of “bunker” oil- so thick it needed to be heated just to flow from the tanks.  (Bunker oil is literally the bottom of the barrel in the oil refining process.  The only thing thicker, or cheaper, is the tar used in roads.  Thus, it was often used in large boilers in steam plants and aboard ship.)    I do not know if it used public water or siphoned water from Wesley Lake to fill the boilers and make steam.  I would imagine lake water would be risky as it could bring many impurities into the boilers requiring additional maintenance, expense, and down time.  But locating the steam plant next to the lake may have also given it a convenient source of water.  And I’m sure excess water was dumped right back into the lake.  The steam output of the plant was delivered in pipes that ran in a concrete tunnel adjacent to the boardwalk, from the steam plant north four blocks to the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall.  Along the way, the Casino complex, the Natatorium (a massive indoor pool, long gone) and other buildings received steam heat.

The Interior


If you look carefully near the bottom, center, you can see where the bunker oil supply pipes once entered the building.

If you look carefully near the bottom, center, you can see where the bunker oil supply pipes once entered the building.

Every time I walked by the building, I would wonder what the interior looked like.  How were the boilers situated?  How many people did it take to operate the plant?  When I entered the steam plant for the first time, I was amazed at how simple it was.  A central chimney was surrounded by what appeared to be three pads where the boilers were located.  A high, ornate ceiling, held the massive brick structure above.  The central chimney is huge and had to handle the thick black exhaust that resulted from the large boilers burning a dirty fuel.  With today’s environmental laws, there is no doubt that this plant, as it was, could not operate today.

As you descend the stairs, the chimney greets you, to the right.

As you descend the stairs, the chimney greets you, to the right.

The windows, once beautiful and ornate, are all boarded up, the glass long gone.  They were a similar style to what you see on the Carousel building today.  The chimney is still open to the sky and I could see faint traces of sunlight that made it from the top all the way down to below ground level.  The floor was dirt and partially wet.  The sound of dripping water could be heard, but considering the condition of the building, I was surprised there was not more water.  It did not even have a “musty” smell – no mold that I could see.  This may be attributed to some modern drainage as I could see white PVC pipes had been installed to carry water away.  Just the same, I’m glad to have been there on a somewhat warm day.  Around the back of the chimney, where the third boiler was located, a small trench was full of water and I was told this was frozen over during winter.

The back of the chimney where another boiler was placed.  Old winch or pumping equipment can be seen near the ceiling.

The back of the chimney where another boiler was placed. Old winch or pumping equipment can be seen near the ceiling.

In the back corner was a small area with the remnants of electrical boxes and other equipment.  I’m not sure it was big enough for someone to work in this area- possibly a storage or electrical closet.  Along the walls, the broken ends of cast iron pipes disappeared to a destination long gone.  One square opening was obviously where steam pipes sent winter warmth north to the buildings of the boardwalk.  Along the western wall, I could see the remnants of twelve pipes that entered through the concrete- these have been removed and concrete patches were put in their place.  However, below these patches I could still see where bunker oil had slowly dripped down the wall.  These were the pipes that led out to the storage tanks (I’m speculating, but four tanks, three boilers, therefore, twelve pipes?).  There were also pipes in the ceiling that sent over-pressure boiler steam up and out through ornate structures on the roof, which are still there to this day.

The chimney of the steam plant.  You can still see sunlight streaming through from the large tower, above.

The chimney of the steam plant. You can still see sunlight streaming through from the large tower, above.

The Exterior

The top and front of the steam plant were not accessible from inside.  Walking around the building to the front, there are boarded up windows which once housed concession stands.  There are several historic photos that show these businesses in operation.  A central outer staircase leads up to the solarium on the second floor- really the roof of the building.  Fortunately, the owners installed a modern rubber roof here which undoubtedly has protected the structure from years of water damage.  The roof area is large and overlooks Wesley Lake to the west, Ocean Grove to the south, the beach (the former Inkwell) to the east, and of course, the Casino to the north.

One of the alcoves on the roof of the steam plant.

One of the alcoves on the roof of the steam plant.


The central archway on the roof.

The central archway on the roof.

The roof is dominated by the majesty of the central chimney, black near the top from years of escaping soot.  The green decorative steam venting structures are still in place on the east and west sides.  There are brick archways all around the building which lend to its 1920’s styling.  There’s even what appeared to be an office area.  Poking my head in through a large open window, I disturbed several residents who had made a nest… we grow sea gulls big on the Jersey Shore, and I’m not sure these would fit through the window- needless to say, I wasn’t going to find out.  If you look carefully at some of the exterior photos, you can see where a lot of the brick mortar has deteriorated.

The view of the central tower from the roof.

The view of the central tower from the roof.


This is where excess steam from the boilers escaped.  Must have looked really cool...

This is where excess steam from the boilers escaped. Must have looked really cool…

Shut Down

This is where the history of the building goes a bit dark.  I was not able to determine when the steam plant was finally shut down.  Given its location right on the coast, I cannot imagine it was in operation during World War II.  The bunker oil it burned would have been a valuable resource during war time and it certainly would have been a German target during the war.  Whether or not it was operated after the war is unknown at this time, but it is doubtful considering newer technologies that were taking over (steam heat is very inefficient).  I did hear from one person who grew up in Asbury Park in the 1940’s and he does not remember the plant being in operation even then.

View of the second floor windows from the solarium.

View of the second floor windows from the solarium.


View of the detail on the east side of the plant.

View of the detail on the east side of the plant.


Boardwalk view of where the concession stands once were.

Boardwalk view of where the concession stands once were.

What is known is that around 2007, a contractor was finally hired to remove the massive boilers and clean out the building of any hazardous materials, putting it in its current benign state, a shell of its original, industrial glory.  When I first contacted the owners about photographing the building, I expected to get a “no way” response.  What I got instead was a “we don’t usually allow that, but let’s see what we can do.”  I would like to thank Madison Marquette for allowing me to have brief access to this historically lost building so that it could be documented for all time to come.  I hope my pictures do it justice.  I hope it is not forgotten, called an “eyesore,” or marked for demolition.

Future Use

Future use of the building has not yet been determined.  I certainly hope it stays as a structure marking the southern end of the Asbury Park boardwalk, for many years to come.  A few years ago someone proposed turning it into an art gallery or a restaurant, but those ideas proved to be unworkable at the time.  Maybe documenting the building in this way will bolster a little interest in its use and the right people and right ideas will come along as the rest of Asbury Park continues on its revitalization.  If my pictures could be part of sparking that interest, wonderful.  Hey, I think it would make a great photo studio, run by yours truly of course!  But then again, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  The point is, it’s not too late for the steam plant.  Despite the looks of the interior, this building can be revitalized and put to good use again.  The structure is still sound, and its unique design lends itself to many uses.


There are still mysteries here- what it really looked like when she was new… the men that worked here, what 1930 was really like… I can picture dark smoke and steam spewing from the top, the noises of banging steam pipes, and loud oil-fueled fires heating huge tanks of water, the smell of burning oil- steam power is a living, breathing thing.  I can see some of the workmen taking a break, looking out over Wesley Lake as families took a ride on the paddle boats, while they toiled in a hot, nasty environment wearing soot-covered overalls.  I wish I could have seen her in all her glory.  But I can only imagine.

So now, as I walk along the Asbury Park boardwalk, I see people looking at the traditional icons… tourists snapping pictures at The Stone Pony, another Yappy Hour at the Wonderbar, beach goers and sunbathers carrying lounge chairs, some zombies left over from another zombie walk at Convention Hall, yet another photographer taking a picture of the “CA SI NO” and lovers walking hand in hand…

But me?  I cannot help but glance towards my new friend, the old steam plant.  May she live long, and stand tall…

The Great White Hunter

I believe in hunting.  I really do…. with a camera of course!

Where I grew up in northern NJ, I remember as a kid these huge snow storms.  Maybe because I was only four feet tall at the time, but I just remember huge snow drifts well over my head.  I remember three and four snow-days where school was closed (even though it was down the street and most of us could walk).  I remember my dog, a large standard poodle, loved to play in the snow, as did my next door neighbor’s English sheep dog (imagine a mop playing in the snow).  Our back yard was covered in the white stuff.  The patio, the summer furniture, the grill, and all the trees looked so clean and fresh in their white blanket of snow.

The birds, I was taught, migrated south in Winter.  That is why they were smarter than us humans.  The only wildlife left was the squirrels- invariably looking for the acorns they buried weeks before when it was warm and the ground wasn’t as hard as concrete.  And one other curious animal.  The cardinals.  There was always a cardinal.  His presence was magical.  A bright red bird in the presence of so many gray, brown, and tan animals.  Animals do their best to camouflage themselves and not be seen.  I always respected cardinals for being bright red and not giving a damn about predators.  I always thought they were thinking, “See me?  Yup!  Catch me if you can!  But you can’t- I’m fast.  And I’d rather look good and impress the ladies then worry about getting caught!”

I hadn’t seen too many cardinals in the years following that.  Suburbanization seems to have driven them off.  But then I moved a little south and during the winter, I started to see cardinals again.  We had some wooded areas around our house and I could often see them searching for food in the snow.  I’m not sure how they ever found any.

So, I was very happy when a few moved into my back yard.  I saw them enough to suspect that they had a nest, which, sure enough I spotted one day as the leaves began falling from the trees.  Only about ten feet off the ground, it was far enough away from my neighbor’s yappy little terrier to be safe.  I began to observe their routine of flying back to this one large bush constantly, on the lookout to make sure all was safe before flying off to whatever food source they had found.

So my next goal was to photograph one.  I always wanted my own cardinal photo, but as a kid, I never had the camera hardware to accomplish the task.

Wildlife photography (and let me stress, I am NOT a wildlife photographer!) requires the right equipment, knowing the animal’s behavior, and TONS of patience.   It also requires a fair amount of luck (which increases a bit once you know the typical behavior patterns).  Throw in a bird you’re trying to capture in Winter, and it also requires tolerance of the cold, which, if you know me, sucks.

But I would not be denied my cardinal picture!  So, layer up and put on the warm coat.  I’ve been observing these birds for weeks, so I knew their early morning routine, and the trees they liked to perch in.

The equipment was borderline for this shot.  The Nikon D800 was certainly up to the task.  The extra battery in the grip may come in handy as batteries tend to lose capacity in the cold.  My longest lens is a 70-200mm f/2.8, which is a little short for this type of work.  A 400mm or 600mm would have been preferred since this is a tiny bird.  But lacking big glass like that, I would have to use my cunning to get closer, and the extra megapixels the D800 provided to crop the photo later.

Morning arrived, beautiful morning light arrived, and the birds woke up (aww heck, they been up since 5AM, who am I kidding).  Put the coat on, assemble the camera, and out I went.  I gradually walked up to the tree and got within about 20 feet before the birds took notice of me and flew off.  I’d have to start over.  So I walked back to the house and gradually approached again, this time knowing how far I could go.  I got just short of my previous spot, lined up my shot, and stood there.  My neighbors were probably thinking, “What’s this idiot doing standing motionless in his back yard in 25 degree weather?”  Eh, what do they know.

I waited about thirty minutes, then, BINGO!  My new little friend decided to hop on the perfect branch and pose for me!

Cardinal in Tree

Cardinal in Tree, NJ

This shot was done at 200mm, ISO 100, f/2.8 @ 1/200.  Post processing in Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC.

I would have liked to get a shot with snow covered branches, but you see, I’m really not the Great White Hunter… the fact that I was outside in the cold was enough for me.  Snow would have made it unbearable.  Next up?  Sea gulls eating French fries on the beach in July- that’s wildlife photography to me!  Better yet- bikini models!

But today, for a few minutes, I was hunting cardinals.  I’ve been trying to take your picture for forty years… thank you my little friend!  I hope you find food… and to all my readers, I hope you find peace during the holidays!

Thunder Over Red Bank…

In June, 2013, I was out taking pictures in Red Bank, NJ.  Originally, I was trying to get a sunset/skyline picture of the town for an album cover for a project I was working on (The Downtown Allstars of Red Bank – www.redbankallstars.com).

We decided to go in a different direction with the album cover, so this picture was forgotten.

While I was out, the weather turned- what looked like a little rain shower in the distance started to grow.  I could start to see lightning in the distance, beyond the trees.  I was standing out on a pier that jutted into the river.  With a big metal camera and a big metal tripod.  For 100 yards, I’m the tallest thing and I’m holding a hunk of metal.  Smart Marlo, real smart.

So why not add to my stupidity?  I’m waiting for this damn sunset!  Maybe the storm in the distance will add some drama?  Sure.  There’s lots of things between me and the lightning…

Before I knew it, I’m in the middle of this storm… lightning in front of me, in back of me, around me… hitting the water in front of me.  The thunder was deafening.  The wind was almost blowing me over- but my Nikon and I stood fast.  My Bogen tripod was straining to keep the camera steady during the long exposure, but did a great job, being the trooper that it is.  It is, without a doubt, the most incredibly stupid thing I ever did in my life.

But, I lived.  And got this…


Lightning over Red Bank, NJ strikes the Oyster Point Hotel

Lightning over Red Bank, NJ strikes the Oyster Point Hotel


Bring it.


(For the photographers in the group… Nikon D800, 24-70mm-f/2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 100, 0.4 sec @ f/22 on a Bogen tripod w/cable release)

There’s Something in the Fog…

It’s been awhile… but now that the weather is starting to warm up along the Jersey Shore, I can get out and start shooting again and write some blog posts.  The first order of business is to do some location scouting.  Much has changed since it was last warm around here.  Superstorm Sandy did a number on us.  So it’s important for a photographer to check out the old “haunts” and also find some new ones.

I have a photoshoot with some other photographers coming up in a couple of weeks.  I wanted to check the location now, rather than be surprised the day of.  So I took a ride…

Standing on the rocks above the water, the ocean was pounding the shoreline.  There was no breeze.  There were no people.  It was 3PM on a bright sunny day, but the light was dropping.  The fog was rapidly rolling in- I was losing light quickly.  An eerie cold dampness descended on me.

There was a blood curdling scream.  I turned around to find the scene before me.  I raised my camera, focused, and shot a picture…

There's something in the fog...

There’s something in the fog…

It was just a seagull.

Or was it…

(Nikon D800, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, 1/60 sec @ f/22, ISO 100- processing in Lightroom and Photoshop)

Cold… and Confused

I wasn’t sure how to approach this blog post.  How could I help some dolphins swimming in the Navesink River near Rumson, NJ?  But something struck me as I heard some of the details of their plight.


Evidently, they’ve been swimming in this area since about October, 2012.  OK, so for three months they’ve had a food source and enough room to survive.  During the cooler months, boat traffic on the Navesink is greatly reduced.  But obviously, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins belong, well, in the Atlantic!


Their problem is twofold right now… first, the Navesink river runs east-west, and forms a tee with the Shrewsbury River which runs north-south.  So to get back to the Atlantic, they need to swim a couple of miles east to where the rivers meet.  From there they need to hang a left and swim north to Sandy Hook, then east out into the Atlantic.  The problem is these dolphins want to swim south.  South is warm.  South has warm water and great sea food (isn’t that why we all move there?).  So when they get to the Shrewsbury, they turn south instead of north.  This brings them into Spring Lake and Monmouth Beach on the wrong side of the peninsula, trapped, with no way back to the ocean.


So, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, headquartered in Brigantine, NJ, wants to find a way to “nudge” them in the correct direction.  But to do this, they need a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The weather service to you and me.  Unfortunately, NOAA has not been as forthcoming with this permit.  This was a surprise to me.  I guess issuing permits to the Stranding Center probably keeps every amateur marine biologist on the beach where they can do little harm.  (On a side note, the episode of Seinfeld where George tells his girlfriend he is a marine biologist is still one of my favorites, but I digress.)  Evidently, NOAA believes that the river has become their natural habitat.  I dunno.  I’ve lived here 20 plus years, and it is only in the last year or three that I’ve heard of dolphins in the Navesink River for this long.  Usually they come, eat, party, and move south for the winter like the rest of New York/New Jersey.  (Why I’m still here is still a mystery.)


The second part of their problem is ice.  Ice is starting to form on the river and the areas where the dolphins can surface to breath are getting smaller.  Remember the killer whales up north a few weeks ago?  All they were left with was a small (for whales) hole in the ice to surface and breath.  The pod was taking turns breathing, kind of like when two scuba divers are down to one air tank and they have to share a regulator until they get to the surface.  A rescue mission was underway to break the ice, but it happened naturally and they escaped to open water on their own.  That won’t happen, I assure you, in the Navesink.


Ice builds on the Navesink River in the vacinity of the Oceanic Bridge as dolphins swim nearby

Ice builds on the Navesink River in the vacinity of the Oceanic Bridge as dolphins swim nearby


These dolphins aren’t to that point yet, but can’t we see the writing on that wall?  In a month we may have people racing their ice boats on the Navesink!  I’m told dolphins don’t do too well when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees (F).  It’s now in the low 40’s.


I remember once in a college physics class a professor got a 5 gallon bucket and filled it with ice and warm water.  He mixed it all together and asked the class a question.  “What is the average temperature in this bucket?”  The class was perplexed… you had 50 degree water and zero degree ice.  And how much of each?  How could you figure out the average temperature not knowing exactly how much of each was in the bucket?  His answer was simple… you have a combination of liquid water and solid ice coexisting together.  The average temperature has to be 32 degrees (F).


Hmmm.  The Navesink River is starting to look like that bucket in my physics class.


Ice builds on the Navesink River in the vacinity of the Oceanic Bridge as dolphins swim nearby

Ice builds on the Navesink River in the vacinity of the Oceanic Bridge as dolphins swim nearby


 In dolphin terms, it’s cold.  And betting that the winter will warm up from this point is a bad bet.  Would you bet your life on it?  The dolphins have to, right now, unless they can find that mysterious path back to the Atlantic Ocean.


They’re cold, their food is probably disappearing, they’re lost and I’m sure confused.  They need help.


A dolphin breaches the surface while swimming in the Navesink River

A dolphin breaches the surface while swimming in the Navesink River

A dolphin breaches the surface while swimming in the Navesink River.  Ducks can be seen nearby, as well as forming ice.

A dolphin breaches the surface while swimming in the Navesink River. Ducks can be seen nearby, as well as forming ice.


As far as the photography here, a little disclaimer on my part.  These aren’t great pictures.  People who know me know I absolutely HATE the cold.  Anything below 50 is arctic weather to me.  So to get off my nice warm sofa, by my fireplace, put on heavy boots, Under Armor, sweatshirt, heavy coat, hood, gloves, etc. to go stand on a bridge in the middle of 20 degree weather for an hour, scouting dolphins, is NOT my idea of a fun day.  These pictures aren’t my best by any stretch.  But they don’t need to be in this case.  They just need to make a point.  If they, in fact, make that point with anyone, then they are great pictures.  They tell a story.  And that’s something that shutter speeds and aperture openings don’t convey.


While I was out shooting these pictures, the Asbury Park Press was doing a story on the dolphins and the controversy surrounding their removal.  In the video accompanying this article you can see a bundled up “me” in the background with the gray and black coat… proving I was, in fact, in the cold.  (See their article, here:  http://www.app.com/article/20130125/NJNEWS/301250111/Disagreement-about-dolphins-in-Navesink )  Since I’m not a photojounalist,  I don’t have to remain neutral.  Good, because I’m not.  NOAA needs to do the right thing and allow these dolphins to be rescued.  Years ago, I swam with two dolphins at The Dolphin Research Center in Marathon Key, Florida.  It was an amazing experience.  These animals are truly breathtaking.


While I was writing this blog post, another dolphin was struggling for its life in the Gowanus River in New York.  It was trapped in the toxic Gowanus at low tide and could not get out.  Unfortunately, despite efforts to rescue the dolphin, the disgusting river proved to be too much for the dolphin and it lost its life overnight.  That dolphin’s situation made the decision on if to help much easier.  Fortunately, these dolphins are not in the same situation.  But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be helped.


Call NOAA.  Let them know that I couldn’t bring the dolphins back to my house to sit in front of the fireplace and watch my high def TV.  So we need to let the Stranding Center help them get back to the Atlantic before ice makes that impossible.  Every cold day matters.


Besides, George Costanza isn’t here to help.

Hangin’ with The Master of Disaster

My First Photojournalist Experience with the Governor of New Jersey

Yesterday I saw a little blurb on Facebook.  I’m not even sure who posted it.  But evidently, today (1/9/13) was to be the ground breaking on the new boardwalk in Belmar, NJ after Superstorm Sandy destroyed the last one.  On top of that, Gov. Chris Christie was to be on hand at 11 AM to “throw the switch” to install the first piling for the new boardwalk.  My last blog post showed what happened to the previous boardwalk.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at photojournalism.  What the heck!  Let’s see what it’s like to photograph a newsworthy event.  Is it really as hard as some people make it sound?  Can a photographer who just walks in get good pictures?  I drove down to Belmar and parked a block or two away.  Most of the streets near the ocean are still blocked off.  I threw the camera over my shoulder and walked in, doing my best to look like a journalist (I don’t have a cool photo vest, though.  I hope that isn’t a dead giveaway.).  I was wearing jeans and a “Restore the Shore” sweatshirt.

The Governor's podium set up prior to the press conference

The Governor’s podium set up prior to the press conference

So I get to 4th Ave. at the ocean.  There’s chairs and a podium set up in the street with some heavy equipment on the edge of the sand.  A few people are milling around and there’s a heavy police presence.  Yup.  Right place.  There’s a restaurant on the corner, which is open.  A police officer walks past and nods, saying, “Good morning sir, glad to see you.”  Ummmmmmm, OK.  Evidently I must be looking like a photojournalist.  I return the pleasantries and move on.  Time to take a few test shots and make sure the camera is set right…. all looks good.  The press begin showing up.  Eyewitness news and NBC4 have their satellite trucks set up.  The audio and video guys are setting up their cameras and tripods (on a side note, I really feel for videographers.  Damn, they’ve got big cameras and big, heavy tripods.  My camera is heavy, but jeesh!  OK, OK, no stupid jokes about that.).  The State Police have now arrived, some undercover, trying to do their best Secret Service impression.  Cool.  It’s getting crowded now.  Start to jocky for position.  The first row of chairs is reserved for the Governor’s staff.  I’ll hang out right next to the front row until someone asks me to move.  A waiter from the restaurant walks up with food.  “Would you like a sandwich?”

Mayor Doherty of Belmar gives the media an interview prior to the Governor's press conference

Mayor Doherty of Belmar gives the media an interview prior to the Governor’s press conference

Seats reserved for the Governor's staff during the press conference

Seats reserved for the Governor’s staff during the press conference

These political events are great!  Music on the PA, food, great view of the event….

The construction crew starts to set up the first piling that will become part of the foundation of the new boardwalk.  One of the construction crew goes over to the pile and writes “1st 1/9/13.”

"1st" - The symbolic first piling to be driven into the sand for the new boardwalk is marked by an employee of Epic Construction

“1st” – The symbolic first piling to be driven into the sand for the new boardwalk is marked by an employee of Epic Construction



The public are now arriving.  The police are keeping them back on the sidewalk.  Cool- I’m not the public!  This seems to be a fairly open environment.  The fact that I’m walking around with a Nikon D800, extra battery grip, a 70-200 f/2.8 lens and a backpack full of camera gear doesn’t hurt either!  I am surprised at the cameras that many of the journalists are using.  It just goes to show, these guys travel light and don’t have much sophisticated equipment.  That’s fine- most of the places their pictures get published (like the newspaper) really kill the quality of the image anyway.  They don’t need a lot of camera and lens.  That works to my advantage as I’m looking more like a photojournalist than some of the guys working for the paper!  I’m sure the only way to survive as a photojournalist is to carry what you need and not much more.

We’re getting close to 11AM and I’m standing about 15 feet from the podium, as close as is allowed.  There’s that waiter again… do I want another sandwich?  What happened next absolutely shocked me.  The Governor’s Press Secretary comes out, does an audio test at the podium, and announces that “cameras only” can follow him into the restaurant where the governor and Mayor of Belmar will meet the owner.  Cool!  My first photo opp!  I duck in line behind the other photographers and walk into the restaurant.  I grab a position on the floor in front, being careful not to block anyone’s view.  These guys all need to return with good shots and the last thing I ever want to do is be the reason they didn’t.  I loved when the Press Secretary held up a white card for the photographers to get a white balance setting on their cameras.  Cool!

A few minutes later, in walks Gov. Christie and Mayor Doherty.  Everyone is smiles and the Governor is talking directly to the restaurant’s owner.  He seems genuinely interested in what he has to say.  Snap away!  After about ten minutes, they all walk outside.  The Governor’s staff has made a lane for us through the crowd so we can get back to our positions.  I find myself back where I was, next to the front row of chairs, with about a thousand people behind me!

Governor Christie and Mayor Doherty greet the restaurant owners

Governor Christie and Mayor Doherty greet the restaurant owners

Mayor Doherty was first at the podium.  Start shooting!  I’m about 10 feet from the podium (yes, I was able to get closer then before!).  This is gonna be great!  The pictues on the camera are coming out great!  The light is overcast and perfect for photography.  I was in the exact spot I wanted to be in… until my knees started hurting (I was kneeling down on the pavement).  Hey, no one is sitting in the front row, grab a seat…. I’m now sitting in the front row as Congressmen Pallone and Smith are brought to the podium to make their remarks.  This is unreal.

Mayor Doherty addresses the audience

Mayor Doherty addresses the audience

Congressman Pallone addresses the audience

Congressman Pallone addresses the audience

Congressman Smith addresses the audience

Congressman Smith addresses the audience

Finally, Mayor Doherty introduces the Governor.  Right spot, right light, right lens…. ISO 100, f8 @ 1/160 at 135mm.  I’m sitting in the front row for the next 45 minutes at the Gov’s press conference.  Neat!

Governor Chris Christie addresses the audience

Governor Chris Christie addresses the audience

After the press conference, the Governor and Mayor are ushered over to the pile driver to throw the switch that will start the machine and drive the first telephone pole sized pile into the sand at the Belmar beach.  After about 10 minutes of the machine running and driving the pile to its final depth, Gov. Christie walks over with a grease pencil and signs the top.  Cool.

Gov. Chris Christie throws the switch that starts the pile driver

Gov. Chris Christie throws the switch that starts the pile driver

The pile is driving into the sand

The pile is driven into the sand

The first pile is in!  We're on our way to a new boardwalk!

The first pile is in! We’re on our way to a new boardwalk!

So my first experience as a “photojournalist” has taught me a few things.  First, looking the part is important, as is being polite and doing what you’re told when in the vacinity of dignitaries.  Never challenge security, even if you’re in the right- just walk away and find a less intrusive way to get what you need.  Second, arrive early.  Third, photojournalists travel light.  In line with this, don’t do anything to bring attention to yourself.  I have no illusions that I would have had the access I had if this had been the President of the United States.  I’m pretty sure those guys all need to display press credentials and freelancers like me need to be shooting for someone, not just writing for my blog.  But I guess with state officials, things are a bit more open, especially at outdoor events.  Of course, many in the press act exactly the opposite of all this, but I choose not to be part of the story.  The ones who act dignified and respectful seem to be on a first name basis with those they are covering… it’s easier to catch a fly with honey than with vinegar.

It’s fantastic to see the Belmar boardwalk make a comeback.  I’m so happy that construction has begun.  They claim it will be completed in time for Memorial Day.  And supposedly, it will be improved, and longer, than the last boardwalk.  We’ll see…. I certainly hope so!  Gov. Christie promises to be back for the opening, and hopefully, I will be too.

Besides, I can’t wait to go back and get some more of those sandwiches…

(If you would like to see the rest of the pictures from today’s photoshoot, check out my Facebook page… http://www.facebook.com/marlopix.)

A New Light On Recovery- Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Wow, have I been lax in writing blog posts.  It has been a busy summer with job loss and getting my photography business up and running.  No excuse- a blog is a big part of it.  But those who read my blog know I usually post when something somewhat dramatic (to me) happens.  I find it difficult to just wake up on a Tuesday morning and write a blog post that is even remotely meaningful.

So if you think back a year or so, we had earthquakes, stock market “crashes,” and a hurricane.  Hmmm.  Sounds almost familiar.  So this year, we had a hurricane (sorry, superstorm), an earthquake (centered on Ringwood, NJ), and we’re in the midst of a presidential election.  And now we have a nor’easter bearing down on us right after total devastation in parts of NJ.

As I write this, a vast section of the Jersey Shore has been devastated.  Indeed, parts of the map of the coast of NJ may have to be redrawn.  Hundreds of thousands of people are without electrical power going on a week.  Fortunately, the earthquake of which I spoke was small (2.2 on the Richter Scale) and did no damage- but I’m sure it frayed a few nerves.  And a powerful nor’easter is bearing down on us for Wednesday.  We have massive shortages of gasoline (due to closed roads and gas stations with no power) and we are basically facing this crisis for another few weeks as Winter approaches.

Another ho’hum year of being a Jersey-ite.

The roads have been unsafe (traffic lights out), and I didn’t want to waste gas- so I stayed home rather than venture out until now.  But with some other commitments, my wife and son needed to go out.  So I made a day of it and went with them to scout and take a few pictures.  Sometimes I get lucky and see something everyone else is missing.  Today was no exception.

I would be shocked if people have not yet seen pictures of the Jersey Shore after the storm.  They’re all focusing on the damage.  Since I often go to Belmar, I was horrified to see pictures of the boardwalk.  It was gone.

Well, I found it…

Rubble in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Belmar, NJ

I often visit the Belmar Marina- it is a great little spot with a scenic sunset, boats, birds, and parking.  And there’s a Dunkin Donuts a mile away.  So I can take pictures with the convenience of my car nearby and yet get a few nice shots.  And there is rarely a crowd.  As I drove down there today, I fully expected to see boats piled on top of boats and utter devastation.  What I actually found was the butt-end of the disaster.  Ever wonder where all of the rubble and debris goes after an event like this?  Well it often starts out in a staging area such as this.  The parking lot of the marina has been transformed into a dump of sorts.

Many people will choose to look at that picture and be sad.  I admit, it tugged at me a bit when I first realized what I was looking at.  A beloved boardwalk.  People would go for morning and evening walks.  You’d cross over it to get to the beach.  You’d walk up and down with your best girl in tow, proud of the fact that she was wearing a skimpy bikini…. and she was with you!  If you’ve ever been to the Jersey Shore, you know all about the boardwalk.

And there it was.  A pile of garbage.  Sad that it would all get put into some landfill or dump site along with the remnants of people’s houses and belongings- all victims of a horrible night.

But wait!  What is this?  Out of the dust and smoke of a working dump site, another truck appeared out of the mist…. what is this?

The Doppstadt DW-3060-K wood chipper arrives on the job after Hurricane Sandy in Belmar, NJ

The Doppstadt DW-3060-K wood chipper… (to paraphrase Agent J from MIB)… Now that’s what I’M talkin’bout!!!  Basically, this machine has a giant screw inside and it just spits out tiny pieces of wood.  The site foreman told me they had a second machine that can handle metal on its way.

[Photography info:  All shots on this blog are shot with a Nikon D800 and 24-70/f2.8 lens, ISO 100.]

The other heavy equipment stood by, ready to jump into action….

Heavy equipment at Belmar, NJ after Hurricane Sandy

That actually made me feel good in some small way.  It’s all going to be recycled!  Who knows where it may wind up.  As the boardwalk is rebuilt, we may eventually be sitting on a wooden bench made from recycled materials from the last boardwalk.  Maybe you’ll build a deck on your house using composite wood materials- you can build your own back yard boardwalk out of bits of Belmar’s boardwalk!  I think that’s cool.

Many can be sad and negative about this disaster.  But I’ve decided to be positive.  Again, to paraphrase a movie, out of destruction and chaos, order and life will appear (Zorg from The Fifth Element).  Please don’t think I’m a horrible person.  It is horrible that people lost their homes, businesses, and some lives.  And the shore area will probably never be the same.  But the storm happened.  It’s gone.  It can’t be undone.  We need to move forward to get through this so the next one isn’t as horrible (and that’s in like, I dunno, two days from when I write this).  I’m positive because, as horrible as this was, I truly believe that we’ll come back stronger than ever.

The Doppstadt DW-3060-K proves that.