A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Five

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Scenic Bike Trail
Scenic Bike Trail

A “typical” in-the-woods cache is a medium sized container hidden off-trail underneath a fallen tree and covered with local debris such as sticks, palm fronds or similar, depending on the area. Because the hides are often on the ground, they can be dirty. Dirt and camera gear don’t mix well. Plus, going off trail (bushwhacking) can cause damage to the vegetation and put you at higher risks of getting poison ivy and ticks. I’ve gotten both while caching. So far, all the munzees we’ve found have been able to be captured without leaving the trail. No need to get dirty digging around for the find.

Urban hides can be pretty dirty too because you’re usually “feeling” around for the container. Getting dirty is an accepted part of caching, and when holding expensive camera gear, I don’t want to do it with dirty hands.

If I’m playing a scavenger game to find neat places and take photos, I want the finds to be quick and clean. Once found, I want to log the find quickly and easily. When I get home, I don’t want to spend the evening writing logs. I want to fire up Lightroom and develop the photos I took during the day. To me, this is easiest to do while playing Munzee. I bet if you ask other photographers, they’d say the same thing.

Unfortunately, there is one glaring thing missing from Munzee, and it’s something very important to a photographer looking for places to search. Munzee currently does have any provision for photos to be uploaded to the site, and I’m not sure if they plan to implement that in the future. That’s one area where the geocaching.com site excels. Finders can upload photos to each cache page, so future seekers can look at them and see if it’s somewhere they want to search.

When I cached I used this feature extensively to look for pretty areas to visit, and I’d purposely head there because of that. I created a post in the Munzee forums to ask if they plan to add this feature in the future and will report back once I hear something.

Other than that, if you’re looking for new ideas and places to visit, give Munzee a try. It’s surprisingly fun and very addicting. If you try it, let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Four

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Glass Building, NYC
Glass Building, NYC

One of the concerns with geocaching is that all hides must have a physical container. In the woods this isn’t really a problem, but in urban areas, it can be. Once a geocache is found, the seeker must grab the container, sign the log and put it back. If a non-cacher sees someone doing this, they might get suspicious and call the police. There have been many cases of the police being called, only to find out it was a geocache.

For urban hides, munzees can be disguised as official looking sticker or kept undisguised as a standard barcode and hidden on a fence or anything really. Because it’s just a barcode, it doesn’t really look out of place. This gives munzees a huge advantage in urban areas.

To avoid raising suspicions, cachers often hide “nanos” or other super small containers, but because they’re so small, the logs are tiny and fill up quickly. Half of them we found had no spot to even sign in. At that point why even bother to grab the container and open it up. This is another plus for munzees. Just find the barcode, scan it and move on.

Scenic Tobacco Barns

So how does all this relate to photography? Well, one of the things we loved about caching was that it brought us to scenic areas with great photo opportunities. We’ve only done a few munzees, but one of the hides brought us to a pretty boat launch along the Farmington River in Windsor, CT. See the photo on top of this post. We also passed some scenic tobacco barns (see photo at the left) and discovered a nice high point that would be great for sunset photos.

As you can probably tell, I really like munzees. Learn why I think they’re better for photographers in my final post of the series.

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Three

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Trump Tower
Trump Tower

I started geocaching in 2002 and did it for many years, but I grew tired of it awhile back and pretty much stopped. I liked how caching took me to neat places, but I got tired of stinky containers with wet logs and hides that had been re-hidden in the wrong spot, making it difficult to find. I recently heard about Munzee, and it seems exactly like what I’m looking for. It offers the same excitement of discovering new places and hidden items, but it does it in a more modern way.

There’s nothing stopping someone from hiding a munzee in a container, but I haven’t found many that are. If they are, since they don’t have a logbook, there’s less likelihood of mold forming. Most munzees are simply a barcode attached to or hanging from something. Barcodes are sealed in plastic so they don’t get ruined if they get wet. Once found, the barcode is scanned by a smartphone. This is called “capping,” short for capture.

With geocaching finders usually write a short note about their experience while searching for the cache, but some people write logs that span several pages. Others simply write TFTC, short for “Thanks for the cache.” A geocache can’t be logged without writing something in the log box. With munzees, the focus is on the numbers and not the logging experience. In fact, logs, or journal entries as they’re called on the Munzee site, are not even required. If someone writes an entry, it’s usually short, like, “Thanks” or “Had Fun,” something short like that.

I only started munzeeing this past Saturday, but I really like it so far.  We’ve found a variety of hide styles, from woods hides on trees to urban parking lots, which is pretty similar to geocaching hides. Geocaching has several different types of hides like a traditional, which is a container at the posted coordinates to a puzzle, which needs to be solved in order to find the coordinates.

Munzee has its own unique types. A mystery munzee is one where finders points vary from 5 to 50 points. One person can get 45 points, but the very next person will get 20. A virtual hide is one where a physical barcode doesn’t need to be scanned to make the cap. To log these, your phone just needs to be within 300 feet of the coordinates. These are perfect for places like airports or a rocky mountain top. Since there’s nothing there and the hide is truly “virtual” it’s unlikely that finding one will raise any suspicions since a finder will just be using their phone.

That brings us to some controversy. Check back tomorrow to see what it is…

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Two

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Flowing Water
Flowing Water

Munzee started in June 2011, and geocaching started in May 2000, but Munzee is coming on fast and strong. There are over 2 million caches compared to more than 400,000 munzees, but those munzee hides have come in less than 2 years versus almost 13 years for Geocaching.

A geocache is a container that holds a logbook. The cache is logged as a find by physically signing the logbook and then marking it found using either a smartphone or a computer. Your found count increases for each cache found. A munzee is simply a QR barcode that finders scan with their smart phone. They can be hidden in a container like a geocache or simply displayed by itself. For each munzee “cap,” short for capture, your score can increase by varying amounts depending on the hide type. The hiders score also increases every time someone finds one of their hides.

To me I like munzees more. Why? They don’t have wet logs, and they’re easier to log.

Groundspeak, the company that owns the geocaching.com website, has an in-depth set of guidelines or “rules” that must be followed. There are also volunteers who review each cache before publishing to make sure it meets the guidelines. The review process can take up to 72 hours. Munzee has a basic set of rules and trusts that munzee owners will follow them. The Munzee website is updated four times a day, so the longest someone will have to wait to discover a new hide is six hours.

Geocache containers range in size from several gallons large to the size of a finger tip. All but the smallest can hold “swag,” which are trade items. The idea is if you take something, you should leave something of equal or greater value. I liked this idea at first but quickly tired of it because most caches were filled with junk or kids toys from fast food restaurants. After a few months, we stopped trading and only signed the logbook, so container size didn’t matter to us.

With caching, finders are handling a physical container, and they may re-hide it in the wrong spot. At first it may only be a short distance away, but over time it can move several feet. Some have moved either by “cache creep” or by someone physically moving it more than 50 feet. If the hide is challenging, this can make it difficult for future seekers to find. Many caches include hints, but if te container is in a different spot, the hint will be useless.

Because caches are physical containers, they are susceptible to leaking, which ruins any trade items inside and turns the logbook into a wet, moldy mess. Here in Connecticut, plastic containers tend to crack, especially in the winter, and animals like to chew on them. Once damaged, water quickly finds its way inside, soaking everything. Cachers usually put the logbook in a plastic bag to keep it dry, but If the plastic bag isn’t completely inside the container, the seal will leak. If the log is damp from being found in the rain or even on a hot, humid day, it can get moldy inside the sealed, plastic bag. Opening the container can be quite a shock to your noise.

How do munzees avoid this? Check back tomorrow to learn more…

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day One

Munzee is a scavenger hunt game where items are found and logged using a smartphone. Over the next five days I’m going to write about it and explain how playing the game can benefit photographers.

Seattle Forest
Seattle Forest

Munzees are similar to geocaching, but it’s also quite different. “What does this have to do with photography?” you may be asking. Well, munzees and geocaches (caches) are often placed at scenic and interesting areas, which makes them a perfect way for photographs to find interesting and new subjects.

Because there are already lots of reviews and comparisons between the two, I decided to write this from a photographer’s perspective and am including some photos of places we’ve discovered through our travels, but first I want to tell a quick story to show the fun that can be had from these electronic scavenger hunt games.

When people visit Florida, they often go to one of the big tourist attractions, which can be a lot of fun, but munzeeing and caching allows people to see things they might not normally see. One year on vacation we were in Merritt Island doing a cache near the water, and a pair of dolphins swam up right next to us. For the next 15 minutes or so they played around and then took off. At another cache, a large manatee swam up to the pier we were on and hung around for a few minutes, and at another cache there were a bunch of peacocks just walking around like they owned the place. That was totally awesome and something I never expected. You should have seen the excitement on my young son’s face. All of these were great photo opportunities available and just a little of the excitement we had.

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about this great game, or hobby, as it’s sometimes called.

Photo Destination: New York International Auto Show

If you’re looking for something fun to do that provides a unique photo opportunity, the New York International Auto Show in New York City is definitely worth a visit. This year’s auto show is March 29 – April 7, 2013.

Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru
Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru

We went last year and had a great time, and the best part is that cameras and video equipment are allowed. Like most events, I suggest getting there early before the crowds. Touring the whole show takes a long time, and seeing everything in one day may not be possible, so plan carefully what you want to see.  Start with the things that interest you most because you’ll find yourself getting distracted by all the interesting things to see (lovely female models) and may not make it to the area you wanted to see the most.

Mini Display, Feels like London
Mini Display, Feels like London

The New York International Auto Show is the most attended show in North America, and auto manufacturers often announce new products here. Some interesting vehicles being revealed at the 2013 show are the Audi A3, Cadillac CTS, Chevy Camera SS, Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG, Toyota Highlander, and a 1200 horsepower Shelby Mustang plus others.

The show is held in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is a huge glass building. It has four floors and covers 6 blocks between 34th and 40th Street on 11th Avenue. If you attend, be prepared for a lot of walking, and if you buy food at the show, high food prices.

Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron

Even though some refer to it as a “car” show, there are lot more than cars on display, over 1000 vehicles total. One whole floor is dedicated to trucks, with everything from off road type pick ups and SUVs to cargo vans that a delivery company would use. Another floor features motorcycles, and others have everything from million dollar exotic super cars like the Bugatti Veyron to “mom and pop” cars that a family would drive. There are also lots of booths with vendors promoting products that aren’t automotive related.

Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep
Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep

Because cameras are allowed, photo opportunities abound, but with over a million people attending the show during its 10 day run, getting people-free photos of the cars can be a challenge. Some of the displays, especially the exotic and concept cars, have ropes around them, and people tend to line up around the ropes. Usually, if you wait a minute or two, you’ll make your way towards the front of the display and have a good shot of the car, but because people come and go so quickly, you need to shoot quickly before someone comes into your camera view.

Matt Practicing his Driving Skills
Matt Practicing his Driving Skills

Last year I brought a Canon S95 point and shoot last year, and it worked great.  An expensive camera isn’t needed, but something wide a wide angle lens is best since you’ll be relatively close to the vehicles. The show features all kinds lights, from the main lights in the convention center to the ones being used in the displays of the cars themselves, so I shoot on auto white balance, which is pretty accurate most of the time. I shot RAW and can adjust the white balance if needed in post.

Most of the displays are bright and super high ISOs are not needed, but a flash really makes the color pop. The display lights can create a lot of specular highlights and shadows, and the flash helps balance everything out. If your camera allows for it, I’d shoot in aperture priority mode so you can control depth of field.

If anyone is going to the show, let me know, and maybe we can meet up and say hi.

Bushnell Photography Meetup

Just got back from another great photo through the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group here in Connecticut and had a great time. This Meetup was at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, a gorgeous facility that opened in 1930 and features 2 theaters that have hosted famous Broadway shows and performers including Duke Ellington, Katherine Hepburn and others. Our group consisted of 40 photographers that split into 2 groups once inside so there weren’t so many people in a single area at at time. The shoot was awesome because we got to see things people don’t normally see like the projection room where the spotlights are and where films are projected from if there’s a movie being played. The greatest thing was spending time with other photographers and seeing how each person views a subject differently.

If you’re in the Connecticut area, I highly recommend going on a tour at the Bushnell. They’re free to the public and given by volunteers who have a love and knowledge of the facility. The Bushnell can be contacted directly through their website or (860) 987-6000. If you’re not in CT, check out the Meetup site and see if there are any photography groups in your area or join a photo walk or workshop hosted by a professional photographer. I’ve enjoyed all the events I’ve attended so far.

Below are some of my photos of the event, and here’s a link to the photos taken by others.

Move Around for the Best Shot

Move around for the best shot? What are you talking about, Mark? How can you get a quality picture if you’re moving around? Won’t it be blurry? No, I’m not talking about moving around as in dancing in place while taking the picture. I’m talking about looking around, seeing if there’s a better angle or spot to shoot from. Let me explain. Last autumn, Nancy and I went to nearby Devil’s Hopyard State Park to take some photos of Chapman Falls, a multi-cascade waterfall that drops about 60 feet. With the leaves being in full color and rain the day before, I knew there was a chance for some good photos. What I didn’t count on was the 100 other people there with the same thought.

After eventually finding a place to park, we made our way down the main trail to the foot of the falls and was surprised to the area full of people. With so many people around, I did a couple things to get my pictures faster and to avoid hogging the prime spot for too long, which brings me to a quick rant.

I try to be polite all the time, and when I see someone taking a photo, I wait for them to take their photo. When I see they’re done, I ask them if they’re done because I don’t want to move in if they’re going to take another, but so many people are not this way. They’ll just walk right in front of someone taking a photo, sometimes spending several minutes there, when the photographer only needs a couple seconds to get their shots. It reminds me of a recent experience pro photographers Rick Sammon and Juan Pons had on one of their workshops with some folks exhibiting rude behavior.

Anyway, I didn’t want to hot the prime spot for too long, so I did some things that any photographer can do in situations where there are a lot of people vying for a small spot. I stepped aside and got my camera set up with the settings I wanted to use before moving in to take the photo. With waterfalls, a slow shutter is needed to blur the motion, so a tripod is a must. When a spot opened up, I moved in, set up my tripod, quickly composed the shot and took a picture. I did a couple more with slightly different settings and different angles and moved out. Total time in “the zone,” less than a minute.

Chapman Falls, East Haddam, CT
Chapman Falls, East Haddam, CT

I was able to get the shot at the left, which I like, but I wanted something better, which I couldn’t with so many people around. I figured the pictures I took were the best I’d get and hiked back up top, but when I got to the top, I started looking around and noticed a different trail heading down the opposite sides of the falls. I had to be careful because it was a little precipitous from the recent rains, but I ended up having the entire area to myself except for a girl sunbathing on a nearby rock.

It was great because I was able to set up my tripod and move around wherever I wanted and spend as much time as I needed to make sure I got the shot right. I ended up getting the shot at the top of the blog post, which I like a lot more than shot of the entire falls. Others feel the same way because that photo had a pulse rating of 91.5 versus a 59.7 on 500px.

Sometimes when we take photos, we may get so focused on what we’re seeing that we may forget to look around and see if there’s a different way we can take the photo, but I so glad I did because if I hadn’t seen the side trail and moved over there, I wouldn’t have been able to get this one. There’s always a lot going on when taking photos, but looking and moving is something that can help everyone take better photos I think.

Photo Walks – A Great Way to Improve Your Photography

Hi everyone! Well, I did something I’ve heard about for a long time but have have never done. I attended my first photo walk yesterday, and let me tell you. I wish I had gone to one sooner. I was always nervous to join a club or go on a walk because I feared that everyone would be in competition with each other. You know, wondering who was the best photographer, who had the best camera and things like that. Well, that was not the case at all.

My friend, Rich, told me about a Meetup, or photo walk, that the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group was having at Bushnell Park in Hartford and asked if I wanted to go. Bushnell Park is Hartford’s version of Central Park in New York City and has lots of statues, views of the buildings and activities to photograph. Alone, I wouldn’t have gone, but with his encouragement, it sounded fun.

When we arrived, we immediately met up with others and began talking. I used to geocache, and it was a very similar experience to that. You may not know everyone, but because you share the same hobby, there’s an instant connection.

After talking for awhile we headed out and started taking photos. I was on my own for awhile and with Rich some of the time. The park is relatively small, so every 15 or 20 minutes, we’d pass someone with a camera and stop and talk for a bit. It was neat because when you’d pass someone, you’d share ideas and point out things to photograph. “Did you see the hawk over there?” “No, but I’ll check it out. Did you go to the capitol yet? It has some amazing detail in the stone work…” Things like that, and it was cool.

The Pond at Bushnell Park
The Pond at Bushnell Park

For example, the location shown in the photo on the right was a very popular spot. The sculpture, the buildings and the pond attracted everyone’s attention, and while I’m happy with my photo, it was great to see how everyone else shot the scene. One photo was a black and white closeup of the sculpture, and another was taken late in the evening with the glow of the building and park lights reflecting off the pond. Some were shot horizontal and others vertical, and seeing all these photos gave me ideas for future shoots, not to copy them, but to learn from and push me to try different things.

So, even though I was reluctant to ever go on a photo walk, I’m so happy I did. Not only was everyone friendly, but they were also willing to share their tips and explain why they like to do certain things, which is totally not what I expected. Because of my positive experience, I plan to go to more of these, and I’d encourage other photographers who may be on the fence to give it a try. The Meetup site is a great place to start, and if there’s nothing in your area, check with a local camera store. They may host their own get togethers or have info on some in the area.

If you have any questions about Meetups or photo walks, please let me know, or if you’re in the Connecticut area and would like to learn more about the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group, they would love to hear from you.

Photo Destination: New York City

To me, there is no better city to visit at Christmastime than New York City. The lights, the decorations and the busyness all combine to give one a “feel good” attitude. There’s something magical about skaters floating by at Rockefeller Center while the large tree glistens in the background.

I normally carry my camera gear in a backpack, but because this time of year is so busy with people all around, I like to travel light and brought a small, Lowepro over the shoulder bag. For gear, I went light with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens and the Olympus FL-600R flash.

Because of the 2 times crop factor, and a 35mm equivalent length of 24-100mm on a full frame camera, this is the perfect walk around lens. It’s wide enough to get expansive views or capture the height of a skyscraper and has enough telephoto length to zoom in for closeups. Plus, as with all Olympus lenses, the quality is top notch and very sharp. The one downside is that it can be a little slow if you’re in darker areas.

New York has a lot to see and do, and one of my favorite things is Central Park. During this trip, we went to The Mall, which has been photographed many times with gorgeous trees hanging over the path, and many movies have been shot here.

A lot smaller, but still very beautiful, is Bryant Park, located just west of Grand Central Terminal. It’s definitely worth a visit. In the winter you can go ice skating, and if you visit at Christmastime, small shops offering a variety of crafts and other goodies are setup throughout the park. If you go to Grand Central, be sure to visit the Whispering Arch. It’s really fun, especially with kids.

And no Christmas visit is complete without a stroll down 5th Avenue to admire the beautifully decorated shops or a stop into one of the historic and spectacular churches. If you plan to visit New York and have any questions, let me know. I will try to answer any questions you may have.