Sunset city

Prudential Tower, Boston
Refrozen swirls on the Charles River give texture to a sunset over Boston. In the centre of the frame, the Prudential Tower dominates. Boston was a lovely city to watch the sunset over. A lovely afternoon walk on the riverside allows you to witness the sky and river turn to orange as the sun sinks behind the landmark buildings.

This photo continues a week themed with sunrises and sunsets here on Taraji Blue. If you like this picture, please feel free to share using the social media links provided.

For more images, visit the Taraji Blue photo gallery.

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My photo of the week: a spotlight on Bryce Canyon, USA

Here at Taraji Blue photography we’ve been looking back over our photography archive and releasing some of the shots taken in years gone by (even in the years before we went digital!).
I wanted to share this image (above) because it was one taken with a Canon Powershot Pro back in 2004, well before we had got our hands on any digital SLRs. It’s a shot taken in Utah, West USA at Bryce Canyon. The odd but beautiful rock formations are called Hoodoos and are very similar to those known and loved at Cappadocia in Turkey.  Here’s the sciency bit (courtesy of Wikipedia)…

Hoodoos form typically form in areas where a thick layer of a relatively soft rock, such as mudstone, poorly cemented sandstone or tuff (consolidated volcanic ash), is covered by a thin layer of hard rock, such as well-cemented sandstone, limestone or basalt. In glaciated mountainous valleys the soft eroded material may be glacial till with the protective capstones being large boulders in the till. Over time, cracks in the resistant layer allow the much softer rock beneath to be eroded and washed away. Hoodoos are formed where a small cap of the resistant layer remains, and protects a cone of the underlying softer layer from erosion. Further erosion of the soft layer causes the cap to be undercut, eventually falling off, and the remaining cone is then quickly eroded.

Typically, most hoodoos are formed by two weathering processes that continuously work together in eroding the edges of a rock formation. The primary weathering force at Bryce Canyon is frost wedging. The hoodoos at Bryce Canyon experience over 200 freeze/thaw cycles each year. In the winter, melting snow, in the form of water, seeps into the cracks and then freezes at night. When water freezes it expands by almost 10%, pries open the cracks bit by bit, making them even wider, much like the way in which a pothole forms in a paved road.

In addition to frost wedging, rain also sculpts these hoodoos. In most places today, the rainwater is slightly acidic which allows the weak carbonic acid to slowly dissolve limestone grain by grain. It is this process that rounds the edges of hoodoos and gives them their lumpy and bulging profiles. Where internal mudstone and siltstone layers interrupt the limestone, you can expect the rock to be more resistant to the chemical weathering because of the comparative lack of limestone. Many of the more durable hoodoos are capped with a special kind of magnesium-rich limestone called dolomite. Dolomite, being fortified by the mineral magnesium, dissolves at a much slower rate, and consequently protects the weaker limestone underneath it. Rain is also the chief source of erosion (the actual removal of the debris). In the summer, monsoon type rainstorms travel through the Bryce Canyon region bringing short duration high intensity rain.

Here at Taraji Blue we’ve become quite interested in geology and over the past 4 years or so have been really taken by some of the incredible rock formations that we have seen. I have previously written a blog post which shares some of our favorite geology photos. The post is available here on the Taraji Blue blog archive.

You can show your support for Taraji Blue by liking us on facebook at following us on twitter and connecting with Alistair and myself on Google+

Close Encounters With Another World

Space Shuttle Endeavour takes off on mission STS-130

My husband and I were lucky enough that our birthdays coordinated with the launch of the last ever night shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA.  Being space and science geeks we could think of no better way to celebrate and, after a tense ticket purchase process, we eagerly packed our bags and jumped on a flight out to the USofA.

On the evening of launch Endeavour STS -130 was delayed by 24 hours, meaning we’d end up spending three nights and 4 days without any sleep. We spent two full nights at Kennedy Space Centre on cold February evenings, anticipation building as we wondered will it / won’t it take off this time? We followed the astronauts on the big screen as they got suited and booted and took the ride to the launch pad and scaled the mighty launch towers. Commentary was provided by ex-astronauts who joined us in the cold evening air, fielding questions from the eager crowds as anticipation mounted. During the day we toured the space center and met the astronauts trying to understand what an incredible feat they were about to undertake.

28 hours after we first arrived at Kennedy Space Centre, she took to the sky. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. Night instantly turned to day as the flames lit up the sky, creating an artificial dawn at 3:45am.  My knees literally gave way and I was grateful for my tripod as I slid to the ground I wonderment and cried tears of concern and joy.

Whilst I expected the launch to move me in ways like never before, what I did not expect was the profound impact this experience would have on us – for days we would discuss and de-construct the experience, marvelling at science’s achievements and debating whether a future generation should continue this passion for exploration. We discussed how we felt about our own lives and jobs – what it was to feel meaningful and how we could capture their spirit of exploration.  The whole experience of being at Kennedy Space Center during the prep and launch was an honour  – we met some incredible people, learned lots and were lucky enough to witness the shuttle on the launch pad literally hours before launch.  This is about as close as we will get to space (for now….)

The picture below is me with Alfred Worden, perhaps best known as America’s First Astronaut to perform a Deep Space EVA on the return from the moon aboard Apollo 15. It was an honour and a pleasure to meet him.

Marie Knock and Al Worden

Further images from Kennedy Space Center are available in our Taraji Blue USA Photo Gallery.

Close Encounters With Manatees

Manatee in Crystal River, Florida
This is a re-share of a previus blog post, but it is a memory so precious to me and fits perfectly with the theme of ‘Close Encounter’s…
I love nothing more than encountering new wildlife when on holidays, and my ultimate favourite has to been the Floridian manatee…
My first encounter with a manatee was during a trip to SeaWorld, Florida when much younger. My family and I immediately fell in love with these giant gentle beasts of the rivers. I recall standing in a circular underground theatre in SeaWorld, watching a film narrated by a wee girl who had spotted a strange animal in the water. Her father explained it was a manatee and invited us all to walk through to doors at the back of the room to meet one for ourselves. There we entered an underground aquarium and behind a 20 foot high glass wall a manatee ‘hung’ in the water, flipper bent and its face scarred from a collision with a outboard motor. I immediately fell in love with the animal and was enraptured by its gentle gaze, its comforting presence and its vulnerability. I was rooted to the spot for an hour, refusing to be moved by tour groups, parents or officials. There and then, with tears in my eyes, I named it my most favourite animal and vouched never to forget it as it rotated slowly, round and round in the water, powered by the one working flipper it had. That’s when my manatee obsession started.

You can only imagine, therefore, how ecstatic I was when, 20 years or so later, I had the opportunity to swim with manatees in the wild for my 30th birthday. It was a dream come true and I struggled to keep my emotions in check both during the experience and in the build up to it.

We booked a swim with the manatees at Crystal River Florida, about 3.5 hours drive from Orlando, and set off happily at 3:30am for a 7am swim. We booked with a company called Birds Underwater and I would not hesitate in recommending them or using them again. They were friendly, ethical, patient and extremely good value. Unlike many other operators, they allowed you as much time with the manatees as you liked and were very strict about your contact with them. We spent over 3 hours in the water with the manatees, and during this time many tour groups fleetingly came and went, so there were times when it was just us and the manatees and that was bliss.

To get to the springs in Crystal River you hop aboard a board and travel 20 minutes or so down river. Once there, you are free to gently roll into the water off the side of the boat and commence your snorkel. At this time and location, the water was extremely murky and, despite being a very confident swimmer, I had a panic attack. The water was not deep, but I could not see a thing and I was not yet accustomed to the snorkeling equipment. My excitement and anxiety took over and I clung to my husband like a limpet, weeping, ashamed of myself and scared that I could not navigate the incredibly narrow channel to get from the river to the spring where the manatees were and that I would deny myself of this dream. Ali was great and very gentle, encouraging me to lift my head out of the water and stand still to get accustomed to the water and the movements within it. However, just as my confidence was creeping back I felt the earth beneath my feet literally move and I squealed. In the mindset of my panic I had, unawares, stood on a sleeping manatee’s back. Given my immense love for these animals the last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt them. I became so worried about this manatee that I had no choice but to put my head under and swim with it to make sure it was ok….it was, thank goodness.

Hand in hand, Ali and I snorkeled through the narrow channel. Little more than a couple of feet wide and deep in places, I was bumped all ways, left, right, top, bottom from passing manatees. I suppressed a delighted but scared giggle and pressed on. It was worth it! At the end of the channel were warm, deeper and clear spring waters. You could see manatees in every direction. At that time of the morning most were suspended face down in the water, sleeping, rising to the surface only to breathe on occasions. This gave us time to survey of the waters and see where family groups were before they started to wake. Ali and I chose a secluded spot together and waited. Our patience was duly rewarded.

Manatees are such gentle and curious creatures who love human contact. The longer we spent in the water with them the more interactions they requested and craved. It’s not unusual that, whilst tickling a manatee, they will roll over to allow you to scratch their belly, and many will even grab your hand tightly with their flippers and push your hands to the area they want scratched. Some even seem to get jealous of the contact you have with others – it wasn’t unusual to have two or three manatees jostling for your attention at once.

I’ll never forgot the first time the manatee grabbed my hand with its flipper. Its strength was significant and I noticed little nails on the end of her flippers. Her skin was coarse and her tiny eyes examined me. I could not have let go even if I’d have wanted too.

As much as I enjoyed my interactions with the manatees, I also loved watching Ali interact with them. Sea going creatures seem to have an affinity with Ali – dolphins love him, sealions have flocked to him and now manatees craved him. As I videoed Ali and the manatee rolling round in the water, synchronising their movements, I saw another manatee watching from a distance. This manatee approached Ali slowly, pausing only to allow others to pass. Upon approaching Ali he decided to have a bit of a sniff around, and proceeded to take Ali’s arm between his flippers and snuffle Ali from his fingertips to his shoulder, and then to his face and eventually his facemask. Half way between crying with joy and laughing, I took in a mouth of water and had to break the surface to calm myself. I dipped below the surface once more to find Ali with a huge bristly manatee mouth around the edge of his face. I could tell that beneath his snorkel he was smiling. It was a ‘close encounter’ moment we will cherish forever.

More pictures of manatees are available in our Taraji BLue online photo gallery.



I often forget I’ve only been to New York once, back in 2005 on the way back to the UK from a West Coast road trip. This image sums the place up to me – walk, go, go, do it now, forget about the risk. This was taken on film with a Canon EOS 3000, and my latest purchase – a fish eye “lens”.

I admit a was a little naive about photography gear back then and had planned to find a “proper” photography store in NYC and get myself a good quality wide angle lens to snag the scenery with. We ended up in a shop I can’t remember in a street I’d never be able to find again (warning #1!). The store clerk was friendly (warning #2!) and let me try out a couple of options: a wider-angle lens, and an add-on to my kit lens that screwed on and allowed flexibility “without the extra weight”. I tried them both, went outside and had a peer around with them, somehow assessing the optical performance of these things through the viewfinder. Hmm.

Then we got to price. Nothing was tagged (WARNING #3!), but the chap was offering the wide-angle lens around $180, which seemed reasonable but wasn’t as wide as I was really after – I wanted more of a fish eye look. The converter I think came in around $120. That seemed a little high, but then it was doing what I wanted from a lens and it was kind of a wacky look at the time, so why not? I started toward the door to try another dealer, and the guy persisted, persisted, persisted… though didn’t lower his price.

He got me. I paid up, left with this crazy golden thing that turned out (when I got home) to be some shoddy camcorder accessory worth about $30 and I was thoroughly fleeced. Let that be a lesson to me to know your stuff beforehand. Sad, I guess – you just need to know where the better stores like B&H are, otherwise you can get taken for a ride.

Still, I paid for a guy to have a great dinner somewhere!

Plus, even though it was overpriced, it did help me see NYC through a different view and I picked out some shots that just wouldn’t be interesting without the wacky fisheye distortion and the extreme optical fuzziness at the edge of the circle. That’s why mistakes are important – sometimes they aren’t really mistakes.

Categorized as News, USA