A Classic Arby’s neon sign

The classic Arby’s ® neon sign that many of us grew up with seems to be vanishing from the night landscape of America.

I haven’t seen one of these signs in California in I don’t know how long.

There was one not far from where I spent my wee years.  It was a treat to go to Arby’s and watch your sandwich being created on the slicer.  The root beer came from a tap, and you pumped your own Arby’s sauce.  The things you remember…

Anyway… I found myself on 24th Street in Port Huron, Michigan.  I was on a mission to capture this Arby’s neon sign in all its’ glory – that being during the few seconds that both “roast” and
beef” are illuminated.  For those of you that haven’t seen one of these signs, the lights on the border of the “hat” flicker to give the illusion of motion, and “roast” and “beef” cycle on and off.

But I had a problem.  Someone left their tripod and remote release at home.

But I had a mission.

So, it was time to MacFrog it.  (That was a weak reference to MacGyver that I couldn’t pass up!)

My flannel shirt got folded and crumpled up just right to serve as my tripod on the roof of the car.  I even folded the camera strap and put it under the lens for support.

I set the camera to manual focus, turned off the lens stabilizer, set the camera to ISO 100, turned the flash off, set the shutter speed to 1/5 of a second, and shot away.  And shot away.  An shot away.  I had to time it just right to catch “roast” and “beef” on at the same time.

I managed to get what I wanted on 2 of 19 attempts.  Not a great success rate, but that was one of those nights I gave thanks for digital photography and its’ instant feedback.

A classic Arby's neon sign on 24th Street in Port Huron, MI. December 2015.
A classic Arby’s neon sign on 24th Street in Port Huron, MI. December 2015.

You can check out the current “neon signs and other signs” gallery by clicking here , or just start at Laughing Frog Images.


The Blizzard of 1996

The Blizzard of 1996 appears to have been surpassed in the record books by the Blizzard of 2016.

I have to admit that there’s a part of me wishing I was back east for this.  And there are many of you now thinking that I’ve totally lost any shred of sanity that I might have still had.

Rest assured that I haven’t.

For you see, the only way that you can photograph a train (or anything else for that matter) in the snow is to be out in the snow.

Makes sense.  At least to me anyway.

So, a long time ago (January of 1996 to be exact) in a galaxy far, far away (Hancock, WV and environs), there I was with a cohort driving down a road that I’d never been on before.  We had a four wheel drive Ford Explorer, so that was a good thing.

Did I mention that the roads weren’t plowed?  That I couldn’t tell just exactly where the road was?  That this was long before cell phones?

None of that mattered, because the Blizzard of 1996 had finally ended, and there were trains to be run.  Lots of them.

Trivial little things like unplowed roads and and not exactly knowing where the roads were in many cases weren’t going to get in the way of the images to be made.

We’re at HO Tower in Hancock, West Virginia to witness one of the first eastbound freights to move in a couple of days pass through the interlocking plant.  The snow isn’t as deep here, as CSX Maintenance of Way forces worked throughout the night to clean the snow from the switches so that trains could run through the plant.

HO Tower is on the CSX Cumberland, MD to Baltimore, MD former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Main Line.  There were still a series of towers in use at this time – local switches and signals were controlled by the Operator (the person who worked in the tower).  Some of the Operators stayed in their towers for extended shifts during the storm, as there was no way out while everything on rails and wheels couldn’t move.  These days, there aren’t a lot of towers left – for the most part, train dispatching is now handled with the assistance of computers in a windowless room that may not even be on railroad property.  But that’s another story, and another post.

CSX SD50 #8598 kicks up a nice plume of snow as she leads an eastbound freight past HO Tower.

There isn’t a gallery up for the Blizzard of 1996 on Laughing Frog Images just yet.  There’s a lot to scan and process, but there will be a gallery.  Someday.

For now, we’ll all just have to enjoy this image.

An eastbound freight train kicks up the snow as it passes HO Tower in Hancock, WV after the Blizzard of 1996.
An eastbound CSX freight train kicks up the snow as it passes HO Tower in Hancock, WV after the Blizzard of 1996.

Cat Sitting 101

I think I finally figured out the secret, or at least a secret, to cat sitting.

You know the situation – you’re trying to do something, the cat wants attention NOW, and you don’t want to be mean to the cat but yet you still have things to do, like checking out Laughing Frog Images (sorry, couldn’t resist the plug…).

Yes, I know, I could put the cat outside the room and close the door.  However, that brings about a separate and new problem that I don’t have an answer to.

So, back to cat sitting.

You probably have everything you need at home already.

Here goes…

  1.  Get a heating pad.  Preferably one with an automatic shutoff feature so you don’t forget about it.
  2. Fold two bath towels to the size of the heating pad to serve as a cushion.
  3. Place the heating pad on the towels.
  4. Turn the heating pad on to “warm”.
  5. Take a third bath towel and fold it to the size of the heating pad.
  6. Place the third towel on top of the heating pad.
  7. Let everything warm up.
  8. Introduce your cat to it.
  9. Watch said cat sniff and explore this new warm place to lie down.
  10. Watch cat rotate six or seven times looking for the optimal spot.
  11. Watch cat finally lie down.
  12. Go about your day, because the cat ain’t going anywhere….

You’re welcome!

How to cat sit in one easy lesson.
Cat sitting in one easy lesson.

Be prepared for an unintended consequence…

That being a cat staring daggers at you and yipping at you when the heating pad is off, and they want the heating pad on.  Now.

Working on a solution to that one…

The wild horses of Assateague Island

I’ve photographed the wild horses of Assateague Island, Maryland and Currituck, North Carolina.  These are two of the herds of wild horses on barrier islands along the east coast.  Actually, they’re feral, but that’s kind of a technicality, and we’re going to stick with “wild” because that’s how they’re commonly referred to.

I’ve been most successful on Assateague.  I have to admit that photographing these critters requires as much luck as it does skill.   Well, to be honest, maybe luck is actually more important.

A wild horse pauses to ponder its' next move on Assateague.
A wild horse pauses to ponder its’ next move on Assateague.  Click on the image to be taken to the Gallery.

Why do I say that luck might be more important?

The wild horses of Assateague have been there a long time, and have adapted to the sometime harsh realities of their island home.  Humans are (tolerated) visitors that they don’t seem to give two hoots about.

We’re limited to where we can go on the island, but it’s their home, and they go where they want, when they want.  Despite what we might want when we’re on a quest for “that” image.

You can go there and see 20+ horses in a day.  You can go there and not see a horse. When they’re in the brush, they can be virtually impossible to see and photograph.

And, they seem to have a tendency to rotate their posteriors to the paparazzi (that’s us humans)…

You can learn more about the feral horses of Assateague Island and the Assateague Island National Seashore from the National Park Service website by clicking here.

You can learn about Maryland’s Assateague State Park by clicking here.

You can also check out Wikipedia’s page on Assateague Island by clicking here.

If you get the chance to go, you can do just fine photographically speaking with almost any camera with a zoom lens.  Just remember to stay at least 40 feet away from the horses.  The images in this Gallery were taken with either a 28-300mm or 18-270mm zoom lens.  Obviously, the more time you can spend there, the better your chances of seeing the horses and getting “that” image.  For the best lighting, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon if you can.

And, for your enjoyment and photo art, you can check out Laughing Frog Images by clicking here.

Thanks for visiting!


It’s a long train! BNSF 7195 West.

Being from the Mid-Atlantic states, being able to capture a whole train in one image was something that just didn’t happen.  At least with normal sized trains.

One of the things I enjoy about the BNSF ex- Santa Fe Transcon Line in northern Arizona is the ability to catch a whole train in a shot.

Milepost 302 on the BNSF Seligman Subdivision is one of my favorite places to do this.  The lighting is perfect for about the last 30 minutes of daylight when the sun is just above the horizon.

You can see a westbound crest the hill just west of the Highway 99 Exit to Leupp (don’t ask me how to pronounce that properly) and photograph it over the course of a couple of miles.  The train drops down a slight grade, enters a curve to the left, disappears from sight, and then pops up as it continues to climb towards you.  As it nears you, it enters a right-hand curve and if you catch it just right – you’ve got sunlight that’s hitting the train almost perpendicular.  This is what is known as “golden light” or “sweet light”.

BNSF 7195 West. Milepost 302 Seligman Subdivision.
BNSF 7195 West. Milepost 302 Seligman Subdivision.  Click on the image to be taken to the BNSF ex- Santa Fe Lines Gallery to view the series.

This is one of the first shots of the series described above. I chose this picture, as it shows just how “big” northern Arizona is.  The engines are over four miles away from me.  The train itself is over a mile long (don’t ask just how long – I lost my note).  The smoke in the distance is from a power plant nearly 40 miles east in St. Joseph City.  It’s big country…  It’s a long train!

The light couldn’t have been much better, as the sun dropped below the horizon four minutes after the last shot.

While I wish I could have been at this location about 20 years ago when the trains were headed by Santa Fe’s Superfleet power in the classic red and silver “Warbonnet” paint scheme or the blue and yellow “Bluebonnet” scheme, I’ll take it.

Image details: tripod, ISO 800, 1/640 second, 500mm.

 There’s much more to add to the BNSF ex-Santa Fe Lines Gallery as slides get scanned and scans and images are processed.

Thanks for visiting.  Be sure to check out Laughing Frog Images for help on covering up that blank space on your wall.

Symmetry at Sky Harbor

One of the benefits of today’s smartphones is that it’s easy to create an image as you’re walking along almost anywhere, like, for example, an airport.  As proof, I offer you Symmetry at Sky Harbor.

I was changing terminals one morning, and looked to my left and thought “there’s a picture there…”

Out came the Lumia Icon and I snapped a few pictures.

However, things just weren’t quite right in the Lumia’s original 16×9 (16 pixels wide for every 9 pixels high).

I had symmetry, but it wasn’t right.

When I got to my next gate, I opened the image in my Picture Perfect app and began to create the symmetry I wanted.  In this case, symmetry (at least to me) meant that the image needed symmetry as well.  That meant a 1:1 (square) crop.  So, that meant a little finger dragging to position the crop box and a simple tap to finish the image.

WP_20151211_7553 m 360 wm

I left the colors as the camera captured them.  The muted pastels of the building and the sky offer a stark contrast to the metallic-like reds and blues on the tails.

(I still prefer the classic “AA” image of American Airlines that dates back to the late 1960’s, but I didn’t get a vote when they changed.)

If you look closely, you’ll also see another element of symmetry – the auxiliary power units that appear just below the tail of every aircraft.

It’s all in the details, which in some case rely upon how long you look at an image to find them.

This may never sell as the cropped image is too small for much more than a coffee cup, and it may never win any awards – but I like this image, and that’s part of what it’s all about.

It may also give you some ideas the next time you see symmetry, or the potential for it, in your travels – airport or otherwise.

You can see this image in the planes gallery on Laughing Frog Images.

Thanks for visiting!


Ever need every last drop?

That morning cup of coffee is a ritual for millions the world over.  Ever need every last drop?

I was organizing images tonight and came across this one of our dearly departed Hunter.

He liked a drop or two of iced coffee every now and then, and this day in November 2013 was one of those days.

There were a few drops left, and he was determine that they were to be his.  Never mind the fact that his head wouldn’t fit in the glass – he was going to get his due!

I never saw him get his head stuck, but I did see him contently licking iced coffee from his paw a time or two…

Things came to a bit of a halt tonight as I paused to smile and remember him.

For those of you who didn’t get to read about him when he passed, he was a gentle giant and a kind soul.

Some &^$% people left him in front of a pet store in a crate on a cold February morning in 2012.  We me him not long thereafter, as it seems that adopting cute kittens is far more prevalent than adopting a six year old.  He was a project – building trust and getting him to understand that we were here to serve (cat owners, you know what I’m talking about…).  Every time I see one of those “Who Saved Who?” bumper stickers, I can’t help but think of Hunter.

And, I think of him when I’m going for every last drop…

2013-11-08 11.00.40 360 wm

Beyond the memories this image stirred up, there’s a moral to be found here – and here it comes:

Take pictures.

Take pictures of your family.  Take pictures of your friends.  Take pictures of your pets.  Take pictures of things that make you smile and things you want to remember.  These days it’s pretty cheap and pretty easy to make a memory – there are few excuses not to make a memory.

And when you stumble across random images when you aren’t expecting to, they bring a pause and a smile to the insanity and craziness that seems to be everywhere in life today.

And that’s not a bad thing….

The Frog is back.

Well, we’re back!

The Frog took some time off from the blog to take care of some things around the house, and spend time with family, friends, and (of course) the cats. It was a nice way to end the year.  I hope you enjoyed your holidays as well.

In the midst of all that, I did some photography and I also scanned several hundred slides dating back to the late 1970’s.  Yes, I have a lot of processing to do!

So, what’s coming to Laughing Frog Images in 2016?


Wild horses.

Trains.  Contemporary and historical.

A National Monument or two.

The stories behind the pictures.

“How to” insights (or at least how I do/did, keeping in mind that I have no formal photography training!).

A new book on the final years of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad as I saw them through my lens.

A new book on steam operations from the 1970’s and 1980’s (and possibly more).  Think C&O 614, Reading 2102, N&W 611, N&W 1218 and maybe Nickel Plate 765 as well.

It’s going to be a busy year!

Thanks for your support as we grew throughout 2015.  Every “follow”, “like” and “share” is greatly appreciated.

Here’s to a great 2016 for all of us!