“Going to the mountains is going home” – John Muir
I’ve planned and attempted several time to make a trip to The Great Smoky Mountains. I cancelled once due to a projected forecast of heavy rains for like 5-6 days in a row. The last time I chose not to go due to the massive & destructive wildfires they were experiencing. But this time around, I just said to heck with all that, booked it about 3 days before my departure (from central Florida) and just went. God shone down and made the weather perfect for my adventure.
And a big adventure it’s been so far. I can’t explain it. It’s more of a feeling inside my soul. But in just one day (and night) I’ve spent here, I fell like … I dunno … like I’ve taken a step back in time, but in a good way. So many past emotions, experiences and peaceful moments. More on all that stuff in another blog post ;).For now, please read on and view the rest of today’s ‘select shots’.
So here I now sit in my hotel room at the ends of day 1 (which began for me at about 6:30 AM) just in time to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Side note – didn’t get any shots of the sunrise TODAY as I didn’t realize until it was too late that I was basically on the ‘wrong side of the mountain’ for that. But here’s hoping for tomorrow or one of my other days I’ll be here. I managed to visit many of the beautiful and historic areas or venues throughout The Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as some bordering views just outside the park along The Blue Ridge Parkway.
There are lots of old, historical heritage locations like these last two shots in and around the mountains here. The plan is to visit them over the next 2-3 days. Once again, more on all that in more / other blog posts.
These pictures are just a few ‘teaser’ images. At the end of this trip, I’,planning on putting many more photographs on this blog (and elsewhere – i.e. – Instagram (@MikeThomasImagery) etc… For now, enjoy these and let your mind wander into the peace & QUIETNESS of these wonderful mountains!
So there I was – driving home from the small Florida town of Mount Dora Wednesday morning (see other blog post on that one) after shooting the Mount Dora Lighthouse and some bird wildlife. I look over to my right and I suddenly feel like I’ve stepped back in time. I see this airplane (and I use that term intentionally – not jet or jetliner – look at the propellers on this baby) parked on one of the taxi ways. I then noticed an entry / exit to the airport where this plane is. I swerve (carefully of course) off the main highway and into the airport. I find a good spot to capture this shot with a very long lens (so I don’t have to drive out on the taxi way with my car …. yah, THAT would’ve ended well I’m sure ;)). I’m not sure if it is in fact an actual Pan Am airplane or some sort of converted plane that the owner just painted the logo and the Pan Am colors on to. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty good find. Made my day :). Perhaps I’ll go back out there, talk to whomever and try and get permission to go right to where the plane is parked and grab some even better pictures. We’ll see :).
For those reading this who don’t know (and I understand that’s probably most of you – especially those who don’t live in Central Florida), there’s this beautiful, quaint old town called Mount Dora. Roughly north of Orlando, Mount Dora is home to old fashioned streets, diners, shops and more. There’s also a lake in the downtown area that’s pretty vast. Many a watercraft can be seen cruising the large lake.
There’s a marina that’s also big enough to warrant a light house. Yep – that’s right. Small as the lighthouse is, it is a working lighthouse. I’m not sure if it’s on the National Registry of Lighthouses or not. But it does serve a purpose for mariners to heed the shore line of that portion of the lake that’s home to the marina. I’ve been meaning to get out to Mount Dora for some time now to shoot the lighthouse (and some of the town and its folks – but that will come in another post later). The area where the lighthouse stands I found to be a very peaceful, serene place, especially in the earlier part of the day like when I was there at about 8:00AM. The wildlife / birds aren’t overly plentiful. But they’re around and some will pose for pictures – like this guy :).
As I said above. there’ll be at least one other post coming about the town of Mount Dora. But in the meantime, if you’re ever in that area and enjoy old time, small town, down home look & feel, ya’ gotta check out Mount Dora, Florida :).
While browsing some pictures I’d captured in days gone by, I came across this black & white shot of The Orlando Eye. I did a blog post about two years ago when I went on this baby for the first time. But all (or most of) the shots I’d posted were night time shots as The Orlando Eye looks quite beautiful at night. So I thought I’d post one of my slightly more artistic black & white shots of this nifty, cool attraction!
So I’ve had quite a few emails & messages inquiring as to whether I have any pictures of the new, “Pandora – The World Of Avatar,” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Well, yes I do. But several points to be noted here. One, the new ‘land’ is beautiful for sure! But I’ve yet to capture (and I’m not sure I ever will in this specific case) the majesty, vastness and beauty of it all. It’s one of those rare ‘gotta be there’ type scenarios.
That being said, here are 4 photos I’ve managed to take thus far while visiting on my own the last week or two. Point two, the night time shots here are pretty but are some of thee most difficult and challenging shots I’ve ever taken.
They way to really shoot these is on a tripod (not hand held as this one is), long exposure and with nobody in the place. Hmmm? If only I could figure a way to do that one . We’ll see – perhaps a later post if I can arrange it all.
Point three, I semi-shamefully admit I’d never seen the movie, “Avatar,” – until last night that is. I bought it via iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised and very entertained by it all. Way better than I expected it to be. Point here being, now that I’ve seen it, SO MUCH MORE makes sense to me in this new ‘land’ at Animal Kingdom. I know: “DUH”!!! :).
Anyway, if you haven’t yet been able to go see Pandora – The Land Of Avatar at Walt Disney World yet, it’s definitely worth it, if for nothing else than the sheer beauty of it all both day and night!
(to view ALL photos by yours truly from this latest event, please click the link below at the end of this post)
This makes the third Honor Flight Welcome Home Event I’ve ben blessed and lucky enough to be present for – and got to photograph it! Tell ya’ what – I’m LOVING this!!! I estimate about 250-300 people showed up voluntarily to welcome these World War II, Korean and Vietnam Veterans back home. If you haven’t had the chance to read any other of my blog posts about Honor Flight or perhaps aren’t aware of what Honor Flight is, let me briefly explain.
Honor Flight is an entirely volunteer organization that flies United States Military Veterans up to see their respective memorials in Washington, D.C. (i.e. – WW II Memorial, Korean War Memorial etc…). It’s a 1 day trip up and back that starts pretty much at the crack of dawn and ends with their return back home (in this case to Orlando International Airport) at around 8:30 PM +/-. The tradition of having good hearted, well meaning, Patriotic people at the arrival gate area at the airport when they return has grown immensely since Honor Flight first started. I’ve spoken to many of the folks that come regularly to these things. They tell me they’ve made so many new, supportive friends at the events. It’s like a mini reunion or get together each time an Honor Flight gets set in motion. But it’s not really a social gathering or a personal meet & greet. Everyone is there for one purpose and that’s to welcome home and say thanks to these great Veterans. The emotion and outpouring of love is beyond words. You really need to be there to feel it, not just see it.
Thank you to all who came to lend their support tonight. And of course a huge THANK YOU to all the heroic, Patriotic Veterans who served for America. May God Bless You and this still great country!
To view all photos I managed to capture tonight, please click HERE.
As you might have surmised by the title of this blog post, this is about not forgetting those whom we remember on Memorial Day. In other words, I waited purposely until the day after Memorial Day to create this post. It’s sorta like when lots of folks go and work in the soup kitchens right at Christmas or Thanksgiving time. Yes, it’s admirable for anyone to go and do charitable work. But in conversing with some homeless folks, one of the common denominators they agree on is that after whatever Holiday comes and goes, those folks I talked to say they feel forgotten (again). They’re not bitter. It’s just that for some reason, people feel charitable and giving at the Holidays. But not so much after. Now before anyone gets upset or takes issue with me, I’m NOT saying everyone who helps out in the shelters and the like falls victim to this mentality or behavior. Nor am I knocking anyone who has the decency and kind heartedness to give of themselves. But with society and times changing constantly, trends just seem to take some folks’ thoughts and actions away from doing good things or remembering the fallen, the forgotten, the homeless etc… That’s the basic premise in posting this article immediately after Memorial Day 2017.
So to get back on track as to what this post is about, I have a question for you the reader: Did you know that there was a National Cemetery in Florida? I’ll adit it – I didn’t. I thought the only notable National Cemetery was Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
I was searching on the web for things I could go and pay tribute to via my photography. I found several celebrations within a 1 to 2 hour drive of my location in Central Florida. But the one that jumped out at me was this National Cemetery up in the town of Bushnell, FL. For various reasons, it was going to be a real stretch for me to get there on Memorial Day Itself. Hence, the idea of ‘AFTER Memorial Day’ came to fruition in my brain. What I discovered when I got there was pretty astounding!
Arlington National Cemetery is approximately 625 acres with about 400,000 interned there. Florida National Cemetery is approximately 512 acres with 129,000 interned. Arlington was established in 1864. Florida National Cemetery was established in 1988. Let that sink in just a bit. Spanning about 150 years, Arlington has managed to have 400,000 buried therein. But Florida National Cemetery in just shy of 30 years has managed to welcome home 129,000. Pretty high ratio.
Florida National Cemetery is in a very rural area of the Sunshine State. The landscape is nothing short of beautiful. American Flags line all the roadways on both sides throughout the property. It’s very evident the staff take extreme care in monitoring and beautifying the land.
I’m well aware that it may be considered a little off beat to even do a blog post on a cemetery. But given my flag-waiving Patriotic beliefs and my deep set appreciation and recognition for our Military Personnel, to me it’s not that obscure. Especially if it brings the needed attention to educating in any way possible what our fallen Military heroes have done to allow ALL of us to do what we do every day in this still great United States Of America!
If you have reason (or not), make a trip out to Florida National Cemetery. It is, dare I say breath taking and will set your Patriotic heart & soul afire. Florida National Cemetery might not be as big as Arlington. But it’s every bit as majestic and emotional!!!
God Bless all our fallen Military people. You will never be forgotten by this blog writer!!!
So if you don’t know or haven’t read my blog of late, I finally got to attend an Honor Flight return / arrival at the (Orlando International) airport on Saturday, May 6th, 2017. Briefly, Honor Flight is an all volunteer organization that transports American Military Veterans who served in World War II, The Korean War and The Vietnam War to see and experience their respective memorials that have been built over the years in Washington, D.C. It’s become sort of a tradition for good, flag waiving, patriotic American people to welcome the Veteran back home after their rather long day traveling to and from D.C. Today – Saturday May 20th, 2017 (also Armed Forces Day Weekend by the way), I was so lucky and honored to attend yet another Honor Flight Return. This one was from the Space Coast Honor Flight Chapter from the Titusville, FL area.
Last time I posted on the May 6th, 2017 event, I included a fair amount of pictures. This time around, I’ve included only the two most heart warming photos I was able to capture, both of the same little girl welcoming home two different Korean War Veterans. But there are many other photos I’ve put up online for viewing at THIS LINK. Please make just a little time and check out the story behind each photograph. Try and feel, or at least imagine the emotion just overflowing for these guys and gals who served in battle as they were welcomed back and celebrated by the good souls who gave of their time to drive to the airport on a Saturday night just to say ‘thanks’ or ‘welcome home soldier’. By the way, what did you do Saturday night? No guilt trip here. Just trying to plant a seed in your heart & soul to perhaps think about going out to attend one of these events. Much as I try and convey both in text and in pictures, I don’t believe I’ve yet captured the experience that takes place at one of these things. Ya’ have to bee there. And with that, I’ll leave you for now.
Thanks for stoppin’ by.Again, please check out the rest of the photos at THIS LINK.
I ventured out to test / try and repair some problems I’ve been having with one of my cameras. I went to one of my favorite nature places – Lake Louisa State Park here in Central Florida. In the past, I’ve been able to capture (in pictures) great wildlife such as deer, eagles, osprey, gators and more. But today was just one of those days that kinda reminded me of an old John Denver song, “Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stone.” Today, all I was able to capture on the nature trails and/or by the lakes were these little critters.
Not a bad thing I guess. But I probably could’ve poked my head out my front door and captured similar :).
It was late September, 2003. I was still a Walt Disney World Cast Member. My role at the time was documentation photographer for various Administrative Business Units. I was based out of The Magic Kingdom Park at the time. I had just received direction from a few of my Administrative and Executive Leaders to come in after park closing for a few select few upcoming nights and ‘scout out’ this new Night Time Spectacular pyrotechnics show – something they were calling, “Wishes.” The show was described to me and others as ‘A Stage In The Sky Show’. Sounded interesting but I couldn’t get my head around what they meant…. until I saw the first testing of it a few nights later. HOLY COW! It really was like a show presented on this ‘stage’ in the sky. Additionally, the 12 minute presentation told a story from beginning to end. Truly unbelievable! I’d never seen anything like this kind of fireworks display in my life. Now the problem or challenge (and I do mean CHALLENGE) was going to be how the heck to shoot this thing and have my photos tell a story and/or convey the emotion the show had within itself.
I proposed a plan to my leaders that would encompass several nights of yours truly shooting the show in order to piece it together in the end. Reason being – photographically speaking – the change in the intensity and duration of the various pyrotechnics could never be captured in one single night of shooting. They agreed with no objection. So ….. I set out on the first full debut of this new show (October 9, 2003) and figure I’d have it in about 4-5 nights of shooting. I couldn’t have been more wrong! 🙁
To accurately and artistically capture this show, it took me (get this) about 4 weeks of shooting every night that I was working (so 5 nights a week times 4 weeks – about 20 nights of shooting). Granted, I AM my own worst critic, so maybe I could’ve had it in a little less time. But after 4 weeks of shooting this beautiful new show, I had it!!!
As “Wishes” bids a fond farewell tomorrow night (May 12th, 2017) after just short of a 14 year run, many Guests, Cast Members and myself have fond memories of this classic Disney show. But for me, it had a different & special meaning. “Wishes” was the night time pyrotechnics show that literally taught me how to be an expert (self proclaimed lol) on shooting fireworks, not just at The Magic Kingdom Park bit at any Disney Park or venue anywhere! Even today when I go to shoot any fireworks show, as I set up my cameras (yes, I usually use two cameras when I’m shooting any fireworks show), I automatically think back to the settings, lessons and mistakes I made 14 years earlier while learning to shoot “Wishes.”
I’m excited to see the new show that will replace “Wishes.” But to me, it’s kind of like when you graduate high school: All those lessons and memories learned along the way will now take a back seat as my career (and life) continue in the only direction possible: FORWARD! Thanks to the designers, Imagineers, Technicians, Disney Entertainment Cast and so many more for making a never ending memory in all of our hearts including mine!
Oh by the way – all of these pictures herein this blog post were shot by yours truly. But on my own time. The Walt Disney Company has all those shots from the 4 weeks of shooting (and more). But I loved the show so much I used to come over and shoot it just for my own personal use or memories. Thought it was finally a good time to share some of these shots as the show leaves.
(click the link at the bottom / end of this post for 40 more beautiful, heartwarming photos)
Where do I begin? Well, anyone that knows my other career and life’s passion (that being music, writing, performing) – specifically those that have been able to catch my live concerts between 1992 through 2016 have seen the segment in the show dedicated to America, it’s heritage and history and most of all, The United States Military. This has always been a soft spot with me dating back to when I was a youngster, though I may not have been able to recognize it or put it into words at such an early age. But in retrospect, the heartfelt passion began way back then.
Skip ahead and enter present day. I learned of something called, “Honor Flight,” a few years back. Basically, they are a large, high class volunteer organization that puts together and executes these trips / flights to the World War II and other Memorials in Washington, D.C. As I’m told, the whole thing originated just after the construction & completion of the WW II Memorial. The plan was (and still is) to take as many WW II Veterans up to see the Memorial as a thank you & recognition for their service – a service which a lot of folks felt they never truly were given their just appreciation for.
Currently, Honor Flight also transports other Veterans (such as Korean Vets and Vietnam Vets) on the trips to D.C. as well. The tradition of welcoming the Veterans home as they returned from the trip(s) to Washington at the end of their respective day has grown in numbers over the last several years. I’ve always wanted to do my (small) part in welcoming those Veterans home at whatever airport they were arriving. Tonight, Saturday May 6th, 2017, I finally got my wish as I had a Saturday night off and had the honor and privilege of attending one of these Welcome Home events at Orlando International Airport.
The outpouring of love, affection and respect from everyone who came to welcome these guys and gals home goes beyond words of any language! My best ‘guesstimate’ is that there 300-350 people in attendance. Additionally, I noticed lots of folks who were just traveling or passing by stop and pay tribute as well. Most folks were all smiles and clapping etc… But even within that group of people, the tears I saw running down people’s’ faces was overwhelming. Almost too much for this old flag waiving, American Patriot. Ever try and shoot photos looking through the eye piece of a camera with your eyes ‘drooling’? Try it sometime. It’ll change your perspective on so many things in life 😉 .
Thanks to OIA, Jet Blue, the local TSA folks and of course the Honor Flight personnel, I got to witness and be a part of one of THEE most enjoyable, heartwarming, emotional events I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life!!!!!!! The pictures I was able to capture below do it all some justice. I tried to capture as much story & emotion as possible. But nothing will ever beat being there in person. And I’ll say right here, if you ever had a desire to do something – ANYTHING – to show your appreciation in honoring and thanking the people that gave you the freedoms you have here in this still great country, you should seriously think about coming out to one of these events. They happen pretty regularly all around the country, not just Orlando.
Please enjoy and take to heart the story of what these photographs are saying. The story contained within shows that even though there’s still of kinds of varying opinions on Government, the leaders & politicians in America, these people have found the way to rise above all that and make a positive statement recognizing what these great folks have done for The United States over decades of time. It’s a wonderful place to be and you’ll walk away feeling like a million bucks. And it really takes so little on your part when you measure it all up.
Thanks for stopping by and reading this. Hope I, and of course the folks in these pictures were able to tap into your emotions and maybe make you consider coming out to an Honor Flight event. Or at the very least, make you wanna’ go thank a Veteran.
To view about 40 additional photos from yours truly of this event, please clickHERE.
Peace – and THANK YOU at all you Veterans I met Saturday night as well as every other Veteran for your services. Please believe and trust me when I say, “You’re not, nor will you ever be forgotten!”
I’ve posted about this place in the past. But due to a new and upcoming partnership between yours truly and Bok Tower Gardens (more on that in the near future), I decided to visit and capture some new photographs of this beautiful haven!
Bok Tower Gardens is located on some ‘Florida Backroads’ in Lake Wales, Florida (about an hour south of Orlando, FL +/-). It’s a 250 acre National Landmark consisting of a 205 foot (singing) tower, beautiful grounds & gardens, 126 different species of birds plus other wildlife, Pinewood Estates and so much more. Bok Tower Gardens also houses a massive Welcome Center with all kinds of hands on history and heritage that tells the story of where Bok Tower Gardens came from as well as some Florida historical information. Additionally, there’s both a Gift Shop and Cafe’.
I’ve been a Bok Tower Gardens Supporting Member spanning many years. Last Thursday (April 6th, 2017), I made a visit to renew my membership (once a year for those wondering). I couldn’t have gotten much luckier as far as weather and timing goes. It was about 72 degrees, no humidity with a strong breeze blowing. It was also approaching magic hour – that time around sunset before dusk that produces long shadows, warm lighting – a scenic & landscape photographers’ dream!
Below is a series of pictures from my visit that shows off pretty much what you can feel and experience visiting Bok Tower Gardens. I know – I sound like an ad for the place :). But I swear all I’m trying to do is share the beauty, tranquility and sanctity of Bok Tower Gardens. Places like this are becoming very few and far between here in Florida, believe me! So much so that my main purpose & passion for my heart felt photography is to showcase, highlight and preserve that which is unfortunately becoming the exception rather than the norm – especially here in ‘The Sunshine State’.