Honor Flight: Space Coast Florida Chapter – Saturday, May 20th, 2017

honor flight, military, veterans, ww ii, world war ii, korean war, vietnam

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.

honor flight, veterans, military, ww ii, world war ii, korean war, vietnam

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.

Peace – Mike T.

Somedays, Ya’ Just Get Squirrels

nature, wiuldlife, squirrels, lake louisa state park, florida

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.

squirrels, nature, wildlife, lake louisa state park, florida

Not a bad thing I guess. But I probably could’ve poked my head out my front door and captured similar :).

Peace – Mike T.

“Wishes” – Farewell Old Friend

disney, disney world, walt disney, wishes, fireworks, pyrotechnics, wishes, magic kingdom
photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

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.

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

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! 🙁

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

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!!!

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

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.”

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

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.

Peace – Mike T.

“Honor Flight”- An Outpouring Of Love & Respect At Orlando International Airport – May 6th, 2017

america, united states, military, army, air force, marines, navy, coast guard, americana, ww ii, Korean war, Vietnam

(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.

america, united states, military, army, air force, marines, navy, coast guard, americana, ww ii, Korean war, Vietnam

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.

america, united states, military, army, air force, marines, navy, coast guard, americana, ww ii, Korean war, Vietnam

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.

america, united states, military, army, air force, marines, navy, coast guard, americana, ww ii, Korean war, Vietnam

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.

america, united states, military, army, air force, marines, navy, coast guard, americana, ww ii, Korean war, Vietnam

 

To view about 40 additional photos from yours truly of this event, please click HERE.

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!”

See y’all at the next Honor Flight! – Mike T.

Florida Backroads: Bok Tower Gardens

bok tower gardens, lake wales florida, theme parks, attractions, nature, wildlife, citrus, oranges, orange groves, carilon, singing tower, pinewood estates, national landmarks, historical landmarks

(see gallery below)

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’.

Peace – Mike T.

(click to enlarge – then click AGAIN)

The Old Man And The Sea

fish, fisherman, atlantic ocean, pier, sort, water, wildlife, nature

No, not the famous old movie with Spencer Tracy. But rather, this picture I captured at a pier overlooking part of the Atlantic Coastline with this guy casting a few lines did remind me of that movie. Well, because I loved fishing as a kid with almost my entire family (they were all from the Maritimes up in Canada (Nova Scotia to be exact)), every time I see a scene like this, it’s impossible not to think back and reminisce about my youth and my great family. When they (my family) migrated down here to the states in the 1950’s, I came along some years after. Hence, growing up as a kid in New England, fishing was as much a favorite past time for myself and my family as baseball is known to be most of America. I can’t tell you the number of stories & tales of the sea I was put to sleep by. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Makes me wonder how many sea stories this ole` fisherman has to tell?

Peace – Mike T.

“Rivers Of Light”- New At Walt Disney World

We Are One” – The main thread through the new show, “Rivers Of Light” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

After decades of seeing all kinds of extravagant shows at Walt Disney World, I really didn’t know exactly what to expect of this latest new show at Animal Kingdom. I’d seen bits & pieces of it online via YouTube videos and similar. I’d also read varying accounts and reviews about the show.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

I headed over to DAK (“Disney’s Animal Kingdom”) with a few cameras and 2-3 lenses in tow. I’d asked a few Cast Member friends of mine where would be the best, most accessible spot to view and shoot from. They suggested the Asia bridge (they were right by the way). There IS a whole new theater (similar to but smaller than the amphitheater at Fantastic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). But I didn’t wanna be a pest to other guests with all my equipment. I also wouldn’t be guaranteed a front row center seat needed to do the type of photographing I wanted to do.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

Cut to the show. This particular show has no pyrotechnics due to the animals being in residence at the park and within close proximity to the show area. The whole performance is done via light, music, water and sensory effects (wild animal and nature sound effects etc…). The show is also not the usual whiz, bang, light up the sky type presentation. BUT –  what it is – is a beautiful, peaceful show with just enough energy so that it doesn’t fall short of all encompassing artistic beauty. The storytelling narration combined with the different music segments blend perfectly with what’s happening on the water and up in the trees (yes, up in the trees – with exquisite lighting effects). There’s also a ‘water screen’ where projections of various birds and animals give the show an additional dimension for sure. FYI – the music score is all original created just for the show. Its creator is the same person who did the music score for the movie, “Brother Bear.”

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

 

All the floats / barges in the water are controlled via GPS remote Control. No cables. No wires. No drivers. The creatures depicted on the floats (see photos herein this blog post) change colors and also match the ‘scene’ happening around them at the time.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

Bottom line, this is a must see! If you hear from people that ‘there’s no story line’ or ‘it lacks pizzaz’, pay not attention. This show is NOT supposed to have all that pizzaz, fireworks, lasers etc… It’s a peaceful reminder that we are all one. We are all connected and that we must all work together as stewards of planet earth. Remember, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was created and built to deliver this type of message. DAK sort of became a theme park by default and some demand. But it IS all about life and the need for communion between all living things. “Rivers Of Light” manages to give all visitors a final reminder and message before they leave this park that ‘We Are One’ to hopefully make a difference and instill this important philosophy within the heart and soul upon departure.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

Last but not least, a HUGE congratulations and recognition to any and all persons who had anything to do with the creation of Rivers Of Light! Not only did y’all do an above and beyond excellent job, you managed to take and stir up a little Disney of old – you made learning entertaining. That was one of Walt Disney’s methods of mixing education with entertainment making it fun, interesting and for folks of all ages. Kudos!

Peace – Mike T.

Magic And Memories: Some Wild Sightings

There are so many pictures I shot at Disney’s Animal Kingdom while I was there these last few days I couldn’t just let them sit there and do nothing. So here are a few more shots I captured while strolling the park waiting to shoot the new nighttime spectacular, “Rivers Of Light” (a blog post on that one coming soon as well). The pictures speak for themselves. But I thought it might be a little humorous to add a caption or two ;). Enjoy!

bird, exotic birds, parrot, disney, animal kingdom, disney world, florida
“Do you really think I don’t see you? PA-LEEEEZE!”

 

timone, disney, near cat, animal kingdom, disney
“Pumba? Ehhhh, Pumba?”
gorilla, monkey, ape, disney, animal kingdom, nature, wild animals
“Hmmm? What shall I have for dinner?”
ape, monkey, gorilla, disney, animal kingdom, nature, wild life, wild animals
“Human, if you don’t put that camera down, I’ll have YOU for dinner!”
disney, animal kingdom, cow, sheep, wild animals, nature, wildlife
“How can you ignore this face … feed me. Please?”

Peace – Mike T.

 

Magic And Memories: Details, Details, Details

disney, animal kingdom, tree of life, florida, theme parks, details, tough to be a bug, bugs life

I, myself, used to be guilty of overlooking a lot of the hidden treasures and beauty at The Walt Disney World Theme Parks. Even after sooooooo many years at the parks, I still manage to miss, and then fortunately realize some of that beauty undiscovered. Here’s a prime example in a photo I captured the other day while strolling through Disney’s Animal Kingdom waiting to shoot the new, “Rivers Of Light” nighttime spectacular (a blog post on that coming very soon). On the west side (+/-) of The Tree Of Life, these carved details are for the most part over shadowed by the majesty of the tree itself. But just look close at the fine detailing embedded within the trunk portion of The Tree Of Life. Beautiful!

Peace – Mike T.

Along The Nature Trail

bird, wildlife, nature,serenity, peace, outdoors, woods, nature trail

Today was one of those rare not too hot / not too cool sunny days in Florida. Hence, I ventured out on one of my favorite nature trails in a woodsy area of Central Florida. It was beautifully peaceful. Couldn’t even hear a car I was so far into the woods. But then I DID hear a bird. Not being heavy into ornithology (what a big word, huh? lol), I had no clue what I was listening to. Nor can I tell you what kind of bird it is in the photograph I captured herein this post. But he / she was gorgeous and sang like a … well … like a bird :).

Peace – Mike T.

Disney Deer

deer, bambi, wildlife, herd, disney, fort wilderness, nature

So the plan for today was to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to see the new, “Rivers Of Light” show. However, in the 19 years that Animal Kingdom has been there, I’ve NEVER seen the parking lot so full. Every single section of the lot was 100% full. And I’m told that they eventually had to close due to capacity. Soooooo – I really didn’t have any other plans and didn’t have any more work to do shooting The Festival Of The Arts at Epcot. Henceforth, I began the track back home. This time I decided I’d exit off the property on the road that passes in front of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

deer, bambi, nature, disney, herd, wildlife

Well there on the opposite side of the road was a herd of deer grazing on the grass in the gorgeous magic hour golden sunset light. Here are a few examples of what I was able to shoot, once again testing out one of my new telephoto lenses.

Peace – Mike T.

Street Photography: Murals – Downtown Orlando

street photography, street art, murals, orlando, downtown orlando, art

I had reason to be downtown Orlando in the Mills Avenue area today.

street photography, street art, murals, orlando, downtown orlando, mills ave ornaod

While waiting for a repair, I strolled the streets a bit. Came across this cool street mural on the side of an old building. No idea really what the artist(s) was trying to convey – if anything. But obviously whomever did this creation definitely does have some talent.

street photography, street art, murals, orlando, downtown orlando

Enjoy!

Peace – Mike T.