Explosions in the Sky: Making Pictures of Pyrotechnics

This past October I participated in the portfolio review at the PDN PhotoPlus Expo in New York. Over the course of two days, I met individually with 17 photographers and saw a range of work covering adventure and travel, fine art, documentary photography, and more, all in less than 48 hours.

Kevin Kunstadt’s work stood out to me in particular. He showed pictures from apersonal project on the Iowa Thunderstorm—a small fireworks convention in Mason City, Iowa. I was drawn to the cinematic quality of his images and how he captured both the eye-grabbing pyrotechnic spectacles and the more subtle moments illustrating the curious characters of the convention-goers themselves.

I asked Kevin a few questions about his project for Proof. Our conversation is below. —Ben Fitch, associate photo editor, National Geographic Traveler

Picture of Open C Shooting. (Firecrackers). Pyrotechnics Guild International 2014 Convention, aka, "Iowa Thunderstorm 2014.” Mason City, Iowa.
Open C Shooting (firecrackers). Pyrotechnics Guild International 2014 Convention, aka Iowa Thunderstorm 2014. Mason City, Iowa.

BEN FITCH: What first interested you about this story?

KEVIN KUNSTADT: I came across a listing for “Pyrotechnics Guild International, Annual Convention, Mason City, Iowa,” in a magazine. I hadn’t heard of it, but was intrigued. I found a few images of prior conventions, and I was pretty much hooked. It just looked insane!

At the time, I had been working on a project photographing airplanes at night. So from a purely technical standpoint, it was a natural progression to go from shooting airplanes at night to [shooting] fireworks at night.

Picture of Strobe rockets, as seen from N. Hoover Ave., Mason City, Iowa.
Strobe rockets, as seen from N. Hoover Ave., Mason City.

BEN: Tell me a bit about Thunderstorm itself. What makes it interesting to you?

KEVIN: I think it is a combination of a few different things. There’s the aspect of the spectacle—obviously that’s what many people enjoy about fireworks, and I wouldn’t exclude myself from that group. The Iowa Thunderstorm is spectacle at a very high level and you can’t help but enjoy it.

Beyond that, there are a lot of parallels between photography and pyrotechnics, and it seems natural to me to use one to document the other.

The explosive chemical reaction (pyro) is an audio/visual manifestation of a moment of transformation—of chemical elements turning into light and sound and smoke and heat. It’s beautifully cyclical that this moment of transformation is also the moment that I am triggering the camera shutter and initiating another chemical transformation—that of light onto the film emulsion.

Picture of Car explosion seminar. (left) C-Class sales. (right)
Car explosion seminar (left). C-class sales (right).

BEN: Was it hard to gain access to any of the events?

KEVIN: In order to gain access to the convention I had to become a member of the Pyrotechnics Guild (and pay the dues). And I signed a safety waiver. After that it was up to me in terms of how close I could get. There were also a few areas cordoned off that I could not bring an electronic flash into, due to the risks of igniting highly flammable materials.

Picture of Ned Gorski's Widmann Automated Shell Paster (W.A.S.P.).
Ned Gorski’s Widmann Automated Shell Paster (W.A.S.P.).

BEN: Why did you choose to photograph this project in film rather than digitally?

KEVIN: I use film for a lot of my personal projects because it forces me to work in a more limited and focused way. For this project I wanted the ability to shoot long exposures in low light, and to shoot multiple exposures on the same plate. In my experience, film is still preferable in these kinds of situations, as many CCD/CMOS sensors can heat up over the course of a long exposure and introduce noise.

Picture of Food vendor with grandstands and evening displays.
Food vendor with grandstands and evening displays.

BEN: You’ve often made the fireworks a background element to a quieter scene, such as the backyard of a home or a cornfield. Did you scout these locations in advance, or were you moving throughout the night making images as you saw them?

KEVIN: It was a mix of both. It was predominantly cornfields in every direction outside of the convention grounds, so I was really excited to find these moments where there was something like the “perfect” suburban housing development with a glowing American flag in the window that I could use as a foreground element to frame fireworks rockets behind it. Most of the larger displays were scheduled, so I could search for angles and compositions that I could use later on. I used a lot of my time during the day to do this before it got dark.

Picture of 275th Street, Mason City, Iowa (left.) The "Green Man" (right.)
275th Street, Mason City, Iowa (left). The “green man” (right).

BEN: How do the sporadic lighting conditions involved with photographing fireworks impact your process?

KEVIN: They were really challenging! It was not just the lighting, but sporadic shock waves from some of the larger shells would actually shake my whole camera. The first time that that happened I was terrified. I developed a few techniques that worked pretty well, often involving exposing the foreground and the background of a picture separately to compensate for the drastically different intensities of light.

That said, there was definitely an element of chance involved, and I enjoyed that. Since I was photographing on film I had no idea what many of the negatives had recorded until I developed them. You could say the moment of development was just as exciting as the moment of capture, in that both were surprising.

Picture of Evening Displays.
Evening displays

BEN: The juxtaposition between this rural Iowa town and the over-the-top elaborate fireworks display is especially interesting. Is this project for you more about the fireworks themselves, or the people and town that host the event? Or are they equally balanced?

KEVIN: Yes, absolutely! I love these juxtapositions and I was definitely searching them out. The location in the pictures are often distinctly American, or at least have a certain air of Americana about them: pickup trucks, the fairground, cornfields, tract housing, etc. You might say the fireworks are a device that allow me to look at these other more mundane (and often photographically cliché) landscapes in a literally new light.


View more of Kevin Kunstadt’s work at www.kevinkunstadt.com and follow him on Instagram at @TOOMANYPHOTOSINTHEWORLD.

via http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/02/explosions-in-the-sky-making-pictures-of-pyrotechnics/

The Truths You Didn’t Know About Superfood

Who wouldn’t want to believe in the concept of “superfoods”? The idea that the vast expanse of nature has secret nutritional resources that can easily help us with a number of ailments if only they can be discovered and harvested, is definitely enticing.

It certainly seems like we’ve just been blind to treasure troves of exotic berries, nuts, and grains when these popular superfoods were unknown to the West until now. Açaí berries, for example, only gained fame outside of Brazil within the last decade.

It’s often their otherness that makes these foods so appealing. Quinoa, particularly popular among vegetarians and vegans, does indeed provide a decent protein source – but then again, so do many common beans and nut varieties.

Açaí berries and goji berries are packed with phytochemicals, a plant compound which does seem to have a positive effect on a person’s chances of heart disease and brain deterioration. That sounds fancy, except regular old blueberries and strawberries have lots of phytochemicals too.

Other claims about these foods, such as aphrodisiac abilities, protection against premature aging or metabolism boosters, have been falsely advertised to millions of consumers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reprimanded superfood product manufacturers for making unsubstantiated health claims in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Consider this informative infographic on superfoods and maybe think twice about buying that goji berry powder.



via http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/the-truths-you-didnt-know-about-superfood.html

10 Reasons You Should Meditate Every Day

10 Reasons You Should Meditate Every Day


I have been meditating seriously for a little over a year now, and I can genuinely say that it has changed my life for the better. No, I have not reached enlightenment or experienced some coveted cathartic state, but I have learned how to be more mindful through meditation.

I have learned how to better understand my internal self, and observe how it coincides with my external self. I have learned (in most situations) how to be more passive and thoughtful as opposed to more aggressive and irrational.

Quite frankly, meditation has taught me a lot, and I believe it can teach others a lot as well. It is more than sitting in an awkward position and chanting.

Meditation is about becoming one with your mind, and learning something about yourself that you may not have known before you undertook the practice of meditation. Your practice can be as long or as short as you would like, but try to take the time to meditate every day.

You will be thrilled with the results, and we’ve put together 10 reasons meditation should be on your list of new hobbies to undertake.

1. You will become more mindful and aware

Being mindful means that you are more aware of your thoughts and your actions in general. Unless you are in a heightened state of awareness, you can’t observe your thoughts rationally.

Perhaps your thoughts take you on a wild ride throughout your day, dragging you along. It is time to get off that ride and undoubtedly determine which thoughts are truthful and which thoughts are just bollocks.

Meditation offers you the time to reflect on your thoughts and focus mainly on your breathing or some other aspect of your being. It gives you the awareness to refocus your mind on the present moment, as opposed to the past of the future.

This kind of awareness is a useful skill as you progress through your everyday life.

2. It can decrease unnecessary stress

You experience stress just like everyone else. Some stress is unavoidable, and therefore, not so toxic. Too much stress can be unhealthy and damaging if you are unable to combat it.

Meditation is a quiet time you should dedicate to yourself every day. Use deep inhales and exhales to refocus your attention on being in the moment.

The stress isn’t going to go away automatically but you will observe a transformation in the amount of stress you accumulate. Simply closing your eyes and steadily breathing has a tremendous effect, especially when you acknowledge stressful situations arising.

3. You will gain more control over your emotions

You don’t really want to abdicate all your power to emotions, do you? I think it is safe to say that, like most people, you desire more control over your emotions.

When you are happy, you want to express those emotions freely. At the same time, you may want to express emotions of anger, sadness, and grief, but under your own control. You have the right to express any emotion you want as long as you are in control of the feeling or emotion.

Too often people lose control over their emotions and they simply accept it. Don’t allow the various archetypes of your mind to seize power of your emotions. Learn how to react skillfully in stressful situations by taking the time to simply observe what the mind is doing.

Meditation gives you the opportunity to do this. The more you meditate, the more you will notice the thoughts and actions that trigger the emotions you might not find desirable.

Unless you make the effort to observe your thoughts and attempt to understand what the mind is doing, you are never going to learn about your inner self. Simply believing every thought that pops in your head and living under your mind’s umbrella is not constructive.

4. You will likely make better life decisions

As you gain more awareness of your thoughts, actions, and emotions, you will notice that you make better decisions. Instead of merely reacting to adverse situations, you will obtain a more useful comprehension of what’s going on in your mind.

This comprehension arms you with the skills to think before you act and therefore make purposeful decisions.

5. It can help you slow down the pace you live your life

Unless you enjoy living at an extremely fast pace, you are going to want to slow down and enjoy living. Meditation arms you with the ability to take life gradually.

Life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Don’t rush through it and miss out on things you are going to regret later. Slow down your mind first, and then everything else will follow suit.

6. You can learn a useful new skill

If nothing else, you will learn something new through meditation. Meditation is a skill, and like any skill, it takes much practice and concentration. It is always beneficial to introduce more useful skills into your life.

The first time you learned how to read and write was advantageous for your academic development. Learning how to meditate is useful for the development of your mind.

It is not a competition. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You simply can’t fail at meditating. If you are on the fence about trying it, realize that you have absolutely nothing to lose.

It is not a religious technique that only Buddhists or Hindus practice, but rather it is a life technique than can only help you prosper in life.

7. You can experience more well-being

Who doesn’t want to be happier and feel more contentment with life? Meditating consistently is a great way to open up your eyes to your life, and really experience all that life has to offer.

It will help you appreciate life more and feel more connected with the word you live in.

8. It is free

This might be the alluring reason of all. It won’t cost you a cent, and you can do it from the comfort of your home too, so why not give it a try?

9. You can do it anywhere

Find a place that is comfortable for you to meditate. Some people use a quiet space at home or in the office. Churches are a great place to meditate because they are typically quiet and empty.

You can meditate outside in nature as well. Look for a place that is inviting and calm and make that your spot.

10. It works

I wouldn’t be imploring you to meditate if I didn’t believe that it works. There is a ton of science behind the benefits of meditation. It is proven that long-term meditation practitioners are more adept to dealing with the ebbs and flows of life.

The time between thoughts gradually increases as you meditate which invites the opportunity for you to consider your thoughts more carefully and, perhaps, rationally. The physical benefits of meditation include decreased blood pressure and lower levels of anxiety, as well as an overall healthier immune system.

Besides the mental benefits, meditation has the capability to broaden your consciousness, which in turn will grant you the ability to understand your feelings and thoughts more. And the more conscious you become through meditation, the more control you are going to have over your emotions, and the more likely you are to choose to live happily.

via http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-reasons-you-should-meditate-every-day.html

7 Scientific Self-Help Books That Will Transform Your Life

I’m one of those weirdos that prefers reading non-fiction books over fiction books any day of the week — especially when it comes to books about leadership, success and self-help. It’s just my thing. My library is filled with books on how to build and sustain the habits necessary to live the happiest,healthiest, and wealthiest way of life I’m capable of living. And I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that reading these self-help books over the years has definitely transformed my life for the better… But you know what? Every now and then, I’d find myself in the middle of reading one of these books only to realize that it’s filled with nothing more than a bunch of pseudo-science mumbo jumbo disguised as the truth.

And quite frankly, I found this incredibly disturbing. Which is why I decided to put together this list of the 7 scientific self-help books that you can use to transform your life without worrying about whether what you’re reading is fact or fiction. Every book on this list contains information that is researched extensively and exhaustively beyond that of most every other book in the self-help genre. So, are you ready? Let’s dive in.

#1. Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz


The original scientific self-help book, written by a plastic surgeon who decided that he wanted to go deeper than aesthetics — he wanted to change people’s lives from the inside-out. Pick this one up for a primer on self-image psychology. Buy the book here.

#2. Waking Up by Sam Harris


If you’re curious about spirituality, but prefer not to attach your identity to any specific set of religious beliefs, then the scientific approach to spirituality set forth by neuroscientist Sam Harris in Waking Up could be just what you’ve been looking for. Buy the book here.

#3. The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz


The big idea behind this book is that our approach to stress management is all wrong — it’s not about managing our time – it’s about managing our energy. Once we can do that, we can begin finding the balance we seek both at work and at home. Buy the book here.

#4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey


No list self-improvement books of any kind is complete without The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you had to choose just one single book to dramatically shift your personal development, this is the one you need to go with. Period. Buy the book here.

#5. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

The One Thing Cover

The ONE Thing is a book for anyone who needs crystal clear clarity on how to set and get goals. This book tells us that simplicity is the real secret to success, and it’s got the science to back it up. Buy the book here.

#6. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


This is a book about the science and psychology of “optimal experience” (translation: how to live the happiest, most enjoyable and fulfilling life possible). If you’re interested in learning about how it feels to use your greatest gifts, skills, and passions in a way that only YOU are capable of using them – then read this book.

#7. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


In The Power of Habit, you’ll learn the in’s and out’s of habit-formation. In the book, author Charles Duhigg has sifted through the science and busted many commonly-held myths about habit-formation so that all you’re left with are actionable frameworks that you can put to use immediately to help you build lasting habits, and break bad ones. Buy the book here.

Which book will you read first?

Now that you’ve got this list of 7 scientific self-help books — there’s only one question left… Which one do you read first? Should you go out and get all of them immediately? Should you read them all at once? So many options. So little time. Ultimately, it’s totally your decision what you do with this list and how you apply it to your life and career. But if I may, here’s what I would suggest you consider as you get started:

  • Subscribe to a book summary site, like FlashNotes Book Summaries to get the key-takeaways from the books on this list.
  • If you’d prefer to read an entire book, I would highly suggest that you read just ONE book at a time. Sometimes, when we see something new and exciting, we have tendency to want to do/learn/read it all at once… and as we all know, this is nearly impossible to do without stressing ourselves out. So, choose a book. And then commit to reading it from start to finish.
  • If you’re in a rush, try Audio books, or Audible Book Summaries.
  • Finally, if you’re in a super rush, checkout some YouTube video book summaries, like this one.

via http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/7-scientific-self-help-books-that-will-transform-your-life.html

New Details about Rolls-Royce’s SUV, Will Be Almost as Long as the Phantom

Rolls-Royce’s recenty-confirmed SUV will be built under the codename Cullinan, a reference to the largest gem-quality diamond ever found. Discovered in South Africa in 1905, the Cullinan diamond is now mounted on Queen Elizabeth II’s sceptre as part of the Crown Jewels.

However, Rolls-Royce’s first SUV is expected to use a different name when it reaches production in 2017. “I am proud to confirm that we are developing an all-new, high-bodied Rolls-Royce. I’m confident it will deliver on our brand’s promise of supreme luxury while being effortless everywhere,” Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös toldAutocar.

The Rolls-Royce 4×4 is expected to add as many as 1,500 units to the brand’s annual volume, which last year exceeded 4,000 units for the first time. Still, volume will not be the most important thing – exclusivity will. The new Rolls-Royce 4×4 will be probably the biggest luxury SUV on offer, almost as long as a Phantom!

Pricing will also be at the upper end of the scale, with reports indicating a starting price of around £250,000 to £280,000. If bespoke equipment and décor are added, prices can even double.

The new model will be based on an all-new aluminum architecture that will likely be similar to the Phantom’s spaceframe and will be used by all future Rolls-Royce models. Having a bespoke chassis is an important advantage over less expensive luxury cars such as the Bentley lineup and the new Mercedes-Maybach models, which are steel monocoques and are related to volume models.

As for the engine, the new 4×4 is likely to receive a modified version of the Phantom’s 6.8-litre V12. However, a plug-in hybrid powertrain is also considered. Diesel versions were dismissed because the fuel is not easily available in luxury markets such as China, the United States and the Middle East.

via http://www.carscoops.com/2015/03/new-details-about-rolls-royces-suv-will.html

Skillet Sweet Potato Chicken Hash with Eggs

Skillet Sweet Potato Chicken Hash with Eggs – perfect for breakfast, brunch or lunch!

If you want a substantial breakfast, Sunday brunch or even lunch this is a great tasting dish! The sweet potatoes are savory, sauteed with onions and thyme and tossed with leftover diced chicken with eggs. Perfect for Sunday brunch or a light dinner.

Top it with a few dashes of Sriracha and it’s over-the-top good!

Skillet Sweet Potato Chicken Hash with Eggs – perfect for breakfast, brunch or lunch!

Skillet Sweet Potato Chicken Hash with Eggs
Servings: 4 • Size: 1/4  • Old Points: 6 pts • Weight Watcher Points+: 7 pt
Calories: 265 • Fat: 10 g • Carb: 18 g • Fiber: 3 g • Protein: 25 g • Sugar: 3 g
Sodium: 328 mg  • Cholest: 222 mg


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 10 ounces peeled sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tsp fresh or 3/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 8 oz leftover rotisserie chicken breast, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped chives


Heat a 10-inch nonstick oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and onions to the pan and cook until the onions are golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and thyme, season with 3/4 teaspoon salt, garlic powder, paprika and pinch of black pepper and stir to combine. Add 2 to 3 tbsp water, cover and cook the sweet potatoes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp and tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. Add the chopped chicken to the skillet and cook 2 minutes, uncovered.


Make 4 wide wells in the hash. Crack 1 egg into each well and season with salt and pepper and cover. Cook until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny, about 5 to 7 minutes. Top with fresh herbs.

via http://www.skinnytaste.com/2015/03/skillet-sweet-potato-chicken-hash-with.html

5 IFTTT recipes to share Instagram pics like a boss

If you’re a dedicated Instagram user, you need to check out the many ways IFTTT can help you share your images.

There are hundreds of recipes available, as well as the option to create your own. From posting an image to Twitter (without it just showing up as a link) to automatically uploading pics to a Facebook album, the possibilities are endless.

To get you started, we take a look at five time-saving sharing options below.

This is a really handy recipe for Twitter users. It shares your Instagram photos to the your Twitter timeline as an actual image, not just a URL.

Here’s a great way to backup and share your Instagram images. Create a Google Drive folder and add this recipe to save all of your Instagram uploads in Drive, and share with anyone with access.

Do you often post your Instagram pics to Tumblr? Then this recipe will automate that process for you with some clever tags.

If you’d like to share your Instagram images to Facebook, this is a good option. You can create a Facebook album for your Instagram pics and upload them automatically.

Finally, if you’d like to share your Instagram images via Gmail, this recipe can help, especially to share with friends and family who might not have an Instagram account.

via http://mashable.com/2015/03/07/instagram-ifttt-recipes/

Ways to Make the Switch to Daylight Saving Time Less Miserable

Ways to Make the Switch to Daylight Saving Time Less Miserable

You’ve made it through the endless winter of 2014-15 (almost), and spring is around the corner. The first signpost of the new season arrives in the wee hours of Sunday, March 8, when most of us turn our clocks ahead one hour to inaugurate Daylight Savings Time.

But “springing forward,” as fun as it sounds, isn”t all it’s cracked up to be, according to sleep specialist and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD. “Most people actually have a harder time adjusting when we ‘spring forward,’ because we’re losing an hour of sleep,” Breus says. And those of us who are already chronically sleep deprived can’t afford to lose any more. In fact, a survey released this week from the National Sleep Foundation found that, on average, Americans report a sleep debt of about 26 minutes on workdays (that’s the gap between how much shut-eye people say they need and how much they actually get).

But, thankfully, there are steps you can take to make the time change more bearable.



Start by dialing back your bedtime

“If you’re among the many Americans who are sleep deprived, it probably won’t be difficult for you to fall asleep at the new time,” Breus says. Just be sure to set your clock ahead before going to sleep on Saturday, March 7. “That way, seeing the lost hour up front will motivate you to go to bed earlier.” Waiting to change your clocks the next morning and watching that hour disappear can feel like a loss, says Breus.

If you’re among the only marginally sleep deprived, or if you have generally good sleep habits, you can get yourself in gear by pulling back your bedtime incrementally before the time change. “On the Wednesday before the time change, go to bed 15 minutes earlier,” Breus suggests. “On Thursday, go to bed another 15 minutes earlier, and another 15 the next two nights so that by Saturday, you’re going to bed an hour early.”

The time change disruption is worse for kids, for whom regular bed times and consistent habits are especially important. “If they get to stay up until 11pm on Friday night, make it 10pm,” says Breus. “Since they’re losing the hour, they need to go to bed earlier.” It’ll pay off come school day.


Avoid certain drinks this weekend

You already know that limiting your alcohol intake is generally a smart move, and this weekend in particular, Breus advises capping your nightcap. “Even though alcohol makes you feel sleepy, it prevents you from reaching those all-important deeper stages of sleep. So if you’re already going to be losing an hour of sleep, the last thing you need is poorer quality sleep.” Abstaining may make for less fun on the weekend, but will help you get back in the swing on Monday.

Breus also suggests going easy on the caffeine. If you feel like that cuppa Joe is necessary to jump-start your acclimation, just be sure to stop sipping by 2pm so as not to interfere with your new, earlier bedtime.


Play it safe on Monday morning

Not all of us have the most flexible work schedules, but Breus advises seeking leniency this one day out of the year. “Ask your boss if you can come in to work a little late the Monday after the time change, or ask if you can work from home.” For one, this allows you to reap the health benefits of catching up on those all-important lost zzz’s. And if you drive to work, it also allows you to stay off the roads on a particularly hectic and potentially dangerous morning. Research has shown an increase in fatal car accidents on the Monday following the spring time change compared to other Mondays before and after the start of Daylight Savings Time. “It’s not a bad idea to avoid rush hour on Monday morning when roads will be filled with sleep-deprived people running late for work or school,” Breus says.


Tweak your workout schedule (maybe)

For some folks with a regular fitness routine, switching things up can help you adjust to Daylight Savings Time. “If exercise chills you out and relaxes you, the extra hour of evening light gives you more opportunity to exercise outdoors,” Breus says. And regular exercise is a key component to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Just remember to preserve a three-hour window between your sweat session and bedtime so you have enough time to wind down, he suggests.

“On the other hand, if you feel energized after your workouts, you should keep doing it in the morning, time change or not, because you don’t want that energy boost to lead to insomnia,” Breus says. You’ll just be up in the dark—again.

via http://abcnews.go.com/Health/ways-make-switch-daylight-saving-time-miserable/story?id=29452350