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Travel photography for the uninitiated….

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Your first resolution for 2013? Learn how to shoot fireworks with your new DSLR!!

Happy New Year to one and all!

I hope everyone had a great night doing whatever it is you like to do on New Year’s Eve.  Adriana and I went out to watch the fireworks after a nice home made dinner with her parents.  I brought my camera and tripod for the fireworks show and we setup camp like we did two years before.

And it struck me once again how incredibly difficult it can be to get good pictures of fireworks!  I’ve often struggled with this and I feel pretty confident in using my camera, so it got me thinking about the mass of people standing around us pointing their cameras in the air in “auto” mode and wondering why the pictures weren’t coming out.  Yes some cameras have a “Fireworks” mode but I find that it’s often a shot in the dark (no pun intended).  So I’ve created a short tutorial on how to take photos of fireworks; you can find it here in the tutorials section.

This brings me to two other quick points I wanted to make – one of my personal New Year’s resolutions is to keep maintaining this blog more regularly and I’ve set a goal of writing at least one tutorial per month (hopefully two).  I think this is realistic and will keep me focused on learning new things as well.  I’m also slowly branching into video so who knows, maybe as I butcher away my first few videos some of you can learn from my mistakes!

And finally many of you know that my wife is now 9 months pregnant – we’re a week away from the due date.  To document our future as parents (and all the trials and tribulations that go along with that seismic shift) we’ve embarked on a joint 365 Instagram project.  The hashtag is #365Everywhere if you’d like to take a look.  We’ll also be posting the photos to my Flickr page as well if you’d like to check them out.  A few years back I did a series of 365 projects and found them to be invaluable in improving my photography skills and can’t recommend it enough if you’ve got a new DSLR for the holidays.  You can see my previous 365 projects here and here

So here’s to a successful year in 2013 – I wish everyone health and happiness and I hope you take your best photos yet this year!

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The Namib Desert at Sossusvlei – Land of the Red Dunes

Towards the end of our trip we made our way to the place I was most looking forward to see – Sossusvlei and ultimately Deadvlei.  This is the area of the Namib desert that is world famous for it’s towering red dunes and dead trees.  We stayed in a campground right outside of the park, and were first in line pre-dawn to make sure we didn’t miss the gorgeous sunrise.

We arrived at an area called Dune 45, which is the famous dune that they have open to the public for those willing to try the long and sliding trek to the top.  We started the climb prior to the sun rising; below is a picture of Adriana in front of me on the walk up the dune.  The next photo is the view from the top of the dune prior to the sun crossing the horizon.  To get a sense of scale you can see in the distance another early riser with his equipment out to capture the scene as well.

And then the sun started to rise. I captured this photo right when it was breaking the horizon. I used a circular polarising filter on my lens that allowed the sun to twinkle a bit without being fully blown out.

I always find times like these to be almost nerve-wracking. First of all it’s an incredibly beautiful moment.  Even though the sun rises every single day, each occurrence is awe-inspiring.  And trying to capture that on camera when you’re at an equally awe-inspiring location can be difficult.  I know wedding photographers fret over not getting that perfect picture for the bride – well I worry about not getting an image that really captures my feeling of the moment.  More on that in a bit….

In this picture of Adriana you can start to see the light hitting the dunes in the background (and you can see the sunlight isn’t on her face yet).  I know that photographers (myself included in the coming generalization) often talk about light. How important it is, how it changes the look of photos, how critical time of day is because of the angle of sunlight, etc.  Well if there was ever a place in my life that seemed to change color every 30 seconds, this was it.  If the sun went behind a cloud, the color changed.  If it popped out and only shone on the tips of the dunes, then the tips of the dunes were dramatically different in color to the rest of the sand.  It was just incredible to see how much the landscape changed based on where I was looking and what the sun was doing at that precise second.  The two photos below were taken exactly 5 minutes apart according to the EXIF data and you can see the difference in color.

Taken at 5:57 am
Taken at 6:02 am

You can also see the cloud cover is changing.  It was unfortunate (as you’ll see in my next post on Deadvlei) that we had cloudy skies for the rest of our morning with only sporadic bits of blue peeking through.  That being said, it did give a different view of the desert that few people get to see.

Eventually it was time to start heading down and start our hike, but not before I took a picture of the two of us, and Adriana took a quick snap of me at the top of the dune.  And now I go back to my earlier comment about capturing the moment.  These pictures are my favorite of the bunch – it was my birthday and the entire trip to Namibia was a gift from Adriana, and I really feel that this picture of the two of us at the top of a red sand dune in Sossusvlei is what I’ll remember the most.

Just because I’ll remember them most doesn’t mean I stopped taking pictures!  Far from it!  On the walk down the sun was getting brighter, the clouds were moving in and out of the frame and I got some pictures I’m pretty pleased with.  Both of the below pics were taken on the walk down, one looking up and backwards, the other looking down to the parking lot.

In the picture above I introduced a bit of “glow” from OnOne Software.  I think it added an ethereal effect and I especially like what it did to the sun.  I’m sure some won’t like it but it adds a bit of variety to the photos.

The pictures below are some others I took on the way down; I slid the aperture wide open to create a small window of focus in the middle of the “small dunes” that are created in the sand.

I also took this picture of Adriana on the way down.  This is a great shot proving yet again how much the light changes the color.  This was taken a little bit later after the sun had risen higher in the sky.

Once we arrived at the bottom (and after eating a bit of a surprise b-day cake!) I took a few more photos.  I was trying to capture the grandiose size of the dunes in the pictures below, so it was critical to make sure there was something to compare them to (hence the trees or shrubs).  I wish I had another crack at these; I’ve seen postcards and other travel photos of the dunes that are absolutely incredible in showing their size.

And finally a few pictures from the bottom.  This is the sign for Dune 45 (the one pictured above and the one that we climbed).  You also see another picture of the sign with the parking lot in the background and the resolute hikers making their way to the top.

The last set of photos are of our hike.  After climbing Dune 45, we took a 5 km hike into the desert to arrive at Deadvlei.  The hike was great, but a bit frustrating.  Because of the cloud cover I didn’t get the contrast of the bright blue sky with the red dunes.  But also because of the cloud cover, the hike itself was very enjoyable with no sun beating down on us!  Anyway here are the last few pics from our hike to Deadvlei.  The last picture is of the actual clay pan with the dead acacia trees.  Those pictures will be in my next post on Namibia, so you’ll have to wait!

Finally, if you’re interested in getting a closer look at any of these pictures please click on it and you’ll get a nice big image.  If you’re interested in owning one of these photos (without a watermark), please click on the thumbnail below or check out my portfolio on SmugMug.  And as always, thanks for reading!

Paparazzi for a day – and catching Secret Service staring at Joan Collins butt….

I know I’m a wannabe “travel photographer” but the truth is I just like to take photos.  I take photos of pretty much anything.  So yesterday as I was coming home from work, I saw an opportunity and decided to roll with it.

There were a bunch of people hanging out around the “back entrance” to Waterloo, and this is normally how I walk home.  When I asked what was going on, there was an event at the Old Vic Tunnels where Bill Clinton and some other celebs were attending a party hosted by Gwyneth Paltrow.  There were tons of people around, lots with big cameras, and of course I felt a need to fit in.  I ran home, grabbed my camera and ran back up.  I waited patiently for a while, anxiously looking forward to these people showing up so I could shove my camera in their face and take pictures of them.  Should be easy, right?

First things first, I don’t really “know” famous people.  Adriana watches E News and I can’t stand it.  Half of the people seem famous for no reason other than they’re on TV, which has to be one of the biggest dichotomies of all time.  So I just sorta started snapping pictures of random people in the hope they were famous.  Most of them weren’t, but I thought for a split second that I got this picture below of the Princess (Kate Middleton) until I realized of course it’s not Kate and just some random chick with a guy hoping to get lucky.

The big celeb everyone was waiting for was Bill Clinton.  There were secret service officers everywhere, and you could sense the tension mounting a little bit as the cops stood at attention. Bill stepped out of a black minivan and promptly walked straight into the Old Vic Tunnels.  And I got this great picture of the back of his head below.  What’s that?  You can’t see it?  Look closely – to the left of the door man.  Yeah, the guy that looks like he should be a caretaker at Hogwarts…..

But I have to say my favorite picture had to be Joan Collins.  This lady has been around for ages, and is actually a celebrity that I legitimately recognize.  Like everyone else, I tried to take some pictures of her. When I was reviewing them late last night I had a real chuckle.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that secret service guy in the back is staring at her 80 year old butt.  And I would even say he’s got a sly smile on his face!! 🙂

Even at 80, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

On an entirely separate topic, I’m also posting a new page (which doesn’t generate an email, so I’m telling you here) on how I manage my photos.  Now this isn’t a terribly exciting topic if you don’t take a ton of photos, but I wanted to share my system.  I take LOTS of pictures when I go on holiday, and this is my method to sort through them, clean out the bad ones, and organize them according to which ones go to Flickr, Blog, etc.

Anyway, you can check out the page above under tutorials or simply click here.

2012 restart

Well like many others I’ve set some new goals for myself in 2012.  One of them is to get this blog properly off the ground.  For several years now I’ve been taking photos and traveling; I now need to get those photos a little better organized and begin to document some of my experiences.  I had the idea to start this blog about six months ago and like many other dark corners of the web it’s fallen into a state of apathy.  So for this year I’d like to restart and create what I’d been wanting to create originally; a travel photography blog for me to not only chronicle my own travels and photos but to also provide whatever advice and insight I can to those that have a similar passion.

There are plenty of sites out there that detail the intricacies of photography, post-processing, up and coming gear and gizmos, etc.  This is not meant to replace those sites or even compete with them.  Rather I prefer to think of it as a site that provides some real experience for those of you that are planning a trip to Europe or elsewhere in the world and are asking yourself the question – “How can I take better photos when I’m on holiday?”  For those of you that just bought a new DSLR before your honeymoon or big family vacation, or those of you that are wondering why your phone pics aren’t as good as someone else’s phone pics, I think this site will have something for you.

I just returned from an incredible trip to Asia over the last few weeks, which has undoubtedly been the inspiration for me to tackle this blog again.  My wife and I visited Hong Kong, Macau, Bali, Singapore, Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing.  It was absolutely incredible and we were fortunate to have great weather and the opportunity to take some wonderful snapshots  of our adventures.  So I’ll begin by sharing the details of the trips, where we went and how we created our photos.  After learning from that post (and possibly getting some feedback) I’ll get into documenting some of our European travels over the last few years to provide some more insight for those of you planning a trip.

Happy 2012 to all of you and here’s to taking better travel photos this year!

In search of Dracula….our visit to Romania

Adriana and I took advantage of the bank holiday in England at the end of May with a quick trip to Romania.  Romania is a place we’d both been wanting to visit for quite some time – we’ve been to many countries throughout Europe but a visit to Transylvania remained on the list.  We arrived late Friday evening, staying in an apartment in Bucharest that Adriana had researched online.

Romania is a beautiful country with a lot to offer – we took a drive in the morning with a guide to Transylvania, the legendary home of Dracula.  The fictional character is modeled after a real national hero, Vlad Tepes, who reigned during the 15th century and was a pretty bad-ass ruler.  In actual fact he was from Wallachia, a province south of Transylvania.  Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, basically had done some research on Vlad and put the famous story together from legends of Vlad’s cruelty.

Our first stop on our journey was Castle Pelas, which was beautiful.  They were having a fancy car contest while we were there, so the place was absolutely packed.  The outside of the castle is impressive and has some great photo opportunities, but the inside is out of this world.  However, they charge a rather hefty fee of 10 Euros to take pictures inside.  I didn’t pay the fee, so wasn’t allowed to take photos while inside and immediately after entering I regretted the decision.  It was incredible and there are some great photo opportunities inside, so if you get the chance to go I would suck it up and pay the fee.

After Castle Pelas we paid a visit to Brasov, a small town in Transylvania.  We grabbed lunch and took some photos while walking around.  It was an absolutely beautiful day, didn’t really match my traditional view through movies and books of what Transylvania should look like!  We ended our first day with a drive to Castle Bran.  This castle is known as “Dracula’s castle” but as to why that connection exists is pretty much beyond me (and most others).  Vlad never formally resided there, but apparently he did partake in a battle that took place around the area.  The castle is pretty impressive from the outside, but to be honest the place was so packed with school field trips it was rather difficult for us to get any good photos or have fun for that matter.

On our second day in Bucharest we took a trip down to Snagov.  This is the church where Vlad is supposedly buried.  They’re not able to prove this, but the legend continues because many years ago they found a beheaded skeleton dressed in finery, and they made the assumption that it was Vlad because his family had connections to the place.  The inside of the church itself is absolutely incredible.  It’s an ancient church, and there are frescoes and paintings on the walls and ceilings that are truly impressive.  But be warned, we paid a whopping 20 euros to take pictures in the church.  I know it’s extremely steep, but after regretting my decision at Castle Pelas I decided to suck it up – I’ll probably never be back there in my life and didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

We finished up our trip back in Bucharest, walking around the city and checking out some of the other churches and building in the city, including the famous “People’s Palace”, the second largest building in the world (behind the Pentagon, which came as a surprise to me).

All in all it was an absolutely wonderful weekend.  The country is beautiful, the people are amazing, and the photo opportunities are plentiful.  If you get an opportunity to make the trip be sure to suck it up and pay the extra fees for the photos in Snagov and Castle Pelas.

Below is a small selection of photos from our trip.  If you’d like to see the rest I’ve posted a larger set on Flickr.




And so it begins…

Well, I’ve decided to start writing a blog.  I’ve been active on Flickr for quite some time and have always enjoyed spending time looking at the photos and creativity from everyone.  Lately though I’m struggling to keep up with everything, so I think I’m going to make the shift from spending time on Flickr to actually doing a better job of documenting the things that really interest me.

I’m pretty new to this whole blog thing – I have no idea who will follow this (if anyone), what direction my posts will take, etc.  But I have a few ideas.  This will primarily be a blog that documents my continued and developing passion for photography.  In 2006 I had just finished an international assignment in London, where I met the love of my life, Adriana.  I had to return to Denver for a while in prep for my next assignment, in Frankfurt, Germany.  While in Denver I finally pulled the trigger and bought my first DSLR, a Canon EOS Rebel.  It was a beginner camera and it served my needs wonderfully.  I’ll never forget arriving in Frankfurt – I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language and had six months to keep myself busy.  I spent time learning about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and all the other things that make up exposure.

Since those early days, I like to think I’ve come a long way (which is easy if you’re starting from nothing!)  After moving to London I upgraded to a Canon 50D and have been taking more and more photos.  I’ve taken some lighting seminars and have learned enough about off camera light to have a rough idea how it’s used.  I have read a ton of books on composition, lighting, and exposure in general and have put much of what I’ve learned into practice.

More recently I’ve finished a “Project 365” set, which is basically the idea of taking a photo a day, every single day, for (you guessed it) one year.  I finished this in August of last year (2010) and decided to start another project as my new years resolution for 2011 – so I’m about half way through that assignment now.  I do this for two reasons – one is that it’s an obvious excuse to take more photos.  Having to get out there everyday to take a photo is a great way to see the world through a photographers eye; pictures of everyday items can be fascinating when composed in the right way.  But even more than getting to be a better photographer has been the simple act of documenting my life.  As the new age of social media continues to develop, individuals the world over are pouring the individual creativity out in ever expanding forms of media.  I want to be a bigger part of this, and think that writing in a blog will be a better way for me to join in this continued shift in society.

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