Category Archives: Photo Trip

Local Knowledge Enhances Your Travel Photos

Many times when we are traveling we are in someone else’s control. This can be a good thing, as when we are on a vacation we are not interested in dealing with the minutia of our trip. On the other hand, if a tour is “prepackaged”, chances for unique photography are diminished.

Here is my take on packages. You pay an extra 15 to 20 % to have a company put together a tour for you. Normally, on this tour you will be with others that you do not know (sometimes, in the case of cruise ships, thousands that you do not know).

The tour operators set an “all inclusive” agenda and include the major sites, but usually this means that you will be informed of where you will stay, when to get up, when the transportation leaves the hotel, when the transportation leaves the attraction, etc. You could customize the trip with the tour operators, but the cost may be prohibitive, as they are able to get “group rates” with larger numbers of tourists following the same itinerary. A guided tour is usually homogenized and abbreviated to fit what the tour operator feels is best for their clients, with little input from the client.

Many people think that Bed and Breakfasts are sub-par to hotels. Au contraire! They will help integrate you into the general community at the locale where you are staying. The proprietors will give you tips on places to eat, what cultural events are taking place, etc. Best of all, if you want them to, they will engage you at breakfast or in the evening to discuss history and local politics, problems in their country and the perceived differences between their county and yours. The conversation will also help break down the stereotypes that you may have about their city/country. Invigorating!

Look for Local Connections

“My daughter is in the Peace Corps in Bangwanaland, and loves it!” This comes from an acquaintance of yours. So, what is her email address? Would she mind if you contacted her about local conditions/customs? Does she know a local guide and/or a great place to stay?

A friend says, “I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago”. You say, I am going in October. Can I have lunch with you and find out some of the “dos and don’ts”? Perhaps you can stay with a friend that they know. Implicit in your request can be the possibility that they can stay with you while visiting your town.

Personal Examples

Following are several illustrations of how a local helped me in my quest for unique subject matter to photograph.


All Night Tango Dancing

We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast in Buenos Aires and during the course of the conversation with our host, we asked about a particular café that featured tango dancing. He said that he knew of the place, but it was a bit touristy. “Tonight, I am going to a community center where I am learning how to dance the milonga, and they also teach tango. Why don’t you ride the local bus with me and take a class? A tango band arrives at 11:00 PM and we dance until 4:00AM” Of course it was marvelous.

Lava tube

Suck ‘Em Up Lava Tube

I was on assignment in Hawaii and I needed to photograph a lava tube that entered the water. Ancient Hawaiians used these caves for rituals and burials. Where could I find a tube that had a somewhat restricted entrance but had plenty of light? My local contact said that I should check out the “Suck ‘Em Up” lava tube. Hmmm..Why do they call it that? Come to find out that if you are too close to the surface in a particular area of the tube, you get sucked out through the blowhole at the top! A fine image, but you had to know where to go.

Lion Cubs

Lion Cubs in the Serengeti

On a recent Photo Safari, we were watching a lioness and her cubs for nearly an hour. She started to lick them, one at a time. The guide from Duma Explorer, Wilson Shange, said that because of that behavior, she was either going to take them down to the river, or bring them over to lie in the shade of our truck. Within two minutes, she got up and took them to the river.


Blue Whale

Blue Whale Blowing

We were searching for blue whales in the Loreto Bay in Baja, Mexico. After some time, we found a male and moved near him, only to watch him sound. The boatman/guide immediately set his watch for 10 minutes. He then moved our small panga into the general area where he thought the whale would surface and killed the boat engine. After 9 and half minutes from when he set his watch, he started the engine. At the ten-minute mark, the whale surfaced nearby and we raced to the location for several minutes of photography until the whale sounded. The guide set his watch for 10 minutes, and we moved to where he thought the whale would surface.

Patagonian sunrise

Sunrise in Patagonia

In Patagonia, we were on the last day of the famous “W” hike in Torres del Paine National Park. The hutmaster said that we needed to get up at 4:30AM and he would have a cold breakfast set for us. Then we needed to climb about 2,500 feet to arrive at a viewpoint overlooking the mountain and a glacial pool. At 6:05 AM we completed the climb and five minutes later were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.

Many tourists who are succumbing to a package tour, or do not engage the locals are not able to capture images that are not hidden, but local knowledge is necessary for a stranger to find them.

Engage the population to enhance your travel photography experiences.

Fragile Landscapes and US Bureau of Land Management Solutions

As a photographer, I am interested in unusual landscapes and recently visited the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, a 280,000-acre property administered by The Bureau of Land Management (BLM). One hot spot for photographers is “The Wave”, a mesmerizing set of sandstone formations in northern Arizona eroded by water and wind.

The Wave

The Wave at Coyote Buttes North, Arizona

The expansion of the Internet has publicized The Wave – specifically thorough the proliferation of images and video available on the web. In addition, an article on the Vermillion Cliffs in the February 2012 issue of the National Geographic Magazine sparked the interest in The Wave and other nearby formations for millions of their readers.

Given this publicity, the challenge is how to keep too many visitors from spoiling the place.



The BLM is a federal agency that is responsible for the stewardship of 245 million acres of public land in the United States. The agency employs 10,000 individuals full time, but doing the math, this is about 2,500 acres of land per employee. And like the US Forest Service, a great percentage of BLM land is designated “multipurpose”.

The tag line for the Forest Service is “Land of Many Uses”, which has been tweaked by environmentalists to “Land of Many Abuses”. In many of their operations, the BLM is a contender for this title.

However, in June of 2000, The National Landscape Conservation System was set up. It consists of 27 million acres of the most pristine landscapes and ecosystems that are under the purveyance of the BLM, including the Vermillion Cliffs. These areas are primarily in the Western and Southwestern US. After the formation of these Conservation Lands, the BLM incorporated many of the tenants of responsible tourism with their administration of these remarkable resources.

Several methods are used to minimize wear and tear from tourists traveling to sensitive/fragile areas.

• Education (stay on trails, don’t litter, etc.)

• High fees (high entry fees limit people to those who can afford to go)

• Limit official access (establish restricted areas where permits are needed)

• Limit publicity (difficult for potential visitors to discover location)

• Difficult terrain (hard location to get to, need to hike in or have special vehicle)

In view of this list of ways to mitigate visitor traffic, how could the BLM respond to the high demand for visits to The Wave? Not by regulating publicity (out of their control) or high fees. The monument is a national treasure, and as such the government is reluctant to charge high fees to visit it. $7.00 is the cost for a one-day permit.


Required pack tag to be in restricted area

So, to their credit, the BLM limits the number of visitors to The Wave to 20 per day and has instituted a lottery – ten from their website and ten from applicants that arrive in person for the next day’s allotment. If you are interested in the details for applying you can go here.

Competition is fierce. For instance, the number of online applicants for April 19, 2014 is 257 and the maximum number of people allowed is six per applicant. So far 975 people are listed who want to go (an applicant can have from one to six people in their application – 10 total will go). For reference, individuals attempting to obtain a permit for April-June and September-November, the odds were about 4-5% for 2013. The $5.00 application fee is non-refundable.

Another of the responsible-tourism tenants is education, and part of the Vermillion Cliffs application is a professionally-done17 minute video that deals with safety, trails, protection of the environment, etc. You cannot continue the application without checking a box that confirms you watched the video.

Two Peaks at Sunset 9344

Sunset at White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona

Lastly, the difficulty of the terrain plays a part here. The Wave is a three-mile hike from the road with a large portion of it marked only by cairns. At the southern end of the Vermillion Cliffs Monument, the roads are sand, and every time a vehicle gets stuck (hundreds of times) that area becomes a sand pit. You can’t believe what the advertisements say about your four-wheeled drive vehicle – many of them won’t make this trip.

Rock fins

Fragile Rock Fins

Once you have won the lottery and are at these locations, you’ll see how fragile these formations are. Most have Navaho sandstone rock “fins” which are easy to snap off. Hundreds of years in the making – gone in a second.

The BLM will receive a $6 million increase from the federal government for the National Landscape Conservation System in 2014. If the BLM continues policies that promote responsible tourism, this is good news.




Slide Shows by the Travelin’ Man

If I am traveling and not on assignment, I rarely stay for more than two nights in the same town. Because the friend I travel with is gracious, I do have some time to photograph, but it is difficult to come up with cohesive stories about the locations we are visiting. Normally, the resulting images are a series of one-shots – interesting photographs, but of disparate subjects.

One way I can display them is to make “travelogue” slide shows, where I group the photographs visually and somewhat chronologically and then add music.

In this blog, I am not covering technical aspects of slide show construction or the programs that create slide shows, such as Microsoft Windows Live Photo Gallery, PowerPoint, Google Picasa, Apple iPhoto, etc. That blog is for another day. Here, I want to address the treatment of the subject matter.

Since I want to feature the still images, I do not use “Ken Burns” moves, or dissolves such as “ripple”. I use my own title slides, created specifically for that particular slide show, The music is usually one piece, hopefully establishing a mood or theme. Note: If you are presenting your slide show commercially – even as part of your portfolio, you must purchase the rights to the music, and this does not mean just paying for the track on iTunes.

The programs for organizing the shows are pretty sophisticated at this point in time, and the producer can time slide changes to musical beats, “clip” the music so that there is no dead space between tunes, etc. However, for better organization of the music and the images, you should leave the slide show programs and make a movie. Final Cut Pro and even iMovie are much more sophisticated and can create a professional product if you are interested.

The most important tip I can give in this blog is to edit, edit and edit some more. A five-minute slide show is a L-O-N-G slide show.

Here, I am presenting three “travelogues” that I produced in 2012. Note that the “key frame” presented for each show was not my choice, but established by YouTube. The show itself remains intact.

Hit the “full screen” button in the lower right on the tool bar to get the best effect. Also note that persons subscribing to the blog’s email feed will need to cut and paste the URL for each slide show into their browser to watch it.

The first show is on China, but not really. We only visited Beijing and the Yunnan Province, where we hiked for four days. The title slide helps clear up where we were.

The second show is about a week in Colorado, where we hiked several mountains in preparation for hiking up Mount Meru, a 15,000 ft. mountain in Tanzania. This slideshow has captions placed on some of the pictures to identify who the participants are for those who were not on the hike.

Lastly, a slide show on four weeks in Tanzania and Zanzibar, where we did get to see most of the country.

I have also included two stills from a memorial slide show for my mother. Slide shows such as these have captions on every picture, adding contextual information. I have done several of these shows for others. Also, for friends, I put together award presentation shows, etc.





Slide shows are a great way to feature my photography – and yours too!

Dem Dare Hills – Trekking with a Camera

I am an Information Volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club.  At their Highland Center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I recently gave a lecture entitled “Trail Pix: How Not to Let Photography Get in the Way of Backpacking, and How Not to Let Backpacking Get in the Way of Photography”. I have given this talk several times to help amateur photographers understand what equipment is necessary on the trail (these days surprisingly less than in the past) and how to organize your gear to be ready for that fleeting image and yet not be weighed down with extraneous gear.

Though Hikers at Madison

View from Madison Hut

My friend and I were volunteering and hiking as part of the AMC’s President’s Society, a group of like-minded hikers that hike a half-dozen treks each year to different locations in the Whites. The hike that we were on was a 3,700 vertical foot climb to Madison Springs Hut (one of eight AMC huts that do not have road access). The AMC also provides campgrounds, shelters, lodges, etc. that they maintain along with the actual trails. Check them out!

For some of us, hiking is a way to stay fit, enjoy the outdoors, and visit pristine places on this earth that are still available to all for a modest fee, if anything.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Jade Snow Mountain China

The past several months have been filled with these adventures for us. In China, we hiked Leaping Tiger Gorge along the Yangtze River and then down to several “rice valleys” to visit with the ethnic people of Yunnan Province. In Croatia in late May, we hiked along the Adriatic Sea to out-of the way beaches.


Wild Grasses Colorado

Lone Cone Colorado

In July, it was off to Lone Cone Mountain, near Norwood Colorado where we spent a week living at 8,300 and then trekked up the mountain for three consecutive days up to altitudes topping 11,500 feet. Later in the week, we tackled Engineer Mountain near Durango at a similar altitude, but we started at 10,000 feet.



Returning to the East Coast, we took on several day hikes in Maryland and then a short walk along the beach in Rehoboth, Maryland. We will take another Maryland hike on the Appalachian Trail the last weekend in August.

Mr. Mu’s Mother-in-law China

Much of this is to prepare for a fall trek up a pretty tall mountain in Africa. Workouts in the gym and Yoga sessions round out our training. You will have to read my blog after the African trip to see how we did!

On most all of these hikes I take my DSLR (the serious camera). I make some interesting images that transcend “happy snaps” that most people take on the trail. For me, it is payback for carrying a DLSR and I can preserve the memories of these amazing journeys.



What Kind of Tourist Are You?

I have been remiss in posting to my blog recently. I know that the main purpose of a blog is to capture the immediacy of what is happening in the moment, similarly to tweets and social media posts.

But being the “Traveling Man”, I have been quite busy this summer starting with a workshop with 10 students at Horizon Workshops in Chesapeake City, MD, immediately followed by an around the world trip that lasted a month, then LOOK3 the photography festival held in Charlottesville, VA in early June.

Two days after arriving home, we had a family reunion with over 40 people at my house. Fortunately my daughters help to stage the event and a good time was had by all.

Following the 4th of July, I took off for my cottage in Canada where I am organizing this post.

So what is this blog about anyway, Bob?


There are many “Must See” places in the world – the Pyramids, The Taj Mahal, The Statue of Liberty, The Eifel Tower, Ayers Rock, Big Ben, etc. The trouble is, as the population of the world increases and travel becomes more viable for many, these Must See locations become inundated with tourists. Gigantic cruise ships and large tour buses spill hundreds of thousands of visitors each year into these icons, where the local population ask for more, since the tourist dollars are clean and plentiful.

Summer Palace, Bejing, China

I recently found myself in Beijing (The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, etc.), Paris  (The Eifel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, etc), Venice (Piazza San Marcos, The Grand Canal, etc.), Dubrovnik (The Old City), London (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.), Toronto, (The CN Tower), Baltimore (Fort McHenry), and Washington, DC (The White House, The Washington Monument, etc.).

Following is a short guide to how I am able to visit these attractions (once!) and get the most out of the experience.



Research before you go

With the Internet, you can drill down on where you want to go for the best experience at a reasonable cost. In this world, no one needs to rely on travel agents to plan their trips (more on this later). Lonely Planet and other guidebooks are on line. Trip Advisor is invaluable (more on this site later). Once you determine your destination look for TV shows like Rick Steves and YouTube videos that you can stream for more knowledge of the location. The US State Department gives information and background on all the countries of the world. Spend the time and you will be rewarded.

Look for Local Connections

“My daughter is in the Peace Corps in Bangwanaland, and loves it!” This comes from an acquaintance of yours. So, what is her email address? Would she mind if you contacted her about local conditions/customs? Does she know a local guide and/or a great place to stay?

A friend says, “I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago”. You say, I am going in October. Can I have lunch with you and find out some of the “dos and don’ts”?

You get the drift.

Are you Sure You Want a Tour Package?

Jester Hats, Piazza San Marcos, Venice

Here is my take on packages. You pay an extra 15 to 20 % to have a company put together a tour for you. Normally, on this tour you will be with others that you do not know (sometimes, in the case of cruise ships, thousands that you do not know).

The tour operators set an “all inclusive” agenda and include the major sites, but usually this means that you will be informed of where you will stay, when to get up, when the transportation leaves the hotel, when the transportation leaves the attraction, etc. You could customize the trip with the tour operators, but the cost may be prohibitive, as they are able to get “group rates” with larger numbers of tourists following the same itinerary.

Recently I spoke with a couple that had just returned from China on a “five star” tour. They said that they stayed in top of the line Marriotts and Hiltons (in China?). I asked what one of the properties cost, and the answer was that it was included in their fee, as was everything else. Most interesting, they said that their guide said the Chinese referred to Caucasians as those with “round eyes and big noses”. Really?

Which brings me to another point about guided tours. For the most part, they are homogenized and abbreviated to fit the tour.


Many people think that Bed and Breakfasts are sub-par to hotels. Au contraire! They will help integrate you into the general community where you are staying. The proprietors will give you local tips on places to eat, what cultural events are taking place, etc. Best of all, if you want them to, they will engage you at breakfast or in the evening to discuss history and local politics, problems in their country and the perceived differences between their county and yours. The conversation will also help break down the stereotypes that you may have about their city/country. Invigorating!

Look at Trip Advisor to pick a Bed and Breakfast or a hotel and to verify what sites to see in your location. You can book right on the site. Trip Advisor rates the hotels and Bed and Breakfasts by how previous travelers review them. Many establishments cherish the reviews and make sure they have a top-notch venue and good customer service. I usually pick the number 3 or 4 rated B&B and have yet to be disappointed.

Perhaps you can stay with a friend that you know. Implicit in your request can be the possibility that they can stay with you while visiting your town.

Booking Rail, Bus and Ferries

With the Internet, you can book and pay for very intricate travel itineraries. Following is an example of one such that I completed in the US in March and executed to perfection in May:

Saturday, May 26

Leave Venice to Ancona, Italy by rail Train # 9439 at 3:39.  Bob has tickets.

Arrive Bologna, then Train #9819 arriving in Ancona at 7:36 PM.

Ancona to Zadar, Croatia at 2200 via ferry, AB deck. Check in at 8:00 PM Depart 10:00 PM.

Jadrolinija Ferry Terminal, Booking Number 002856757

Sunday, May 27

Arrive Zadar, Croatia at 0700.

Tour Zadar and then take bus to Split.

Send text message to House Sandra mobile when leaving Zadar for pickup at bus station in Split.

Overnight at House Sandra,  Booking number 390417930

Nincevica 11 21 000 Split, Croatia. Mobile: +385 99 685 21 99

I made all of these arrangements on the net with no travel agent involved.


“Near Season”

Caramaran Ferry to Hvar, Croatia

Find out what the “high season”  is for the area you want to visit and then go just before or just after. The accommodations may be less expensive, but most importantly, you will avoid the big crowds, In Hvar, Croatia we had perfect weather in May, and all the locals reminded us not to come in July and August. In Venice and Lijaing, Yunnan, China the crowds were overwhelming in May. I can’t fathom what they might be in the high season.

The ferry to Zadar, Croatia holds over a thousand people. On May 27, see above, there were 83 individuals.


Miscellaneous Tips

•  If you want a quick tour of a small city, hire a taxi for a couple of hours with a driver that speaks your language well enough to be an interpreter. Don’t be shy. Interview a number of them until you find one where the negotiated  price is right and you can really communicate with the driver. Or,

•  Take the “Grey Line” tour. For a few bucks, a bus tour can really orient you within a couple of hours,

Ancient Walled City, Yunnan, China

Naxi Woman in Her Home

•  Hike to locations where there are no roads. Many tourists will not make this effort, but if you do, the rewards are great. In non-tourist areas people act naturally. In major tourist areas, visitors often have paid for pictures. At first it was a pittance, but each year the locals have upped the ante.



• Travel light. No one cares if you wear the same outfit for several days. Use your bathroom sink to wash out undies and socks.

• Be flexible. Don’t get hung up on your schedule so much so that if something changes it throws you off. Adapt and you will find that sometimes your alternate plans are better than the one you originally decided on.


Photographic Essays

Visiting a major tourist attraction for a day or two might yield a few nice images for a photographer, but individually they will never tell the story of the place. In order to do that, the photographer has to spend the effort to research the location and spend enough time there to understand how s/he feels about the place.  They then must be astute enough to communicate these feelings and thoughts through their images. The final essay is a series of connected, imaginative, cognitive and provocative photographs.

This is nearly impossible to do without real work. Think about other art forms. Could a novelist spend two days in Venice and write a book?

For the most part, you get out of photography what you put into it. Your results may vary. Happy travels!

Off to the Everglades

Note: Mild winter weather affected an eagle photography trip that I had planned for January on the Mississippi River. The eagles concentrate near dams when the weather gets damn cold. Up to 500 of them will take advantage of fishing in open water below just one dam. We decided to bag it and go in 2013. The eagles won’t know the difference.


This month’s blog (February) can be considered the opposite of my previous blog – The Urban Scene.

I went to Florida with a friend principally to photograph the wedding of a family member of hers, but we decided to take advantage of the trip to do some nature photography, be true to our active lifestyle, and get out of the “cold” weather; hence the Everglades.

According to their website, Everglades National Park is “…the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, featuring rare and endangered species. It has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance, significant to all people of the world.”

What is not apparent on the website is that this National Park is extremely close to two urban areas — sandwiched between over 5,500,000 on the Southeast coast of Florida, and nearly 2,000,000 on the Southwest coast.

Not to worry. This is the high season in the Everglades, and though there were a healthy number of people there, it was nothing like Yosemite or Yellowstone with their traffic jams. Indifference to the wilderness? Hard to say, but who cares.


We located in Everglades City, a town that reminds my friend of “Old Florida”. The town was established in 1873, and in 1923, Barron Collier, a wealthy entrepreneur from Memphis, fell in love with the area and began buy land – eventually over a million acres. He drained the swamps and built a town, featuring a bank, a county court house, a laundry and incredibly put in a street car system! Barron agreed to finish the Tamiami Trail, the road from Tampa to Miami, for the state of Florida, which at that time was literally mired in the muck near Everglades City. The legislature was so grateful, they renamed the county Collier County as his namesake.

We stayed at The Ivey House, which features the old barracks built for Tamiami Trail workers, and now remodeled. The communal toilets, showers and washbasins still survive in what is now called “The Lodge”.

Why there? Because the Ivy House is owned by the same group that owns Everglades Adventures, a kayaking and canoeing company that rents boats and conducts tours into the backcountry.

Here is a tip to help those with limited time experience the best places in the Everglades to get close to wildlife:

•  Take a sunset/night guided kayak tour with Everglades Adventures. Half of the trip though the mangrove tunnels is in the late afternoon, and the other half is returning with headlamps. In the open areas, we turned off the lights and experienced a starlit canopy where we picked out constellations and sat motionless in awe.

•  Go to Shark Valley in the early morning and walk or rent bicycles for the 15 mile (out and back) paved path – highlighted by an observation tower at mid-point. The “straight” side of the path has a canal alongside of it that is loaded with alligators, turtles and many species of birds.

•  Get to the Ernest Coe Visitors Center for a great overview of the Everglade history, the pressures on the Park, the wildlife that inhabits it, etc. After this stop, go to the Anhinga Trail boardwalk (fifteen minutes from the visitor’s center) to see close up more amazing species in their natural habitat. I was using a 300mm lens, and sometimes it was too long!

Other sights around Everglades City are the Museum of the Everglades in the historic laundry building, and Chokoloskee Island. Good eats at the Havana Café in Chokoloskee, and at the Camellia Street Grill in Everglades City.

OwlFollowing our Everglades adventures, we attended the Burrowing Owl Festival in Cape Coral, held at Rotary Park. Many representatives from local and national parks were there, plus other ecologically minded organizations. The festival featured captive animals to view close up, and the organizers took several busloads of people out to where the burrowing owls nest (in burrows of course). These critters are only about 10 inches high. Cape Coral has the largest concentration of these owls in Florida – over 2,500 nests. Although many owls were present at their burrows, a tip came from an owl aficionado: Come in early May when the chicks hatch and see them at the entrance to the burrows.

It will make for better pictures, and isn’t that what it is all about?



Photographing the Urban Scene

I have had many city assignments around the world, notably Sydney, Toronto, Washington, D.C. and as part of country or state stories I have covered Berlin, Seattle, Caracas, etc. I have included one image on this website (the Cloud Gate Sculpture, Millennium Park, Chicago)  from these assignments, as generally cityscape images are too complicated for a wall hanging.

December 2011 and January 2012 were travel months for me, but generally for family gatherings over the holidays and a special birthday celebration in Yosemite NP in California. These trips included two visits to New York City and one to Los Angeles, where both scenes, while different, provided interesting subject matter.

In the past 20 years, professional photography of landmark buildings has become more difficult, as owners trademark specific images of their structures. The list includes the Chrysler Building, the Trans Am Building, and The Willis Tower amongst others. In addition, since 9/11, many stores and buildings with interesting public areas forbid pictures perhaps because of terrorist threats, but it is hard to know, as the arbitrators of the rules (doormen, clerks) most often did not make them.

Some National Parks and public grounds such as the Vietnam Memorial and the Washington Monument require professional crews to obtain special permission or they are shooed off. All that being said, it is still possible to capture cityscapes that reveal the flavor of a particular town.

My friend and I walk almost everywhere, which allows me to come upon many situations that would be difficult if I was in a car or cab. Lately, I have become more and more mobile – not taking my larger DSLR if there is no assignment or a specific subject that I am covering. My “cameras” range from my 8 Mb iphone to my Canon 5D (21.5 Mb) and include a Canon S95 (10 Mb) that my friend owns. The smaller “amateur” cameras surprise me many times with their versatility and that can make up for their shortcomings with lenses and small file sizes. All do well with details that often give insights on the city.








For instance, in NYC I captured the traditional holiday chestnut vendors, the ceiling of the New York Public Library, a bookshelf at the library, a worker in front of a tony Fifth Avenue store, and the 9/11 Memorial amongst many others.







In Los Angeles, images from this trip included the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall , the Getty Center and the Getty Villa .
















A photo tip: If you photograph a building in its entirety, most often you show the architect’s vision, and not yours. If you are selective with your camera, often the interpretation of what the architect was trying to accomplish is evident in the details, and the image becomes “yours”. Sometimes less is more.

Florida Kite Boarding

Off the east coast of Florida, near Pompano, there is an area of the beach designated for kite boarders. On a windy day, the kiters are out in force, ripping through the waves at 20 knots per hour or more, and then lifting off the surface of the water to heights of 25 feet plus.

Kite surfing became popular right after the new millennium and has replaced traditional boardsailing (windsurfing) because of its versatility, i.e. not having to deal with a mast and boom. The secret is in the kite. Nominally a parabolic wing, it is inflated with air, so that if it hits the water it won’t sink. There are lines to deal with, but the harness helps keep them from tangling.

The board is approximately three feet long and is not unlike a snowboard — the rider is similarly locked in with stationary boots. Skegs on the bottom of the board help give it forward motion, but the kiter uses the edges of the board “carving” the water to change direction. The kiter can also pull up out of the water to jump waves, do 360’s, etc.

The colorful sails and acrobatic kiters make for great pictures, but it is difficult to show their impressive speed. One way is to “pan” with the rider and blur the water, another is to show jumps and tricks in sequential images, but the best way is with video.

5D Kiteboard Clip  My main camera, a Canon 5D shoots 1080p HD video, but without several pieces of additional video specific gear (like neutral density filters, a follow-focus knob, an audio recorder, a larger monitor and shoulder frame), it is difficult to create high quality imagery. Click on the link to the video I took of kite boarders with the 5D. Note in my video that the kite boarder goes in and out of focus because I was viewing the video on the small LCD screen on the back of the camera. Also as I had no tripod, the wind became a factor.

As part of this trip, I attended the Miami Short Film Festival (tag line: It’s Miami, it has to be shorts.) Because more and more of my assignments require both video and stills, I was anxious to see a demo of the new Canon EOS C300 video camera. It was announced in Hollywood in November 4 and will be available in January. It was a treat to see it, touch it and ask the questions that needed to be asked.

My take is that the camera will be a tool of choice for the serious videographer. It has several drawbacks, namely no headset for the operator, the Canon codex (another one that has to be supported), the incoming audio is connected through the handle on top of the camera and although detachable, you would rarely want to, as the camera itself has no mike capabilities.

But weighing a little over three pounds, capture at 50 Mb/sec and a top end of 20,000 ISO (not a misprint), it has to be reckoned with. The price is rumored to be $20K, and if that is true, it will be a rental unit for many of us. A $10K-12K price point would have Canon selling many more units. They did stress that this was the first camera in a line of cine cameras for the company, so stay tuned.


Fall in Yellowstone and the Tetons

In October 2011, I went on a “Photo Safari” set up by Rich Clark, a good friend and a fine photographer from Indianapolis, Indiana. to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks.

It is high season at these parks during this time of year, as fall color is happening in the Tetons, and elk and moose are in the meadows during their rutting seasons.

“High Season” means that these parks are populated with human beings as well, of which many are photographers. Most of these are serious amateur photographers with expensive telephoto lenses and tripods. There are so many, that one does not need to look for wildlife along the main roads, all one needs to do is come across the traffic jams that the wildlife sightings create.

Rich mentioned that quite a few National Park Rangers become attracted to the job because they would ostensibly be working with wildlife, but at these two parks their real job during this time of year is directing traffic around the wildlife sightings. We did find all the Rangers and park employees that we met to be very engaging with park visitors, and extremely outgoing, friendly and knowledgeable.


The animals that you see in these parks are not tame – note the two deaths this year in Yellowstone NP were attributed to bears – however they are habituated to coexisting with humans. This is especially true at Mammoth Hot Springs where the elk have learned that the manicured grass in town is better eating than the scrub in the hills, so every evening they come to feed.

The famed terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs have been deposited by the calcium-carbonate Terrace Mountain Spring over many years but, due to recent minor earthquake activity, the spring vent has shifted, rendering the terraces dry. Not so good for photography. 

As photographers, we worked from 5:00 AM until well after sundown and did have some magic moments, such as  finding this badger in Yellowstone. We were able to make interesting photographs in spite of the number of photographers and the fact that on this trip we did not hike any trails or backpack to the interior of the parks. We stayed mostly on the main roads.


A highlight was to photograph the Grand Prismatic Geyser from the air. This image has been taken by a number of photographers over the years – rendering it a bit of a cliché, but it was a great sight from the air, and we were able to make an interesting photograph from the plane. It felt very strange to be in the aircraft at high noon, as most of the time photographers are airborne in the early morning or late evening, using the shadows to provide dimensionality to the picture. But here, we didn’t want any shadows cast across the geyser basin.

After this trip I understand why the great nature photographers are reluctant to reveal the exact locations of their subjects.

Take a Hike!

The Tour du Mont Blanc

In early July 2011, I spent eight days with five other hikers walking the Tour du Mont Blanc. This hike circumnavigates the mountain – the highest peak in Europe – with forays into France, Italy and Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc trails are well within the capabilities of any fit mountain walker as they wind through alpine meadows, over barren cols (mountain passes), into quaint villages, and along ridgelines with breathtaking views. (Mont Blanc right)

There is a great deal of information available about the tour and a number of guidebooks and web guides that delineate a variety of different trails around Mont Blanc.

This hike is very popular and it is easy to craft a trip that can be self-guided or set up with a tour company that provides guides. The tour can even be done by bus or taxi if one is incapacitated or has problems walking. There are different levels of effort for different folks – from moderate to strenuous. You can easily do your own research on the web if you want to go.

Additionally, the Mont Blanc tunnel, completed in 1965, is a 11.6 kilometer subterranean road that links Chominix, France to Courmayeur, Italy. The twenty-minute ride is a lot faster than the walk!

The entire area has other attractions for the adventurous. Kayaking, mountain biking, tour biking, and tandem parasailing are a few of the endeavors in the summer season. Of course, skiing dominates the winter months.

Our Trip

Our group generally walked from six to seven hours a day over the course of eight days, with one rest day designated in the middle of the trip. Due to a medical condition, several of my days deviated from the group hike. The days ranged in challenge from strenuous to moderate. Usually it was the day’s ascent that determined the degree of effort and the ascent on some days was 900 to 1000 meters.

The weather was excellent during our trip and we were provided with a wealth of photographic opportunities. The object, as usual, was to keep the photography from interfering with the backpacking, and to keep the backpacking from interfering with the photography. A challenge.

We started (and ended) in Chomonix, France and made our way counter-clockwise around Mont Blanc. At night we either encamped at huts along the trail (left) or stopped in several of the villages in Italy and Switzerland.

Rarely would we walk to or from the village, but start or finish at a trailhead, taking a bus or a train to or from our hikes (other hikers loading up at right).

In addition to Chomonix we stayed at Courmayeur, Italy and Champex, Switzerland.

On the last day we took the cable car from the middle of Chamonix up to the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of the South) for a panoramic view of the French Swiss and Italian Alps at 3800 meters (Scene below).

Here are a few links to websites where we stayed:

Day One — Nant-Borrant dormitory:

Day Two — Refuge La Nova, Les Chapieux,

Day Three and Four — Hotel Miravalle Val Ferret, Courmayeur, Italy

Day Five — Dormitory: Pension en plein air, Champex,

Day Six — Hotel de la Forclaz, Trient,

Day Seven – Hotel La Chaumiere, Chamonix,

If you love mountain photography, this is the place to be!