Category Archives: Self-assigned

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.



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.

Fifty Feet

Every August for many years, I have gone to the family cottage in Ontario Canada. It provides a change of scenery and a respite from the oppressive mid-Atlantic heat. My kids grew up partaking in the delights of a lakeside cottage, complete with a variety of things to do such as swimming, boating and fishing.

Cottage traditions grew as well. Card games never played at home (euchre, cribbage), picture puzzles and the generic birthday party became some of these customs. For the party, the kids picked wild blackberries and raspberries that decorated a cake that had one candle on top.  Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” although it was no one’s “day” and then we all exchanged small gifts with each other.

As a photojournalist, many of my subjects were people. The cottage became a perfect spot for me to look at another aspect of photography: macro. National Geographic Magazine runs few macro (close up) pictures in general interest stories, as there are many subjects to cover in the assigned country/state/city and a macro picture takes away valuable space from a more important part of the story. But at the cottage, it became an opportunity to work with this style of photography.

I came up with a plan. Each year I would take on a fifty-foot by fifteen-foot area of the surrounding terrain and spend some photography time only within those confines. Each year focused on a different “fifty feet”. The ground rules were that I had to be able to see the area from the cottage, that it was a natural setting, and was discerning from the others. In addition, I would photograph only when I wanted to, there be no set schedule or time that I had to be on site.

Over ten years, each summer I embarked on another fifty feet. The subject matter was quite unique: The Beach, The Wetlands, The Forest, Birch Glen, Rock Wall, Underwater!, Rocky Shores, A Small Stream, Sky and Clouds, and Wildflowers.

These images were not taken for publication, but as a photographic exploration. This is the first that they have appeared for public view. I encourage you to take on such a project. It will help hone your photographic technique, and provide a creative outlet that you may have not yet explored.

Reverse Ripple

Birch bark