All posts in Travel

  • Photographers – You Need to Know Your Rights!

    Here's a quick post from some recent information I stumbled upon.  As I make my way between NYC and LA I am always amazed at what some police officers tell me I can or cannot shoot.  But this information from the ACLU puts most things into perspective.  NOTE: You should never break the law or interfere with real police matters when photographing anything.  However, you are able to shoot a lot more than what you think. Check out this link here from the ACLU: Download and keep a copy of this great PDF here:  

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  • The 5 Things I Learned Photographing Mono Lake

    This past weekend I traveled from my LA home to Mono Lake in Lee Vining, CA.  The drive to Lee Vining is a wonderfully beautiful 5.5 hours and it takes me through Lone Pine, Mount Whitney, Bishop and Mammoth Lakes.  There are so many great colors and landscapes that it's hard to keep my eyes on the road at times.  I knew it was going to be cold, cold, cold there since I had been tracking the weather and moon so I could make some images with snow, ice, stars and of course the star of the images the Tufa of Mono Lake.  I packed my Nikon D3s, the holy triumvirate of Nikkor lenses (14-24mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8) and my tripod.  I also packed some serious winter gear as the temperatures were dropping into negative degrees during that weekend.  All that considered, here are the 5 things I learned photographing Mono Lake in the winter.

    This was shot in the parking lot at the South Tufa entrance. I wanted some of the buildings in the foreground of this shot.

    1.   I really only needed 2 lenses Although I packed three lenses (well 4 but I never really use my 60mm Macro lens in situations like this) I found myself only using the 14-24mm and 24-70mm lenses on a regular basis.  Along with my 14-24mm lens, I purchased the Lee Filter set (which comes with a hard-edged gradient ND filter - don't ask me why they ship the filter set with this truly useless filter.  If I were only shooting oceans and flat horizons then the hard-edged ND filter would make sense but the majority of this world doesn't have a flat horizon - I also bought the 3 stop ND filter and used this filter on every shot I made) so that filter set was always on my lens when I used it and for some shots when I needed to zoom in a little closer I would switch to the 24-70mm lens fitted with a Circular Polarizing Filter AND a Variable 8-Stop ND Filter.  I looked around for things to photograph with a longer lens but since I was focused on the Tufa around the lake the closer, wider lenses really worked best. 2.   Hotels and dining in Lee Vining are extremely limited This time of year is the slow time of year so my choices lodging and eating options were very limited.  I stayed at the Lake View Lodge and there was no "Lake View" nor was it a "Lodge."  It was a motel at best.  The door to the room would latch but not close all the way so the negative temperatures were constantly creeping into the room all hours of the day.  So, to combat this I would turn up the in-room heater that would make it either super hot or super cold.  The bed was as hard as concrete and their in-room television selection was limited.  They didn't even have ESPN as one of their channels but they did have 2 History Channels (the same channel on two different stations) and a couple of shopping channels.  I mean, REALLY, who doesn't have ESPN?  And, I had to run the hot water for 20 minutes before any hot water would ever emerge.  At one point I called the front desk to ask if I had to pay extra for hot water so I could shower.  Also, the one restaurant open (Nicely's) during this time of year was actually really good.  They had homemade soups that were very tasty but they close at 8pm so if you don't get some food you may have to survive for the night on whatever you brought with you (or you can kill a rabbit or two, make a fire and have your own meal). 3.   Weather: Expect the unexpected... always! This time of year the weather is brutally cold and can change in an instant.  I had been tracking the weather for 2 weeks prior to departing for Mono Lake.  I knew it would be bitterly cold but January 11th was the "New Moon" and perfect for photographing the night skies and stars.  Once I passed Mammoth Lakes (24 miles south of Lee Vining) I experienced a horrific snow storm while driving over Dead Man's Summit.  I couldn't see 20 feet in front of me and was white-knuckle driving my wife's Nissan Maxima (my four wheel drive Jeep was getting repaired at the time of the trip) the last 24 miles to Lee Vining.   Once I finally arrived at the hotel the snow had completely stopped but the clouds were still blocking the stars from being photographed that night.  According to all news and weather reports, there was not supposed to be any snow or clouds in the forecast until Sunday.  So I settled into my hotel room and went to Nicely's for dinner where I spoke with the locals about the weather.  I learned quickly that neither they nor I should ever rely upon news and weather forecasts for the area since it can change at any moment.  The day I shot all these images had some great clouds and as soon as the sun settled behind the mountains surrounding the area the clouds disappeared showing me the most stars I have ever seen in my life and allowed for the Milky Way to come out and play. 🙂

    This was shot in the parking lot at the South Tufa entrance. I wanted some of the buildings in the foreground of this shot.

    4.   Pack smart, warm and be able to move quickly I had three bags with me when I walked from the parking lot to the tufa area.  I had two ThinkTank Camera Bags and a Camelbak backpack.  The next time I go back I will only have two bags and one WILL NOT be my ThinkTank Airport International bag.  This bag is great for traveling since it's on rollers but horrible for snow and can get heavy when I am not rolling it and carrying it.  Fortunately there weren't a lot of people here this weekend so I could leave my bags in one location without having to worry about whether or not anyone was rifling through them to taking things.  But the number of bags made it difficult to move quickly and get the right lens/filter combination for the photograph I wanted to make.  When I wrapping things up and leaving well into the night I had to carry the bags back to the car and my right hand started to get numb and tingling from the brutal cold (I did have very warm mittens but they prevented me comfortably carrying things so I had carry the bags without these) and I had to stop three times to warm my hands and prevent frostbite.   I am buying a pair of glove liners so I can have a small amount of protection next time. 5.   I can't wait to get back I have visited this area once before but during the summer.  There were tourists with cameras everywhere!  People were jockeying around the lake and the tufa to get that wonderful sunset shot so tripod space was a premium.  On this trip there were only three people trying to photograph the sunset and it was a welcome relief.  We all had our own spaces and areas and "vision" of what we wanted to capture.  It was nice to have that much space and freedom to move from one location to another and not have to worry about missing a shot because I couldn't get to the exact position I wanted.  Furthermore, there was something really peaceful and serene I experienced on this trip that wasn't experienced in the previous trip.  It was quiet, calm and I could sit and listen to the water and wind for hours.   If you travel here and are curious as to what else you may need then here's another list of items I would highly recommend:
    1. Flashlight/headlamp
    2. Extra batteries for your camera and flashlights
    3. Bear Pepper Spray (unlikely but just in case you need it)
    4. Knife (again, just in case you need it)
    5. Winter Boots (not just hiking boots)
    6. Ski Pants (I was on my knees a lot and never got cold from kneeling in the snow)
    7. A really warm, down-filled coat
    8. An intervalometer or other cable release
    9. Water/Food
    10. Patience - The right shot will come but you have to wait and expect the weather to change for the better (at times).
    I look forward to going again and hopefully can get to the Ghost Town of Bodie and photograph it in winter but I need to find someone with a snowmobile who can give me a ride there since the road to Bodie is closed in winter (anybody have a contact?). Until next time, SH

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  • Photography lesson #1 – Don’t be a lazy bonehead

    Always be prepared when shooting.  This is great advice; too bad I blew off the most important rule of photography. Recently I went to Washington DC to photograph the area and see what I can add to my PLACES Portfolio.  In prepping for the trip I wanted to pack as lightly as possible so I could be mobile and traverse the city to see what I could find.  I took my DSLR and two lenses (24-70mm 2.8 and a 14-24mm 2.8).  My goal was to be as versatile as possible in shooting and moving around and thought those lenses would give me the best opportunity to do just that.  I made a conscious decision NOT to take my tripod as I thought it would take up too much room and I didn't want to carry it around all over the place.

    Apparently I left the dog behind along with my tripod. Sorry Albert!

    Well, that was a complete bonehead, rookie mistake on my part.  Case in point, this image below was a great opportunity to make a great shot.  But since I didn't have my tripod with me I couldn't do any long exposures when the light was better or to create multiple exposures (for bracketing NOT HDR - My motto: Death before HDR!).  This is a nice image but as you can see there is too much clutter in the background that could easily be eliminated by shooting at night (long/longer exposure) or with multiple, bracketed exposures and then layered together in Photoshop.  By darkening the background by 2-3 stops I could have easily made this a better image where the point of focus is solely the carousel and not everything else around it.

    Breakdown of why I don't like this image and wish I had my tripod.

    In this image of the DC Metro I was able to rest my camera between a wall and a rail to get a 1/8th shutter speed (long exposure) for this image.  If that rail wasn't there then there's no way I could have held that camera with my bare hands to get a sharp exposure.  Hell, I can barely get a sharp exposure at 1/30th shutter speed by hand holding the camera.  Glad that rail was there so I could make this image.

    Love the lines and architecture of this area. I couldn't do this without some stabilizing element.

    Lesson Learned!  It takes a conscious effort to make sure a good photographer has everything he/she needs to bring an image to life.  And, because of my laziness I couldn't get what I wanted.  The good news is I am going back to DC in January and this time I will not forget to take the tripod so I can redo this image and add to my portfolio.  Lesson here - don't make a bonehead move like me... be prepared and don't be lazy.  It's always better to be have it and not use it than to not have it and need it. No more laziness... SH

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  • Salton Sea Images/Recap

    A couple of months ago I went with my friend, Crafty, to the Salton Sea.  I took my trusty Mamiya RZ67 film camera as I think there are certain locations that are just better shot on film than with a digital camera.  I loaded up the camera with 2 rolls of Ilford Delta Pro 100 B&W film to capture the gritty, earthy and solemn feel of the Salton Sea.  Again, if you don't know the tragic story of the Salton Sea then please check out this page HERE.

    My Mamiya RZ67 film camera

    Don't get me wrong, I think I could have made some great images with my Nikon DSLR but I truly believe that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot replicate the look of B&W film from a digital shot.  Yes, Nik Software's SILVER EFEX PRO 2 is an amazing piece of software that comes pretty damn close to emulating a true B&W film look.  Also, Vincent Versace has some great tips for converting digital images through the ACME Educational website.  But, if you were to ask most photographers I think you will find the vast majority will tell you that nothing you can do in Photoshop can compare to the final image you get from using your favorite B&W film. Crafty and I spent several hours driving around and looking for the best locations for shooting.  One of the first places I wanted to see was Salvation Mountain.  A devoutly religious, Christian man created this "mountain" over 25 years ago as an art project.  He was only going to stay one week but has since made it his home.  Unfortunately, the creator, Leonard Knight, suffers from dementia and has been placed in a long term care facility and is no longer on site.  I was hoping to meet the man who dedicated his life to this project but took solace in knowing we could see the project at least.  There are plans to keep this project alive and hopefully there will be enough paint, sweat and volunteers who can keep his vision alive long after he is gone.  While I am not a deeply religious person, I do respect any artist who has dedicated his/her life to their passion.  Knowing Mr. Knight wasn't around I wanted to create an image that signified his passion and desire.  I asked Crafty to pose for me here, put the Red 25A filter on the lens to completely darken the sky and made the image below (Yes, the starlight/God's light was added in Photoshop as that was what I was thinking about when I made this image).

    Redeemed by Salvation Mountain.

    Another place I wanted to visit is the old Red Hill Marina.  This used to be a thriving marina but now there is nothing left but busted up concrete, rocks, hills and dead Tilapia.  While walking around here I noticed these lone trees sitting in the dried up area that used to be part of the Salton Sea (the sea levels are diminishing year after year).   I found this sad and wanted to make an image of this tree.  This tree and marina reminded me of everything that used to be thriving and vibrant with the sea.  But if you look closely you can still see some large bird nests in the limbs and that actually gave me hope that this beautiful area can, once again, be alive with tourists, homes, people and life (Editorial note: But I am sure if a lot of people start coming back to this area again then I am sure they will figure out a way to screw it up. - Now I am stepping down off soapbox). 🙂

    A lone tree at the Salton Sea.

    When we wrapped up walking around the Red Hill Marina we found this little driving trail leading us to another side of the area.  Being the explorers that we are, we wanted to see what was on the other side.  After following the path we came to (what appeared to be) an abandoned trailer park/RV area.  There was a posted sign stating that no cars were able to drive past this marked area without permission.  So I got out of the car and started walking around yelling for someone or anyone to come out.  After about 15 minutes of walking around and asking if anyone was around we decided to drive past the marked area, park the car and get out and walk toward the Salton Sea to explore possible shoots.  Around 20 minutes into our walk we notice a car coming from the area we had just left.  The vehicle was coming toward us and I knew we were in trouble.  As the old Chevy Blazer approached and stopped, this diminutive man of 70+ years steps out of the vehicle and starts to inquire as to why we were there, what we were doing, didn't we read the signs, etc.  It felt like an interrogation.  However, after about 10 minutes of talking and letting the caretaker of the property (if you saw this area you would scratch your head wondering why there was a "caretaker" of the area) introduced himself as J.J. and started telling us stories about the area, his life as a Marine and his passion for living at the Salton Sea!  He showed us the arsenal he had in the back of his vehicle in case he needed to use it on us.  One of the items he pulled out was a Samurai sword and I knew I had to get a shot.  Here's the image I made of J.J.

    The Salton Sea Samurai

    This man is so proud of this area and where he lives he took Crafty and me around the Sea to show us some of the best locations that only locals know about.  I also promised J.J. that I would print the image I made of him and get it to him.  As a side note, I did return to the area about 10 days later with my lovely wife, Lisa, and handed J.J. a 16x20 print of this shot.  J.J. also pulled out part of his arsenal of firearms and let Crafty take target practice.  You can see that below. Lastly, if you are wondering why there are only three images from my shoot, I have to admit that I discovered a massive light leak with the camera.  The bad part of shooting film is that you don't know about the dreaded "Light Leak" until you develop your negatives.  Now while some people like the light leak effect I don't particularly care for it.  I had to trash many of the images because the leak directly affected the area I wanted to have the viewer focus on.  But the leak has since been repaired and I am looking forward to going back to the Salton Sea for more images.  In case you don't know what a light leak is then here is an example.

    More to come,


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