“I wake up every morning and say to myself,
I’m still in NY… thank you God.”
~Mayor Ed Koch ~
The Big Apple… organized chaos at its finest. You can lament about the ridiculous price of rent, congestion, noise and the endless amount of broken dreams. Or, you can relish the pure magic and energetic pulse of a city in perpetual motion.
What is not open for discussion is the endless array of photo opportunities. Everything from the architectural genius of the Manhattan skyline to the cultural diversity of Greenwich Village to the brilliant mind of Frederick Law Olmsted and his vision of Central Park.
Over the years, I’ve survived a plethora of NYC experiences. Most of them good and a few… let’s just say have been comical or frustrating.
Let me explain.
The first memory pertains to a street hustler. Basically, a clown dressed as the Statue of Liberty and silently charging ‘rent’ for anyone who wants a picture of him with his fake torch and NYC arrogance. On this particular evening, he was poaching the street corner opposite Radio City Music Hall. Standing on a milk crate afforded him an elevated perspective above the holiday crowds. I simply liked him in the foreground of my photo. I thought I could focus on him and blur Radio City Music Hall, or perhaps reverse the order and let him be an out of focus silhouette against he marquee. Either image seemed acceptable.
Every time I raised my camera to my eye though, he’d either turn his back or raise his arm to block his face. My original thought was this must be coincidental? I’m shooting with a short zoom lens and probably 20 yards away from him standing among of thousands of tourists. He can’t be turning because of me? However, as I learned, every time I raised my camera to shoot, he’d change his posture to alter (i.e. screw up) my image.
After this game continued for about 5-10 minutes, I walked up to the individual and explained what I was doing. In short, I wasn’t looking to have a picture taken with him (which lots of tourists do). Far from it. I simply wanted him as part of my wide angle holiday perspective.
He politely bent over from his perch and told me, “No money, no picture.” Hmmm…. was my first thought. Then I gathered my senses and in the spirit of Christmas thought, let me offer him $2 for his time. He again arrogantly responded with “There’s a $5 minimum.” This is where I lost my wonderful disposition and we exchanged a few pleasantries. I thought a wresting match was going to commence between me and the Lady of the Harbor… or at least the one standing in front of Radio City Music Hall on a milk crate.
Another historic and life changing event included having my car vandalized on 86th Street. The car being vandalized isn’t mind boggling for New York. If it never happened to a local, you’re more the exception than the norm. A sad fact of life. The terrifying part was the sudden realization that my large Tamrac camera bag missing from the trunk. This actually made me nauseous. For anyone who remembers these large bags, they allowed you to carry two of everything. This included almost every piece of camera equipment I owned at the time… two Nikon bodies, two flashes, several lenses and various accessories. Everything was gone in an instance.
This ordeal haunts me to this day. It was a violation of monumental proportions that occurred within a two hour time frame. I’m still jaded by this experience and to this day and leave nothing of value in my car when in NYC. You might say, I’m once burned & forever shy.
Regardless of a few poor memories, optimism wins out in the end. Life deals you a lemon now & then and you simply have to roll with it. You keep looking at the bright side of the picture.
So, without further rambling on my part, here are a few favorite images over the years (click to enlarge)…
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
~ John Muir ~
As the young girl at the park entrance scanned my card, she politely stated, “I’m sorry mister, but your card expired.” I quickly realized I forgot to renew my New York State Empire Pass at the end of 2018. The annual renewal process formerly took place in March of each year. However, since the State transitioned from a window sticker to an ID card, the renewal period changed as well. Unfortunately for me, I’m a creature of habit to a certain extent and I can’t seem to get on-board with the new time frame.
So, it was back to the house to log into my New York State Parks account and pony up $75 for 2019.
This gem of a card is now transferable between vehicles. Gone are the days of separate registration for each car. This always seemed a bit silly to me as there is often more than one person in your family would like to join you for a walk, hike or bike ride. Thus, you had to consciously take the vehicle with the sticker in the window to avoid the $8 daily parking fee.
State parks are truly magnificent - a real treasure. Thank goodness for forward thinking individuals like Edward Harriman and Robert Moses. In New York State alone, there is a plethora of parks, beaches, golf courses, etc, at your disposal. Your Empire Pass affords you access to any one of these locations. Here are a few NYS facts & figures:
350,000 acres of public land
215 State Parks
67 developed beaches
35 swimming pools
40 boat launch sites
28 golf courses
From a photographers perspective, this represents a gold mine of opportunity. New York State has everything from beaches to mountains to skyscrapers. Whether you choose a day at Jones Beach, Lake Ontario or White Face Mountain, you have plenty of choices. Believe you me, there will never be a shortage of splendid scenery.
Photographers can sometimes be a fickle lot and feel exotic travel destinations are the key to good imagery. It’s as though anything new will automatically ignite your inner Monet. This is soooo far from the truth it’s comical. New places can certainly be invigorating, but good photography starts with you and your personal vision. Opening your eyes to opportunity and seeing what is being presented to you is key. We’ve all heard the expression, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Often times, the opposite is true with photography and you’ll have to “Believe it to see it.”
One of my all-time favorite parks is right down the street from where I live - Rockland Lake State Park. The 1,333 acre park includes a four mile lake, bike trail, large pool, two 18 hole golf courses and plenty of room to move. It’s a peaceful oasis for locals and a weekend getaway for NYC folks as it’s only 45 minutes north of Manhattan.
Four seasons provide a splendor of photographic differentiation and an endless amount of possibilities. The park is so close to me, I could walk or bike ride to the main entrance. However, transporting a camera, a few lenses and a tripod is more convenient in the car. Hence, the park pass!
So, if you’re not a frequent user of your State park system, it may be time for a second look. However, if you’re a regular like myself, every visit is a true blessing and full of endless wonder.
Until next time…
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
~ Mark Twain ~
The opening quote is quite intriguing to me. It also confirms the worldly knowledge obtained from traveling… cultures, religions, convictions, etc.
I believe Mark Twain also said (and I paraphrase):
“If you never leave your own country, you never got past chapter one.”
As my own desire for extended travel continues its thought provoking ways, I marvel at those who made a lifestyle of gallivanting around the globe before me. Call it what you want… sightseeing, voyaging, navigating, trekking, expedition, etc… I’ve become fond of the terms Wanderlust and/or Vagabonding.
So much so, I recently read the book Vagabonding - An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel by Rolf Potts for a better understanding of the restless soul. It’s an incredibly thought provoking book and leaves plenty of ideas to ponder. A few wanderlust seeds have been planted in the creative side of my brain. Now I’m hoping the right side can figure out the financing and logistics!
The author defines Vagabonding as:
(1) The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time. (2) A privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasizes creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit. (3) A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible.
Statistically, it’s the 18-35 year old age group that treks for extended periods of time. It’s logical that young folks take a gap year between high school and college or take a year off between college and the real world. It’s simple math… no responsibilities = where do you want to go?
Youth is wasted on the young… as my dad use to say.
Many a travel book has been written over the years. Some modern day classics would include; The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, On the Road by Jack Kerouac and A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson. Before the choir chimes in, I’m sure there are plenty others worthy of mention, but I’ll keep a short list for simplicity sake.
One of the all-time classics from yesteryear would surely include; Livres des Marveille du Monde or The Travels of Marco Polo… published around the year 1300. It covers the 17 year old as he logs 15,000 miles and spends 24 years on the Silk Road traversing various parts of Asia and China before returning to his hometown of Venice. A true classic.
Another timeless tome is “The Innocents Abroad,” by Mark Twain. Published in 1869, he discusses his travels through Europe and the Holy Land. Samuel Clemens may have been best remembered as a writer, but he traveled extensively as well.
So, as I continue my own Wanderlust thoughts and rationalize getting an extended journey on the calendar, I have plenty of inspiration to read… and/or re-read.
Turning a thought into reality will require some work.
“In an eagle there is all the wisdom of the world”
~ Lame Deer ~
This past week, I was gently reminded that photographing wildlife is vastly different than shooting a sporting event. The latter occurs during a designated time at a specific location. You show up, snap a few frames and go home when the final whistle blows (okay… maybe it’s not this easy, but you get the point).
Eagles on the other hand, play by their own rules. They don’t play in the same arena each day. Don’t respond to whistles and can sit on a branch far longer than you can sit on your rear end waiting for them to take flight. A simple fact of life.
Photographing them requires a keen understanding of their patterns and a tremendous amount of patience. Unfortunately, I’m lacking in both of these areas. I anticipate going to the local hot spot, waiting a few minutes and then being able to photograph an aerie (yes, I had to look this word up!) of eagles with talons extended fighting over food with one another on the ice float 25 yards in front of me.
Boy, if it were only that simple.
On the bright side, I have learned a few things about the bald eagle to better prepare me for my next photographic outing. For example, the majestic bird of prey with it’s white head was designated our national bird in 1782 and can only be found in North America. They almost became extinct largely due to the legalizing of the pesticide DDT in 1972. Fortunately, various conservation efforts were successful over several decades resulting in eagles making a comeback. In 1999, they were so abundant, they were removed from the endangered species list.
Ironically, it’s only fitting the bald eagle is thriving in the West Point region of New York State. The Hudson River is an idealistic place for this majestic symbol of freedom and can often be spotted on campus. The Hudson River provides a vast array of food and shelter and lends itself a natural habitat.
I can’t imagine I’m ever going to be an expert on photographing bald eagles, but I’ve come a long way in a short period of time.
The birthplace of skiing…
“A pair of skis are the ultimate transportation to freedom.”
Like my parents before me, the mountains of Europe are once again calling and another Ski Pilgrimage will take flight in short notice.
Having now skied 50+ years, I’ve had a good run by most standards. I’ve logged numerous miles of smiles on three continents, skied on a few glaciers and have crisscrossed western US ski areas in an Orion Belt like fashion.
I’ll admit to being extremely grateful on two counts… My parents taught me how to ski at a very young age (2 1/2) and I’ve been very fortunate (and lucky) to have avoided serious injury over the last five decades. Two things I don’t take lightly!
As such, the mountains have always provided a special allure to me and the sport of skiing itself offers a unique kinship & perspective on life.
There aren’t many vacations whereby you can fly solo or with a buddy and meet 100+ new friends in one week. You may not know a soul on day #1, but that doesn’t deny the fact everyone at the resort has one thing in common… a passion for skiing. The sport transcends genders, cultures & languages… it’s truly amazing how a common element can start a friendship.
Ski clubs are abundant in the United States and always looking for new members and/or guests to form group trips. Some of the best known clubs aren’t even in the continental US. After all, Europe… and St. Moritz in particular… are credited as the birthplace of skiing (side note: my late father was a member of the oldest ski club in the world… Kandahar Ski Club of Great Britain… a story for another day).
Speaking of clubs, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Club Med. Many will recognize the name as a warm weather, beach oriented vacation company. With a show of hands, how many knew they offered great ski vacations in the European Alps? Precisely. I didn’t fully realize how many destinations they operated as well. In recent years, I’ve been privy to their hospitality in Chamonix, Cervinia and will add St. Moritz to the list this year.
So, whether you’re an avid skier or someone who hasn’t gone in a few years, the faint whisper you may be hearing on a cool winter day may just be the mountains calling your name.
In closing, I’ll leave you with another quote from the legendary Warren Miller…
“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll only be one year older when you do.”
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t… you’re right!” ~ Henry Ford ~
It’s a brand new day… time to turn the page. A time for reflection and new beginnings. Flipping the calendar in December as a wee lad never seemed like a big deal. With 365 days in the year, why should one day be any different than the next?
As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve changed my mind. Perhaps this is an older & wiser realization.
A new year is a big deal. Whether you had a fabulous or lousy year is is now history. You can reflect on the highlights and discard the bad. It’s time to set new goals and come out swinging. If you aren’t the type to write down what you would like to accomplish, give it a try this year. Your notes will then be a gentle reminder to stay focused on the end objective(s). With a fresh new twelve months ahead of you, there’s no reason you can’t hit your bogeys and make some life altering changes.
As for my goals? One in particular I’d like to improve upon is staying in the moment. We’re all guilty of thinking of all the things we have to day later in the day, tomorrow or next week. However, every minute we’re afforded with family & friends should be cherished - after all, time is our most limited & valuable commodity and and should be used wisely.
Let’s get started!
Let’s make 2019 a year to remember.
Every year during the holidays, I inevitably get one or two questions regarding my favorite photography books. I always pause for a moment before answering as I segregate them into three categories… new, favorites and classics. They’re all a bit different and cover different topics. Some are instructional and others are purely world class imagery.
I’ve always enjoyed reading and find the holidays a great time of year to catch up or simply add a few more titles to the nightstand. Ironically, there’s always another book I want to get to and there never seems to be enough time to read everything that intrigues me. Toss in a few books on becoming a better writer, and I’m further behind.
So without further commentary… here are several books (a bakers dozen) worthy of your time. I won’t attach hyper links as I don’t know if you prefer hard books and/or ebooks or Amazon to Barnes & Noble. Your choice…
There are great rivalries in sports and then there is Army Navy football. The annual get together is unbridled in enthusiasm and unpredictable in results.
Army played their nemesis yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the #119 time. Navy leads the historic series 60-52-7 and unlike last year, snow was not in the forecast this year. A classic cool and crisp December day would prevail.
Entering the game with an eight game win streak, Army was clearly the favored team. Betting lines would indicate a 6.5 point spread for the game. However, as every military football fan knows, this game is vastly different. The magnitude of this game is clearly defined by history and the results are motivation enough to trump any type of seasonal statistic. This is a game of pride and the brotherhood of all those who came before. You could disregard the fact Army had the better record (9-2) and a national ranking (#23) while Navy (3-9) seemed to be struggling this season.
Cadets and Midshipman alike believe winning this one game can define a season.
Navy Superintendent Vice Admiral Walter E. Carter, Jr. summed it up best when interviewed on ESPN radio when asked about Army’s two game win streak going into this years showdown. He politely stated, “The first was a gift, the second was a fluke. We’ll see what happens this year.” The former top gun pilot was cool and polite and simply believed his alma mater was ready.
Army Head Coach Jeff Monken was asked about the rivalry and responded, “We pass those signs in the building and all over Post day after day that say beat navy and finally we get the opportunity to play this game. It is a tremendous rivalry and it is such a privilege and an honor for all of us competing in this game to take part in such a prestigious game and rivalry. Knowing what it means to so many people; to those who graduated from this academy and the other one, to the men and women who serve the branches of service we play for, the uniforms we wear and the colors which represent those men and women. It has been a long time coming – these three weeks leading up seems like forever, but it really comes at a welcome time to get rested, get healthy and hopefully have most of our team ready to play in the biggest rivalry in sports."
After 60 minutes of football yesterday, the final canon was fired and Army was victorious with a 17-10 win. Chants of “3-Peat” were heard in various sections of the stadium. With a victory over Air Force earlier this season, the Commander-In-Chief Trophy will continue its residency at West Point for another season.
Until next year…
This is the 2nd part to last months comments, thoughts, or Random Musings… Part 1
Anyone who’s a sports fan has to admit, fall is a brilliant time of year. The summer doldrums give way to crisp, intoxicating mornings with cool & pleasant nights and sports galore begin to dominate the airwaves… and my personal photography calendar. Everything from baseball, football, soccer and crew is in play at a local, collegiate and professional level.
The change in temperature also makes it a great time of year for putting on the hiking boots and enjoying the splendor of fall foliage. The Hudson Valley offers a plethora of color this time of year and the best views are often obtained off the beaten path. There are so many hiking trails or mountain biking paths in the region, picking one over the other is a moot point.
Clothing has its own transition as well. Sun shirts go into hibernation and polar fleece returns to every day wear. This may sound odd to warm weather residents, but gloves, hats, light jackets and a blanket take up residence in your Subaru. You never know when they’re going to be needed! Chilly or outright cold weather can show up at any time and rain and/or snow is common in Nov & Dec. Having the right gear for changing conditions keeps you warm & dry and simply elevates the outdoor experience. Remember, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
Finally, as a photographer, please do not leave your camera at home! Any camera will do… iPhone, point & shoot, DSLR or mirrorless. Seriously. The model doesn’t matter. Just get out and shoot! The beautiful colors of fall, the abundance of sporting events and all the various festivals in the region are truly amazing. There is no shortage of wonderful photo opportunities.
Until next time.
I think the Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie got it right when he created the free spirited character of Peter Pan. Where else can a mischievous child with the ability to fly live in the modern world? Toss in the fact he lives on the mystical island of Neverland and the best part… yup… he never grows old!
When we’re young, the “I can’t waits…” lurk around every corner of life. I can’t wait until I’m tall enough to ride the roller coaster. I can’t wait for summer vacation. I can’t wait to get my drivers license. I can’t wait to turn 18, etc.
Then one day you wake up and presto-chango… you’re 50 something years old. Now I can’t wait for a time machine to go back to 30 something!
I’m not a fan of the aging process. Seriously… it’s like the tide coming in. You can only hold it at bay for so long. The fact remains… the stuff I did at 25, I’d like to continue doing today… same pace, energy and results. Note to younger self: Aside from a fleeting moment of hitting 62 mph on my skis last year (think Toby Keith… “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was”) things don’t play out like they use to.
So, I continue to channel my inner Ponce de Leon in search of the fountain of youth. In the meantime, I believe I’ve found a temporary substitute. It happens to be 3 miles down the road and resembles a large building full of weights & cardio machines. I think they call it a gym. It even has a water fountain, but you would be well advised to bring your own water in fear of getting the cooties. I have an informal reservation each morning @ 7:30. Sometimes I really push the tempo and other times I think I’m just in search of my younger self.
While I sort out this getting older thing, slowing things down and hitting the pause button is the goal these days. Trying to squeeze extra minutes out of every hour is a challenge. I believe it to be a noble endeavor. It can be hard at times, particularly when work creates its own schedule & deadlines.
The weekend becomes my oasis and allows a different story to unfold. There’s a bit more flexibility and time for personal play
Saturday morning begins with a different mind set. No gym routine nor structured format to the day. Fielder’s choice is the protocol… basically, do what you want when you want. Waking up to a cup of coffee in my fuzzy slippers and doing some reading is a great start. This may be followed by a little mountain biking and/or photography. During the fall months, I tend to shoot something sports related at the local high school or West Point. If nothing is on the calendar, I often visit one of the local lakes to discover a photo or two. They have a weekend buzz of their own and it’s energizing to see so many people in motion early in the morning. The relaxed pace of my day coupled with a decent frame or two always puts a smile on my face.
Over the years… or decades… I’ve come to believe, weekends are good for the soul. It’s a yin & yang thing. They re-calibrate life and allow you to collect your thoughts and energies. I’m sure one day a fountain of youth will be discovered… or perhaps a great time machine… but, in the meantime, father time marches on.
Finally… I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to a glass of red wine (or two) making the weekend even better.
Ah yes… the magic of marketing.
Where else can you see/read/hear an advertisement and then impulsively find yourself shelling out money for something you probably didn’t need in the first place?
We’ve all been there and I’m as guilty as the next person. Going to Starbucks several times a week for a $3 coffee is my brilliant example. It’s ridiculous when I think about it. I can buy an entire can of Chock Full O’Nuts Coffee (Cuban Roast if you’re curious) for $9.99. It affords 90 cups of coffee for about $0.12 per cup. I choose to go to my local Starbucks though and plunk down $3 per visit.
I must be an idiot.
I’m starting to think the same logic applies to buying camera equipment. It’s the dangling carrot in my world. The thrill of the hunt… chasing technology… new cameras & faster lenses.
The reality is everything from a smartphone to a medium format camera will take good quality images these days. They all put an incredible amount of creative flexibility in your hands. With technology advancing at a break-neck pace, new models from every manufacturer are released on an annual basis. So much so, Apple brilliantly builds iPhone suspense around their latest & greatest upgrades which seem to take place every September.
This leads me to my technology delusion… or dilemma: How often do I upgrade my equipment? As a semi-professional, there are many items to consider. The most obvious are: cost, quality, sensor size, weight, megapixels and frames-per-second (fps).
Advertising doesn’t make the choice(s) any easier. Nikon is “At the Heart of the Image” while Canon wants you to “See Impossible.” Basically, both of these market leaders hope you upgrade your camera equipment on a regular basis.
The smartphone is unquestionably the camera of choice these days for the masses. This may not be the professionals choice, but I’d venture to say everyone uses it for wireless transfers and then posts to social media. So, while it may not always be your first choice in capturing an image, it’s certainly part of the process. Overall, it’s a brilliant camera despite its obvious limitations. Statistics seem to indicate there are more pictures taken with an iPhone every year (1.2 billion) than every other camera combined. Considering the iPhone didn’t even exist at the turn of the century, this is truly remarkable.
For the DSLR and/or mirrorless enthusiasts.. bigger is better. The larger the sensor, the better the image quality. Period. However, the new top of the line cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony will set you back $3,000-$5,000 each. Depending on the genre of your photography, this cost is a major financial hurdle. Gone are the days of travel assignments where you were well paid to shoot original content. Today, plenty of wire services (i.e. AP, Getty, Reuters, etc.) are selling regurgitated contractual photos for $5 each. Sadly, this has permanently altered the publishing landscape and the photojournalism industry.
Personally, I have a few different cameras in my bag these days. They all take good quality photos and tend to fill different needs.
iPhone 7 Plus - Everyday use - always with me
Holga 120N - Medium format film camera. Light leaks. Fun plastic camera
Sony Rx100 IV - Lightweight travel camera. Zeiss lens. One inch sensor
Canon 7D Mark II - Everyday use & sports camera. APS-C sensor. 10fps
So, as I look to add another camera body to the mix primarily for sports use, I struggle with what to buy(?). Sadly, the only full frame camera with great quality and adequate fps in the Canon line up is the 1Dx Mark II. It’s considered the professional camera and retails for about $5,000. There’s no doubt it’s worth every penny, but a far cry from the $1,800 price tag on the 7D Mark II. I’ve occasionally rented the Canon 1Dx Mark II for sporting events in which a full frame sensor was desired (i.e. Army/Navy football).
I may be the exception when it comes to upgrading equipment. I usually don’t feel the need to follow the ‘newer is better’ cadence so prevalent in the industry. Some advancements are truly ground breaking (i.e. film to digital, image stabilization, etc.); however, most advancements are minor refinements or slight improvements that truthfully won’t improve your creative vision or artistic ability.
This reminds me of the analogy about the golfer buying new clubs with a $1,000 budget. He would be well advised to buy clubs in the $400-$500 price range and spend the rest of the money on lessons. Sadly, the reality is they will purchase $1,000 clubs and take zero lessons. What is the end result? Yup… you guessed it… they now hook their tee shot a little faster and drive the ball an additional 30 yards into the woods. Blissful ignorance at its best.
In most areas of life, I’m very pragmatic. I’m under no false pretenses that a new camera is going to improve my photography skills. Similar to the golfer, if my pictures currently lack an inherent quality, a bigger, faster camera isn’t going to change anything. I’ll simply take more crappy pictures at an accelerated rate. Time to sign up for more workshops!
In summary… we’re always running after new technology. It will always be a step ahead of us. What to buy & when will always be a central theme. The psychological desire for bigger & better seems to be human nature (dare I say an American trait?); however, the grounded part of me will stay in my comfort zone. A few decisive factors will always include;
Buy what you can afford
In the meantime, it’s time to get outdoors and find some creative inspiration.
Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome (feel free to leave a comment).
Over the last 200 years, there have been a plethora of monumental events... world wars, political upheavals, famine, mass exoduses, etc. and yet families still have petrified roots in one particular region of a country. So, there's always a bit of jealousy when friends travel to Europe to visit family. Me on the other hand, I look at the globe without boundaries. I guess this could be viewed as sad in a sense, but enlightening at the same time.
As a result, when it comes to planning vacations, destination anywhere is my rule.
I've had the good fortune of trekking to some wonderful places over the last decade. Winter vacations always have a skiing orientation while summer travel is couple related with lots of sightseeing.
Everywhere from Maine to California and Ireland to Switzerland have made the agenda. It's always gratifying to start the process every year... select, plan, execute and cross the destination off the list upon returning.
Mark Twain once said...
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
I wholeheartedly agree.
I'm non-discriminate when it comes to traveling, exploring or sailing away. There are so many places to see in this beautiful world of ours, where you go is essentially irrelevant.
Growing up as an only child, I had plenty of boyhood dreams. They usually involved becoming a professional athlete in some capacity, but the realistic ones were focused on traveling to exotic locations.
My parents had Scottish/Canadian/German/Irish ancestry but no specific region(s) abroad to call home. As such, I consider myself a mixed bag of ethnicity with an American bias.
Every destination has been unique and light years apart in visual aesthetics & historical relevance and yet all have been equally as memorable. The small fishing villages of Maine are classic New England and offer world class charm. Greece, on the other hand, is so rich in history, it's hard to wrap your head around 2,000 years of civilization.
Plenty of friends have a home field bias when it comes to traveling and prefer to stay in familiar surroundings. I guess our country is so big & diverse, they don't feel the urge to travel outside our borders? Or, maybe anything before 1776 is irrelevant? Although I'll never know for sure... and will never impose my views on them... I do think they're missing out on a meaningful element of life.
In my experience(s), I've come to the conclusion, international travel offers an astonishing path to self-discovery. Not only is it good for the soul, It's truly enlightening & educational on many levels. Everything from culture, food, language and even politics (especially these days) comes into play and challenges your core beliefs. Many will remember the self help books of the '80's discussing getting outside your comfort zone to allow for personal growth. Most of these books never directly mentioned travel; however, I think it's fair to say the indirect benefits of globe trotting meet this criteria.
So, you might be asking, "What have I learned or discovered in my journeys?" Several things would be the correct answer. However, at the top of the list is NOT knowing a second language. Every time I go to Europe, I'm quickly reminded of this fact. I understand Europe has numerous countries next to one another with different languages. Simply based on geography, you're bound to learn one, if not two, purely by osmosis. If NY, NJ, CT and MA were different countries with unique languages, I would probably be fluent in several languages as well.
Years ago... and for some unknown reason... I opted to take French instead of Spanish classes in high school. What a dummy. To this day, I scratch my head at this decision. Not only did I grow up in an area of New York with a Latino influence, I never had a chance to use my French and it rapidly disappeared. To make matters worse, I was well aware of Spanish becoming the dominant language in the world.
I'm not sure if I was ignorant at the time, but a dunce hat seems appropriate in hindsight.
Lastly... I hope to continue my travels as it broadens my outlook on life & humanity. Who knows, I may even finally learn a second language as well.
Artist, Photographer, Image Maker or Visual Storyteller? How do you categorize your creative endeavors these days? It's a fair question as the lines are getting blurred in the digital era. I know several well known Photographers who use the words Artist or Visual Storyteller in their Instagram profile.
Keep in mind, there's no right or wrong answer here... simply personal choice.
I'll readily admit, I'm a Photographer at heart when it comes to news related events (i.e. politics, sports, graduations, etc.). Some might call me a Purist to a certain degree. There are certain rules & ethics that apply to photojournalism that should never be violated. Namely, do NOT alter the final image. Sure, a little adjustment to the brightness or maybe some added contrast is acceptable... but that's it. The integrity of the image should always remain intact.
Old timers will remember the 1982 National Geographic faux pas. The magazine was seeking a graphically appealing image of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and moved one of the two pyramids for a better composition. Bad move. A firestorm of controversy ensued and the credibility of National Geographic came into question. They violated a coveted rule.
And so began the digital age of photography...
Outside of news events, any other time affords you the opportunity to get creative! If breaking the rules leads to better art, photography, image making or visual story telling, fly your freak flag and get busy! Go beyond your circle of comfort, break the rules and try new things! The more creative the better.
Personally, I don't think these creative excursions will ever become my primary focus. But, let it be known, the whole process is highly enjoyable... almost addicting. You can spend hours playing with new technology and the plethora of mobile apps on the market these days. Trust me when I say, you will never get bored.
You may also wish to mix & match cameras, software and mobile apps in pursuit of your art. There's no one size fits all. I often shoot the original picture on my Canon 7D Mark II or Sony Rx100 IV then wirelessly transfer the image to my iPhone for post processing. Sometimes I'll go from the iPhone to Lightroom on my PC and then back to the iPhone. I'm sure a lot of people will do one stop photography on their iPhone. But, your mobile phone shouldn't be considered the end-all-be-all. Shooting with my 8mm-15mm fish eye or 300mm/f2.8 lens cannot be duplicated on the iPhone. With all the built-in features and higher quality optics of new cameras, why limit yourself?
I've certainly wandered off the beaten path of photography in recent years. With so many creative opportunities at your fingertips, it's hard not to experiment. Sometimes I get a pile of rubbish and can't hit the delete button fast enough. Other times, I'm pleasantly surprised when a few diamonds emerge from the memory card.
Depending on your vision, there are many avenues to reach your artistic goals. As noted above, I use several tools & apps when post processing images. This list would include... Lightroom... and a host of iPhone apps... Snapseed, Camera+, Hipstamatic, Brushstroke, Waterlogue, Slow Shutter, Grungetastic, Glaze, TinType and Distressed FX.
Photographers can be a serious lot. Always on the prowl for the perfect image. It's time to relax and bring back your sense of wonder. Time to get out and play.
Life is full of rules.
It starts at a young age... listen to your mother... do as you're told... do as I say, not as I do (one of my personal favorites!)... clean your room... make your bed... stay within the lines... raise your hand... speak when spoken to... don't talk back... etc.
You could go on-and-on.
When it comes to photography, there are plenty of rules as well. Some have validity, while many are simply confining (see paragraph #1... Stay within the lines). There should be a footnote in every photography book:
***Conforming to all rules may be hazardous to your creativity***
Studies have shown that children can be incredibly creative before they know anything about do's & don'ts. Their sense of artistic expression has no boundaries at a young age... then Kindergarten comes along and everyone is taught to follow the same guidelines. Exit creativity... enter similarity.
Okay, I'll admit, I'm oversimplifying the process. Knowing the rules is always advantageous; however, knowing when to break them and deviate from the group consensus can produce unique imagery. Some of the most creative photographers I've seen in recent years know little or nothing about the technical elements of photography or composition. They simply have a wanderlust for capturing a moment in time.
Some of the more popular photography rules include;
#1. Fill the frame (no empty space).
#2. Don't cut off limbs (i.e. don't crop at the knees or elbows)
#3. Utilize the Rule of Thirds (think tick-tack-toe grid).
#4. A clean background is desirable (dark or simple).
#5. Balance visual weight (objects should compliment each other).
#6. Foreground interest & depth is desirable (i.e. beginning, middle and end).
#7. Present a unique point of view (high, low, etc).
#8. Use leading lines (s-curves and lines will lead the viewer through the frame).
#9. Frame your subjects with natural objects (i.e. trees, leaves, buildings, etc.).
#10. Incorporate rule of odds... (i.e. 3 birds are better than 4).
Knowing when to follow rules... and when to break them... is part of the photographers artistic expression. Setting up a shoot for commercial or advertisement purposes affords a lot of control. Street photographers, on the other hand, will have to patiently bide their time until a scene comes together. In the end, the creative vision of the individual will dictate the final frame.
Many artists have discussed the topic of rules for centuries. I'll finish with one of my favorite quotes...
"Learn the rules like a pro,
so you can break them like an Artist."
A few years ago, I was getting bored with my photography. Similar to the perpetual tide, life has a way of ebbing & flowing and interests can wane. I wasn't bored to the point of selling my gear. God forbid. I was simply restless and not shooting on a regular basis.
My creative muse was nowhere to be found.
Although I wasn't overly concerned, I was frustrated. Everyone goes through these fruitless periods, but how & when do you emerge on the other side is always a mystery? When professional baseball players are in a slump, they revert back to fundamentals. All the things that got them to where they are become important again - hit the ball, field the ball, throw the ball and run the bases. Basics win games. Period. Get away from the rudimentary stuff and you lose your edge.
In his book On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft, author Stephen King discusses his creative challenges. As prolific as he is, he too has mental constipation (as my father use to call it) when it comes to his craft. Most creatives find a daily routine to be their greatest ally. Write early in the morning. Make your phone calls late in the day and so forth. He is no different. Mornings are his most productive time to write. Perhaps a rested mind first thing in the morning is key? Or maybe it's the excitement of a new day? Fact remains, he has difficult stretches like everyone else... after all, he's human. When he's struggling to find the right words though, he gets up from his desk and goes for a walk. He tries to rid himself of mental clutter and get back to basics.
A wise man once said, "Boredom always precedes a great period of creativity."
I'm not sure if my boredom was followed by great creativity? This would certainly be a reach (high expectations in that statement and way too much pressure!). Let's just say, I got back to basics and my muse magically reappeared.
I've always enjoyed the photographic process. I relish the belief the world slows down when I'm taking pictures. Things tend to move in slow motion and time becomes secondary. Morning dew, wild flowers and even a NYC bridge appear different when I'm actually seeing and not just looking.
I hesitate to say, you view the world differently when you're at peace with yourself. Sounds a bit spiritual animal like, but think about it - when you're relaxed, breathing easy and in your photographic zone, the world comes to you. Creative imagery seems more abundant and you don't seem to work as hard. It's almost effortless and the creative process becomes enjoyable again. We know it's true, we've all been there. It would be great to bottle a few of these moments and break them out in times of need.
I think my expanded addition of image boxes helped me to emerge from my slump. My Canon DSLR continues to be my camera of choice. It's the work horse in the collection (especially for sports). It also has a great fit & feel in my hands - something often overlooked by photographers. I've also upgraded to an iPhone 7 Plus, received a GoPro 5 as a gift and purchased a Sony Rx100 IV to boot. The iPhone is simply an evolution and a new one was required. The GoPro is self explanatory... action/adventure. And, the Sony camera is my generalist. It's like a utility player in baseball. It does everything well. It's not going to be an all star at any one position, but it plays every position with competency. The small mirrorless wonder packs quite a punch as well (21MP). It's small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, but bold enough to become a steady companion. It's now my travel camera due to quality, size and all its various features (i.e. wireless, b&w, miniature, toy camera, raw images, etc.).
All four cameras have given me a new sense of adventure. The ability to see things with new eyes. They give me a reason to wake up early and explore.
It's like soul food and a breath of creative fresh air at the same time.
The joy of summer...
I'll be the first to admit, I love winter because of my skiing addiction. However, my better half isn't a skier so the camaraderie and shared experience doesn't exist. This may sound trivial, but I sometimes think the best part of discovering new places is sharing the journey.
When you're young with a restricted budget, anywhere affordable is a beautiful place. New England is an easy drive from the NYC area and always extends a warm greeting. The colonial charm, charismatic harbors and colorful buoys can only be surpassed by the delight of camping with a little fishing on the side. It's hard not to enjoy the coastal towns from Connecticut to Maine. Oh yea... and a stop at the flagship LL Bean store in Maine can only be considered a bonus!
Many a day has since come & gone since the above mentioned vacation(s), but one thing remains: I still enjoy camping. I sense this will always be the case. The complexity of life meeting a four person tent has a unique way of simplifying the important elements of daily existence. It's more of the collecting moments and things mind set.
At the end of the day, something so basic... Sleep/Eat/Play... can be so refreshing (sorry - couldn't resist the play on words).
What use to be a family event of four has diminished to two participants. It's an evolution of sorts and it comes with emotional side effects. Big boy schedules make it difficult to get everyone in one place. Life also has a habit of evolving into a series of grown up commitments. Getting ewveryone in one place for a holiday these days is a challenge.
My vacation interests have now expanded and are keenly in tune with European culture, cuisine and funny colored money. While I've been across the Atlantic in the past, it's become more of an infatuation as of late. I honestly can't seem to get enough. Toss in the currency differentials that have been favorable for Americans and there's been a strong economic tailwind (think stronger dollar, weaker Euro). I thought the jet stream from west to east transported people quickly to Europe? Not true. Let the dollar float freely and appreciate against foreign currencies and people get to England, Spain, France, etc. in record time!
Plenty of destinations get bantered around every year. It's part of the "Where to Next" conversation and the start of the selection process. It's really not a complicated affair and I don't want it to appear as such. With international travel so readily abundant these days, there are so many places easily accessible around the globe. If you think of our parents and grandparents generations, nobody ever discussed traveling to Iceland, Galapagos, etc. Come to think of it, the word airplane wasn't associated with any of my summer vacation discussions. Times have certainly changed.
Side note: Because I've never known the origin of the word vacation, I decided to Google it. What I learned is actually interesting.
The word vacation originated in England and refers to the time teachers and students 'vacated' school. The ones who got away from it all were considered privileged.
In the early part of the 19th century, the elite went away to improve their health. This is a bit perplexing to me as the normal routine during that era was to work six days a week and then rest on the 7th day (i.e. God rested on the seventh day). Religion preached the values of hard work and idle time lead to nothing but trouble.
I'm not sure if I feel privileged, but I will certainly acknowledge being thankful for a host of reasons. Good health being on top of the list.
My pilot light for adventure has been burning for decades. It flickers every once-in-a-while, but never seems to go out. With a little luck, it will continue to fuel my wanderlust into the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, this years 'Where to Next' conversation continues and Portugal seems to be the front runner. Lisbon, Porto and Sintra are rapidly becoming household names. I'm starting to sense cod fish or Pasteis de bacalhau will be on the dining menu in short order.