Young Photography: Blog en-us (C) Young Photography (Young Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:53:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:53:00 GMT Young Photography: Blog 120 79 Young Photography 2015 in Review

(Wormsloe Park, just outside of Savannah, GA)

It's been a crazy busy year for Bill Young Photography in 2015.  As in past years, we've focused on portraiture, product photography, and travel photography.  The beginning of the year brought on a new platform that I hope to utilize on the business side soon, but so far it has only been used on the hobby side.  A drone:

The drone is extremely easy to fly, and is a great way to get an interesting perspective.  I haven't focused much on video in the past, but the drone makes shooting HD video a ton of fun.  I was fortunate enough to get permission to shoot a gorgeous vineyard in Paso Robles, CA at sunrise.  Here is the footage:


I've also shot a bunch of aerial stills with it - even played around with some HDR.






Here is a drone "selfie."


The drone is a great tool and I hope to get my FAA 333 authorization so I can actually use commercially in early 2016.

A format that is like a combination of still photos and video is known as a cinemagraph.  I did a few of these this year, too.

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Those are fun, but aren't really the meat and potatoes of what I do.  Let's get into that.  I'm a corporate pilot in my other life, and through work I'm lucky enough to travel all over the world.  This gives me the opportunity to shoot a lot of cool places.


DSCF7121_2_3DSCF7121_2_3Photo by Bill Young Photography (

DSCF7094_5_6DSCF7094_5_6Photo by Bill Young Photography (

DSCF7130DSCF7130Photo by Bill Young Photography (




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  DSCF7200DSCF7200Photo by Bill Young Photography (




Also, while I was in Alaska, I was lucky enough to attend a photography workshop with Alaska Photo Treks.

I had a wonderful time shooting during the workshop.

I was lucky enough to shoot a couple stages of the Tour De California bike race:

Spending a lot of time in the air, I enjoy shooting the heavens..

Bad weather:

Blood Moon Phases:

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) from the air:

DSCF6464DSCF6464Photo by Bill Young Photography ( DSCF6455DSCF6455Photo by Bill Young Photography (

And even some star trails: StarStaX_IMG_4600-IMG_4804_lightenStarStaX_IMG_4600-IMG_4804_lighten

While I love Travel Photography, the most lucrative genre of 2016 has been product photography.  I shoot a lot of clothing:


And this year I was lucky enough to work with Bobbe Active and designer Erica Anderson. 

Not only did I shoot her gorgeous tennis clothes, I also did a number of lifestyle images with models in her line. IMG_2711IMG_2711

I also was lucky enough to shoot gorgeous model Leea for an Amazon product shoot:

IMG_2556-EditIMG_2556-EditPhoto by Bill Young Photography (

My favorite genre for photography is Portraiture and I got to do a fair amount of that in 2015.  Early in the year I had the opportunity to shoot talented ballerina Jayne:

I also shot Juliet who was nominated as one of the "Forty Under Forty" in Santa Clarita:

Fitness Guru Jenn:

I also shot Melody and her son: IMG_3460IMG_3460Photo by Bill Young Photography (

And the stunning Devon for her Senior Pictures:

2015 was a great year, and 2016 is shaping up to be the same.  What is new for 2016?  I have a new logo and some re-branding in the works, so look for that.  I am going to continue with the product photography and refining my skills in the lifestyle portraiture area.  Please check back on my site for updates, and follow me on Instagram: @billyoungphoto  Have a great year!

(Young Photography) Alaska Amsterdam Anchorage BY Image Bill Young Image Bobbe HDR Iditarod Japan Phototography Portrait Travel Young Photography ballet portrait senior travel photography Sat, 09 Jan 2016 03:29:08 GMT
2014 In Review Young Photography ( This image of my daughter looking at stormy Santa Clarita skies won an award in a local photo contest.)



Young Photography Best Shots/2014 in Review

Dang 2014 came and went quickly!  Full of travel, activity and production, 2014 turned out to be a banner year for Young Photography.  January started out quickly with some portrait work with Andy, a local SCV Entrepreneur and Business Owner.

Of all the genres of photography, I enjoy portraiture the most.  (Not that I don’t like the others, but I get the most enjoyment out of photographing people.)

Speaking of people, we helped photograph the premier of the short film, String Theory, in downtown LA at the end of January.

We did a number of headshots this year, both for business use:

And for Theater/Entertainment use:

Due to my other job as a pilot, travel was another large part of 2014.  A few key destinations were Nagoya, Japan:

Berlin, Germany:

(Inside the Reichstag Dome)

Moscow, Russia:

An anniversary trip to Maui:

A Brief Phuket, Thailand, jaunt:

Buenos Aires:

Angers, France:

Some China:

Paso Robles, CA. (Wine Country)

In October we took a family trip to New York City were I was able to attend a street photography workshop with lauded photographer James Maher.

The street photography workshop was a lot of fun, and opened up another genre of photography.

I I don't do a ton of sports photography, but I was able to shoot the Tour of California Bike Race:

And I shot some tennis at the Indian Wells tournament: 

We enjoy donating time and services to Saugus High School’s theater department, and provided headshots and various photography  to their excellent productions.

Also in 2014 I was fortunate enough to shoot alongside fashion photography powerhouse Runway Icon at LA Fashion Week.

A couple other highlights of the year were one of my photos being featured in an art exhibit and a local magazine:

A fun maternity shoot:

A growing product photography pursuit: The Blood Moon:

The regular "non blood" variety of Moon:

I was able to round the year out with my favorite kind of photography, a little family portraiture: 

This blog entry went on a little longer than I expected.  2014 was just such a big year for Young Photography, and I’ve enjoyed growing, and continuing to educate myself within the photography arena.  What’s next for 2015?  Hopefully we’ll have much of the same as 2014 with even another area that I’m really excited about.  This Christmas Santa brought a new photography tool:

(Young Photography) Berlin Bill Young Clarita Nagoya Runway Icon Santa Travel Photography Young Photography Tue, 06 Jan 2015 21:24:07 GMT
Ich bin ein Berliner

(HDR image of the Brandenburg Gate)

I recently had the opportunity to visit Berlin for a few days.  I’d been there before, but this time I was able to spend some quality time checking out its many facets.  Berlin in February isn’t the warmest destination (especially for a resident of Southern California) but I donned a warm coat, grabbed my Canon 5D mk II and set out to see what I could find to shoot on the 4 crisp days I was there.

I travel often for work (When I’m not taking pictures I am a business jet pilot) and often patronize the Marriott brand of Hotels.  On this trip I stayed in the Berlin Marriott hotel located in the Potsdamer Platz area.  Posdamer Platz feels like Berlin’s “Time Square” and is one of the most significant modern building redevelopment areas in Europe.  Tall glass buildings, interesting architecture, high-end hotels, and restaurants abound.

When I arrived the Berlin International Film Festival was just winding down and was centered in Posdamer Platz.  Incidentally, just prior to my arrival actor Shia LeBuff was the center of a minor scandal where he showed up to walk the red carpet at the film festival with a paper bag over his head on which was written “I am not famous anymore.”  Our hotel lobby was full of festival attendees, and I recall enjoying a glass of wine in the lobby bar while a guy behind me was loudly pitching a movie idea to another guy where Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill go back in time as 80’s cops.  (Sounds like a real winner….well, you decide.)

Around the same time of the film festival, Berlin fashion week was in full swing.  Right in the center of Potsdamer Platz they had a temp building set up with make-up artists working on models.

When I stroll around European cities I like to take in the old buildings and historic architecture.  Rarely does one see cutting edge modern design… However, Postamer Platz is a showcase of such design.  Check out the crazy Sony Center situated in this area.

Prior to my arrival in Berlin I was planning what I wanted to photograph in the well-known city, and one destination that really caught my eye was the Berlin parliament building, the Reichstag building.  Initially built in at the end of the 1800s it has suffered fires, bombardment, etc. Right around the year 2000 a modern addition was completed that included a fantastic glass dome on the top.  Anyone can tour the glass dome, but you have to submit visitor details in advance to their website here and then are assigned an appointment time (complete with an intense security check.)

The building is quite impressive as you approach it:

Once you arrive at the parade grounds in front of the main entrance the glass dome is fully visible.

After passing through some fairly intense security, boarding a huge elevator you arrive on the roof just outside the dome.

Before you enter the dome, you can pick up a high tech audio guide (for free) that senses your location in the dome and tells what I’m guessing are interesting tidbits of its purpose and construction.  Unfortunately I picked up a German only audio guide, and as my German is limited to “danke”, “bitte”, and “pilsner” it wasn’t much use to me.  Even without the audio guide, the interior of the dome was spectacular.  

I’m pretty sure the mirrored thing in the center is a new cold-fusion reactor than will meet all of Europe’s energy needs for the next century powered only by day-old sauerkraut. (Germany is innovative and progressive.)

There is a curved walkway that leads to the top of the structure.  After completing every rotation or so the audio guide would say something significant to me in angry-sounding German.

The views from the top of the dome were amazing – both architecture and people wise..

I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but after arriving at the top of the dome, you walk down a separate ramp that somehow doesn’t cross the ramp you came up on.  I think some kind of strange Mobius-strip witchcraft was used to make this design possible.

After the Reichstag dome tour, we walked back to our hotel cutting through a huge public park known as Tiergarten Park that was once the hunting ground for the royal family.

Inside the park I didn’t see any ferocious animals, but I did see this red German squirrel.  I think his name is “Dieter.”

We grabbed some lunch after our dome tour, and found out about an English-speaking walking tour of Berlin.  This tour is actually free (guides work for tips) and meets twice a day at the Starbucks near the Brandenburg gate.  Go here to get all the tour details.  I highly recommend it – our guide was great.

Our tour started at 1, so we showed up at the Brandenburg gate area a little early.

Okay I get it – Brandenburg Gate is probably THE tourist meeting place in Berlin.  I saw people dressed in costumes looking to get paid for photos in the famous square.  (Kind of like seeing Spiderman in front of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood…)  However what I didn’t understand was scary knockoff Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader….  Here is an image of Pedi-bear and his buddy Darth taking a mandatory union break.

I can’t recommend the walking tour enough.  One of the first stops on the tour was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  Obviously Germany has some pretty dark marks on its history, and the Holocaust was the worst.  Berlin doesn’t sweep its bad history under the rug – they have memorials all over to mark these events – both to show they happened and to prevent them from ever happening again.

(Here is one of the other tour groups in the memorial grounds.)

Almost all of the WALL that separated West and East Germany is gone – ripped down by the government, the people, and souvenir hunters.  What small sections still stand are protected by a fence….  (I think that is the definition of irony.)  In sections where the wall once stood there is an inlayed double brick pattern – it is very subtle, but once you know what to look for you see it often.

Most of the WWII – Cold War remnants are gone.  However, if you know were to look you can still see some standing.  Here is a old guard tower located near Potsdamer Platz off a side road.

Our tour guide Steve (From Sydney Australia) was funny, clever and knowledgeable about everything Berlin.  Part of the walk brought us to this mural depicting a “worker’s paradise.”   It is in front of what once was the HQ of the Luftwaffe.  (Now it’s a public finance/tax building – don’t know which is worse..)

Even the signs on the side of the buidling are a bit ominous. 

The tour wasn’t all about a dark past.  Here they celebrate probably one of the worse cars ever built.

A tour of Berlin isn’t complete without Checkpoint Charlie:

Heck, we even got to see the North Korean Embassy.  (They had a portable basketball hoop set up on the side – I will say the rim was NOT set to regulation height…)

I really enjoyed my trip to Berlin.  The walking tour was great, and I loved the dome atop the Reichstag.  I also rented a bike from the hotel one day – another great way to see the city.  In the past I have done the Fat Tire Bike tour of Berlin and found it quite enjoyable.  (In the summer…) Just looking through my images makes me hungry for some bratwurst and sauerkraut.. I wonder if they have any here at Trader Joes….

Auf Wiedersehen!

(Young Photography) Berlin Berlin Film Festival Berlin HDR Berlin Marriott HDR Potzdamer Potzdamer Platz Reichstag reichstag dome reichstag photo Sun, 02 Mar 2014 19:41:20 GMT
Young Photography 2013 in Review

2013 was a great year for Young Photography, and we were able to grow our business considerably.  While most of our business is lifestyle family portraiture, headshots, and event photography, I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit and add a bunch of travel photography to the mix as well.

Our first clients of the year were the Chamberlins, and we started out with some family images for this active family.

Shortly afterwards we had a fine session with fitness trainer/model Jen Azevedo. 

While I love shooting portraits in natural settings, I sometimes have the opportunity to shoot with the LA based fashion photography company Runway Icon.  In January I was fortunate to aid in shooting the Miss California Pageant.

One process I played with a lot in 2013 is High Dynamic Range photography, or HDR.  This consists of taking multiple photographs of the same scene with differing exposure values and combining them using software plugins.  While some photographers hate HDR and complain that it is overdone – I get a kick shooting and processing HDR images.  Here is one of  Vasquez Rocks, a park located nearby that has been featured in tons of commercials, television shows and movies.

I am a full-blown tennis fanatic, and attend the Indian Wells tennis tournament each year.  While I don’t usually shoot sports, I can’t resist dragging my SLR to the tennis venue.


Another sport I had the opportunity to shoot this year was an equestrian event that a friend’s daughter was competing in.

After shooting sports for a while, it was time to get back to the bread and butter of portrait photography.  I shot these photogenic kids for a present for their mother.

I mentioned that I travelled a bunch in 2013 – when I’m not shooting images, I’m a professional pilot and get to travel all over the world.  If I’m going to a destination where I think I’ll have an opportunity to have some free time I’ll drag my rig with me. Here are some of the highlight destinations from 2013.

("Twisty Building in Nagoya, Japan.)

(Lady in Moscow, Russia.)

(HDR - Red Square, Moscow)

(HDR of Marriott’s Hanbury Manor outside of London. - and YES it's haunted...)

(Grounds of Hanbury Manor.)

As a family we took an epic vacation to Europe during the summer.  I brought my SLR and was able to take hundreds of images during the trip. We started out in London...

And then flew to Germany...

(HDR of main square in Rothenburg ob der Tauber)

(Another HDR from Rothenburg ODT)

Then we were off to Wengen in the scenic Swiss Alps...

(HDR of the view from our hotel....  This image won second place in a local photo contest.)

(Here is my wife Heidi picking out where we should build our house in Switzerland.)

(Another HDR of the gorgeous valley where we stayed in Switzerland.)

After taking in the Swiss Alps we were getting a bit hungry for some gelato so we headed down to Italy.  First stop: Venice...

(HDR of Venice canal activity near the Rialto Bridge)

(Heidi posing in Venice)

(HDR of the Bridge of Sighs, Venice.) 

After Venice we took the train to Florence...

(HDR of the downtown Florence)

(HDR of the Ponte Vecchio during the day)

(Same bridge at night.)

We loved Florence, but still had one more destination to hit before the long plane ride home.  Rome!

(HDR of the Colosseum)

(My daughter posing against a wall in an older Rome neighborhood. This image won second place in a local portrait contest.)

(HDR from inside the Pantheon.)

Okay, enough vacation photos, time to fly back home to LA and get back to reality.  I did some event photography in 2013, and one event I was hired to shoot was the great Paseo boat race of 2013.

(Pirate lass Jen paddling to catch the lead...)

(Another event we shot was a Tennis exposition. )

(One of the most fun events to shoot was a children's Halloween party.)

(Event - Luau Party)

(Young Photogrpahy also shot some fitness images for Jen's portfolio use and a contest submission.)

Young Photography obtained some studio strobes in 2013, and the strobes plus a white backdrop were used for a number of headshot sessions and well, some fun too...

I was lucky enough to shoot with Runway Icon again during LA Fashion week...

Then it was time to jump into my other office:

(HDR of Gulfstream 550 business jet.)

And do a quick trip to Shanghai:

Another trip to Istanbul..

And a trip to Bangkok:

(This is Joe, Bangkok's premier Tuk Tuk driver...)

The year ended up with a photo session with the very photogenic Mallas family. 

Young Photography had a great 2013, and we’re hoping for an even better 2014.  We’ve already booked some portrait sessions in January and are looking forward to many more.  Please consider us for your Southern California photography needs.  Our contact info is on this site:  Happy New Year everybody!

(Young Photography) 2013 Portraits event photography family portraiture travel photography Fri, 03 Jan 2014 22:58:37 GMT
Istanbul Again

Istanbul, Turkey, has featured prominently recently in blockbuster movies and contemporary literature.  Its rich history, mosque-dotted skyline, and strategic Europe/Asia thoroughfare make it a popular setting in a variety of assorted media.  I’ve visited Istanbul before, but this time I was able to bring my good camera and I had 3 nights to explore its many layers.

 As a frequent business traveler I typically stay with the same hotel family to maximize my points.  Usually we stay at Marriott properties.  Recently Marriott acquired the luxury Ritz Carlton brand and we decided to give the Ritz a try in Istanbul.  In the picture above, the Istanbul Ritz Carlton is the tallest building in the shot.  Located a short walk from the Taksim shopping area, the first morning we started our Istanbul adventure in Taksim.

The Taksim area received some notoriety this year as the location of riots in May.  Taksim is the modern European-style pedestrian shopping area of Istanbul.  Flanked by both high-end shops and Turkish street vendors, Taksim seems like an unlikely riot area.  The protests originated in Gezi Park (small park at the end of Taksim) by people angry with the city’s plans to develop the park.  The sit-in turned into a full blown riot complete with tear gas and water canons.  Thankfully the tear gas had dissipated for my arrival (I make it a point to avoid tear gas in all forms) but the police presence was still very high.  Walking down Taksim we spotted dozens of police waiting in riot gear brandishing automatic weapons and several large vehicles sporting water canons.  Thankfully all was peaceful the day I was there.

I'm not completely sure, but I think this guy was selling lottery tickets:

Taksim is lined with restaurants:

Tourist shops selling various knickknacks:

and street vendors:

You can buy a Shwarma:

And wash it down with some fresh pressed pomegranate juice..

The Taksim streetcar is a common image in photography of the area.  We weren’t disappointed on our visit, and saw it pass by several times on our walk through the area.

The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira and the exchange rate relative to the dollar is about 2 to 1.  This makes shopping and bartering easy even after drinking a few Efes. (The local beer.)

I like to utilize public transportation when I can while abroad.  Most of the time it is quicker, more efficient, and by far cheaper than jumping into a cab.  To get from Taksim to the old town Sultanahmet area you take the F-1 Funicular (I had to look it up, too.  A funicular is basically a small tram that goes up and down a steep hill.) and then jump on the T-1 Tram.  Both take tokens that you buy from a machine for the reasonable cost of 3 TL ($1.50)  Sure the local buses/subways/tram often sport that authentic people smell, but it’s part of the charm of world travel.

Sultanahmet is probably the most visited part of Istanbul – at least by tourists.  The biggest sights are located there, so we set off to check them out. Our first stop was the Hagia Sofia. 

To learn more about the Hagia Sofia and its rich history you can click here.  I’ve written about it before, and I’m not going to do a big history lesson right now.

Right across the street from the Hagia Sofia is the famed Blue Mosque. 

We actually were going to check out the Blue Mosque (My coworkers hadn't been inside before) but we were there around noon and it's closed to visitors for their noon worship then. So we crossed another street and we did enter the Basilica Cistern.

Built over 1500 years ago to store water, the Basilica Cistern was featured in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love and features more recently in the latest Dan Brown book, Inferno.

I liked the way the builders recycled an old Medusa head they had lying around.

You can read more aobut the cistern here. 

By this time we were hungry, so we sat down at a local eatery for some kebab, hummus and maybe an Efes or two. While we were eating we saw local workers transporting some bread from a local bakery.

It seemed the best way to transport this type of food was on or around the head.

We also saw this dude selling brooms.

After lunch, we were well-nourished and maybe a bit sleepy.  We had no time for rest, however, we were right next to the famed Grand Bazaar.  Recently James Bond raced a motorcycle on its roof in Skyfall and Liam Neesen killed dozens of bad guys searching for his ex-wife and daughter in Taken 2.  While our experience wasn’t quite as extreme (I was a bartering machine, however) the Grand Bazaar rarely disappoints.

Just outside the covered bazaar we saw this guy – he’s either a traditional Turkish tea merchant, our a rocket-pack clad commando.

If it’s for sale in Turkey, you can find it in or around the Grand Bazaar.

Every kind of shop can be found amongst the arched ceiling of the Grand Bazaar.

I bought a quarter kilo of that Ottoman spice to take home and season my Southern Californa version of the kebob. 

I also picked up some tea:

After spending what Lira we had on us, it was time to board the tram and make our way back to our hotel.  We had another full day in Istanbul, so we had to save something for tomorrow.

The next day after breakfast and some strong Turkish coffee I set off with my camera charged and ready to go.  My first stop was the Galata Tower.

Here you can see the Galata Tower poking above the cityscape.  Okay, I know it’s a bit of a tourist trap.  I think it was built in the 1300s (although I’m guessing the elevator was part of some retrofit) and it cost 13 TL to go to the top.  There is a somewhat cheesy café on top, but the view is the reason I traveled to the tower.

There is an outdoor balcony that circles the tower and commands sweeping views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. 

I wasn't the only one taking photos from the tower:

I spent a good hour on the tower – the tower of power. (Okay, I’ll stop with the rhyming.) I wanted to walk across the bridge I saw from the tower. (I think it’s called the Galata Bridge.)

The bridge was full of fishermen and bait salesman.  We didn’t see anybody catching any large fish – in fact it was difficult to tell the difference between their bait and what they were actually catching. Of course I didn’t actually say that while I was watching them fish. (I didn’t want to do anything that could potentially let me see the inside of a Turkish Prison – or as they say in Turkey, “prison.”)

The area on the other side of the bridge is known as Eminönü. (I’m only about 7% sure how to pronounce it.) Eminönü is where most of the boats and ferries depart central Istanbul.  One thing I really wanted to do on this visit to Istanbul was a boat tour of the Bosphorus.  The Bosphorus is the waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.  It is also the boundary between Europe and Asia.  While we were there Tiger Woods was competing in a local golf tournament and they kept showing him on TV hitting a golf ball on one of the bridges across the straight.  ANYWAY, I found a boat tour that left Eminönü for only 10 TL.

This is where our boat left from:

The boat tour hugged the European side on the way towards the Black Sea (it didn’t go all the way there) and the Asia side on the way back.  There wasn’t anybody on the boat describing what we were looking at along the way, but it was still interesting.

We saw our hotel during the tour.  (And got crapped on by seaguls.)

There was a castle:

And neat views of the city.

It was reassuring to know that if our boat sank or if we fell overboard the coast guard was always nearby to render assistance:

I really enjoyed this trip to Istanbul.  The highlights for me were the food, the spice shopping, the boat tour, and the views from the Galata tower.  Oh, and always, not ending up in “prison.”  I also liked petting the zillion cats that abound Istanbul - MEOW!

(Young Photography) Boshporus Grand Bazaar Taksim istanbul turkey Sun, 10 Nov 2013 19:25:32 GMT
Shanghai'd Again (HDR image of the Shanghai Skyline taken from The Bund)

I recently visited Shanghai again, but this time I was able to bring my good camera along.  (Canon 5D mk II) Boasting the largest city by population, over 23 million people call Shanghai home.  (Although I wouldn’t understand them because my Mandarin is lacking.)

Shanghai’s unique skyline is often photographed, and the best venue to do so is an area called the Bund.  Fun to say, The Bund is the waterfront area of Shanghai.  Adorned with interesting architecture, trendy restaurants, plentiful shopping, and a wide pedestrian area the Bund draws people by the thousands daily - and nightly. In fact, the skyline is even more impressive at night.

A mere photo doesn’t do the lights justice – huge skyscrapers are transformed into monster television sets.  Here is some video I shot the night I visited the Bund. (Hit the full-screen button on the video to really see it.)

Ok, back to daytime.  Walking the Bund is a favorite activity of locals and tourists alike.  We also saw some local artists painting.

Opposite the water are other exceptional views of the city.

After checking out the Bund we decided to walk back towards the hotel via East Nanjing Street, a popular shopping area.  On the way there we saw people waiting in line to get their photo in front of a huge Mao statute.

This guy couldn't wait for his turn.

We continued towards Nanjing street.

Here is East Nanjin Street.  Any store you can think of can be found on this street, including the cutting edge "Shanghai Fashion Store."

Where the following couple HAD to have just visited.

Also while we were on Nanjing, we watched a worker conduct a clinic on ladder safety.  (He was also working on live electrical wires at the time. )

Evidently OSHA isn't that big in China.  It's hard to tell from the above image, but there aren't any cross-pieces in the ladder holding it together, just a random piece of wire somebody tied on.

We eventually made it back to our hotel, the JW Marriott at Tomorrow Square.  This Marriott has a fun feature that few people know about.  First you have to take the elevator to the 59th floor. (This is the top floor you can select in the main elevator.)  Then walk to the Executive Lounge. 

Immediately after entering the Executive Lounge, you will see a set of stairs to the right with this sign:

Climb the stairs until you see the library door.

Use your room key to enter the library, and look at the bookshelves on the left side of the room:

If you look carefully, you will notice 3 hinges on the second bookcase.  This is a hidden door.  (In this photo the door is slightly ajar - that is how I noticed all this the first time.)  You can simply pull on the bookcase and it will swing open secret passage style.

Behind the bookcase are two doors that have always been unlocked every time I've ventured up there.  If you open the second door you find yourself on a huge outdoor deck with an amazing view of Shanghai from 60 stories up.


So there you have it - the Bund, East Nanjing Road and a secret passage to an amazing view.  Shanghai has a lot to offer, if you find yourself in China definitely check it out!

(Young Photography) Bund Nanjing Shanghai jw marriott secret passage Tue, 15 Oct 2013 20:20:37 GMT
Pasadena's Scary Suicide Bridge Ok, maybe “Scary” is a bit of a stretch.  Pasadena, California is home to the unfortunately named “Suicide Bridge” also known by its more PC (but less dramatic) name “The Colorado Street Bridge.”  Earning it's unfortunate moniker after dozens of people jumping to their deaths, the Suicide bridge received serious damage after the 1989 earthquake.

I belong to the Santa Clarita Valley Photographers Association, and recently we took a photography field trip to shoot the Suicide Bridge and its next door neighbor the Ventura Highway Bridge.  I loved seeing what different photographers find interesting to shoot. (The "Suicide" or "Colordao Street" Bridge is on the left and the Ventura Highway Bridge is on the right.)

The area underneath the bridges contains multi-use trails that are popular with runners, hikers, photographers, and probably serial killers alike.  (Fortunately I think the serial killers visit more in the evening/night hours.)

(HDR shot of the Trail under the bridges.)


View Larger Map

Here is a map of where we parked for the bridge field trip.  There was plenty of parking available, and to access the trail underneath the bridges walk under the Ventura Freeway bridge, and about 100 yards after the bridge you will see a trail going down to the left.  Take this trail and it meets up with the main trail underneath the bridge.

The concrete forms under the bridge create interesting lines.  HDR processing reveals some additional structure in the shadows.  You can see some of the earthquake retrofitting in the above HDR image.


Alongside the stream running under the bridges are several spots that would work nicely for a portrait session.  I really liked this door-like opening:

If you live in the LA make the drive up to Pasadena and check out the bridges.  (Go during the day to avoid the serial killers.)


(Young Photography) Bridges. HDR Pasadena Suicide Bridge Mon, 23 Sep 2013 18:36:22 GMT
Aspen Wedding

(Subtle HDR image of the Maroon Bells - Canon 5D MK II)

Just outside of Aspen Colorado lies one the most beautiful places I’ve ever been fortunate to visit.  Two peaks known collectively as the Maroon Bells rise majestically into the Colorado mountain air.  The mountains are gorgeous on their own, but a reflective lake at their base completes the awe-inspiring view.   

I’ve wanted to shoot the Bells for a while, and this summer my brother picked a park at the lake as his wedding venue.  I can’t think of a more beautiful place for a wedding.

(HDR of Maroon Bells from the Wedding Amphitheatre)

Obviously a popular venue for weddings, the Maroon Bells park is also famous for photographers.  When the colors change, photographers line the lake with their tripods waiting for the morning light above the purple mountains. The wedding was fantastic and it was nice to get the family together again.  My brother’s wedding photographers (I don’t shoot weddings, too much pressure… ;) ) did a great job shooting the event.  I did take some family photos before the wedding however. Here is my wife Heidi competing well with the beauty of the surroundings.  If anybody is interesting in booking the Maroon Bells Amphitheatre the website with points of contact is here.


(Young Photography) Aspen Colorado Maroon Bellls Maroon Bells Amphitheatre Sat, 07 Sep 2013 17:57:17 GMT
Heidelberg and the Burgenstrasse

(HDR shot of old town Heidelberg taken from Heidelberg Castle.)

This summer I was lucky enough to take my family on a European vacation.  We started out in London, and then flew to Germany (Stuttgart) where we rented a car. (Not a Porsche…) We spent one night in Rothenberg ob der Tauber (Check out my blog post here.) and the next day we drove down the Burgenstraße or “Castle Road” to Heidelberg.  This post covers the drive, a tour of Heidelberg castle, and our night in Heidelberg.

(HDR shot from the top of a tower just off the Burgenstrasse)

(Autobahn sign shared from Wikipedia)

Navigating in Germany isn’t too difficult – even if you don’t speak German (I DON’T) as long as you have GPS. (And if you’ve figured out how to make it speak English.) The German highways, called the Autobahn are a joy to drive.  The roads are wide, smooth, and FAST.  Long sections of the Autobahn have no speed limit and even though I’m wise enough these days to understand “just because you can doesn’t mean that you should” I’ll admit to hitting 100 mph (161 kilometers per hour) in our little rental car.

Driving on the Autobahn isn’t intimidating, you just have to do a little pre-study.  There are areas with speed-limits.  Here is an example of a speed limit sign:

(Image shared from AutoExpress Car blog)

The speed limit would then be 120 KPH.  (About 75 MPH) The “fun sign” is this one:

(Image shared from Wikipedia)

This sign means “the previous limits no longer apply.”  It’s okay to go fast.  HOWEVER, you can’t drive like a typical American.  You can’t just hang out in the left lane – it’s strictly for passing or for uber-expensive Euro racecars.  If you venture into the far left lane to pass, you BETTER be eyeing your rear-view mirror for somebody coming up on you at 200 MPH.  As for passing on the right, it’s illegal or verboten  (You have to say it loudly and with a German accent.)  Okay, enough driver’s ed.

The drive from Rothenberg ob der Tauber to Heidelberg was wonderful.  We had a little “navigational challenge” leaving Rothenberg when we were trying to intercept the Burgenstraße (GPS wanted to route the whole way on the Autobahn) but once we found the castle road the drive was a joy. 

(iPhone shot out the window on the Burgenstraße. The bright yellow plant has the unfortunate name of Rape Seed.)

(Here are a couple quick iPhone shots of the typical castles that line the Burgenstraße.)

We had packed a picnic lunch in Rothenburg, and found a great place to eat along the drive. After lunch, we decided to attack this tower.

After the steep climb, we arrived at the top:

And were awarded with a fantastic view:

The big castle that we really wanted to tour that day was Heidelberg Castle.  After taking more than a few minutes to find a parking spot that wasn’t verboten we paid our handsome fee and entered the ancient structure.

Here is what Heidelberg Castle looked like back in the day: (Late 1600s): Here is the castle today:

While much of the facades have been restored, much of the ramparts remain in disarray. One thing they did right when they built the castle is they included an awesome deck.  One side has a great view of the hillside: (This is our guesthouse… I wish.) And the other side of the deck looks down on the town of Heidelberg.

(The girls at the castle overlooking Heidelberg.)

I’ve always been a bit of a castle-nut, and touring Heidelberg’s was amazing.  It was getting later in the day, however, and we still had to check into our hotel and return the rental car.  Our plan was to take care of these two items, and then maybe walk around Heidelberg’s old town.  By this time on our vacation we had walked a fair bit, and I wasn’t opposed to a little bit of late afternoon relaxation.  We had booked a room at the Heidelberg Marriott, on points, and I imagined we’d get a small European-sized hotel room.  What we got, however, was one of two roof-top suites the hotel offered.  I travel a ton with work (I am a corporate jet pilot) and occasionally get to experience that awesome feeling when you get spontaneously upgraded to a nice suite.  This feeling was like that, but on steroids.  Our deck was HUGE and afforded us amazing views.  We decided to order room service, get a bottle of wine and enjoy the sunset and the views.

(Here I am "squeezing" Heidelberg Castle from our hotel deck.)

Here is Jill finishing up Dan Brown's Inferno - we were heading to Florence in a few days.

(The sunset was great that night - the red building is the other wing of the Heidelberg Marriott.) We all went to sleep happy that night and the next morning we woke up early and walked to the train station for the Switzerland portion of our vacation.  Two nights in Germany was kind of brief, but we made the most of it.  Having a rental car allowed us to operate on our own schedule and hit some of the more intimate and outlaying areas.  I’m sure all of us would like to visit the castle region of Germany again soon.  Prost!

(Young Photography) Burgenstrasse Castle Castle Road Heidelberg Heidelberg Castle Heidelberg Marriott Sat, 31 Aug 2013 18:49:17 GMT
Rome If You Want To...

(HDR shot of the Colosseum, Canon 5D MK II)

The ancient city of Rome was the last stop on a recent family European vacation.  Larger than all of the other cities we visited, Rome shocked us a bit with its constant motion, busy traffic, and throngs of people.  Granted, we had just spent 3 days in charming Florence, so the contrast hit us pretty hard.  The fact that there was a HUGE Harley Davidson convention (complete with the Pope blessing the company – no kidding!!) didn’t calm things down any.

We enjoyed Rome, but there were a couple detractors that tried to limit our enjoyment of the city.  The first was an attempted pick-pocket of yours truly.  We had arrived by train into Termini, the main train station.  We then had to negotiate the various levels and find our local train/subway that would take us to our hotel.  We were staying at the Courtyard Marriott Central Park on points – free, but located outside the center of town. 

Now I travel constantly with work (I fly business jets for a large corporation) and I am generally aware of my surroundings and keep up my defenses to such things as pick-pocketing criminals.  I knew Termini station was famous for Gypsy thieves and I briefed my family before we arrived as to how to secure our valuables.  During our travel between destinations I felt we were most susceptible to crime as we were dragging our suitcases and such with us.  We traveled pretty light – we each just had a roll-aboard carry-on suitcase, and a small bag.  I also had a camera bag with me.  I had an iPhone in a rubberized case and a small money clip wallet in my front right pocket. 

As we boarded the subway, a 15ish kid with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder approached.  My "spidey- sense" started tingling a little. He had his arm inside his bag, and he started bumping against me.  I could see his arm extending out the bottom of his bag and he was raking my pocket.  I pushed him away with my free arm and grunted, “Knock it off!!”  He stared at me for a moment and then he and a couple other people suddenly left the car before the door closed.  He didn’t get anything from me, but I ended up with a bit of an adrenaline rush and my mood was wrecked for a few hours.  (A little wine helped with that later.) 

We finally arrived at our hotel, dropped off our gear and boarded a shuttle into town.  I wasn’t going to let this event ruin our Rome stay.

(HDR shot of the square in front of St. Peter's Basilica.)

The shuttle dropped us off right in front of Vatican City, and we started a long day of walking by entering the amazing “country within a country.” 

(My girls in Vatican City)

We had a semi-private tour of the Vatican in a couple days, so we were just doing a “fly over” on our first day.  After looking around a bit, we departed Vatican City and headed off into Rome proper.  Our first stop was the Pantheon. The Pantheon is one of my favorite ancient structures.  This dome was built over TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO!  An engineering masterpiece, the fact that this dome is still standing never ceases to amaze me.  Originally built as a temple celebrating all (hence the root “Pan”) the gods of ancient Rome, the Roman Catholic Church acquired  it in the 7th century and made it one of their churches. They removed the Roman god references and added their own.  The hole at the center of the dome is called the Oculus and the light streaming through the Oculus has been called the finest column in Rome.  The light is quite spectacular.

Frescoes and statuary fill the ancient room.  My daughter loved this fresco: She called it the UFO painting.

After exiting the Pantheon and finding some gelato (A never ending quest in Italy) we set off in search of the famed Colosseum.  First, however, we spotted the forum.  (Which is nothing like the Forum shops in the Las Vegas version of Caesar’s Palace.)

I love how Rome has preserved the ancient structures in the middle of modern areas. 

It was hot, humid and we were pretty tired of walking all the way across the center of Rome.  As it was time for dinner, we jumped in a cab and headed back to the hotel.  The next day we traveled back to the Colosseum for a proper tour of the arena.

(HDR of the inside of the arena.  Here they have partially built the floor so visitors can see what it looked like before the floor disintegrated.)

The scale of the Colosseum amazes me.  It’s the size of a modern sports arena – built by hand 2000 years ago.  It used to be adorned with marble, but everything but the rough stone was “recycled” into other buildings long ago.

The next day we had our Vatican tour.

The Swiss guard boasts unique, colorful uniforms.  (Italian camouflage?) I just hope my boss doesn't get the idea to design our uniforms like these..

There are a zillion people who live in Rome, during the summer at the height of the tourist season that number has to double.  EVERYBODY wants to see the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel.  The only way to see these without standing in line for 6 hours is to book a tour.  Walks of Italy offers an excellent tour with knowledgeable and charismatic guides. Our Walks of Italy guide, Camilla, was a treasure-trove of information on all things Vatican and art and didn’t cease to talk on our 3 plus hour tour.  A huge benefit to booking the tour we did was that we were given access to the Sistine Chapel before it opened to the general public.  If you go to Rome and want to really see the Vatican and learn about its treasures – book a tour with Walks of Italy and ask for Camilla.

We had one more day in Rome before heading home, and we had a few highlights left to explore.  Rome is famous for its system of aqueducts (not “aquaducks” as I initially tried to spell it) that bring water into the city.  Many of these ancient waterways were destroyed, but a few remain and continue to bring water into the city to this day.  Rome in the summer is hot and humid, and the need for water is pretty high. (You can’t survive solely on wine – though I’m sure many have tried.)  Throughout the city you’ll find random water spigots with flowing water.  While I was a bit suspect at first, the water is clean and safe to drink. 

(One of the many drinkable water fountains in the city.  The trick is to plug the end and water will shoot out a hole on the front.)

At the end of the largest aqueduct is the famous Trevi fountain. 

Despite the pick-pocket attempt on our arrival, we enjoyed our stay in Rome.  The history is everywhere and amazing sites are around every corner.  I enjoyed getting lost wandering around random streets and alleys.  The many old walls make great backgrounds for portraits.  Here is my daughter posing in front of an interesting orange wall. Rome has everything to offer to the photo-tourist.  Great ancient buildings, priceless works of art, and amazing fountains are everywhere.  Guess what I’m going to miss most? My wife, Heidi, had her favorite cappuccino there too:

I already want to go back….  Arrivederci Roma!

(Young Photography) Colosseum Forum HDR Pantheon Rome Trevi Fountain Vatican Tue, 20 Aug 2013 20:19:46 GMT
Rothenburg ob der Tauber and the Night Watchman...

(HDR shot of one of the most photographed places in Germany. Canon 5D mk II)

Tucked in the hills of southern Germany is a gem of a walled medieval town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  Yeah it’s a mouthful.  It means (or so they tell me, my German is subpar..) “Red fortress above the Tauber (river).”  The lengthy name is necessary, however, because it distinguishes it from other German towns with similar names.  (A VERY key fact if you find yourself entering a city name into a rental car’s GPS and blindly following its directions – not that I would do such a thing.)

Dating back to 950 AD, this charming town mostly exists today as a tourist destination.  This summer my family and I were lucky enough to visit Rothenburg ODT (Easier to write) for a couple days on our European vacation.

(Another HDR shot of the main square.)

The mayor, or city council, or the Czar, or the King…whomever... has done a great job of preserving this charming burg.  You will not find a Hilton, a Marriott, or God-forbid a Starbucks inside the walls of Rothenburg ODT.  Everything appears probably as it did hundreds of years ago.  The hotels we saw are mostly small intimate B&B types.  The room we rented for the night was actually above a wine shop.  (Now we’re talking!)  After we found a place to park our tiny rental car (not an easy task) we traveled solely on foot.  Everywhere you look there are little stores, pubs, bakeries,  and meat shops.

(Did I say "Meat Shop?"  Yessir I did.....)

They even have their baked specialty – the crowd pleasing “Schneeballen” is found all over town.  (My new favorite German word..) Fairly compact, it’s easy to walk across the small town in 20 minutes or so.  You find yourself stopping often, however to take in the sights.  This town is right out of central casting (or central location…whoever picks movie settings) for a small German town.  The movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang used Rothenburg ODT as a major setting.


(I'll bet you can't watch this video without starting to sing the evil song....) While we were there, the weather was perfect and made walking very enjoyable.  (With the exception of some strong German sneeze inducing pollen – can I get a GESHUNDHEIT!!) I mentioned that the town has kept out the tourist eyesores you often find in major destinations.  You won’t find a celebrity wax museum in Rothenburg.  However, they have their own version.  The fairly grisly Crime and Punishment museum is a popular destination for visiting tourists.  Filled with nightmare-inducing torture devices of every type, a walk through this museum makes one glad to live in modern times.

They even featured a coach seat from United Airlines!

Now Rothenburg ob der Tauber is famous for a lot of things:  Schneeballen, iron maidens, and a walled enclosure to name a few.  However, the famed draw and must do activity in Rothenburg has to be the Night Watchman tour.

(Jill with the famous Night Watchman of Rothenburg ob der Touber.)

(Rothenburg has a different feel at night.)

From mid-March, until Christmas the tour takes place every night at 8:00 PM. (This tour is In English.  He does it again in German at 10:00 PM.)  I think the cost was 7 Euros, pay at the end.  The tour lasted about an hour and was full of dry wit, a history lesson, and a feeling of what it must have been like to be a Night Watchman back in the day.  He does a fantastic job, and draws a crowd every night.  European travel guide or Czar Rick Steves featured him on one of his travel shows.  If you go to Rothenburg, DO THE NIGHT WATCHMAN TOUR.

We really enjoyed our short stay in Rothenburg ODT.  Sure it’s touristy, but heck we were tourists.  Enough off the beaten path, it’s not completely mobbed by backpackers jumping off the Eurorail, so there is still a feeling of intimacy.  Charming outdoor restaurants, wine shops, and bakeries (Don’t forget the Schneeballen!!) abound and people seemed genuinely friendly.  Come check out this neat town, and don’t forget to sing the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang song while you are munching on some Scnheeballens.

(Young Photography) Germany Night Watchman Tour Rick Steves Rothenburg Rothenburg ob der Tauber Schneeballen Thu, 08 Aug 2013 15:01:11 GMT
Let's hear it for Florence!

(HDR Shot of the Duomo and surrounding Florence taken from the Palazzo Vecchio tower with a Canon 5D Mk II)

This summer I was fortunate enough to take a fabulous vacation to Europe with my family and of all the places we visited Florence, Italy was probably my favorite. (Or at least tied for first with Switzerland.) 

Florence has everything for somebody visiting Europe – it has the typical draws: river, old part, new part, and a big church.  Florence has these, yes, but it also has a stunningly rich history.  Michelangelo – ate gelato here and did some killer marble carving.  Galileo – wasn’t buying the “earth-centric” view the church was selling and published his research showing the Sun, not the Earth was the center of our solar system.  The church wasn’t happy with Galileo and sentenced him to home imprisonment, which he carried out in beautiful Florence.  Dante – he was banished from Florence after choosing the wrong side of a political battle, and Leonardo Di Vinci bounced between creating works of art and inventing new contraptions in Florence before moving to Rome.

(HDR Shot of the Duomo, again from the Palazzo Vecchio tower.)

(Duomo from the ground level.)

There are interesting historical stories about every part of Florence.  Here we see the Florence Cathedral, which everyone simply calls the “Duomo.”  Construction of the cathedral started in 1296, and at the time nobody had the technical ability to build the large dome.  The Cathedral actually sat for years with a huge hole on top until finally genius Filippo Brunelleschi figured out a way to construct the dome with brick and without using a wooden form.  (Sort of like constructing an igloo dome – which I’ve tried, very unsuccessfully before but that’s a different story.) The Duomo is a spectacular site in Florence, and visitors can climb the 463 steps (we did it – in the summer – small spaces) to the viewing platform on top of the dome.  (If you look at the image above you can almost see the tiny people on top of the dome.)

(Interior shot of the Dome)

Here you can see the paintings on the inside of the dome.  This shot was taken from the top of the main part of the Cathedral.  To continue up the dome you enter a tiny passageway from here and then work your way up a minuscule spiral staircase to the top. It's a long climb, but the view is worth it!  Florence isn't all about the Duomo, there are tons of museums, public artwork, and the gorgeous Arno river. 

(HDR shot of the Ponte Vecchio)

There are a few bridges that span the Arno river, but the most well known is the Ponte Vecchio.  Currently the bridge is full of jewelry shops; but originally it housed several butcher shops.  Evidently the ruling class at the time (who had the cross the bridge every day to go to work) got tired of the rancid smells emanating from the butcher shops and had them removed.  (It’s good to be in charge.)  Additionally, the Medici family (aforementioned rulers) constructed a special passageway for them to use that kept them elevated from the “common folk.”  You can see the windows of the passageway known as the “Vasari Corridor” in the image.  Here are a couple more shots of this famous bridge. Because the city is so beautiful, tourists and citizens alike are often taking photographs.  I would imagine that Florence would be a great setting for a motion picture as well.  I think there is a movie in work that takes place in Florence. (New Dan Brown movie perhaps?)  I spotted this cameraman shooting some footage while on the Arno.

(I'll bet it would be expensive if that boat were to capsize...)

The Ponte Vecchio isn’t the only bridge on the Arno.  Other bridges offer splendid views as well. The bridge next to the Ponte Vecchio is the Ponte a Santa Trinita and is adorned with beautiful statuary.  (I hope that is a word.) 

There is more to Florence than just the river and the Duomo.  Art is huge here, and masterpieces can be found everywhere.  Even the street artists are highly talented… Before we arrived in Florence, my wife, daughter, and I all read Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno - which takes place mostly in Florence.  Because the book was fresh in our minds we had to seek out some of the places Dan talks about in his novel. (No spoilers I promise.)  If you have read the novel, you'll enjoy the following images.  (If not, you can skip to the bottom.)

(Dante's death mask features prominently in the book.  It is located in the Palazzo Vecchio.)

Speaking of the Palazzo Vecchio, here is a view from the outside.  The top two pics of the Duomo and Florence were taken from the top of the tower. Inside the Palazzo Vecchio we see ancient MMA fighters demonstrating unorthodox (yet very effective) advanced grappling techniques.  Brown mentions this sculpture in the book.

Here Jill stands next to a door inside the Boboli gardens that Dan Brown’s main character uses to escape bad guys.

One last book reference – also found in the Boboli gardens, this grotto was used as a hiding place in the novel.

Okay, ENOUGH about Dan Brown’s Inferno.  If you liked his previous work, you’ll probably like his new one.  I have a couple more things to say about Florence.

I LOVE the compact design of old Florence.  At this point on our Europe vacation we had walked and walked and walked and walked… You get the point.  In Florence, you can walk from one end of old town to the other in about 10 minutes!  Unlike Rome where you must take cabs, buses, and donkeys to see everything – mostly all you need to do is take a short walk to see the next sight in Florence.  We did take a great bicycle tour while we were there.  I recommend this method of movement if you want to get off your feet for a bit.  Never take a Segway tour – I think it’s impossible to maintain a cool demeanor on top of one of these dork-mobiles – (My own personal opinion of course. Please don’t sue me.)

(The Young family on bikes.)

We absolutely loved our time in Florence.  Between the history, fantastic sights, abundant priceless works of art – what’s not to love?  We cherished every minute of our stay.  My daughter also loved the gelato… (Maybe more than the art?  Have to ask her….) Salute!

(Young Photography) Dan Brown Dante Duomo Florence Inferno Palazzo Vechio Ponte Vecchio italy Tue, 23 Jul 2013 19:23:19 GMT
Ahhhhh Venice

(HDR taken from the Rialto Bridge with a Canon 5D mk II, processed in Aperture and Photmatix HDR.)

Ahhh, Venice.  There are many places that claim they are the “Venice of the (whatever)”, but there is only one true Venice.  (Actually I guess there is one in California, but let’s not fool ourselves….)  On a recent family vacation to Europe we spent 2 amazing nights in the ancient sinking city.

The first I’d ever heard about Venice was when I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  When Indiana steps off the boat and sets foot on land he exclaims, “Ahhh, Venice…”  That stuck with me and I probably said it 30 times each day we were there.  (Much to the chagrin of my family…)


(Another HDR shot of a portion of the Grand Canal.)

Well, I’m with Professor Jones.  When you step through the doors of the train station, walk down the steps towards the canal landing the first impression is pretty powerful.  You can see the looks of amazement on the faces of the tourists exiting the train station.  (The thousands of tourists….) Many exclaim out loud in their native languages.   You hear French, Spanish, English, Pig Latin… Yes, Venice is an ancient city with an amazing history.  Yes the Venetians produce varied exports including glass sculpture and their famous blinds.  (yes, I’m joking..)  But let’s get serious – Venice is a tourist destination. Period.   In the summer the place is crawling with tourists, and most if not all of the city caters to these tourists.  I’ve got nothing against tourists, heck we were tourists during our visit.  The epicenter of tourist activity in Venice has to be St. Mark's Square.  We checked out this famous square, but the wall-to-wall tourist factor there is a bit hard to take.  The restaurants, gelato shops, and bars near this square are slammed and tend to have higher prices and lower quality service.  We saw the square, then moved on to more intimate parts of Venice. Here is a shot of the throngs of people wandering around the square... Once you get a few blocks away from St Mark’s Square, the population thins out a bit and you can get a more intimate Venice experience.

Now being the learned historian and culture savant that I am, I set off with my family in search of the more historic and geographical highlights of Venice.  Documented in the image below, I found the narrowest “street” in Venice.. Okay, let’s talk about Venice’s “streets.”  There are no cars in Venice, just boats and cobblestone walking streets.  This town is a damn maze – complete with dead end streets, blind corners, and bridges that lead to nowhere.  I swear I saw a minotaur hiding in one remote square.  For lodging, we rented a small apartment through that was located in a quieter section of Venice.  The owner of the apartment met us at a water taxi landing, walked us to our apartment and gave us a nice brief of the area in which we were staying.  We dropped off our bags and set off to explore.  Now, actually finding our digs at the end of the day, in the dark, after a little bit of wine turned out to be a Louis and Clark type expedition.  (With no Sacajawea to help.)  We had no gps, my phone was dead and all we had left was Heidi’s phone and a picture she had taken of our “map.”

After much “Are you sure…” and “Which street are we on?!?” and “I don’t think that way is North” we eventually made it back to our apartment.  We made it a point the next day to find landmarks and better ways to navigate back to where we were staying.  The apartment worked out great by they way – the hotels (Like everything else) in Venice are very expensive – for much cheaper than we would have spent for a hotel we got multiple rooms and a full kitchen.  The owner actually left food and wine for us to use. We really enjoyed the apartment – here is our daughter sketching the scene outside one of the windows. The final product:

This city is a photographer’s dream.  Every turn yields a view dying to be captured.  Images of the unique walls, ancient churches and singing gondoliers filled up my camera’s memory card quickly.  

Heck, even the mailboxes and doorknobs are cool!!

No photographer can visit Venice and not shoot the many bridges. (The famous Bridge of Sighs connecting the prison to the palace.) (Rialto Bridge)

Venice must have gazillions of photographers as its residents.  Shooting portraits in this city is a dream.  Interesting settings and backgrounds are all over the place.

(Heidi modeling next to a many century old palace facade.)

My family and I will never forget our visit to amazing Venice.  The sights, smells, food, wine and ambience are etched into our memories.  Venice was the first Italian city on our vacation, and certainly made us fans of the boot shaped country.  Salute!! (Thanks for the family photo Tom Clabough!)

(Young Photography) Bridge of Sighs Grand Canal HDR Italy Rialto Bridge Venice gondolas Sun, 14 Jul 2013 18:42:14 GMT
I'll Take the Swiss Alps ANY DAY!!

(HDR shot taken near hour hotel in Wengen. Processing done in Photomatix HDR plug-in for Aperture.)

On a recent family European vacation, I had the opportunity to visit Wengen, one of Switzerland’s stunning idyllic alpine hamlets.  We traveled here from Heidelberg, Germany, and it took us 7 separate trains to make the journey. (It was supposed to only be 5, but an emergency on one of the tracks allowed us to enjoy the Euro-train system that much more..)

Wengen is a car-free ski village that swells in population during the winter from 1,300 year round residents to 10,000 in the Winter.  We were there at the beginning of the summer, so although tourists like ourselves were present, it wasn’t slammed yet. 

Now I’m no stranger to scenic mountain ski towns.  I pretty much grew up in Colorado, and have spent a bunch of time at high-altitude alpine destinations.  However, the scenery I saw in Switzerland BLEW ME AWAY.  Wengen had to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  (Or at least tied in the top 5 - Maui and Dubrovnik are spectacular too..)  Every where we looked was amazing.

(Another HDR shot from Wengen looking down into Lauterbrunnen Valley.)

The only way (other than on skis in the winter) to get to Wengen is by train.  Other than a few farm vehicles and some electric people shuttles cars are not allowed.  We boarded the final train in our journey at the bottom of the valley in a town called Lauterbrunnen.  The train climbs the steep walls of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and ends up in Wengen.  The short 15 minute or so train ride yielded unbelievable views of the valley.

After we got off the train we walked a short distance to our hotel, checked in, dropped off our bags and took in the views with nice cold beverages.

(Here is my lovely wife Heidi blending in nicely with the gorgeous scenery.)

Wengen is right out of central casting for a Switzerland Alps fairytale.  Flowered fields are everywhere.  On a short hike around town we saw cows sporting the traditional Swiss bells, we heard an impromptu performance of local musicians, and we even saw a Swiss fox.  (We could tell he was Swiss because he looked a lot like tennis great Roger Federer.) Being a Ski destination, Wengen needs a way to transport its skiers to the top of the mountain.  (Just singing “The Hills are Alive” isn’t going to do it alone.)  So Wengen has an aerial tram system for just that purpose.  I’ve always seen trams like these in the movies but have never actually ridden one before.  (Usually in the movies James Bond is riding it and must jump from one tram to the other in order to fight some giant with huge metal teeth.)  We decided to board the (somewhat pricey) tram and ride to the top. Here is a view of “downtown” Wengen from the tram as it starts its journey to the top.  The white structure on the lower left is an ice rink (in the winter).  The brown clay tennis courts on the other side were getting more use in the summer.

(HDR Shot of the Lauterbrunnen Valley from the top of the Tram.)

(A nice view of the Alps above the valley.)

(Here is Heidi trying to figure out where to put our house when we move to Switzerland.)

Okay, it’s a little hard to admit this next part.  One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Eiger Sanction, starring the great Clint Eastwood.  In the movie he is a retired CIA assassin who is also an art collector and talented mountain climber.  In the movie he has to climb the a towering mountain in Switzerland called the Eiger.  Here, check out the movie trailer:  (It’s a bit cheesier now than I remember it..)

Well, the Eiger is right above Wengen!!  (Next thing you'll tell me the Matterhorn is an actual mountain in the Alps and not just in Disneyland!)

Here is a shot of the Eiger:

(If you look carefully you can see Clint Eastwood climbing on the top.)

After spending a few hours on top and pretty much filling out the CF card in my trusty Canon 5D mk II, it was time to head back down to Wengen.  (Dinner was about ready to start..)  After dinner we sat on our balcony and enjoyed the mountain tops taking in the setting sun.. Eventually the Sun passed below the horizon. Time to go to bed, get some sleep and be ready to go for another fine day in the Alps.   Night night..



(Young Photography) #hdr Alps Eiger Switzerland Wengen Tue, 02 Jul 2013 00:06:09 GMT
London Calling..

(HDR Shot of the Parliament Building, Elizabeth Tower (which houses Big Ben), and the Westminster Bridge.)

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to London several times over the years for work, but recently I was able to take my family there as the first destination on a much anticipated European Vacation.  My wife had visited London before, but for my 14 year old daughter, this was her first stop ever on the European continent.  She is an avid Doctor Who fan and was excited to visit the land of the BBC.

(Here you can see the London Eye across the Thames. Our hotel, the County Hall Marriott, was just to the right of the Eye.)

We arrived early (couldn’t check into the hotel yet) and a bit jet-lagged but were determined to see all we could on our three-day stay in the UK.  We started out with a 3 hour walking tour of the London highlights which ended up near Buckingham Palace for the much heralded Changing of the Guard.

(The soldiers in the brightly colorful uniforms are actual active duty troops currently on domestic duty.)

The Changing of the Guard mostly centers around the famous Queen's residence, Buckingham Palace.  It is possible to tell if the Queen is in residence based on which flag is flying over the Palace. From this image it is impossible to tell, but everybody around us was saying that the Queen was not in that day. Speaking of the Queen, we just happened to be in town for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – a celebration for 60 years of her reign.  Brits are big into pageantry, and with the Jubilee occurring much celebration, parties and decoration were occurring everywhere we looked.  (I originally thought it was to celebrate the Young family coming to visit…) London can have downright nasty weather.  (I’ve been there for as long as weeks before and never saw the sun.)  We lucked out during our visit.  Tourists and Londoners (Londites? Londahodians?) alike gathered in the city’s many green parks to take advantage of the rare sun.

(Prisoners would enter The Tower from the water via "Traitor's Gate." )

A newbie’s trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Tower of London.  This ancient fortress contains the crown jewels, an extensive collection of armor and weapons, the famed Beefeaters, a bloody history, and some really nasty huge Ravens.

(HDR shot of White Tower which houses a museum of weapons and armor used at the Tower.)

I mentioned before that the Brits were deep into symbols and pageantry.  The ubiquitous red telephone booth is a unique symbol of London and you see them everywhere within the city.  Now that everybody has cell phones I’ve never actually seen anybody using the phones contained within.  I believe it’s a law, however, that all visitors must have a photo taken inside these booths. Added in 2000, the London Eye has become a much recognizable feature in London’s skyline.  A somewhat anachronistic companion to London’s old buildings, the Eye adds some vibrant personality to the city’s silhouette.  I have a lot of photos of the eye because it was directly outside our hotel room balcony.

We saw a zillion old buildings, had tea, saw red soldiers marching, checked out a palace, saw where Anne Boleyn was beheaded, rode a boat on the Thames, had some fish and chips BUT my favorite part of London has always been the pub..

You can’t swing a dead cat in London without hitting a pub.  These aren’t simply bars like you find in the US; the pubs are the social centers (or I guess “centres”) of the UK.  In ancient places with names like “Ye old Cheshire Cheese” and “Bag of Nails” you'll find whole families eating dinner, the after work crowd unwinding on the way home, the retired reminiscing, or tourists like me trying to figure out the correct pronunciation of the word “aluminum.”  Cheers!!

(Young Photography) A London. to trip Sun, 23 Jun 2013 22:50:54 GMT
Like a Bridge over European Waters.. I just got back from a family vacation to Europe. The trip was fantastic, and I hauled along my Canon 5D mk II and 3 lenses.  (Which is actually a lot heavier than I thought it was..)  Anyway, among its lengthy list of impressive sights Europe boasts several notable bridges.  All the HDR photos you see were combined in Aperture with the Photomatix HDR Plugin. 

The above bridge is the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge” in Italian) in Florence, Italy.  Rebuilt in 1345 after damage in a flood this bridge has hosted merchants for hundreds of years.  Initially it contained several butcher shops, but the Medici Family who ruled the city during the Renaissance Period reportedly didn’t like the stink emanating from the dead animals so out went the butcher shops and in came the jewelry merchants.

The three windows you can see in the center of the bridge are part of the Vasari Corridor – a passageway the Medici family had built so they could pass over the river from their compound and not need to mingle with the common folk.  This passage is featured prominently in Dan Brown’s new book Inferno.  

Here is the same bridge at night:

Another famed Italian bridge is the Rialto Bridge just a short train ride away in Venice. Completed in 1591, the Rialto Bridge is one of just four bridges that span the Grand Canal in Venice.  Like the Ponte Vecchio, the Rialto Bridge hosts several merchants.  Here is another shot of the bridge from the canal taken from a gondola.

Another Venetian bridge of note is the Bridge of Sighs. Built in 1602, the bridge connected the interrogation rooms of the Doge’s Palace to the new prison.  Lord Byron is credited for naming the bridge in the 19th century when he suggested that the prisoners would take one last look at Venice through the bridge’s windows and let out audible sighs before being taken to their cells.

Italy doesn't hold the monopoly on notable European bridges, let's head over to the UK, specifically London.

Finished in 1894, The Tower Bridge spans the Thames River.  The central span can raise to allow marine traffic to pass.  Here is shot from the river. Another prominent London bridge is the Westminster Bridge.  Spanning the Thames near the Parliament building, the Westminster Bridge is featured in many images of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye.  When I visited London recently we walked across this bridge several times a day. I’m sure there are a zillion more European bridges of note, but these were the major ones that found their way onto my memory cards.  I’ll be preparing future blog entries featuring the areas we visited on our trip.  Until then, safe travels and happy shooting.

(Young Photography) Bridge of Sighs European Bridges HDR Ponte Vecchio Tower Bridge Westminster Bridge Tue, 18 Jun 2013 22:38:18 GMT
An English Manor of Speaking... I dig the English and their mastery over the English Language.  (They just call it “language.”)  They often sculpt words into colorful sentences unlike any you will hear in Southern California….  Words like “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “bollocks” get strewn together in wonderful expressions of angst, exuberance, and sarcasm – I never fail to be impressed by even their most casual utterings.  I recently enjoyed a brief stay in the UK during a three day layover (Almost 1/5th of a “fortnight.”) in the country just outside of London.

Known as Hanbury Manor, this Marriott property boasts 16th century roots, a fantastic golf club/course, heated towels (always a favorite), and undoubtedly several ghosts. I am no stranger to hotels – they are a necessary evil to my other profession as a corporate pilot, but most of my layovers take place in more traditional business-type inns.  As we pulled up to the gravel parking lot in front of Hanbury Manor I knew my stay was going to be different than my usual overnight. Due to a wicked (but not unusual) case of jet lag I found myself wide awake at 4:30am.  (To be completely honest, I was awake at 2, 3:15, 3:55, and 4:10.  I just gave up at 4:30)  As I lay in bed, trying to surf the web on my phone (16th century English manors have may positive attributes, but speedy wifi isn’t usually one of them) I saw some natural light starting to peek under my curtain.  I got up, peered out the window and saw a beautiful site:  early morning light illuminating rising fog on the moors.  (Golf course actually, but I figured since I was in England it must be a moor. )  By this time I was wide awake so I grabbed my camera and headed outside in search of great light, still air, and perhaps a hobbit or two. I ended up playing that golf course later in the day; but for the next hour I walked around the grounds of our English countryside inn.  Parts of the early morning stroll were magical.  There were pheasants (not peasants) in my presence.  (Sorry about that, couldn’t resist)  The grounds were quite beautiful complete with walled gardens and a hedge maze.  (Maybe not a maze – but it did feel a bit “Shining-esque.”) Our brief stay at the Hanbury Manor was a nice break from our usual urban layovers.  I enjoyed the solo morning stroll with my camera most of all, and couldn’t resist dabbling with some HDR shots of the main building.  (First 2 images.)  I made it a point to utilize English vernacular in my conversation – I said “lift,” “cheers,” and “al-u-minium” so many times my crewmates rolled their eyes at me.  I didn’t see any ghosts, but I haven’t really finished looking through all my image files – who knows, I may have captured one or two.  Great stay.  Cheerio!

(Young Photography) Hanbury Manor Wed, 29 May 2013 16:42:06 GMT
Moscow re-visited I recently enjoyed a brief one-night stay in Moscow.  I’d been there before, but it has been a few years and I was looking forward to dragging my good camera with me this time.  We arrived in the early afternoon after flying 9 hours from Asia, and every cell in my body wanted to collapse into bed once we got to the hotel, but I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t head out and explore a bit. 

The walk to famed Red Square was just a couple kilometers from our hotel, and the streets of Moscow were mostly like I remembered – with one exception.  The traffic – holy CRAP!  It took us 2 hours to drive the 25 kilometers or so from the airport to our hotel.  I’m used to nasty Los Angeles 405-based traffic, but what they have in Moscow is a whole level above that.  We rode in a van with large windows, so at least we got to take in the views on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from the airport. I’ve seen lots of “airplanes on a stick” but nothing this large.  Everything looks a bit different in Russia.  The aircraft designs look mean, the domestic vehicles appear tough, and some of the older buildings can be ominous.   Enough traffic talk.  Back to Red Square excursion… As we strolled from the hotel the architecture, Cyrillic signage, and art really let us know that we “weren’t in Kansas anymore..”  After our short walk (the exercise felt good after being trapped in an airplane for so long) we ended up on the outskirts of Red Square.  As we approached, the crowds grew larger and various vendors started to appear.  This is definitely a major gathering place for tourists and locals alike.  Here you can buy a warm "wool" (rat?) Russian hat (Made in China) or the famed "Doll-inside-a-doll-inside-a-doll-inside...."  You get the picture...

We entered Red Square from the North end – through the gates attached to the State History Museum.  (With only one night in Moscow, we didn’t have time for any museums..)  In the top HDR photo, you can see the red history museum in the background.  Once we entered, the Kremlin and Lenin’s tomb (Vladimir, not John) were on the right, the GUM shopping center was on the left, and what I really wanted to photograph – St. Basil’s Cathedral was straight ahead. Here you can see Lenin's tomb.  His body is on display inside.  It was closed by the time we arrived to the square.  Maybe I'll have time on some other visit to venture inside. 

Opposite to Lenin’s tomb is the GUM department store.  (Slightly ironic)  I don’t usually make it a point to visit shopping malls when abroad, but GUM is an impressive monument to capitalism. The image above is fairly ironic.  I remember hearing during the height of the Cold War that people would smuggle Levi jeans into the Soviet Union to trade for goods and services.  I guess they were like gold back in the day.  Now Levi has a huge store in the GUM right on Red Square…  I guess capitalism was victorious. More about Levis in Russia here.

Okay, let’s go back outside…  at the far end of Red Square sits St. Basil’s Cathedral.  With construction beginning in the 15th century, this iconic building sticks out in my mind as the height of Moscovian contrasts. Right next to the intimidating Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral draws the eye to its beauty and uniqueness. After hanging out on the square for an hour or so, the jet lag began to set in with a vengeance – so we turned around and walked back to the hotel.  We did stop at Café Pushkin for some borsch, stroganoff and maybe a cold beer (or two.)

Cheers! На здоровье!


(Young Photography) Cafe Pushkin Gum Kremlin Lenin's Tomb Moscow Red Square St. Basil's Cathedral Sat, 25 May 2013 15:43:20 GMT
Picturesque Poppy Photography in Palmdale Picturesque Poppy Photography in Palmdale – try saying that five times quickly.  (You’re a dork if you just said “that” multiple times.. ;) ) While I am lucky enough to travel the globe for a living – opportunities often exist to shoot interesting settings locally and I jump at the chance to photograph nearby gems.

About 30 minutes north of where I live in Southern California the poppies bloom every spring in the Antelope Valley.   California has of course found a way to squeeze some income from this annual event, and has established the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. A mere $10 is what it takes to park your vehicle and access the poppy fields.  The fields are quite spectacular when in full bloom.  Unfortunately, according the their web site, the bloom ended early this year.  Last year I was able to catch the bloom at its apex. Home to Edwards AFB, part of the Mojave desert, and endless Joshua trees the Antelope Valley has lots of image-worthy subjects for budding photographers.  My last jaunt into the area was to capture the final flight of the Endeavour space shuttle.  I wrote about it here.  The alienesque landscapes (probably including several actual aliens due to proximity of Edwards AFB) are always fun to shoot. Hey, back to the poppies – sorry, I always get distracted when I start talking about aliens. If you live in Southern California check the Poppy Reserve website.  If you can visit during peak blooming, do it.  Bring a wide-angle lens, and a fast 50 for some short depth-of-field work.  Enjoy!

(Young Photography) Antelope Valley poppies Mon, 06 May 2013 16:04:18 GMT
No WAY am I using that passport photo! This all started last week when I found out I needed a China visa for my passport.  (I'm a corporate pilot in my other life and often find myself flying around the world.)  China visas can be a pain to acquire.  We used to be able to get multi-entry visas good for a year, but in the last few years China has changed the rules and now the visas are only good for 6 months and allow only 2 entries per visa.  The visa paperwork requires a passport photo - and this is where this whole thing started.

Work calls, we're busy right now and I need to get a passport photo taken for a China visa application ASAP.  I also need to get some extra photos for a two-year passport that needs to get renewed.  (We have 2 passports - a normal ten-year and a two-year.  This way if we are traveling on one passport, the other can be sent in for various visas. )

Anyway, I rushed off to Kinkos, or Fed-Ex Office - whatever it's called now - to get my photo taken.  The guy has me stand in front of their white background, snaps the shutter and starts printing out my order. 

Now, I'm in my early 40s and my near eyesight isn't what it used to be.  I have to use those "reading glasses" things for near detail work.  When the Kinkos guy showed me the back of his camera I really didn't see the photo in enough detail to make a quality determination.  When I got home with the pics, found my glasses (a never ending search) I was horrified. 

OH MY GOD!!  I look terrible!  There is NO WAY I'm going to to let this shot be my passport photo for the next 2 years. Unfortunately this photo was sent along with my China Visa application, but I'm not going to let this mug shot live in my upcoming passport renewal.

I went to Mr. Google to find out about passport photo specifications.  They aren't really that complicated.  You can find out the technical specifications by clicking here.

I set up my garage "studio."  I have a 4x8 sheet of white stuff I bought at Home Depot a few years ago, so I set it up with some clamps to the garage door track.  I have a softbox that works with my canon 580EXII flash that I decided to use for a key light.

I initially used just the softbox and connected it to my camera via a wired ETTL cord.  Unfortunately I was getting a major hot spot on the background (and some nasty shadows) so I decided I needed to light the background separate from the model. (ME)  I have a couple cheap Vivitar flashes so I set one up on a light stand and strapped a grid to its business end.  Now, instead of using my ETTL cord, I would use some wireless triggers (cheap on Amazon) and use the flashes in manual mode.  I used a piece of foam core for a bounce card.

Okay, now we're getting somewhere.  I set the camera up (iso 200, 24mm, f5, 1/80s, manual mode) and had my wonderful wife come out and shoot me. (With the camera ;) )  After just a few shots (she's good) and actually LOOKING at the back of the camera WITH READING GLASSES I was happy with what we got.  Now it's time to process the images.

I use Apple Aperture, so I imported the images into Aperture.  I did some minor adjustments (backed exposure off a little, minor increase in contrast - and maybe a little tweak in Photoshop) and was ready to crop.  The final passport photo is in square format, so I selected a square crop and cropped square - but larger than my final photo would be.  I then exported the pic in .jpg format to my desktop. 

Now believe it or not, but the US State department actually has an on line passport photo cropper!  Click here to check it out.

I uploaded my jpg to their tool and adjusted the sliders so my face fit in between the green ovals.

You click "crop" and "save."  Now you have the final file.  I imported it into Aperture, and selected "Print Image" from its File menu.

I have a 4x6 photo tray, so I selected it as a source and a 2x2 inch photo size for final output.  Next thing I knew my printer was kicking out passport photos. 

Now the HARDEST part of this process is cutting out the perfect 2x2 photos.  I ended up using a photo trimmer my wife had, and making some final trims with a sharp pair of scissors. 

Here is the before and after.  While I'll never get mistaken for George Clooney, I am much happier with the product I created in my garage than the one I paid twenty bucks or so to have done.

Now, if California would let me take my own driver's license shots.....

(Young Photography) passport passport photos Sun, 07 Apr 2013 21:56:41 GMT
Good Morning Vietnam!! Back when I was ‘Nam….  “  I can actually say that.  In 2007 I had the opportunity to visit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on a work trip.  (When I’m not taking pictures I fly business jets for a major corporation.)  Ironically enough, the other pilot I flew this trip with used to be a Marine A-6 pilot and operated over Vietnam during the war.  It was interesting to see his reactions and feelings while we were there. 

In 2007 I really hadn’t studied photography yet and the camera I was using was only about a half-step above a toy.  Please excuse the quality of the images; however, I still think they convey some of what it feels like to visit this southeast Asian country.

The first city we flew into was Ho Chi Minh city (old Saigon.)  I’ve been to most Asian countries, but NEVER in my life have I seen so many scooters.  They must issue every Vietnamese citizen 2 scooters when they are born.  On the ride from the airport to our hotel we spent the whole time with our noses pressed against the windows trying to win the “who can spot the most outlandish thing on a scooter” contest.  (The winner was our mechanic who spotted a scooter carrying 12 pigs in cages strapped to the back.) Here we see an ingenious young gentleman who devised a method to increase the lifespan of his tires by reducing the overall weight of the structure.

Our hotel was right next to the famed Saigon River, and I think I discovered where some of the scooters come from.  I noticed a ferry boat approaching a landings and shot a little bit of awful video: Check out how many scooters offload from the ferry.

Much has changed in Vietnam since the years of war.  Danger, however, remains present – although the form of this danger has morphed.  Today, this danger manifests itself through the seemingly benign task of crossing the street.  For the most part, Vietnam doesn’t bother with traffic signals, signs, or rules.  The streets are often free-for-all mob rule.  Crossing the street there scared me more than landing a jet in mountainous terrain at night in a thunderstorm.  I remember a couple of us stood at an intersection for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get across.  Finally an old lady showed up and started to cross.  We followed her, letting her part the streams of the vicious two-stroke monsters. 

I learned the Vietnam street-crossing technique.  You must move slowly, yet steadily in a über-predictable manor.  The scooters will adjust their track as to miss you by at least 6 inches.  Don’t speed up, don’t slow down – a brief "head fake" can cost you a kneecap.  Most important of all: Don’t show fear.  (They can smell it.) After 1 night in Ho Chi Minh City we flew north to Hanoi.  I grew up right after the Vietnam War and I know how it affected our troops who served there.  I was looking forward to see what this city feels like today.  Ironically, our hotel was the “Hanoi Hilton.” The Hilton was very nice:  large rooms, Starbucks downstairs, etc.  This is definitely not the “Hanoi Hilton” POW prison that housed the likes of Admiral Stockdale.  THAT “Hanoi Hilton” is actually the Hỏa Lò Prison and is basically a museum now. Reading the various propaganda signs that virtually litter Hanoi can be upsetting.  I’m a Navy vet and I’ve heard first hand some of the atrocities committed against our troops in this small country.  When you read a sign in the lobby of the Hỏa Lò Prison that says the prisoners were treated so nicely that they opted to call the prison the “Hanoi Hilton” – well, let’s just say it can cause one’s blood pressure to increase a bit. 

We were given a tour of some of Hanoi’s highlights.  At one point of the tour our guide led us to a cesspool in the middle of a neighborhood that still contains wreckage of a B-52. Nearby is the ubiquitous propaganda sign. I don’t want it to sound like this trip was a somber revisiting of the Vietnam War.  It wasn’t.  I found the people of Vietnam to be happy, vibrant, and positive.  The country is doing well, and the economy is building.  As usual, I made it part of my mission to sample the local barley product.  (Something every good visitor should do.) According to Cliff, my fellow crew member who was actually a part of the Vietnam War, they used to drink 333 beer after missions.  It goes down very well after walking in the stifling, oppressively hot and humid environment.

Walking through the city we came upon a young lady taking a private badminton lesson.  I play a lot of tennis, I’ve taken several tennis lessons and watching this badminton session cracked me up.

Our stay was pretty short – 3 nights, 2 cities.  I enjoyed what I saw, and would definitely visit again if given the choice.  I wish I would have taken some photos of the food.  (Would that be called a “Pho – to?”  Sorry, had to be done.)  The food was delicious and plentiful.  The prices were very reasonable, and if you get away from the hotel restaurants and bars you can go a long way with 10 dollars.  I’d like to take my Canon dSLR to Vietnam the next time I’m fortunate to visit.  If I do, I’ll revisit the blog. Moat hi bah, yo!

(Young Photography) Hanoi Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon Vietnam Wed, 20 Mar 2013 18:01:46 GMT
Top Ten Keys to Bitchin' Travel Photography

Bill’s Top 10 Keys to Travel Photography

Let me get this out there – I don’t make my living from travel photography.  However, due to my other profession as a corporate pilot I am lucky enough to travel the world on somebody else’s dime.  I’ve been to over 50 countries in the last 10 years, so I’d like to say I’ve picked up a thing or two on shooting (cameras) abroad.  I figure I won’t be able to fly forever, so I make it a point to try and capture the best images I can so I can look at them when I’m in an old-folk's home or use them to bore my grandkids. 

Because I’m not trying to sell my images, my focus is a little different than maybe a professional photographer who is making a living selling his/her craft.  While I am constantly working to improve and grow my skill, I shoot for me.  I shoot what impresses me, I shoot what disgusts me, and I shoot what makes me laugh.  I try to capture the essence and feel of a location so I can revisit through memories, or share with others.

Okay, let’s get started with my list.  I’m making this as easy as I can – no clicking from ad-filled page to ad-filled page to view the list.  It’s all here on this easy-to-read page.


I now shoot with a Canon 5D Mk II, and I have a quiver of lenses to go with it.  I also have external flashes, tripods, and every other piece of photo equipment I can figure out how to justify.  (We don’t reallllly need to make our mortgage payment, just think of all the revenue I could make shooting portraits with that 85mm 1.2L…)  (Just kidding, I just have the f1.8 version…) That camera alone with a couple lenses is pretty heavy.  I don’t always bring the 5D on my trips, usually only if it’s an interesting destination and if I think I’ll have an opportunity to shoot.  If I am dragging the camera along I’ll usually bring my 24-105mm lens and maybe a 50mm 1.8 for some short depth of field stuff.  I have a 17-40 if I really want to go wide, but I really like the 24-105 and that's the lens that pretty much lives on my camera.  No tripod, no flash - they stay at home.  I have a smallish sling bag I can carry the camera and lenses in.  We’re fairly mobile on the road and I usually have a normal sized roller-board suitcase, a Tumi computer bag thing, and my camera bag if I have it along.  It sucks dragging a heavy camera bag along if you don’t have a chance to use it.

Another reason to minimize your bag is the lighter and easier it is to haul, the more likely I am to take it with me wherever I leave the hotel room.  If it’s easy to carry I’ll probably take it with me when we go out to dinner.  This brings me to my next key.


Some of my favorite shots are a result of serendipity.  My favorite of this type of shot is this one where I witnessed a huge scary bird attack a baby deer.  If I didn’t have my camera nobody would believe my story of this amazing encounter.  IF you don't have your "big camera" don't forget you can take decent shots with an iPhone – think of it as a camera and not just a phone/Angry Birds machine. NUMBER 3 – WHEN OUT AND ABOUT, HAVE THE CAMERA OUT OF YOUR BAG, LENS CAP OFF AND READY TO GO. 

I’m usually a bit jet-lagged when I’m abroad.  If I have to rotate my bag around, unzip, pull out my camera, take the lens cap off, put it in my pocket, power up the camera and adjust the settings to take a picture – well, I’m pretty lazy and I wouldn't shoot much.  If it’s loaded and ready to go I shoot everything.


There is a reason you paid too much for a fancy camera.  Mix it up a bit.  Take some short depth-of-field shots.  Set the shutter-speed to 1/20th and work with panning.  Tilt the camera.  Get creative.


We had something in the Navy we called the “6 Ps.”  Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Heck, we had sayings for everything but you get the picture.  Get on the computer with a glass a wine and research where you are going.  Search google images for photos taken in the area.  I’ve always had a “fear of missing out” and if I go somewhere and find out later I missed out seeing something really cool I get pissed. 


Going to Europe?  Try and get a good IN FOCUS image inside a cathedral.  Get some shots of the stained glass windows.  You’ll have to crank the ISO up to a zillion. (You probably don’t have a tripod, and if you did they would beat you with it if you tried to use it inside.)  Good interior shots will add to the flavor of your trip portfolio.  Heck, I even usually take photos of my hotel room.  (Before I rock-star the room that is…)

NUMBER 7 – SHOOT SIGNS, ADVERTISEMENTS, AND LOCAL BEER BOTTLES.  This is probably where I differ from travel photo pros.  It cracks me up to have a photo of a sign that says “Ausfahrt!”  Having photos of local signs, ads and such really give me a feel of the foreign locale.  Why beer bottles?  I consider myself a bit of diplomat when I travel – and what better way to spread goodwill than to sample the local brew?


Zoom in on unique details.  I KNOW you are going to take the shot of the huge cathedral.  Get some fun shots of the gargoyles standing guard overhead.  Don’t forget to LOOK UP.  You’d be amazed what people put on their buildings abroad.


As cool as the pyramids are, as cool as the castle is, as much fun it is to shoot the dragon eating the livestock on the Moors – people make for the most interesting shots.  (That’s my opinion, I’m really into portraiture. )  It can be intimidating to ask somebody if you can take their photo.  (Some would say that is what long zooms are for….) But if you have the camera up and ready you’ll get over the nervousness of shooting strangers.  A smile goes a long way.  If I want a tight shot I’ll smile, hold up the camera and usually the subject will let me take the photo.  Work on getting more and more images featuring people on your travels.


I know you are going to get the often-taken wide shots of the largest piece of cheese or whatever is unique to your location.  I’m not saying don’t take that shot.  Take the shot, and then see what you can do to make it more interesting.  Check out the people looking at the main subject.  Play with perspective.  Get creative. (Obvious shot - now turn around and watch what the people are doing...) And the last…… From the home office in Saugus, CA.

Bonus: Number 11 – BE AWARE.  DON’T GET ARRESTED. 

While I’ve taken the picture of the outside of a Turkish prison, I’ve so far avoided finding myself on the inside of one.  I’m guessing it’s less than ideal.  (To a guy whose idea of camping is staying at a Courtyard Marriott instead of a full-service Marriott – let’s just say I wouldn’t do well in prison.) 

I was a military aviator, and of upmost importance to an aviator is maintaining something we called “Situational Awareness” or SA for short.  Know what’s going on around you.  You are probably carrying several thousand dollars, or Euros, or Pounds, or Bongo Bucks worth of gear that 5 people within a block of you would steal in a heartbeat.  Don’t (openly) take photos of cops, military stuff, or airports.  (I’ve violated all of these, but I’m pretty careful. )

Well, that’s my version of the ubiquitous “Top 10 list.”  I absolutely love to travel, and I love photography.  When I can do both at the same time I’m in hog heaven.  Get out there and take some cool pictures.  Cheers!

Happy shooting!!!

(Young Photography) Wed, 06 Mar 2013 05:11:56 GMT
Back to the USA. Washington DC trip I am fortunate to travel the world for work, (I pilot business aircraft.) and with all the foreign destinations it’s sometimes easy to forget about the great locations we have in the USA.  In 2008 my wife, daughter, and I took a family vacation to our nation’s capital.  I’d been there a few times, but never for a whole week and never with such intensity.  (My typical business layover consists of a little sightseeing, finding a good restaurant, and maybe locating an interesting pub.)  Well – that was not going to be the case on this trip to DC.  We were going to see EVERYTHING. We stayed at a Courtyard Marriott (my version of “camping” – it’s not a full service Marriott) near the center of town.  We chose the area carefully – DC has some violent crime “challenges” and I try to avoid gun shot wounds when I can.  We were located within a couple blocks of a metro station so we didn’t need/want a car for our sightseeing. When I think of DC I think about the big-ticket items: the Mall, the Capital, the White House, the Spy Museum.  (Mostly the Spy Museum – and it was AWESOME!!) We started our sightseeing on the Mall.  Walking along the well-used paths we took in the great views of the Capital building, the Washington Monument, and the iconic Smithsonian Castle.  (Which contains a secret basement housing an elite scientific para-military organization – At least if you are a fan of James Rollins’ Sigma novels..) We (and by “we” I mean my lovely wife) prepared well for our trip.  We wrote our congressmen, senators (even the ones I REALLY don’t like), and talked to our mailman about how to get into the truly alluring sights.  We were able to secure tours of the Capital, the White House, and Bureau of Engraving.  These all require some sort of double-secret background checks; and I’m happy to say the Young family made it through the checks successfully.  This was in 2008 and we were inside the Capital building (well, waiting in line actually) when congress voted down the initial bank-bail out bill. (Inside the Capital rotunda)

After we toured the Capital we headed across the street and met our representative.  I didn’t really think we were going to get to see anybody, but our congressman brought us into his office, took a photo with us and give our daughter Jill a copy of the constitution.  Very cool! The White House tour was next. We approached the White House for our tour.  Obviously security is everywhere in DC, and I noticed the guy posted on the roof of the President’s residence. That’s a nasty looking gun next to him.  At least he has a bottle of water available to keep him well-hydrated.  The White House tour was great; I always wondered what it would be like to be inside the famous landmark.

We spent a LOT of time touring the famous Smithsonian museums in DC.  (FYI – they are FREE to visit!!) The Zoo is part of the Smithsonian system so we spent part of a day at the zoo.  Zoos are weird for me – I always end up enjoying zoo visits more than I think I will.  I was actually dreading heading to the zoo, but had a great morning there. (The above shot is of the dreaded "Zombie-Ninja Mothra" which sports a 6 foot wingspan and fangs that can penetrate case-hardened steel.)  Another highlight of our trip was the monument tour.  We spent a lot of the week walking everywhere, and for the monument tour we were able to find one that utilized bicycles.  (There was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to do the Segway tour..) Bicycles are a great way to see the monuments; please do a bike tour if you find yourself in DC.  Some info here.. (Jill on the Einstein memorial.  The tour guide said it was one of the few memorials that it was okay to climb on...) Heidi and Jill checking out Lincoln.  (He was smaller in the movie..) Here I am with my daughter in front of the Jefferson Memorial. I mentioned that we used the metro to get around the DC area.  I was excited to expose my daughter to public transportation.  (In a system that works, not in a “you may get stabbed if you take this bus” kind of way.)  We would get to the metro stop, tell our daughter which stop we needed to get to and have our daughter figure out how to make it work.  She got pretty good at metro-navigation.

(This is a terrible photo, and my wife will probably kill me for including it, but the sight of them smiling on the metro makes me happy.) As a veteran, a trip to DC would not be complete without a visit to hallowed Arlington National Cemetery.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the rolling hills of endless headstones of those who served were unforgettable sights. After our Arlington visit we jumped back on the metro and headed into Georgetown.  If I was a young Washington insider (with significant means – it isn’t cheap) I think I’d like to live in Georgetown. Obviously, a visit to Georgetown would not be complete if it didn’t include a walk up the famous Exorcist stairs.  Do you remember the scene?

I’ll always remember our Washington DC trip fondly. (My favorite part was the Spy Museum, but I’m a spy-nerd.)  We saw the Declaration of Independence, met our representative, we walked through the White House, hit the zoo, looked for ghosts in Georgetown, dined at the Capital Grill, saw a zillion museums, and experienced a TON of other sights/activities.  With the exception of sharing a shuttle van from the airport with a possible Al Qaeda cell we never felt in any danger in DC.  I love traveling abroad, but sometimes I forget the spectacular venues we have here in the USA.  Happy traveling!

(Young Photography) Capital Georgetown Smithsonian Washington DC White House Fri, 01 Mar 2013 18:20:09 GMT
Checking Out the Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Located in the southern South China Sea, Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia’s capital city – bakes in saunaesque temperatures and 1 thousand percent humidity.  The oppressive atmosphere hits you like a nine-iron as you exit your nicely air conditioned hotel.  I was lucky enough to visit this Malaysian gem in 2007 on a work trip.  (As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, when I’m not taking pictures I’m a corporate pilot with a large international company.)

(The images on this entry were taken in 2007 with a simple point and shoot camera before I really studied photography.)

The crown jewel in KLs skyline has to be the Petronas Towers.  1,483 feet tall, The Towers structure was the tallest building in the world until Taipei 101 was built in 2004.

Each day, up to 1000 people can buy tickets to ride the elevators up to the Skybridge located 558 feet up the structure.  We were in KL for only 2 nights and I didn’t know if I’d ever get there again so I decided to make the effort to get into the Towers.  If I remember right the line starts at 8:00 am for the tower tour.  The tickets are 80 Malaysian ringgits (or bongo bucks – standard term for foreign currency) which is about 25 US dollars.  The process is kind of a pain:

1. Get up early.  (No problem because I was already jet lagged and woke up 3 am-ish.)

2. Try to get back to sleep until at least 6:30 or so when breakfast opens. (Didn’t work.)

3. Get up, shower and get some breakfast that doesn’t involve fish.  (Don’t get me wrong, I like fish but haven’t been able to get used to it as a breakfast solution.)

4. Coffee.

5. More coffee. 

6. Walk to the towers.  (They have to be close, I can see them from the hotel. )

7. They aren’t close, hail a cab.

8. Stand in long line to buy tickets. 

9. Buy tickets, look on ticket for time when we return to ride up to the Skybridge. (1 PM) 

10.  Find more coffee and head back to hotel.

Okay – it’s just before 1 pm, it HAS to be 115 degrees and we’re ready to stand in line again with our tickets.  We look way up and see the Skybridge. The design of the Skybridge is impressive.  It can slide inside of both towers when they are swaying (slightly I hope) in the wind.  It also acts as an escape route should one of the towers catch fire. 

Anyway, we finally make it to the elevator and ride up to the bridge. The bridge is 190 feet along and we are allowed a few minutes to look around before it’s time for us to take the elevator down and let the next batch of $25 a head tourists take their turn.  The views were amazing. Here is proof I was there. Before I knew it our time was up and we had to take the elevator back down to Earth.  We made it back to the hotel, and found some lunch. (Seafood is fine for lunch.)

The rest of the afternoon was spent decompressing and fighting jet lag by the pool.  That was my KL trip.  We stayed at the JW Marriott and other than the Petronas Towers we didn’t venture out much in the city.  The hotel is in a great area filled with restaurants, shopping and bars (I’ve heard anyway ;) Sorakan!

(Young Photography) Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers Fri, 22 Feb 2013 19:26:45 GMT
Extraordinary Annecy In 2007 I was assigned to a trip to Geneva, Switzerland.  (When I’m not taking photos I’m a corporate pilot.)  We usually stay in Geneva proper when we fly into their airport, but this time due to a huge convention we were forced to find lodging outside the city of Geneva.  That led us on a terror-filled van ride through the Alps to the gorgeous Lake Annecy and its charming French town.

Please keep in mind this trip was in 2007, before I acquired a decent camera and developed some basic photography skills.  All these images were taken with a basic point and shoot camera.

Located on France’s second largest Lake (and considered Europe’s cleanest lake) Annecy boasts alpine views, a castle, and an alluring medieval town.  We stayed at the Hotel Imperial Palace, which you can see in the above photo.  On our business trips we rarely stay more than a night at a location, but this time we were lucky enough to have a few days to enjoy this picturesque area.  The nomadic lifestyle of a pilot can be rough – spending days away from the family on the road is taxing.  We did the best we could suffering through the hours in Annecy as we anxiously awaited our flight home.  (**sarcasm**)  We don’t usually get to enjoy destinations as majestic as Annecy. Our hotel was located on a small peninsula, what I liked to do was wake up and head across the street to a little café.  We could sit on the front porch, drink cappuccino (it IS France) and watch the area wake up.  A popular cycling area, Tour de France hopefuls would speed along the trails throughout the day. After breakfast we would walk (or stroll actually) along the lake towards the medieval old town.  The approximately 1 km post-breakfast walk yielded great views of the glacier-fed lake. The charming Annecy old town straddles a river flowing into the lake.  (Or was the river flowing from the lake? It was 2007, I can’t remember.  It doesn’t really matter.) The river was running VERY HIGH while we were there.  Check out the level of the water against the bridge on the above photo.  Restaurants and cafes line the river and much of each day was spent deciding where to eat dinner that night.  One popular restaurant item was an aromatic cheese called raclette that would be served tableside in an electric melting device.  They would load the cheese in the magical machine and you would scrape the melted goodness onto fresh-baked bread.  Goes well with local beer and wine.  (I’m told….) Carnivale was going on while we were in town.  Either that or Halloween occurs early in France. One of the features that sets Annecy apart from other gorgeous European hamlets is the Palais de l'Isle, a castle in the centre of the Thiou canal built in 1132. This impressive structure has been a Lord’s house, a courthouse, a mint (not a thin one), and a jail.  It’s now a museum. It’s not all about the canal and the lake; the rest of the town has its appealing details. French fast food.  "S'il vous plait I’d like a ham and and cheese croissant… "

A large castle on a hill yields great views over the town and lake. Annecy was one of my first “off the beaten path” forays in Europe.  By this time I’d been to the large cities but I really enjoyed this “burg.”  It his guidebooks Rick Steves recommends seeing these small gems;  Annecy is one of these gems and I highly recommend a visit to this French hamlet. À la vôtre!

(Young Photography) Annecy France Lake Annecy Palais de l'Isle Tue, 19 Feb 2013 19:22:08 GMT
Eau de Cologne Located on the castle-lined and picturesque Rhine River, Cologne may be my favorite German city.  As I’ve stated before, to be a popular European destination a city requires a few key points: a river, old part, new part, and a huge church.  As you can see below, Cologne easily contains these minimum requirements. Ok, I’ll admit my European city requirements are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but they also tend to be fairly accurate.  While Cologne has much flavor, I’d say the most distinguishing part of the fine city is its HUGE cathedral that dominates the skyline.  Centrally located in “old town” Kölner Dom is the first thing that visitors see when they exit the train station. The inside of this gothic masterpiece is equally as impressive.  For a few Euro you can also climb the 10 quadzillion stairs to the top of the structure.  I’ve only done this once, but the view with worth the exertion.

Although summers in Europe can be crowded with tourists, it’s my favorite time to visit.  Sidewalk cafes, people watching, and cold beer (well, relatively – it is Europe) on warm days can be hard to beat. Cologne has a vibrant summer scene. One hears a lot about European fashions – The Italians and the French like to dress in stylish attire.  In Germany – well, let’s just say that they tend to have a more eclectic sense of fashion. My favorite way to see these riverside European cities is on bicycle.  It’s easy and fairly inexpensive to rent a bike in Cologne, and the flat terrain make it a cinch to get around.  I spent a few hours exploring the city one day. I thought these buildings looked like those At At machine things from Star Wars. Here is Cologne’s fairly iconic trestle bridge that features “love locks.”  Lovers write their names on padlocks and attach them to bridges.  I covered this phenomenon in this blog post..  You see this sign a bunch in Germany.  I don't know what it means but I KNOW it doesn't mean what I think it means.

For some reason my work takes me to Cologne fairly often.  (I’m a corporate pilot when I’m not taking images.) I always look forward to my visits to this fine city.  I’ve even been known to sample Kolsch, their fine local beer. Prost!

(Young Photography) Cologne Germany Koln Thu, 14 Feb 2013 22:35:58 GMT
Rolling in Riga.. When I found out that I’d been assigned a trip to Riga, Latvia, I had to look at a globe.  To be honest with you, I really didn’t know where on the globe to find Latvia.  South America? Nope.  Africa? Nope. Asia? Nope.  Some island in the middle of the South Pacific? (I had recently been to Easter Island…) Nope!  I found out Riga is the capital of Latvia and is one of the Baltic States in north eastern Europe.  I can throw out the term “Baltic States” now because I’m a crusty world traveler, but at the time my world map was still in the "new pin accumulation" stage.  The only time I remembered hearing “Baltic” before is when I was buying the cheapest properties on a Monopoly board.  (No matter how many Hotels you build on Baltic, it never really pays off..)  After visiting Riga in 2006 I can say that I’d like to revisit (a wine term I learned in Napa) the Baltic States. (As long as it is in the summer.) I’m a bit of a Cold War buff, and I’ve talked about this in previous blog posts.  Latvia was part of the USSR until they finally reclaimed their independence in 1991.  The Soviet history is apparent as you walk around the city.  I’ve spoke earlier about the requirements for a popular European destination.  (Old part, new part, river, big church, cobblestones…) Riga has the required bullet points so tourists head there in the summer in droves. On one of the beautiful summer days I was there we were treated to an American muscle car show – right in the middle of Old Town…  That was a bit surreal.  I wouldn’t have expected this kind of show. The cars brought people out by the thousands.. To really understand the culture of this fine place, we determined that it would be best to park ourselves in a strategic place to survey the area, and observe the local goings on.  We did this for hours, and I now feel like I really understand Riga. One can only survey for so long, so we did head out and explore the city a bit.  I found the architecture interesting and took some shots (with my cheap point-and shoot at the time) during the walk. The Baltics in the summer are a joy to visit.  People were friendly, the food was good and the beer (I mean ice tea) was cold.  Much cheaper than western Europe, the dollar goes a lot farther in Latvia than say – Paris.  After a taste of Latvia, and St. Petersburg, Russia, I’d like to continue my Baltic visit by checking out Estonia.  Maybe some day… Uz veselibu!

(Young Photography) Latvia Riga Tue, 12 Feb 2013 18:51:35 GMT
Vasquez Rocks and the Gorn Just north of Los Angeles, in an area known as Agua Dulce is an unassuming California State Park.  This name of this park is Vasquez Rocks and even if you have never been to California before – YOU HAVE SEEN VASQUEZ ROCKS.  Featured in a TON of  films, TV shows, commercials, and print advertisements (comprehensive list here) Vasquez Rocks should be recognizable to TV and movie fans.  Probably the most iconic (and campy) scene filmed here was the fight scene between Captain James T Kirk and the Gorn Creature in the Star Trek episode Arena.  In probably one of the worst fight scenes ever filmed,  Kirk battles the Gorn in and around the Vasquez Rocks park.  Most of the fight takes place in the main parking lot.  Check out the fight here:

The Gorn venue and the fight scene inspired my family’s holiday card a few years ago.  Professional photographer and good friend Tom Clabough shot this for us and did the magic post production.  Tom lives in Rockford, IL, and his web site is here:

(I think Tom did a great job - especially generating the realistic shadows of the rock and the Gorn...Thanks Tom.)

I headed out to the Rocks yesterday to shoot with a process called HDR.  HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range” and basically consists of taking a number of images of the same scene but with different exposure settings.  The resulting files are combined in Photoshop and can produce stunning results.  Many say HDR has been overdone and are tired of seeing the more surreal images, but I still like playing around with it every now and then.  The already surrealistic characteristics of the interesting rock formations lend themselves well to this process.  Here are a couple images I created yesterday. Vasquez Rocks is free to visit and is usually enjoyed by the whole family.  Hiking trails go all over the park, and it has an interesting history – in fact, the area is named after bandito Tiburcio Vasquez who used the area as a hideout in the late 1800s.  Hawks constantly patrol the skies over the park, and the views are spectacular.  If you find yourself in the LA area and want to get away from the city for a few hours head up north to Vasquez Rocks.  Official information here.

(Young Photography) Aqua Dulce Gorn Star Trek Arena Vazquez Rocks Thu, 07 Feb 2013 18:21:11 GMT
Easter Island and Aliens About 8 years ago I was lucky enough to visit the famed Easter Island.  I’d heard about this place as a kid from watching Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of.  Of course Mr. Nimoy made it sound like Easter Island was a landing base for extra terrestrials (That island is actually in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but I can’t really go into that without having men in dark suits and sunglasses showing up on my front porch..) but unfortunately what we saw was pretty benign.   As I’ve stated in earlier blogs, my other job is that of a corporate pilot.  At the time of the Easter Island visit, I was flying charter for a different company than I work for now.  We were flying a group of people all over South America, and part of the week-long trip called for a side flight to Easter Island.  Now Easter Island isn’t like Catalina Island, just off the coast of California; it is one of the most isolated places on Earth.  The nearest inhabited island is over a thousand miles away and the nearest continent is over 2 thousand miles away.  Flying about the distance from Los Angeles to New York to an island with only 1 runway involves some unique challenges. 

As this is a travel/photography blog I’ll only include one more aviation related item about Easter Island.  The runway is freaking huge.  About 10,000 feet long and some 300 feet wide, the runway was actually an alternate landing strip for the Space Shuttle.  (Although if it ever did land there they might as well display it on a stick because I don’t see how they could get it off the Island.)

I’m no stranger to Pacific Islands, I’ve lived in Hawaii before and our first view of Easter Island was rather disappointing.  I guess I was expecting a Lost-esque tropical paradise, but what we saw instead was a relatively barren land mass.  Mostly void of trees and tropical vegetation, deforestation and soil erosion were a result of overpopulation back when the island was in its prime.

The approx 15x8 mile island at one time boasted a population of over 15,000.  Today only about 2500 call it home.  Ok, let's get to the cool statues....

Almost 900 of the iconic Moai statues litter the island, and are found all over the place.  They even have a carved head at the airport.  Here I am in front of a large Moai.  This one even has a cool hat. The above pic is one of the airport buildings.

We were treated to a guided tour of the island when we arrived.  (We were only on the island for 5 hours or so, afterwards we flew back to Chile.)  There is a National Park of sorts which is a World Heritage site.

One thing I didn't expect to see in Easter Island was cell service.  They have it. I had turned my personal cell phone on and somebody called me.  The roaming charge was a bit expensive if I remember correctly.

Besides our local guide, we didn’t really interact much with the locals.  We did buy some lunch (some kind of sandwich) and a few keepsakes from the trip.  (Yeah I have a mini Easter Island statue on my bookcase.)  At one point of the tour we saw somebody’s pet pig tied up near some statues.  Here is our flight attendant talking to the pig.  (I think she said it was a better conversationalist than us pilots....) The Moai aren’t the only carvings on the island. I saw a few like this.  I’m guessing it’s some kind of “fertility” theme, but what do I know? I’m thankful that I had a chance to visit Rapa Nui.  While it was interesting to see the statues in person, I’ll admit I felt a little let down.  I think I had build up Easter Island in my mind to be some mysterious, tropical, alien-inhabited place; what I saw was a smallish, over-farmed deforested dying island.  Because of its isolation, bringing any goods to the island tends to be expensive.  The small population subsists through catering to the few tourists who make the journey, and perhaps some fishing.  Most of the mysteries about the statues have been solved, and the history of the island is well-documented.  I’ll always remember my quick trip to the island, but I don’t see myself making a return trip.

(Young Photography) Easter Island Rapa Nui Mon, 04 Feb 2013 15:56:24 GMT
2012 Year in Review for Young Photography 2012 was a great year for Young Photography with the launch of our website, the genesis of our blog and the opportunity to serve some great clients.  The acquisition of some new gear has allowed us to expand our ability to shoot in different environments and make higher quality images.  This blog update will be a quick overview of what we did last year.

In January of last year we began our gear acquisition with purchasing a portable soft-box that can be used with portable strobes.  The softbox is known as a light modifier, and it helps create nice soft light in portraits.  I started experimenting with it right away.  Here is my patient daughter standing in as a model.

February came quickly, and my wife and I were invited to a wine tasting weekend in the Santa Barbara area.  We had a fabulous time, and I brought my camera along.  Here is a shot from Hendry's Beach (dog beach) in Santa Barbara.

Also in February Art Freed, Owner of Hot Pixel Post, hired us to shoot a corporate portrait as well and to take some promotional images of his new film editing space.  The dark rooms were a challenge to light, but we were able to meet the challenge and capture some nice images.

My wife and I are avid tennis players/fans and in March every year the BNP Paribas tennis tournament comes to Indian Wells/Desert Springs California.  Indian Wells is the largest and most significant pro tennis tournament outside the majors and we make it a point to visit every year.  I always have my camera with me at Indian Wells.

A large Renaissance Faire (Don’t judge me ;) ) comes to Southern California in April, and our daughter loves to go.  I always drag along my camera – lots of good shooting at Ren Faire. In May, Young Photography was asked to shoot a portrait of JP, the head chef of a fancy tennis/athletic club in Santa Clarita.  After the shoot we were able to enjoy one of his fine meals. May also brought a gorgeous full moon.  I always love shooting the moon – here is May’s full version.

I am a corporate pilot in my other life, and I attended a conference in beautiful Savannah, Georgia.  While I was busy at the conference most of the time I did get out to take a few shots. I’m not going to lie.  The highlight of last year was our vacation to Maui.  Hands down.  I brought my camera along and enjoyed shooting the stunning vistas. Another scenic beach side location I was lucky enough to visit was Cambria, California.  Beautiful as well, but no way was I going to enter that frigid water.  (Even in July.) We had a number of portrait sessions in the second half of the year.  Lovely Dania started our portrait rush.

We also did some child and child-related shoots.  Here is cutie Mia. In August we did a maternity shoot for Ryan and Brittany.  This image was also entered into the Canon photography contest where it did well. In August we made a serious gear upgrade.  We upgraded to a full-frame Canon 5D MK II camera body.  This pro camera gives me more ability to shoot in lower-light conditions and delivers higher res files.  Another full moon came shortly after the camera came so I put it to the test with another moon shot. In September, I was fortunate to help out Runway Icon with shooting the Miss Hispanidad Pageant.  It was tough work, but I was able to muster the fortitude to complete the mission.

Also in September we were treated with a flyover of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on her way to her final resting place at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  I traveled to Palmdale, California to shoot this historic event.

In October we shot fitness model and trainer Jen for a contest.  We shot in her gym at night,  so we needed to bring our own lights.

In October Runway Icon called again, and I helped shoot the Local Socialite fashion show and red carpet event.  Some of my images were used by multiple media outlets.

A work trip in October took me to Salzburg, Vienna, and Brussels.  I always enjoy Europe trips and this one was no exception. Busy October also includes my favorite holiday, Halloween.  Here my daughter freaked out both my wife and me as she dressed as the creepy girl from The Ring.

December brought an engagement shoot for charismatic couple Jeff and Jen.  We got kicked out of our original venue (wrongly, I have a letter from the city allowing me to shoot there for the rent-a-cop next time) but found a great place to finish the shoot. For Christmas my lovely wife gave me a new lens.  The Canon 85mm, f1.8 is a great portrait lens and has already been put to use.  Here are a couple of the shots I took Christmas day. The day after Christmas we loaded up the car and drove to Colorado for a family get together.  Leaving the warm California weather for 10 degree temps in Colorado was a bit of a shock, but it was great to spend time with extended family.  Here are a few shots from the trip.

2012 was a great year for Young Photography.  I loved the variety in our shoots, and enjoyed it all.  We’re looking forward to an even busier 2013 and serving our clients.  Please keep following our blog here at, follow me on twitter @chocks or friend me on facebook:  Have a great 2013!!

(Young Photography) 2012 Young Photography Thu, 31 Jan 2013 00:18:47 GMT
Maui Memories Disneyland is often called “The Happiest Place On Earth.”  However, I’ve waited in line for an hour to ride “It’s A Small World” and frankly I’ve been happier in a dentist’s office.  My happy place is more on the lines of tropical paradise and there isn’t much more of a tropical paradise than Hawaii.  Last summer my wife, daughter and I took a wonderful week-long vacation in Maui.

Maui (or pretty much any of the Hawaiian Islands) is a photographer’s paradise.  Amazing sunsets, rugged seascapes (usually complete with freaking rainbows), breaching whales, and stunning sunsets are plentiful.  I kept my camera ready, and left the lens cap off the whole week – I always wanted to be ready to shoot.  For this trip I had a smaller Canon XSI body, with my 24-105 f4L lens.  I was trying to minimize space and not bring too much gear.  I did also bring an external flash and a gorilla-type mini tripod.  I guess if I had it to do over, I’d bring my 5D mk II body and a full-size tripod.  The 24-105 lens was perfect.  We weren’t there for whale season.  If we were, I would have wanted a longer lens.

Maui is expensive.  It's expensive to get there, it's expensive to stay there, and it's expensive to eat there.  Fortunately, I travel a bunch with my other job (I'm a corporate pilot) and I had a ton of airline miles and hotel points.  I was able to fly the 3 of us out there on airline miles and stay for a week at the Wailea Marriott on hotel points.  We hit up the Maui Costco after landing to stock up on breakfast foods, snacks, drinks (ie wine..) and some lunch stuff.  That saved us a bunch.  The up front savings made it easier to splurge on some nice dinners later in the week. 

We spent most of our time on the beach snorkeling, swimming and kayaking; it was truly awesome.  My daughter especially loved it – here she is jumping for joy.  (That is the Wailea Marriott in the background.)

One photographic technique I wanted to work on while I was there was taking sunset portraits.  Normally if you tried to take a shot like the one above, the people would be dark silhouettes.  To light the subjects (in this case us) I needed to use a flash.  With no modification the flash would normally appear too bright and too cool. (Color temperature.)  To warm up the flash color I used a ¼ CTO gel on the flash and lowered the flash output almost a stop using flash exposure compensation.  (FEC)  After tweaking the settings to match the current light condition I was able to get some decent results.  (A friend of ours, Beth, took this shot for us.) To get more saturation out of the sunset, I metered for the sunset, then reduced the exposure by 2/3 of a stop. (Exposure compensation.)

A pet peeve of mine is when I see sunset or seascape shots and the horizon is not level.  I’m not OCD at all – I don’t get upset when my pencils aren’t lined up on my desk or anything like that, but an uneven horizon really bugs me.  (I think it goes back to flying, and learning to fly using the horizon as a reference.  A level horizon is a happy horizon.)  Using a tripod is a good way to ensure a level horizon, but we know that isn’t always practical.  Dragging around a tripod can be an inconvenience.  If you shoot hand-held inevitably tilt is going to find its way into some images.  I usually do the best I can in the field, and then fix the horizon in post-production.  (Apple Aperture in my case.)  The horizon fix is easy using today’s software.  The level horizon thing is powerful – once you start seeing uneven ones, you will notice them everywhere.  I even noticed crooked images in some of the higher end galleries on the island.  Maybe I’m just weird..

I was able to shoot some local surfers riding the white water at Big Beach.  This was one time I could have used a longer lens.

The LONG drive to Hana yielded some great photo ops..

We really enjoyed our Maui vacation.  We’re itching to go back, but I’m going to wait until my miles and points build up again….  Aloha!

(Young Photography) Maui Sunsets Wailea Tue, 29 Jan 2013 05:57:14 GMT
I Love Me Some Prague On the short list of my favorite places to visit is the famed capital of the Czech Republic, Prague.  Through work (I’m a corporate pilot in my other job) I’ve been lucky enough to visit Prague twice, and I’ve truly fallen in love with the place.  My first visit was in the dead of winter where we faced sub-zero temperatures, and even more harrowing was a trip in the summer where we faced the dreaded European tourist mobs.

With its 1000+ year history, Disneyesque castle, Eastern European flair, spooky bridge, Back To The Future capable (I’m sure) clock tower, and Cold War spy stories Prague has held my interest for years.  When I saw the destination on an upcoming business trip itinerary I was ecstatic.  This was definitely a “don’t be singing or whistling while you are packing your suitcase in front of your lovely wife moment,” at least if I wanted to maintain the marital bliss I have enjoyed since that wonderful wedding day.  (She reads the blog.)

I mentioned my first arrival to Prague was in the winter.  It was cold.  Minus 20F cold.  (For you metric folks, that coverts to either -29 C, or just simply “freaking freezing!”)  Here I am on a walk near the castle admiring some local sculpture. 

The actual day we arrived into Prague was a long one.  We were spending a few nights there, and after an 11 hour flight (where I was actually working) I was ready for some dinner, maybe a cold beverage and a warm bed.  One of my co-workers and I set off in search of sustenance.  We found a restaurant/bar on the edge of the city square and started ordering.  What we intended on being a quick bite turned into a 2 hour meal and included a rather comprehensive sampling of the local beer and ale culture.  When we finally asked for the bill, I prepared myself for a shock.  Having dined in Western Europe, I’ve seen a simple lunch for two people easily pass a hundred bucks and we had been at this place for over 2 hours.  The bill came in Korunas.  (Czech currency)  I put the amount in a foreign currency app on my phone and got ready to cringe.  $27 US dollars!!!  What?!?!?  I was sure I messed up a decimal point somewhere.  Nope.  I love Eastern Europe.

While I enjoyed my first trip to Prague in the winter, my summer visit was more enjoyable - with the exception of the mass crowds EVERYWHERE in this fine city. The main town square in Prague is impressive with the famous astronomical  clock tower and the mixture of baroque and gothic architecture found in surrounding churches. (Don’t I sound pretentious!)

Here is the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, built in the 14th century.  This ominous structure towers over the old town square.

Ahhh.. The aforementioned clock.  First installed in 1410, this operating work of art has enthralled Pragueonians (I think that’s what a group of Prague residents are called.  At least it’s fun to say.  Kind of like people from Idaho – Idahodians…) for hundreds of years.  It’s gone through some updates through the years; I heard they are going to covert it to a digital display in 2013.  All kinds of stories surround the clock – one grisly tale I heard was that immediately after the master clockmaker finished installing the masterpiece, the leader who commissioned the work ordered that he be blinded so he could never duplicate the clock anywhere else.  While I doubt the veracity of that story, it certainly adds to the lore surrounding the clock.  You can see a computer animation of the clock by clicking here. This is my favorite view of the clock.  Several restaurants set up outdoors in the square during the summer.  Here you can sample the Czech Republic’s fine local ales, while making sure the clock doesn’t miss a tick.

No visit to Prague would be complete without walking from old town square across the Charles Bridge and up the hill to Prague Castle.  The Charles Bridge, with construction starting in the 1300s, is lined by 30 statutes who look in at those daring to cross the structure.  During the day various artists and pickpockets (I’m sure) set up camp on the bridge and peddle their wares to those crossing the Vitava River.  My favorite time to cross the bridge is just after dusk.  With the eerie dimming twilight I feel like a cold war CIA officer en route to a secret meeting with a potential asset whom I hope to recruit to work for the good guys.  (I can be kind of a dork.)  I didn’t have my fancy camera or updated skills when I visited Prague; I’d love to visit again armed with my trusty Canon 5D mk II and a tripod and capture some evening images of the bridge.

Once you cross the bridge and head up the steep hill, you'll find Prague Castle and its huge cathedral.  This gate guards part of the castle.  This has to be the coolest gate I have ever seen.  Having a castle is impressive enough, but to have a custom-made gate depicting graphic sword and club slaying scenes – well, that raises your coolness to yet another level.

If the complicated clock, the scary bridge, or the grisly gate are a bit much for you, you can always check out the Barbie Exibition located near the castle.

See, Prague has something for everyone.  It goes well beyond the necessities for a popular European destination. (Mentioned before in other blog posts: river, old part, new part, big church)  I enjoy some of these Eastern European gems, and the non-reliance of the Euro can make them affordable as well.  I found the Czech people to be friendly and welcoming.  (Some are even pretty good tennis players)  Go “Czech” out Prague – you’ll love it.

(Young Photography) Astronomical Clock Charles Bridge Prague Mon, 21 Jan 2013 22:32:06 GMT
Hanging out in St. Petersburg A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg, Russia, a couple times on work trips.  (I’m also a corporate pilot for a large company.)  I had visited Moscow (read my blog post here) and was excited to see another major Russian city.  One characteristic of a Russian airport is when you land you KNOW you are at a Russian airport.  The Cyrillic letters are everywhere, the fuel trucks look different, and the aircraft are different than you find elsewhere.

That truck just LOOKS Russian doesn't it?  Check out one of their commercial aircraft:

While it may look similar to a 727, the downward sloping wings and the modified tail structure immediately set it apart from Boeing products.  These uniquely Russian views immediately set the tone and remind you that you aren’t in Kansas anymore.  Or California.  Or even Texas…  While Moscow felt more governmental and capital city-esque (Is that even a word?)  St. Petersburg feels a bit more like a crown jewel in Russia’s headpiece.  Set on the picturesque Baltic Sea, the city has roots going back to the 1700s.  While Moscow reminded me of Cold War Russia, St. Petersburg feels older, with Tsar influence in its palaces.

Here, a short walk from our hotel (We stayed at the St. Petersburg Renaissance) we found Palace Square and the Winter Palace.  This palace was the official residence of the Russian monarchs from the 1700s to the early 1900s. Today the palace is one of the buildings which house collections from the renowned Hermitage museum.  Here is the main Hermitage building.

While I’d like to say we toured the Hermitage for days, taking in the unparalleled collection of priceless art and such – I can’t.  We did enter the museum, although it was just to use their restroom facilities (which are quite nice by the way!) so we could continue our exploration of the city.  Many of my trips, this one included, are very brief stays so we try to take in as much as we can in 1 or 2 days.  The limited time, plus a nasty case of jet lag often limit our sightseeing to brief windows.  We try to make the most of it however, and on a nice summer day such as this we covered several miles on foot.

This large square, shown in the last two photos is HUGE.  It’s hard to see the scale in these poorly-composed (old pictures from before I really got into photography) shots but it would take several minutes to cross the space on foot.  I imagine in the past, thousands of soldiers standing in formation for a massive pass and review ceremony.  I don’t know if this ever happened, but the space has that feel.

The Neva River runs through much of the city, and connects to both the Baltic Sea and a number of navigable canals.  In fact, St. Petersburg has been called the “Venice” of the North.  I don’t put much stock in that label, however, it seems that any place that has a canal or two likes to call itself the “Venice” of something.  i.e. Padre Island, the “Venice” of South Texas...

I like to bring trinkets back from my travels to my family in order to continuously buy their love, and if I can find something a specific area is known for than I get even more Brownie points.  The Baltics are known for amber products, but I had already brought some amber back from Riga, Latvia.  (Look for that blog post in the next few weeks.)  For petrified tree sap, amber can be pricey.  Heck EVERYTHING in Russia seemed to be pricey; our hotel was the equivalent of over 500 US dollars a day.  My daughter had expressed an interest in the game of chess recently so I decided to bring home a chess set for her.  (The game is HUGE in Russia.)

Others in my group also needed to find gifts to bring home, so we asked the hotel where we could find local wares.  They gave us directions to a shop a few blocks from the hotel.  This excursion turned out to be a weird experience.  We arrived at the address, and saw a door with no sign.  “What the heck?” we thought, then the door opened and a man asked us to come inside.  We looked in, and saw a dark – foreboding room.  All of a sudden, the lights inside started coming on and people began moving around.  We decided to walk inside (They wouldn’t really kill us right?) and check it out.  They had all the Russian nick-knacks anybody could ask for.  They had chess sets, they had the doll within a doll within a doll within a doll within a doll things.  They had big furry hats – if it was Russian and for sale they had it.  Nothing was cheap – I think I spent 75 US for a fold up chess set.  After we selected our goods, paid and left we saw them turn off all the lights and sit down in the dark to wait for the next group of suckers to show up.  We guessed they kept the lights off when no customers were there in order to save on electricity prices.  Weird.

I think the most interesting building in St. Petersburg is this amazing Church.  Not only does it look AWESOME it also has a cool name: “The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood”  I have to come up with a name like the for my house.  Located on a canal, this church always has a crowd of tourists taking photos out front.

That is about if for St. Petersburg.  If you are going to visit Russia, I believe it’s a must-see.  We had been briefed about crime issues before we arrived, but we never felt unsafe while we were there.  (Due to jet lag, I ended up retiring shortly after dark however – as in any large city you have to be careful where you go when the vampires are out…) I’d love the opportunity to go back with my good camera. (And some updated skills…) Nasdarovje! (Means "cheers.")


(Young Photography) Russia St. Petersburg Thu, 17 Jan 2013 23:57:38 GMT
Shrek Sighting in Moscow I grew up fearing the Russians during the Cold War, and I spent 10 years as a Naval Officer practicing how to hunt and attack primarily Russian targets.  Obviously much has changed since the wall came down, and when I was assigned a trip to Moscow a few years ago I was extremely excited. (I am a corporate pilot when I’m not taking pictures.)  I’d read about the Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb and St. Basil’s Cathedral (I think named after the singer of the iconic 80’s song, Hey Mickey!) but never imagined I would see them. (Unless it was because I had become captured while on a double top secret Navy mission – some say I have an active imagination...)

 This trip happened seven or so years ago, and well before I really got into photography – please excuse the sophomoric quality of the images I’m sharing.

When I pictured “Red Square” in my mind I always pictured a dark, foreboding space full of fear, and smelling of misery.  It must always be winter there, and through some weird cloud refraction phenomena everything always appears in black and white.  I expected walking around Red Square to be like walking in a John Le Carre spy novel.  What I actually experienced was JUST a bit different.  We arrived on a bright sunny day and Red Square was reminiscent of any large European public space.

I witnessed tourists laughing, kids playing in a gorgeous fountain, and families enjoying an absolutely exquisite day.  My preconceived Tom Clancy-fueled notions of Moscow had just been crushed.

Then again, that’s what the KGB would want me to think.  I’d almost fallen into their clever little trap.  Everything isn’t what it seems…  What appears to be a somewhat scary Shrek knockoff is actually Igor Gorbachevnoff, head of the wet-work branch of the modern KGB in deep disguise.  He and his small-headed Mickey Moscovia sidekick are conducting deep surveillance on the exterior of the highly-sensitive Kremlin.  Just earlier they were able to take Papa-Smurfescofichef into custody and he is locked up next door in the dungeon-basement singing like a canary.

Here, Lenin's Tomb, isn't what it appears either.  It actually hides a secret entrance to the double-sub basement which houses the dreaded interrogation center – which is like the roach hotel: once you check in you never check out.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t going to see old Cold War Russia.  While some sights like the relief above and the security guys on horseback may somewhat resemble Soviet Russia, I generally felt like I was in any other European capital.  There were a few differences however.  Almost all the signs were in Cyrillic, English wasn’t prevalent at all.  Elsewhere in Europe most signs are at least repeated in English; this is not the case in Moscow.  Hardly anybody spoke English, so getting around was a little bit of a challenge.

Under risk of severe penalty – worse than I could expect even after capture in Cold War Soviet Russia – I am going to make one final observation about Moscow.  In my travels I have visited over 50 countries and have been to almost every corner of the globe.  I have never seen more beautiful women in one place than I saw in Moscow.  Hands down.  Tall model-esque women were everywhere; trying not to stare became an almost constant challenge.  So, whenever I am asked where in the world the most beautiful women reside I always say California.  (And by California I mean Moscow, Russia.)  Dasvidaniya!

(Young Photography) Lenin's Tomb Moscow Red Square Tue, 15 Jan 2013 22:12:29 GMT
Easy Pisa, Colorbreeza.. On my previous blog post I covered a trip to Florence.  While we were there we hopped a train to Pisa.  This was my first Euro-rail experience and I wanted to see the iconic leaning tower.  (One of those scratching items off a checklist things.)  Once again this was before my dSLR days, I was a a photo-newbie but I still enjoyed the practice.  I'd heard about Europe's wonderful rail system forever, and was willing to give it a shot.  I also wanted to see if resembled the iconic scene from the renowned film Eurotrip.

The train ride was a "Pisa" of cake (about an hour) and with the exception of a "urinistic" odor I had no complaints.  The walk from the train station to the Piazza dei Miracoli wasn't too bad and our route (from the Rick Steves book) took us through some interesting neighborhoods.

Once you see the crowds you know you're close to the tower.

The items of interest in the Piazza are the famous tower, the Cathedral, and the baptistery.  I want to say we looked inside the cathedral, but didn't make it into the leaning tower due to huge crowds and we didn't feel like paying the entrance fee.  Just seeing the tower was enough and taking the ubiquitous "me holding up the tower" picture was enough for me to be able to check Pisa off my list. 

This shot shows the lean well.  The tower actually started leaning almost immediately after building started and the builders tried to correct the lean through further design and building techniques.  (Kind of like when you are building a block tower and it starts to lean a bit so you put more blocks on the the other side... Never works.)

Ok - no hating on my first "holding up the tower" photo.  Everybody was doing it, and if I learned anything from school - anything is okay as long as everybody else is doing it. ;)  I actually think this opposite angle makes for interesting views.

After we got our fill of the Piazza and it's gems, we were able to score a corner table at a bistro will full view of the area.  We ate some pizza (near the Piazza), had a few beverages and watched everybody walk by.  What a great afternoon. 

(Young Photography) Leaning Tower of Pisa Piazza dei Miracoli Pisa Fri, 11 Jan 2013 19:32:26 GMT
Ahhhh... Florence Ahhhh Florence, Italy.  My second favorite destination so far. (Dubrovnik is number 1.)  On this arduous business trip, I found out I was going to be spending 3 nights in the heart of the renaissance and I was excited.  I’d always heard of Florence, but never thought I would have a chance to visit.  My other job as a corporate pilot has me traveling the world, but our destinations aren’t usually as interesting as Florence. 

I picked up the Rick Steves book on Florence/Tuscany and started preparing for the trip.  We were going to be there in the Summer, so we were going to have to deal with the crowds.  (I’m not much of a “crowd” guy, but occasionally I’m willing to take one for the team.)  I read that the statue of the naked dude was a must see. (Michelangelo’s David) and the Uffizi Gallery couldn’t be missed.  I’m kind of museumed out from my travels, but I was willing to check this one out – especially with my Rick Steve’s much abridged  “Highlight Tour” in hand.  We were able to book our tickets for the Academia (Where the David hangs out) and the Uffizi Gallery ahead of time and avoid the long lines.

We arrived, put our airplane to bed for a few days and checked into the hotel.  (Westin - highly recommend it.  However, eat breakfast outside the hotel as the buffet is over 30 Euros.  We found a nice breakfast place just down the street for only 5 Euros.  (I'm talking the Euro currency, not the people.  As in, "Look at all the Euros walking down the street with neon sleeveless t-shirts.")

Here you can see the Summer crowds on one of the main shopping streets in Florence.  I've mentioned in a previous blog post that in order to be be a cool Europe destination you need a few things:  A river (check), an old part (check), a new part (check), and a big freaking church. (Check)  Florence has these in spades - the Church in Florence is called the Duomo and dominates the skyline of this gorgeous city.

I really like the style on the front of the Cathedral.  I was thinking of doing the same thing to my house.  I wonder if my neighbors would mind?  I'm definitely going to copy the door:

These bronze doors aren't actually to the cathedral, they are to the Baptistery right next door.  They are copies too, the originals are in a nearby museum.  I've read that Michaelangelo was so impressed by these doors he called them "the Gates of Paradise."  (He obviously hasn't seen the front door to my house....  It's something.)  I wonder if the Baptistery residents got annoyed when the paperboy would deliver in the morning and repeatedly use the doors as a backboard to deposit the paper on the porch...  (I was a paperboy as a kid and you would think that people imagine their front doors like this masterpiece when they would chew me out for the above technique..)

On this trip (as I always do when I visit a new European destination) I picked up the appropriate Rick Steves guidebook.  Rick has never failed me, and I wouldn't explore any part of Europe without consulting his sage advice.  I learned a lot of Florence's history though his guidebook and his television show.  Considered the heart of the Renaissance, Florence lead the rest of Europe out of the dark ages.  Previously most of Europe was ruled by the church, and science, style, and forward thinking were brutally beat down.  (Think Afghanistan)  While the Renaissance cultural movement included several subjects, Florence and it's iconic residents embraced art. Guys like Leonardo da Vinci (Not the dude from Titanic) and Michelangelo (Not the Ninja Turtle) were known as Renaissance Men and worked to change the way people thought.  Being surrounded by their world-changing artwork and ideas is motivating and opens the mind.  It also made me hungry....

I've said before that we were only in Florence for 3 nights with my fellow corporate aviation crew.  We actually planned ahead for dinner by asking our hotel concierge to book us a table at a decent restaurant. (Another reason I prefer corporate aviation over working for the airlines...) He wrote down the address and we left the hotel and headed out to find the restaurant. 

Oddly enough, many of my significant experiences have happened as a result of chance.  While I am definitely a "planner", chaos theory often decides to change my plans and I can end up off in another direction altogether.  This happened that night.  While we were walking down the main pedestrian street we were approached by an attractive Florentine woman.  (Get your mind out of the gutter - this isn't THAT kind of story...) She asked us if we would like to try her family's restaurant.  We all looked at each other and said, "okay." (The gorgeous woman soliciting diners is a brilliant marketing strategy by the way..) and we abandoned our previous plans and headed off to her family's restaurant.  It was kind of early, so we had no problem finding a seat.  Unfortunately after we sat down we were ignored - 15 minutes had passed and nobody had even acknowledged us.  We were about to get up and leave when a local guy at the table next to us took notice.  He and his buddy were eating and working on a second bottle of wine.  He asked us where we were from,


and engaged us in conversation.  After determining that we were okay he asked us if we wanted to experience a traditional Florentine meal. 

"Uh, that would be great." 

Then then asked, "Do you like-a the red wine?"

"Yessir we do.  Very much so!" 

He asked if we minded if he ordered for us -

"That would be excellent, thank you." 

He then got up, physically grabbed one of the wait-staff and started barking orders in loud Italian. 

What followed was probably the most special international experience I've ever had.  The food was delicious, the Tuscan wine was fabulous, and our host was gregarious.  We dined for hours, drank lots of wine, and conversed with the local gent and his sidekick.  He took us in and made us feel like locals - I'll never forget it.  Unfortunately I can't remember the restaurant, or our host's name (probably had something to do with the wine) but I will never forget the experience.  If I ever have an opportunity to act as a host to foreign visitors in my country like this man did I'll do my best to pay it forward. 

Ok, time to do some shopping:

I wondered if my wife would like this knife stand.  "Hey honey, I picked you up something from Florence on my tough business trip.."  Not a good idea, I should check out the jewelry shops instead...

One of my favorite things to do in the afternoons in Europe is find a table in a populated square, maybe have some local wine (I don't want it to sound like ALL I do on my trips is drink wine - it just worked out like it in this blog post... I PROMISE....)  We found a square called the Piazza della Republica that offered good people watching.  We made people watching here a daily activity and we noticed something interesting.  About 5pm every afternoon, 4 elder gentlemen would each arrive from different directions and meet in the center of the square.  They would then engage in animated debate for about an hour, often appearing to be on the edge of coming to blows.  Then, like clockwork, at 6pm they would each about-face and depart in a huff.  We asked our waitress what was going on and she said they did it every day.  They would come, argue politics and then depart.  I love Italy.

(Young Photography) Florence Italy wine Wed, 09 Jan 2013 19:15:28 GMT
Where the Heck is Dubrovnik, Croatia? I am very fortunate to travel for a living, and I am often asked, “What is your favorite place you have been?”  That is a loaded question. Big time.  It’s like asking “What is your favorite food?”  You don’t want to sound shallow and say something like “Beer” or sound stuffy and say “Organic tofu salad.” (Having trouble coming up with stuffy examples – I’m a simple man.)  ANYWAY, I’ve been lucky enough to visit over 50 countries and I’ve always struggled with that question.  That is, until I visited Dubrovnik, Croatia.

My last visit to Dubrovnik was over 5 years ago and before I owned a dSLR camera. All of these images were taken with a point and shoot – please excuse the quality.  I’ll do my best to convey the beauty of Dubrovnik through my text if the images don’t do justice.

Quick Geography lesson – find Italy on a map.  (You know, the one shaped like a boot in the Mediterranean. )  Go directly East across the Adriatic Sea.  The country on the other side is mostly Croatia.  Here is a map:

The Dalmatian Coast is the Western side of Croatia, and is rife with islands and amazing sea ports.  One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, Dubrovnik is a jewel in the crown of the Dalmatian Coast.  (I don’t know why they insist on the “Dalmatian Coast” name, I didn’t see one of those hyper black and white spotted dogs…)

When one first lays eyes on Dubrovnik, he or she is usually blown away.  The last time I was there a tour bus pulled up and a young American in his early 20s stepped out with his “I’m traveling all over Europe by myself” backpack.  He walked up to a nice viewpoint of the city and said to himself out loud, “You have GOT to be shitting me!”  While it may have been a little crass, it was certainly apropos.  If people aren’t saying it out loud when they first see Dubrovnik, they are certainly thinking it.   

(Once again, please excuse the poor quality of these photos - I was but a young photography pup and I had a first generation point-and-shoot.)

From outside the medieval walled city the view is impressive.  It continues to be so once you get inside.  We stayed at a Hilton just outside the walls and a short walk brought us inside old town.

One of the first things we did, both for the fantastic views but also to get a lay of the land was the Wall Tour.  For a few Kuna (Croatian currency) you get a ticket that gives you access to the wall.  Great sights along the wall.

(We visited this nice "bean bag chair" bar later that evening.)

Here I am checking out the view from one of the tower "windows."

Now, all the climbing and hiking up stairs on the wall route tends to make one a bit parched.  (We were there in the summer.)  It seems that they have some marketing geniuses in Dubrovnik.  Here is some evidence of that:

Kind of makes you want some ice cream doesn't it? (I know what you are thinking...)

Any way, we came across this sign: (I'm sorry it's out of focus...)

And we found this bar hanging on the outside of the wall:

Where we took a seat and recharged our batteries.

Here in the US our local sport is baseball and basketball.  The equivalent pastime in Croatia seems to be waterpolo.  Instead of public basketball courts, you find waterpolo “courts” set up in he Adriatic.  The Adriatic Sea is a wonderful “swimming hole.”  Warm, deep and clear – everybody seems to find time to jump in.  While we were recharging our batteries at the bar on the outside of the wall we decided to take a plunge.  I’m not a big fan of jumping from great heights into unknown waters (part of some deep seated self preservation instinct) and we were looking for a reasonable perch from which to jump from.  After I secured my spot, I looked up and a 9 year old girl jumped into the water from a spot at least 15 feet higher than I was working up the courage to jump from.  Made me feel a bit inadequate.

While we were sunning ourselves on the rocks like a bunch of seals, we watched super-yacht after super-yacht cruise by.  I definitely have to get one of those…after I make a bazillion dollars that is..

The three days I spent in Dubrovnik were fabulous.  They had pizza, wine, amazing scenery, and refreshing water.  What else is there?  The only thing that would have made it better is if my wife were with me. (I was on a BUSINESS trip, after all…)  I look forward to the time when I can share Dubrovnik with my wife and daughter.  If you EVER have a chance to visit this fine city, JUMP ON IT!

(Young Photography) Croatia Dubrovnik waterpolo. Sun, 06 Jan 2013 04:50:14 GMT
Sleepless in Seattle IMG_1290.JPG

The job isn’t all James Bond lifestyle and exotic international destinations.  I often find myself in US cities that you would expect a fortune 500 to do business in.  (In my other job I fly business aircraft for a large international company.)  We frequent Washington DC, New York, Detroit, and even Seattle.  A few years ago I was excited to discover that we were going to be spending a few days in Seattle, Washington. I attended high school nearby in Tacoma, so I was looking forward to returning to the Pacific Northwest.  


When you fly a business jet to Seattle, you often use Boeing Field instead of the larger Seattle - Tacoma SEATAC airport.  Boeing field is home to - wait for it - The Boeing Company where they manufacture all the "7" series of aircraft.  (737, 747, 767, 787, etc..)  It's always interesting to land at Boeing Field and see all the brand new jets with fresh paint jobs parked on their line ready to fly to their new homes.  We arrived from Asia on this trip, headed to the hotel and waited for sleep to arrive so I would be fresh to explore downtown with my new DSLR camera.


Well, it didn’t arrive.  When you constantly fly international destinations, jet lag is a never ending battle.  Managing sleep is one is a major part of the job.  I can usually adapt fairly quickly, but for some reason on the trip no matter how many sheep I counted I couldn’t seem to fall asleep.


After tossing and turning all night, I finally gave up around 5:30 am - grabbed some breakfast and headed out with my camera.


I was excited to check out Pike Place Market, the famous fish market in Seattle.  I picked up the cheesy hotel map of the city and headed out in what I thought was the direction of the market.  While I didn’t end up taking the most direct route, I finally ended up finding it after a much needed caffeine fill-up at one of the quad-zillion coffee shops Seattle has to offer. 


IMG_1252.JPG The "Fish Toss" is a bit they do at the fish market.  After a customer picks out what they want, a guy behind a counter pulls out a fish and then THROWS it to one of his co-workers who expertly catches it and wraps the fish up to take home.  It's great fun to watch and always draws a crowd.  


After throwing (and catching hopefully) several fish, the true comedy happens.  They have a large fake stuffed fish that looks VERY real and the fish tosser acts like he botches a fish throw and sends the stuffed-animal flying into a shrieking crowd.  Good times.  This act never ceases to be funny.  (At least to the market workers.)


IMG_1234.JPG Here is one of the fish-gag culprits gloating about making another tourist pull a hammie trying to avoid getting hit by a 20 pound salmon.  


The Seattle trip happened just after I had purchased my first DSLR, and I was still learning how to use it - I hadn’t fully figured out how to work in low light conditions, as you can see from the “soft” image above.  I believe as photographers we are always learning (or should be) - it’s good to have early images you can contrast against later ones to see how you’ve improved. 



Fish isn’t the only thing for sale at the market, you can buy flowers, peppers, and cheesy touristy crap too.  


IMG_1282.JPG This smiling merchant was selling wrist bands made out of yak leather. Maybe it wasn’t yak leather, I was still suffering from sleep deprivation, and the whole experience was years ago so it’s still pretty fuzzy.


All the shopping made me hungry, and if and I started craving some lunch.  Seattle is known for its outstanding Sea Food (I think they just call it “food” there) so I found a great place for some lunch.


IMG_1314.JPG Yum!  Lunch was delicious, but I did have to fight off this fellow who keep trying to steal my food.



I promise that next blog entry will be another exotic international destination.  With the holidays, company, etc I’ve been away from the keyboard.  I have some great plans for the new year so STAY TUNED!   Happy New Year everybody!



(Young Photography) Pike Place Market Seattle Wed, 02 Jan 2013 18:02:16 GMT
Leipzig-zag IMG_2664 A couple years ago I found out that I had a trip to two cities in Germany - Leipzig and Stuttgart. (I am a pilot in my other job.)  I'd heard of Stuttgart (Home of Porsche) before, but I had to do some "googling" to find out about Leipzig.  We were arriving into Leipzig after about a 12 hour flight from Japan, spending 1 night and then off to Stuttgart for a night. 

The flight went well, and we checked into the Leipzig Marriott about 1 pm local time.  After changing and dropping our stuff off in our rooms, we met in the concierge lounge for a local beer and to make plans.  Here is the view from the lounge:

IMG_2661 Apparently the building next door was going through some minor renovation; I was obviously worried that some extraneous noise may interfere with my looming nap plans.  I was wrong.  In fact, even though I consider myself a relatively seasoned traveler, I made a rookie mistake.  I drank a couple local beers in the concierge lounge and decided to hit the room for a “nap” at about 3 pm local time.  You can guess what happened next.  I opened my eyes 8 hours later wide awake at 11pm.  I sat up, hungry and angry at myself for screwing up my exploration plans.  Now no place was open that served food, and I was going to have trouble getting any sleep the rest of the night.  Thankfully I pack a couple power-bars in my flight case, and was eventually able to get to sleep again after watching 4 hours of German Sponge-Bob, Square Pants.

I remember it getting light pretty early, and I was wide awake so I went exploring.  The Marriott actually had bicycles to borrow so I slung my camera over my shoulder and headed out into the cool morning. 

I found out that there was a delightful old-town-esq area near the hotel rife with restaurants and pubs.  (It would have been a perfect place to visit for dinner the night before if I wasn't drooling on my pillow.)

IMG_2666 Unfortunately every place was closed, and not due to open for a few hours.  Our pick-up from the hotel was around noon so I would have to be happy just looking around.  I would have paid a lot of Euros, Dollars, Pounds, whatever - for a warm cappuccino.

IMG_2655 The building across from the hotel was reminiscent of 1980s Beirut.   

IMG_2671 I did find a place open that served food, but I wasn't quite in the mood for watermelon.

IMG_2679 This area would have been a nice place to spend part of afternoon the day before.

IMG_2681 Here is an awful shot of the street our hotel was on.  Look a person!  The only people I saw up this early were construction workers.

I ended up at the hotel an hour or so after I left and had breakfast in the Marriott restaurant.  (Don't judge me, it was open and had what I wanted.)  I remember packing my suitcase, checking out and catching our ride back to the airport.  We were treated to an Interesting sight on the ramp when we arrived at the airport.  Look who was parked next to us:

IMG_2649 KISS evidently had a gig in Leipzig the night before.  (I missed that too while asleep.)  We thought their paint job was interesting, but I'm not to sure how smart it is to paint flames on your engine.  I can hear the tower transmission now, "Uh, Kiss-Love Gun 1, it appears your left engine is on fire...."

We must have been in good company, because on the other side of us this jet was parked:

IMG_2644 That is Richard Branson's (at least ONE of them) jet.  I want to be him when I grow up.

Well, we then flew the short leg to Stuttgart.  We stayed at a Marriott there too but it was in a sleepy residential area, not in the city center.  We had dinner in the Hotel and flew back to Asia the next day. 

What valuable lesson did I learn on this trip?  I call it the 8:00 rule.  When you travel, NO MATTER WHERE you find yourself in the world  - always do what it takes to stay awake until at least 8pm local time.  Don’t take a “nap” at 3 in the afternoon.  If you follow my highly scientific 8pm rule you will find yourself recovering from heinous jet lag in a much shorter time. Good travels….



(Young Photography) Kiss Leipzig Richard Branson Mon, 24 Dec 2012 01:18:04 GMT
Wroclaw, Poland, and Nazi Secrets I always enjoy my trips to Eastern Europe - the “behind the Iron Curtain” feel interests me and if I’m jet lagged enough I feel like I’m in the middle of a John Le Carre spy novel. 

Wroclaw, Poland, is one of these Eastern European cities we visit on occasion and I enjoy exploring this walkable city.

First things first – while Poland uses the same alphabet (as far as I can tell anyway) that we do, they have decided to assign different sounds to the letters to screw with visitors from California.  I’ve been going to Wroclaw off and on for the last 7 years and I STILL can’t pronounce it correctly.  You can hear the correct pronunciation here.

While English isn’t as prevalent in Eastern Europe as in Western areas, you can easily get by using basic English and pointing.  For instance it’s a lot easier to point to a tap in a bar than try to order one of their local ales by its proper name.

We like to joke that all European cities are basically the same: There is an old part, there is a new part, there is a river, and there is a big church.  Wroclaw has those characteristics, but on a smaller scale.  The accommodations follow in that way too.  No JW Marriott in Wroclaw, instead we have to utilize more intimate housing..

IMG_9608 After the fall of the Iron Curtain, western pop-culture has found its way to Eastern Europe.  (Not sure that is a good thing or a bad thing.)  I’ve seen SpongeBob Squarepants in the Czech Republic, and here we see Bob the Builder in Poland.

IMG_9605 At least I think “Budowniczy” means builder in Poland.  Sometimes things get lost in translation – it may mean “Bob the livestock slaughterer.”

Ok, I feel like I may be painting an unfair picture of Wroclaw.  The town is actually delightful.  There are two areas I usually find myself in: The appealing town center square, and the river-side old town.  If we arrive in the afternoon we usually check into our hotel (a real hotel, not the trailer I was crass enough to post above) and then walk to the square.

The social heart of Wroclaw has to be the square. Lined with restaurants, bars and shops - it's easy to spend hours drinking "Zywiec" and watching people wander about. 

Wroclaw Town Hall is smack dab in the middle of the square and sports a cool clock (Necessary European town touch) and interesting architectural details.

Usually day two on the other side of the world starts early for me; I arise groggy trying to shake off jet lag.  After grabbing some breakfast (they just call it “sausage” in Poland, not “Polish Sausage”) I’ll grab my camera and head out to the river and old town.

IMG_9571 (I apologize for all the perspective distortion in this pic.  I took this a few years ago...)  Here is the "Old Church" that fulfills the European city requirement.  Note the "Love Locks" on the bridge.  Here is closer picture.

I covered the European love-lock phenomena in a previous blog post.  You can find it here.

IMG_9601 Across the river you can see the Wroclaw Cathedral.  It was consecrated in 1272.  It was almost destroyed in WWII but has been rebuilt nicely.

IMG_9582 IMG_9550 The resident sea-gull population enjoys the river and old-town views as well. 

IMG_9586 This driveway intrigued me.  I’ve never seen anything like it in Santa Clarita, California.  I imagine it marks the meeting place of the Illuminati or some other ancient order.  I did some research on the Wroclaw area and evidently in WWII the Nazis were doing some anti-gravity studies.  (Go with me on this – I’m not sure of the veracity of these claims, but they make for interesting reading.)  Anyway, just outside of Wroclaw deep in a mine the Nazis operated a secret  laboratory where they worked on something called the Nazi Bell.  Some say it was an anti-gravity experiment and others say it was a heavy particle accelerator.  (I think a particle accelerator is like the straw I used to shoot pieces of napkin at my sister.)  If you want to read more about this project and possible remains you can go here and here.

I'm out of coffee so I'm going to wrap up this blog entry.  Wroclaw: town square, old town, and secret Nazi experiments = interesting visit.  If you want to read some fun fiction that takes place here download James Rollins' Black Order on your Kindle.  It goes well with a nice cold Zywiec.


(Young Photography) Nazi Bell Nazi Experiment Poland Wroclaw Wed, 19 Dec 2012 20:15:50 GMT
Cairo Pyramid Peek pyramids pano4 (Above Pano created by combining 4 different shots in Photoshop, then using content-aware scaling to squeeze it together a bit..)

Seeing the Great Pyramids has always been on my bucket list, as are Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and that huge rock stump looking thing from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  When I found out I was assigned to a trip to Cairo (I fly business jets in my “other” job) I was ecstatic.  I started researching the best locations from which to shoot the pyramids, I read blogs on the best tours to take, etc.  Then I looked closer at the tripsheet that listed our itinerary.  We would be arriving (after flying over 12 hours from Asia) just before sunset and leaving the next day around noon.  So, my dream of spending the day climbing to the top of the pyramids had to be modified a little.  That’s okay, we get to visit a lot of interesting places with our job; we’re used to catching the high points during very short stays.

After a long day of flying, complete with a fuel stop in Turkey, I knew that we all would be tired but everybody on the crew wanted to see the iconic pyramids so we came up with a plan.  As soon as our passengers left, we would change quickly on the airplane, put it to bed and have our handlers at the airport take us to the famous location.  We departed Asia on time, fuel stop in Turkey was quick, and it looked like we were going to be able to get to see the pyramids just before sunset.

On our arrival to Cairo, the ATC controllers took us right over the pyramid location.  This was our first view of the famous site.  Now I know this is more of a photo blog, but I have to say something about air traffic control (ATC) in Egypt.  It’s pretty basic.  Do you remember that app for the iphone where you try to land small airplanes, jets, and helicopters without having them run into each other?  I have a feeling that the average ATC controller in Cairo could get to level 2.  Maybe.  Anyway, enough flying talk, back to photography.

IMG_6512 Here is a shot of the Pyramids from the cockpit.  Notice how close they are to the city.  I found it interesting that in addition to the three big ones they had built three baby ones near the smaller one.  Do you think think the workers who built the larger ones looked down on the guys constructing the baby pyramids?  "Hey Achmed, that's a real cute little hill you're working on there....  I hope you don't get sore moving those tiny blocks ALL the way to the top...." That kind of stuff.

Anyway...  We landed, and ended up getting on the road about 30 minutes before sunset.  While we couldn't actually enter the park, our guide was able to get us on the roof of a building across the street from the park that afforded us a good view.  Here I am on the roof:

We stayed up there for about 45 minutes until the sun fully set.  Here are a few of the shots from the roof.

IMG_6532 IMG_6530 I was pleasantly surprised by our hotel.  We stayed at the Cairo Marriott Hotel which is located on an island on the Nile and used to be some rich guy's palace.  Sometimes the planets line up in your favor, and my luck continued this day as I was upgraded to a suite.  (I freaking love it when that happens... especially the next day. “Oh,  you mean ALL you guys didn’t get upgraded to a suite?  Maybe next time…”  Here is the view from my “veranda.”

Yup, that's the Nile river down there!  I ended up having breakfast on the veranda the next morning.  It was a few years ago, but I remember sitting in my fancy hotel robe, sipping some Egyptian coffee and kicking my legs up. (Trying NOT to flash all of Cairo - or maybe I did.  That might have been the impetus of the Arab Spring riots that started just a couple months later.)

After breakfast it was back to reality.  We got dressed, headed downstairs and waited for our ride to the airport.  We didn’t have to fly as far that day.

One more photo and story.  I mentioned that ATC in Cairo was a little “basic.”  Ground control wasn’t any different and it took us almost 40 minutes to get from where we were parked to the runway.  While we were waiting for our turn to take off I noticed this guard shack below, and thought the guy inside must have the loneliest job ever.  (I’ve shared this shot before, but it was a while ago so I thought I would include it.)

I’m ecstatic that I was able to check the pyramids off my bucket list.  While I didn’t get to touch any, seeing them was enough.  Now if I can just see the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming my life may be complete….


(Young Photography) Cairo Egypt Pyramid Sphinx. Mon, 17 Dec 2012 19:02:23 GMT
One Night in Bangkok IMG_6708 (Want to buy a broom?)

Exotic Bangkok.  Ever since I heard the song One Night in Bangkok, or saw James Bond in The Man With the Golden Gun as a kid, I wanted to visit this Asian capital.  I finally got to visit Bangkok for the first time while I was still in the Navy back in 1996.  I flew helicopters back then, and the ship I was assigned to pulled in to Pattaya Beach for a few days of shore leave.  A fellow pilot and I signed up for tour to Bangkok.  He limited me to singing the One Night in Bangkok song only 3 times a day, so I had to do it wisely and select only at the most appropriate moments.  (My crew did the same thing to me with Toto's Africa on a trip to South Africa.)

Anyway, my first impression of Bangkok was a terrible rush hour.  Horrendous traffic.  Thousands of motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and cars competed for valuable real estate on crumbling roads.  I remember being in a cab, and at one stoplight we counted over 30 motorcycles crammed in between the first 3 rows of cars.  It’s crazy.

IMG_0659 IMG_0669

IMG_0667 I've been to Bangkok several times since my initial Navy visit, now I'm not as shocked by the living-city's traffic issues.  There is something special about the bustling city and its friendly, eager to please, people.

IMG_6699 The auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk is a common taxi conveyance for local Thai and tourists alike.  Resembling Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on crack, a tuk-tuk ride won’t soon be forgotten.    You’d think that your visibility would be pretty good from the back of this demon-inspired vehicle, but once you sit down you realize you were wrong.  Dead wrong.  Due to the geometry of the seat, roof, and driver, you can barely see out front, and the side views aren’t exactly clear either.  The mufflerless two-stroke motor screams like a trapped hyena and you can barely hear yourself think as you slam back and forth completely helpless.  I’ve had out-of-control syllabus flights in Navy jets beat me up less than a tuk-tuk cross town trip.  That all being said, the tuk-tuk experience is intrinsic to the Bangkok experience and can’t be missed.


Ok, let’s talk food.  Let me preface this by stating that I like spicy food.  A lot.  At Taco Bell I only use fire sauce.  None of that wimpy Hot stuff for me.  I’ve never had anything too spicy for me – that is, until I visited Thailand.  They have a completely different level of spice there; I’m talking several levels of magnitude higher than anything I’ve ever experienced before.  We’re talking HOLY CRAP I THINK I’M GOING TO DIE hot.  Lava hot.  Wow.  I ordered some green chicken curry in Thailand once and after one spoonful I literally drank my beer, reached over and drank my friend’s beer, stood up and ran away in search of more liquid like a scared little boy.   Must have water... (My wife modeled the above shot entitled, "quenched")



The “WAI” is the traditional greeting in Thailand.  A slight bow, completed with hands pressed together is the local way to express gratitude, apologize, or just say hello.  Here we can see good old Ronald McDonald giving it a shot.

IMG_6698 Like the other major Asian cities, street vendors sell pretty much anything in Bangkok.  Check out this authorized reseller of one of Pfizer's flagship products:

IMG_6717 Seems legit, right? Right?

IMG_6705 I would probably be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on Bangkok’s sex trade.  Movies like Hangover 2 highlight the industry, and as a visitor to Bangkok I can say that it’s definitely there is you want to partake.  However, it’s not as in-your-face as it has been portrayed.  Working girls (or guys, who knows these days?) will approach you in bars, but they are friendly and a simple “no thank you” will let them know you aren’t “buying.”  They will usually “wai” and move on.  (The only purchases I’ve made in Bangkok are my hotel, food, beer, and a tailored jacket and shirts.) The Thai are extremely friendly and smile a lot.  I have never seen an overt display of anger or disgust on my travels to Thailand.IMG_6740 One of my favorite pubs in Thailand, near our hotel. (We stay at the JW Marriott.)

The Buddhist temples and pagodas are something that people enjoy seeing in Bangkok.  I had an opportunity to visit one on my last trip.


Outside, fairly nondescript - inside is a different story...



I always enjoy my Bangkok trips.  I mentioned I had a jacket and a few shirts made the last time I was there.  The jacket fits perfectly and the shirts are among my favorite.  Put “have shirts custom made” on your bucket list.  It wasn’t too expensive,  I paid only $100 US dollars for 3 custom made shirts. 

If you find yourself in southeast Asia give Bangkok a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

(Young Photography) Bangkok Thailand tut-tut Sat, 15 Dec 2012 16:00:00 GMT
Bangalore Surprise My job takes me all over the world, and when I get a trip itinerary I’m always anxious to see where I’m going.  It’s exciting when the destinations listed are new to me, or when the locations are ones considered exotic.  Frankly, I’m not usually excited by Indian locations.  While the Subcontinent certainly has alluring locations and rich history, it also has some of the most abject poverty I have ever seen and sports several strains of Malaria.  Being that I’m a paranoid white guy from California, I always take Malaria meds when I visit India and they never seem to agree with me.  Between the meds and the food (which is delicious by the way) most of us end up feeling pretty ill after a few days in India.  (It’s called Delhi Belly for a good reason.)

Anyway, I had been to Bangalore before and wasn’t particularly excited about visiting the destination again.  Even with my predisposed poor attitude, I ended up having a great trip to Bangalore.

When one arrives in India from afar, he or she is usually pretty well thrashed from a long flight, and the airport/customs experience is no picnic.  The next item on the agenda - the dreaded drive from the airport to the hotel - can be pretty shocking.  Poor roads, beggars at every traffic stop, livestock walking down the middle of the road and gazillions of scooters and motorcycles weaving everywhere with absolutely no lane discipline can be a shock to a fresh Westerner.  I was a bit freaked out the first time I experienced this drive, now it is more familiar and I enjoy watching new visitors experience the trip for the first time.

Indian SUV.

In India it is common to see cows interspersed with traffic on busy streets.

India can be a land of contrasts.  Bangalore isn't all poverty, in fact it hosts a growing middle class. Opulent glass buildings have popped up around poor run down buildings. Bangalore Palace below is an an example of a nicer part of the city. 

Sadly, while the above palace is a great example of a more affluent India, not far away I took the picture below:

While I'm sure it's handy to have dry cleaning and tailoring facilities close by (I wonder if they offer Martinizing?) it's easy to see what I mean by a "land of contrasts."

On this trip, we had two nights in Banaglore - so we were able to enjoy a full day.  (The is pretty rare, most of our trips only have one night at each destination.

We arranged a tour of Bangalore from our hotel and spent some time a local park.  Here we found women moving dirt from one area to another.  The guy would fill one of the bowls with the red dirt, help lift it onto the women's heads and then they would walk them to where it needed to be deposited. 

An interesting tidbit about India is that almost everybody speaks English.  As a foreigner traveling within the country, I was able to communicate well, and the signs were for the most part readable.  Here are a couple other shots from the park:

That's me.... 

For some reason I loved this gate..

The Hindu architecture is interesting and fairly unique.  Buildings/temples such as below are commonplace.

I love the guy on the wall above.  I'm trying to talk my wife into adding him to the outside of our  house.

We did do a little bit of shopping while we were there.  Textiles are an important export for India. 

As shopping tends to make me hungry, thankfully there was a fruit merchant nearby.

I wish I had taken more images of the food, which is fantastic.  Normally I'm not much of an "adventure eater" and often enough my goal when abroad is just not to get sick.  However, I LOVE the food in India and I tried a bunch of the local Indian fare at every meal.  That leads me to an Important Safety Tip.  If you find yourself in India, and you see the following container near the buffet table:

and if you start adding the above "Gun Powder" to your already spicy authentic Indian food and the local Indian guy looks you up and down and says, "Ahhh, you might want to be careful with that stuff.." I URGE you to follow his sage advice.....

That's about all I have for Bangalore, India.  I hope I didn't give the impression that the country is all poverty and squalor.  While those do exist with a massively high in-your-face contingent, it isn’t hard to find beauty.  I found the Indian people to be proud, friendly, and often wearing smiles.  Obsessed with the sport of Cricket, if you can get into a conversation about the local team with an Indian they will go on and on about the virtues of their favorite players.  You could be talking to a business owner, or somebody who lives on the street – the same pride exists.  If you find yourself scheduled to visit the Subcontinent, look past the initial sense-assaulting scenes and find the timeless beauty that is surely just around the corner.

(Young Photography) Bangalore India Thu, 13 Dec 2012 19:04:59 GMT
Bokeh Fun In photography the term “bokeh” (Which is pronounced differently by every photographer who uses it in conversation) refers to how a lens treats the unfocused part of an image.  By using a larger aperture (Which is actually a lower f-stop – that one took a while to figure out) photographers can reduce the amount of depth that remains in focus.  This can be very pleasing in portraits.  The shot below was shot at f/1.8, and a plane of sharp focus at that aperture is very thin. 

On the contrary, when photographers want to keep everything in focus they use a smaller aperture, or a larger f-number.  You’ll see this often in landscape photography where f-stops such as f22 are used often.  Ok, enough basic photography 101, let’s get to the fun stuff..  I read in a blog about a year ago (Sorry, I can’t remember which one.) that you could get cool effects by putting a makeshift filter in front of your lens, and then work the focus until bokeh effects occur.  This works great with scenes that have several tiny light sources – such as a Christmas tree!

My wife was making holiday cookies, and the press she used (which kind of looked like a Star Trek phaser) used metal plates stamped with designs.  I picked one up and thought it might fit in the end of my 50mm/f1.8 lens.  It did, PERFECTLY.  Here is what the setup looked like:

I stuck the camera on a tripod (I was using my Rebel XSI at the time), turned off autofocus, and manually twisted the focus barrel until the effects became visible.  Pretty cool huh!  Try it at home..

(Young Photography) bokeh depth of field fun with bokeh Mon, 10 Dec 2012 18:50:57 GMT
Wine and Napa and Wine A couple summers ago my wife and I drove our daughter up to summer camp in the Cambria, California area.  After dropping her off we decided to spend a couple days in Napa Valley wine tasting...  We fell in love with this region.

Just about an hour drive to the north of San Francisco, the Napa valley hosts an ideal climate for the growing of wine grapes, and several vintners have made it their home.

The drive from San Francisco is a pleasant one, and important signs such as the one shown below try to keep it a safe one as well.

I wonder what event made it necessary to place “No U Turn” signs on the Golden Gate Bridge…

Anyway, back to Napa Valley.  

We stayed at a Marriott in the Town of Napa and made our way to several of the vineyards up and down the valley.  Most of the wineries have public tastings during the day for walk-ins.  Occasionally reservations may be required at the more popular venues.  With the fancy estates, gorgeous grounds, and acres of vineyards, I found the area great for photography.

This Castle themed winery is an example of the over-the-top opulence that many of the wineries employ to bring in visitors/customers. 

This image, taken from the gorgeous grounds of the Ovid winery, highlights the natural beauty of the area.

During our stay we fulfilled one of the items from my wife’s bucket list, to go hot-air ballooning.  The 4am wake-up was worth the breathtaking views from the hour balloon journey.

We loved our Napa experience, and while photography wasn't the primary purpose of the trip I was able to capture some nice images.  I learned some important wine terminology while I was there, such as the term "revisit."  As in, "I would like to revisit the second chardonnay please."  Well, I'd like to revisit the whole Napa Valley area on another trip soon.


(Young Photography) Castello di Amorosa Napa Napa Valley Ovid Ovid Wine wine Fri, 07 Dec 2012 19:20:57 GMT
Uh oh - Ren Faire Okay, don't judge me too harshly but a couple years ago my wife, daughter, and I were invited to accompany some friends to the Renaissance and Pleasure Faire in LA.  I had never been to one of these before, but had nothing else planned for the day so we went.  WE HAD A GREAT TIME!  My daughter freaking loved it, and insists that we go every year.  The “Ren Faire” is a great venue for photography; interesting sights are everywhere and nobody seems to mind having a camera pointed at them.

I mean, where else can you go and see people dressed like THIS who don't mind if you shoot them:

There was activity and interesting sites everywhere you look.  Almost everybody (ME EXCLUDED - but who knows next year......) is in costume milling about.  Those who didn't come in costume, but want to join in with the fun can purchase clothing items all over the faire.

(The above shot is my daughter checking out a flower hair piece... She still has it.)

From a photography standpoint, Ren Faire is a great place to shoot and practice.  The first year I was a little shy about pointing my lens at random faire goers, but by the second year I left with hundreds of images on my memory card.  People would actually stop and pose for you if they see you with a "real" camera. 

Along with the unscripted "street photography" opportunities available, there is organized pageantry occurring involving the queen, her knights and support people.  People roam about in an organized fashion giving their respects to the Queen and engage in activities appropriate to their chosen dress.  This “living display” offers fun image subjects too.

I’m always surprised by the variety of costumes.  It thought it would be all Dungeons and Dragons type attire, but I always see all kinds of stuff.  Even Ninjas!

Nice sea monster outfit!

I’m looking forward to the next Renaissance Faire in March.  Bring an extra battery, make sure you have plenty of memory cards, bring extra cash and prepare for a day of fun shooting.  Many of the Ren Faires have photo contests – I’ve entered 10 of my shots into this year’s contest.  Maybe I’ll get lucky! Fun shooting!

(Young Photography) Ren Faire Renaissance Faire Renfaire Wed, 05 Dec 2012 18:19:40 GMT
Spooky Savannah I've been on a work trip for the last few days, so I haven't been able to add to the blog.  Now that I'm back, and combating some wicked jet-lag I thought I would add some pics from a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia.  Located near Hilton Head, South Carolina, Savannah is old South mixed with high education and booming industry.  The aircraft I fly in my other job - the G-550 - is built in Savannah by Gulfstream Aerospace.

Cypress and Oak trees are EVERYWHERE, and most of them are loaded with Spanish Moss creating eerie landscapes.  The weird trees combined with interesting old antebellum homes has probably contributed to Savannah being voted the MOST HAUNTED CITY IN AMERICA.  Whatever...  I've never seen any ghosts there (and I HAVE done one of their highly publicized ghost walks) but scenes such as the centrally located cemetery below can yield goose bumps.

I LOVE the architecture Savannah boasts with its antebellum homes which are quite rare in the South.  The story I heard (In a bar I think) was that when Sherman was burning the rest of the South he came upon Savannah with torches burning and the leaders of Savannah met him and basically said, "Please don't burn us down, we'll fall in line..." This action supposedly convinced Sherman to spare the fine city.  I’m not sure I’m buying that story, I suspect it was more of a strategic decision, but it does make for an interesting tail.

Speaking of the homes, here is an shot of one of the finer ones.  (Corrected for perspective.)

Walking around the city can be like stepping back in time:

While I'm not sure I buy the haunted stories of Savannah, I'll admit I am a sucker for a good story.  I did have dinner in the "most haunted" restaurant, the 17hundred90.  (You can see the scary ghost in the upper window.

I didn't really do Savannah justice here - I don't even have a picture of the river, or the signature bridge that spans it.  I'll be back and take more time for photography. If you find yourself in northern Georgia, come check out this fine city.  You won't be disappointed. 

(Young Photography) Savannah Tue, 04 Dec 2012 03:31:25 GMT
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) I recently shared some images from Cappadocia, Turkey, so it made sense to cover the Turkish city I usually end up in: Istanbul.  Basically a living history lesson, Istanbul has roots going back to 600 BC or so and has been a significant strategic location ever since its genesis.  Initially the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, then the seat of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul has seen it all.  When I travel to these exotic locations rife with historical significance I berate myself for not taking more of an interest in history in my academic career.  I never traveled outside the US until after college (Canada does't count) so all the faraway places like this were just pictures in a heavy book.  Now I try to learn as much as I can about the places I go before I depart so I can hit at least the high points.

For those who aren't up to date on the geography, Istanbul sits on the Bosphorus  Strait which is the dividing line between Europe and Asia.  I've stayed on both the Europe and the Asia sides - The last time I stayed on the Asia side and took the ferry to the old-town part of the ancient city.

Istanbul has been the star of the cinema lately, and featured prominently in this year's Taken2 and the latest Bond flick, Skyfall.  The two famous landmarks that define the skyline are the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.  

Exterior of Blue Mosque.

Here are a couple images from inside the grounds of the Blue Mosque.  The lower picture is where worshippers wash their feet before entering the actual mosque.  The mosque is open to the public and if visitors dress conservatively and are respectful they can see the inside with no issues.  (Standard international standards of conduct.)

Here are some shots of the Hagia Sophia.  Initially it was the main Byzantine Church, then it became a mosque, and now it is a secular museum.

The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are located right across the street from each other.  This makes for efficient sight-seeing.  

Here are a couple local men discussing who is the better James Bond - Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan.  (I go with Sean Connery.)

Ok, a couple more images from another historical landmark.  The Basilica Cistern is located near the Hagia Sophia and is the largest of several ancient cisterns located beneath Istanbul.  This one dates back to the 6th century.  Lit eerily with spooky lights, the cistern is always a crowd pleaser.

This medusa head supports one of the columns.  The historians think that it was used simply because it was available, not for any "turning men to stone" reasons.  Keeping the James Bond theme from above, the cistern was featured in the 1963 movie From Russia With Love.  Okay, enough with the history lessons.  Let's go shopping.  Time to head to the Grand Bazaar. Dating back to the 1450's the covered Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest in the world.

You can buy almost anything in the Bazaar.  (Probably even the cat in the above photo - I'm pretty sure it was alive.)  I've purchased lanterns, ceramic plates, puzzle boxes, and jewelry.  Here are some images of the wares for sale:

Throughout Turkey the symbols on the above bracelets are seen everywhere.  The symbol is supposed to protect the wearer from the dreaded "evil eye."  As I'm wary of the evil eye myself, I made sure to buy plenty of these symbol-adorned nicknacks for protection.

Well, that's about it for Istanbul.  I always love to visit Turkey.  I guess I have time for one more Istanbul image.  How about another cat:





(Young Photography) Basilica Cistern Blue Mosque Grand Bazaar Hagia Sophia Istanbul Wed, 28 Nov 2012 14:00:00 GMT
Ninja in Nagoya I spend a LOT of time in Nagoya; I'm usually there 12-15 times a year.  A major port, manufacturing city and urban center, Nagoya is the 3rd largest incorporated city in Japan. From skyscrapers to an ancient castle, (see my blog entry with pics of a giant raven attacking a deer here.) Nagoya has everything you would expect a city of its size to have.  I usually arrive in Nagoya via the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo (which travels at speeds around 180 miles per hour) and have flown into both of its two airports.  The main train station where the Shinkansen stops is called Nagoya Station and is a flurry of activity around the clock.  I usually stay at the Marriott Associa hotel which starts on the 15th floor of one of towers above Nagoya Station.  The third picture above was taken just outside the Marriott lobby on the 15th floor of the tower.

Nagoya Castle (covered in a previous blog post) is centrally located in the city, as are several parks, greenery, and even a canal system.  Here is a Ninja in Training (NIT) practicing the bowstaff in front of the castle.  (At least that is what I think was going on when I took the shot.)

This green-walkway can be found in the Sakae section where many of my favorite bars and restaurants are located.  The TV tower in the above shot is a good central landmark that I often use for navigating the city.

Nagoya is a base for a lot of high tech and manufacturing.  They love their robots, and until recently there was actually a ramen shop that made the ramen using two robotic arms.  Look at some video I shot below at the airport with security patrolling on futuristic vehicles:

Keeping in step with Nagoya's penchant for advanced design, this elevated lake is located in the Sakae area.  After either taking an elevator, or climbing the stairs, visitors to this "park" can walk around an elevated water structure.  I can't even imagine how must the structure must weigh.

As an outsider, certain aspects of Nagoya and Japan in general can seem a bit bizarre. I get a kick out of these quirks, and I think they add color to the Japanese experience.  I usually take the subway to get around the city, and walking around the subterranean tunnels I once came across this sight: (It gave me nightmares for weeks - I KNOW that thing comes to life and leaves it's little box at night in search of Western blood...)


Like most places in the world, the young people are enthusiastic about music and dance.  One location sports break dancers almost every night after 6pm.  Live music is everywhere, and often I walk around in search of some.

I'm always a bit sad to leave Nagoya (even if it means I'm going home.)  Before I board my flight home I try to make it a point to visit my favorite Japanese robot structure:

(Young Photography) Musician Nagoya Nagoya Station Ninja Sakae Mon, 26 Nov 2012 02:59:30 GMT
Freaky Nagoya HDR I was preparing for an upcoming blog piece about Nagoya, Japan, and I came across some images I took from my hotel room.  I had my camera set up on a makeshift tripod (actually I think it was 2 towels and a pillow) to support the camera and I told the camera to take 3 images at different exposure settings.  (-2 EV, 0 and +2 EV) I had always planned to make an HDR image (High Dynamic Range) but had never gotten around to it.  Well I had some time today.

I opened Photoshop (CS5), and selected File, Automate, and Merge into HDR PRo.  After selecting the 3 files, Photoshop does it's magic, and opens HDR Pro.  I selected "Surreal" preset and then moved the sliders until I liked the result.  Good times!  This effect has been overdone as of late, but I think that is because of how fun it is to create these surreal images.  Give it a try!  Here are the original shots:

More on Nagoya later...

(Young Photography) HDR HDR from my hotel room Nagoya Fri, 23 Nov 2012 14:00:00 GMT
A Cappuccino in Cappadocia

In Central Turkey there is a region known as Cappadocia that is full of historical, geological, and cultural wonders.  Sporting a surreal landscape rife with formations known as “fairy chimneys,” ruins of underground cities and houses carved out of rock, Cappadocia is unlike any other place I have seen. I was lucky enough to visit this region a few years ago and bring back these images.

"Fairy chimney" rock formations.

Another fairy chimney.  Notice how it looks taller when the shrubs at the base are kept well trimmed. ;)

I'm not sure of the exact geological make-up of the rock, but it must be very soft.  Form of sandstone perhaps?  Most larger outcroppings and cliffs sport carved facades and internal rooms.  While constructing these living spaces out of solid rock must be a lot of work, the resulting structure offers good protection from the elements and decent insulation properties.

Just like a sandcastle, however, if you carve out too many holes in any structure the integrity becomes suspect.

To quote Steve Martin, "Got a condo made of stone-a!"

This "hotel" was a nicer compared to the previous structure.

I found the people friendly and mellow.  This gentleman was selling sticks.  Check out the wheels on his cart; love those spokes.

After walking around the beautiful landscape, nothing tasted better than a freshly-made pomegranate and orange smoothie!

This woman was walking through a wildflower-filled cemetery. 

Cappadocia was indeed a special place.  I’ve visited Turkey a few times before, but always the bustling metropolis of Istanbul (upcoming blog post.)  To visit Cappadocia is to step back in time – and it seems, to another world.  I halfway expected to see Tolkeinesqe creatures wandering about the eerie landscape.  Unfortunately I didn’t spot a hobbit, but I have an experience I will remember forever…


(Young Photography) Cappadocia Turkey fariry chimneys Wed, 21 Nov 2012 14:00:00 GMT
Shoot the Chef This year I was asked to shoot some portraits of the Paseo Club's Head Chef, JP Ruiz, for a Cancer fundraiser.  JP volunteered to host a cooking demonstration at the Relay For Life American Cancer Society event and the organizers wanted some images to use in their promotional pieces.

I scheduled the shoot as close to “golden hour” as I could as we were shooting outside on the club property.  I found an area with a pleasing background, one that would look nice when blurred out with a large lens aperture.  When JP showed for the shoot there was still some ugly direct light so my lovely assistant (and wife) Heidi, held up a diffusion panel to remove the harsh light. 

I wanted to add a little bit of fill, so I attached my Canon 580exII flash to a long ETTL cord and put it in a softbox on a light stand just to right of JP.  I think I dialed down the Flash Exposure Comp a little, and I may have added a ¼ CTO gel to the flash to warm it up a little bit.  JP loved the final shot as did the organizers.

I shot this at 50mm, f1.8, 1/200 sec, iso 100.

Here is JP at the event. 

(Young Photography) JP Ruiz Paseo club chef portrait relay for life Mon, 19 Nov 2012 14:30:00 GMT
Chengdu We Know Each Other?

I recently was able to visit Chengdu, a major city in the southern and inland portion of China that has been beset with bad fortune.  In 2008 an 8.0 earthquake hit killing 80,000 in the region and recent flooding has been the city’s latest challenge.  Probably what this region is most known for is the Wolong National Nature Reserve,  the protected breeding area of the extremely rare Giant Panda.  

Unfortunately, due to the earthquake and our limited time in Chengdu we were unable to see the Panda Preserve (Sounds like a tasty treat to spread on a bagel), so I concentrated shooting images around our hotel’s area.  Fortunately the Jinjiang River provided some picturesque bridges and bustling activity to shoot.

I remember it being extremely humid in Chengdu, and the second I left our air-conditioned hotel my entire camera rig fogged up.  It probably took a good hour for all the condensation to clear up – and I learned a good lesson in the process.  Photographers will often bring plastic bags to cover their equipment, and as the camera warms from cooler areas to warm moist environments the moisture will form on the plastic bag and not on the glass.  I don’t know why this works, I think it has something to do with a mixture of thermodynamics and rocket surgery.

I'm not really sure how clean the river water is....

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about Asia is the number and utility of the moped and scooter.  Heck, I’ve even seen bicycles carrying refrigerators.  I sat on one of the bridges crossing the river and watched the two-wheeled logistical machine pass by for an hour.

They can carry more on a moped than most Americans can stuff into an SUV.  (In Vietnam I once saw a scooter carrying 13 pigs, but that's another blog post ...)

I'll end this post on an important safety tip.  Don't text and moped!

(Young Photography) Chengdu Jinjiang River Fri, 16 Nov 2012 19:26:13 GMT
Big Brother is Watching.... well, maybe.. It has been said that good pictures need to tell a story, and I believe my photo down below does just that.  This was taken from the airport ramp just outside a city in northern China.  (I'm being vague on purpose.)  Anyway, these two soldiers were standing at stiff attention facing the ramp.  I couldn't figure out what purpose they were serving, this wasn't really a strategic location to post a guard, and they didn't have any weapons.  (Except perhaps the pile of bricks to the right of them.)  I remembered that they were intently holding their attention position, and not moving around.  (I spent 10 years in the Navy and always hated being at "attention."  People have a tendency to pass out if they lock their legs in this position for too long.)

Anyway, I then noticed the camera to the left of the soldiers.  It's not pointed towards the ramp where all the expensive aircraft are, it's pointed directly at the two soldiers standing against the "wall."  As if to say, "You stand here, don't move - we're watching you.."  Now take a closer look at the camera - it's not actually attached to anything and what wires it does have are cut off and hanging out the back of the camera.  It's a dummy camera - but the soldiers don't know.  They're scared to death if they move they are going to be seen and get in even more trouble.

Now I don't know what these guys did to receive this kind of punishment, I can only imagine.  Were they late for work?  Drunk and disorderly? Did they find a way to access banned Facebook? I'll never know what these guys did, but I find myself wondering about them even years later...


(Young Photography) Thu, 15 Nov 2012 14:00:00 GMT
Shanghai Me, PLEEEEASSE! (Excuse the reflection in the window, it's the one of the only night photos of Shanghai I have.)

This is in additional post to the previous entry about Beijing...

Okay, let’s get into the second Chinese city of on this photo-blog trip thingee.  Probably my favorite city in China is Shanghai.  While Beijing has the government capital, Great Wall feel to it - Shanghai reminds me of VEGAS.  Everything is big, grand and obnoxious.  It boasts huge skyscrapers with entire sides acting as monster televisions.  (I have no idea how they do that.)  At night, the Huangpu River boasts an electric boat parade unlike any I’ve seen before.  Huge boats with gargantuan video displays travel up and down the river in an impressive show of light and opulence.  .

Like the other large cities in China, building is BOOMING.  Without moving your head side to side you can usually count 50 or so cranes in any field of view.  The persistent smog/fog layer that blankets most of the country's large cities often obscures the tops of the tallest buildings. 

The first thing that most visitors see when they arrive into Shanghai is the airport, and it is no doubt impressive.  My favorite part of the airport, however, is the Magnetic Levitation or MAGLEV train ( built by Siemens) that travels from the airport at 431 km/hour (268 miles per hour).  That thing MOVES!  When it's up to top speed, and another train passes by going the other way the closing speed is over 500 miles per hour.  I was resting my head looking out the window and when another train passed going the other way and I almost had a heart attack. It's insane.  Here is a pic of the terminal:

And here is some video I shot of a MAGLEV training arriving.:

China has kind of a reputation for, shall we say, "imitation" of intellectual property.  They copy stuff, reproduce it cheaply and sell it on their own.  There was some controversy recently when a control room was broken into and reports arose that Siemen's technology might find its way into some domestically built trains..

In Shanghai we stay at the JW Marriott at Tomorrow Square and I have to say it's one of my favorite hotels in the world.  The lobby is on the 30-something floor of this skyscraper, and the rooms go all the way up to the 60th floor.  Here was a view from my room:

An interesting tidbit about the Shanghai JW.  As a frequent Marriott guest, I enjoy Platinum status.  With that status I get access to the business lounges at Marriott properties.  Most Marriotts have a business or concierge lounge for their loyal customers, and overseas they can be quite lavish.  The lounge at the JW in Shanghai is no exception, it's phenomenal.  Located on the top elevator floor, the views are awesome.  Well, last time I was there I noticed some stairs leading up from the concierge lounge labeled with a sign "Library."  I decided to check it out - and I climbed the stairs to the next level.  It was indeed a room filled with book shelves.  I noticed one of the book shelves was pushed in a bit - yup, it was a secret door that was left ajar. I entered the service corridor that led from the library and found a door that was unlocked.  I opened it and found myself on a secret outdoor patio on the absolute top level of the building.  Pretty cool stuff.  Here is a pic of me on the patio. (I didn't even get arrested!)

Of all the fun times and experiences I've had in Shanghai I still haven't fulfilled one of my dreams - and that is to eat at the Bruce Lee restaurant:

Well, maybe next time.  I'll cover some other Chinese cities in my next blog update..

(Young Photography) JW Marriott Shanghai Shanghai maglev Wed, 14 Nov 2012 18:40:57 GMT
Chickity China, the Chinese Chicken..

I travel to China often for work, and I usually enjoy my visits to the vast country.  I’ve hit most of the big cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Hong Kong, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Harbin, Guangzhou and even Changchun. They are all vibrant cities and each has its own distinct personality.  My two favorite Chinese cities are Beijing and Shanghai.  First, a little about  Beijing.

In In Beijing, I usually stay at the JW Marriott, which is conveniently located within walking distance of both a Starbucks (a legit one too…) and the subway.  I’ve been there enough times that I have the subway pretty much figured out.  I can even buy tickets from the large intimidating computer ticket machine that look like it can launch ICBMs as well as dole out subway tickets.  A subway ticket is 2 Yuan which is the equivalent of about 30 US cents.  (The same fare in a cab can be 20 bucks and take longer to travel the same distance. ) Since the Beijing Olympics, the subways are clean, modern and usually not too crowded – at least measured against Japanese standards. Tiananmen Square is just 3 stops from the hotel and our favorite shopping area is only 2 stops.  A tourist favorite, Tiananmen Square also boasts the “Forbidden City” as well as the iconic open square made famous in the protests of 1989.  I shot the next two images just inside the “forbidden city.” (Which is forbidden to nobody as long as they pay the handsome entrance fee.)

It was nice to see the local Chinese playing some American basketball. Directly upon entering the Forbidden City, I'm always ambushed by an "art student" who wants me to come in and see their gallery, and of course buy some of their art.  I've done it a couple times, but now say "No Thank You" and walk past.  Navigating the city isn't too difficult, signage is usually in English after Chinese.  I've never felt unsafe while walking around Chinese cities - I'm sure they have their seedy underbellies, but I try to avoid those areas. 

Shopping is always an experience in China, bargaining is the standard operating procedure.  If I ever end up paying more than about 1/3 of an opening price, I feel like I've failed.  In the larger shopping buildings, the sellers are very aggressive, often grabbing your arm to get your attention.  Their English is adequate for selling, but most of the negotiation is done using large hand held calculators.  They input a price, clear it, and then hand the calculator to you for your bid.  I usually walk away at least once prior to settling on a final price.  It's all part of the game.  One of the fun items to shop for are toys - here is a lady peddling various toy products.

Here is a video of this heated negotiation process:

I'm going to continue this China photo subject in additional blog posts. Before I go, I wanted to share a couple more Beijing photos. 

Here is an obviously content sanitation worker keeping Tiananmen Square clean. It's rare to see people smile in China.  I don't think it means they are not happy, I think it's just a cultural thing. 

I got a kick out of this "water truck" I saw on the way to the Subway.  This bike was in contrast to the sleek new buildings that surrounded the area. 

Stay tuned to the blog, I'll be covering Shanghai next....


(Young Photography) Beijing China Forbidden City Great Wall Shopping in Beijing Mon, 12 Nov 2012 22:15:30 GMT
Runway Shooter I’m not talking airplanes here, I’m talking red carpet, 9 foot tall models, and LA’s prettiest coming out to celebrate fashion.  I have been fortunate to shoot with renowned Runway Icon and recently they invited me to shoot with them at the Local Socialite Fashion Show.

These events are always quite impressive with lots of production and stunning venues.  This event was at Vibiana. After we checked in, we obtained our press passes and got to "work".  Here is a shot of the interior of the venue where the actual fashion show/runway walk took place.

Before the show started we shot the Red Carpet.  Here are a couple pics from the night.  I need to get a flash bracket so my flash remains vertical over the lens when I’m shooting in portrait mode.  That would eliminate the sideways shadow you can see to the right of the people. (It's always something right!) The rest of the red carpet shots from the night are here.

After the red carpet, everybody got seated and the runway show started.  Here are a couple images of Natalie Pack ), current Miss California USA walking the runway for Local Socialite.  My other shots from the runway are here:

As always, it was a joy to shoot with Runway Icon.

(Young Photography) Local Socialite Miss California USA Natalie Pack" Vibiana fashion red carpet runway Sat, 10 Nov 2012 14:00:00 GMT
Mothra Attacks in Nagoya Well, MAYBE it isn't Mothra.  Maybe it's just a freaking huge raven.  But who knows? It is Japan.  Let me explain.. 

My other job as a corporate pilot takes me to Nagoya, Japan quite often. 

I've been visiting there almost monthly since 2005 so I look at Nagoya as a second home away from home.  I know my way around the city well, and enjoy the big city exuberance Nagoya offers.  A few years ago I bought a new DSLR, the Canon XSI, and I left the hotel with my trusty camera to make some images.

Nagoya actually has a castle dating back to the 1500s, so I borrowed a bike and headed out towards the castle.  Remember this is a Japanese castle, not one of your Cinderella European variety.  Here is a picture of me in front of Nagoya Castle.

The castle grounds sport what look like "waterless moats" - (after all, what is a castle without a freaking moat?)  As I peered over the dry moat area I saw some deer that live on the castle grounds.  I decided to try and shoot the deer (with my camera - didn't want to end up in the Nagoya Slammer) so I attached the telephoto lens I had with me to the camera.  (At the time it was a budget 75-300mm zoom.)  Right after the long lens was attached - IT happened.  I heard a loud "SQWAAAKKK!!" and part of the sun was blacked out as the huge winged beast came out of the sky.  (I may be exaggerating a little..)

The largest black bird I have ever seen attacked the young Bambi-sized deer.  (Deerlet? Doe?) The baby dear freaked and attempted to flee as the pterodactyl-sized demon attacked and re-attacked.  I couldn’t believe this was happening in front of me while I had my camera up and ready.  I started shooting, hoping I had everything set up right.

This went on for only about 30 seconds until the mean bird got bored and left to find some garbage to eat.   The baby deer’s parents (I’m assuming anyway – I didn’t ask them) were nearby when this took place and made no move to protect their young offspring. (In fact, it kind of looked like they were laughing - but that may be my imagination)  While it didn’t look like any damage occurred, I’m sure there is some, by now, adolescent deer who still has nightmares of the attacking beast….

Famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson often spoke of the "decisive moment."  That is, the moment where something special happens.  Finding that decisive moment is part of the art of photography.  Sometimes we find it through experience and talent, other times - it's pure dumb luck... (I'm good at the latter..)


(Young Photography) Nagoya Nagoya Castle decisive moment. deer raven Thu, 08 Nov 2012 18:19:15 GMT
Shoot the Moon!

Ok, so getting older can be a little depressing at times, and this feeling was highlighted a little bit recently when I realized everybody I was shooting was younger than I am.  I made it a point to make an image of something older than me and about the only thing I was able to come up with (the mind is one of the first things to go…) is the Moon.

When I was just getting started in photography I was never able to get a good picture of the moon – the result was always an overexposed blob of white.  I was trying to let the camera sensors set the exposure, and they were always fooled by the extreme brightness against a black background. 

Shooting the Moon (Which is different than “shooting the duck” as we used to practice on roller rinks in the 80s) is a good way for a learning photographer to break away from the automatic settings on a camera and start using the manual modes.  Thanks to the LCD display you can get instant feedback on what the camera is seeing when you change the settings.

Before you push the shutter though, there are a few things that will help with a good shot.  First you need a decent tripod.  Second, attach your longest lens.  I also recommend using a remote shutter release.  (I have the cheap $11 version from eBay – works like a champ)  Get the tripod, camera, release and everything set up and find the moon in the viewfinder.

Next – focus.  Often auto-focus has a hard time maintaining focus on the moon.  If you can get autofocus to lock on the moon, let it focus and then switch autofocus off on the lens.  The camera should maintain the focus selected by the autofocus.  If not, you can try live-view if your camera has that mode, if not you’re stuck with manual focus.

Now for the settings:  I recommend using ISO 100.  Make sure you are in manual mode, and select a good sharp f-stop.  Try f8.  Now all you have to do is figure out the last point of the exposure triangle. (Shutter Speed) Start with around 1/100 of a second.  Remember the moon is moving…or the Earth is moving… or the Sun..  My head hurts, just remember that there is some relative motion so if you can use faster shutter speeds you can combat motion-blur.  Take some shots, and look at the LCD.  If the moon appears too bright with little shadow detail increase the shutter speed a couple clicks.  If it’s too dark, do the opposite.  Eventually you will find the sweet spot and you will get some good shots. 

Now go shoot the moon! Now that the “have to shoot something older” thing is out of my system, bring on the young models!

(Young Photography) Moon how to take pictures of the moon moon photography shoot the moon Tue, 06 Nov 2012 16:45:18 GMT
Brittany Maternity Shoot Ryan and Brittany asked me to take some maternity images of them a couple of months ago.  I enjoyed the shoot, and we ended up with some nice images of the obviously photogenic couple.  I did bring my trusty Speedlites, but the majority of the pictures were taken using natural light.  This picture was taken with a 50mm prime lens at f1.8, 1/100, ISO 1600.  We ended up entering this image in Canon’s Project Imaginat10n photo contest.  (We didn’t win, but this image one of the most commented photos in the relationship category.)

(Young Photography) Brittany Maternity Relationship Ryan couple Mon, 05 Nov 2012 16:26:03 GMT
Hot Pixel This year I had the opportunity to shot Art Freed, the founder of Hot Pixel Post, in his post-production studio.  A talented editor, Art was looking for some interior shots of his new facility and a professional portrait.  We shot the portrait in his chair with a 580EXII Speedlite mounted in a softbox off camera right.  The flash was connected to the camera via a long ETTL cord. I adjusted the level of the flash from the camera through flash exposure compensation.

For the studio shots we had some interesting problems to solve.  Obviously the studio was dark, with lots of screens and displays emitting varying levels of light.  We mounted the camera in a tripod, selected a relatively small aperture (F11 in this case) to maintain focus throughout, and fiddled with shutter speed until the display levels were where we liked.  In this picture we used an even 1 second for shutter speed.  To add some more texture to the scene I put a radio trigger on a speedlite and placed it behind the large screen to illuminate the wall behind it.  (In other shots I also put a blue gel on the flash to change the color of the wall a bit.)  The light focused on the wall accolades is actually coming from a small flashlight I had in my camera bag.  I didn’t do much post production to this image.

(Young Photography) Hot Pixel Post Portrait mixing flash with ambient Sun, 04 Nov 2012 16:39:17 GMT
Endeavour's Last Flight On September 21,  2012, the retired space shuttle Endeavour fixed atop NASA’s specially configured Boeing 747 flew from Edwards Air Force Base to LAX via several checkpoints all over San Francisco and Southern California.  I got up early that morning and drove to the birthplace of Endeavour - Palmdale, California, hoping to get some shots of the behemoth duo flying overhead.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Shortly after lifting off from Edwards the 747 made 3 passes over and around the Palmdale airport.  This was appropriate because all the space shuttles were built in the Plant 42 facility at Palmdale airport by Rockwell International.

The weather was gorgeous and thousands were in attendance to see Endeavour’s last flight. (Even if it was just strapped to the back of a 747.)  You can see a NASA F-18 chase aircraft in one of the photos.

(Young Photography) Endeavour Last-flight Palmdale Shuttle Sun, 04 Nov 2012 03:23:07 GMT
Love Locks An interesting tradition that I’ve noticed on my recent trips to Europe is that of lovers attaching “Love Locks.”  Couples will write their names or initials on padlocks and then affix them to bridges, gates, and fences to symbolize their love. I’ve noticed bridges are the most popular “love lock venue” and several bridges throughout Europe become inundated with thousands of the worded clasps. 

Although the origin of this practice is vague, the influence is widespread and it’s odd to see a bridge without the locks present.  Local governments have taken to passing legislation banning the act on specific bridges (usually due to preserve historical looks on famous bridges) but it doesn’t appear that couples are going to stop anytime soon.  More can be read about this phenomena here.

Love Locks in Wroclaw, Poland:

The locks in Cologne, Germany:

Love Locks in Salzburg, Austria:

(Young Photography) Cologne Love Locks Salzburg Wroclaw europe padlocks Fri, 02 Nov 2012 16:07:00 GMT
Nagoya Tilt-Shift

I love the miniaturization effect you can get by applying tilt-shift focal techniques to an image.  I don’t have a tilt-shift lens, so the effect was done in Photoshop.  This is the tutorial I followed.  The picture was taken from my hotel room in Nagoya, Japan.  (A city that has become a home away from home….)

(Young Photography) Japan Nagoya miniature tilt-shift Thu, 01 Nov 2012 16:20:26 GMT
I'm glad I don't have this job..

Awhile back I had the opportunity to fly to Cairo, Egypt.  (This was just before all the revolution started.)  As we were waiting in line to take off I noticed this security guard posted off the runway in this little hut and I took a quick shot.  I like the sense of seclusion of the hut against the open desert...  That and I'll never complain about having a small office...  I thought about cloning the fence out of the shot but never got around to it.

(Young Photography) Cairo Egypt airport guard seclusion. security Thu, 01 Nov 2012 16:12:35 GMT
Happy Halloween Ok, my daughter (who has a very sunny disposition) decided to be the creepy girl from The Ring for Halloween this year.  I think she nailed the look, but it does creep me out a little.  Okay, a lot!  Converted to B&W with Nik Color Effects Pro.

(Young Photography) Halloween The Ring creepy girl Wed, 31 Oct 2012 16:45:37 GMT
Dania This summer we did a photo shoot with Dania.  As she is a gorgeous model, it was difficult to get a poor shot with her in front of the lens.  Most of her shots were done with a Canon 580EX II Speedlite off-camera in a softbox connected to the camera with a long ETTL cord.

(Young Photography) Tue, 30 Oct 2012 13:50:37 GMT
Fitness Model - Jennifer Azevedo I recently had the opportunity to shoot local fitness trainer Jen in her gym environment.  Using off camera flash, we were able to highlight her great physique.  She is submitting a few of the photos to Fitness Magazine for an ongoing contest.

(Young Photography) Fitness Off camera flash abs model Tue, 30 Oct 2012 13:36:24 GMT
Grand Place, Brussels Grand Place in Brussels last week. Fantastic square - voted most picturesque in Europe.,_Brussels

(Young Photography) Brussels Grand Place Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:25:55 GMT
Gulfstream G550 Cockpit

I fly the Gulfstream G550 for a private corporation.  This aircraft was designed for ultra-long distance (we can fly around the world with only two fuel stops) and has unbelievable reliability .  In the second picture you can see the HUD or Heads Up Display that the flying pilot uses to scan the flight instruments and keep situational awareness outside the cockpit at the same time.  This airplane is a joy to fly.

(Young Photography) G550 HUD Heads Up Display Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:23:37 GMT
Red Bull Hangar On a recent trip I spent the night in Salzburg, Austria - the home of Red Bull.  Their Hangar/Facility is located at the Salzburg airport where they keep a bunch of airplanes and Formula 1 cars. The facility also includes 2 bars and a restaurant.  In the upper right of the picture you can see the white fortress that overlooks the city of Salzburg.

(Young Photography) Austria Red Bull Hangar Salzburg Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:15:05 GMT