Young Photography: Blog en-us (C) Young Photography (Young Photography) Sat, 09 Jan 2016 17:32:00 GMT Sat, 09 Jan 2016 17:32:00 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