In Bookstores: The World’s Most Romantic Destinations

Last April I holed up in a house in Seattle and took a trip around the world.

Well, not literally, but through pictures. While photo editing my first book project for National Geographic, I re-visited favorite destinations like Cape Town and the Burgundy region of France, but then also fell for places that hadn’t quite caught my eye before like the Azores Islands of Portugal, Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago, and San Sebastián in Spain.

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I enjoyed switching gears from photo editing for magazines and delving into the book publishing world. I’m looking forward to working on the sister book to this title later this year. Special thanks for making the photo editing process easy and enjoyable goes to National Geographic’s Moira Haney, Elisa Gibson, and Allyson Dickman.

I’m proud to say that the results are now in hard copy and, if I do say so myself, they look gorgeous. Pick up National Geographic’s The World’s Most Romantic Destinations in bookstores or online and start adding to your travel bucket list. I can promise you these tempting places aren’t only for lovers.

A small ship passes through a narrow passage in Alaska.

On Assignment with National Geographic Expeditions: Photography in Alaska & British Columbia

This past May I had the opportunity to travel as a National Geographic Expert on a voyage from Seattle, Washington, along the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska. The National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions A Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia & Haida Gwaii photography voyage was one of my favorites because as a Pacific Northwest native I felt right at home experiencing the lush forests and moody weather.

On September 3rd-17th of 2017, I’ll be joining as a National Geographic Expert on another Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia, and Haida Gwaii on board the National Geographic Sea Lion. Come join me on this intimate ship as we get up close and personal with the beauty of landscapes, wildlife, and culture of British Columbia and Alaska. I’ll be working with a talented photo team to provide insightful lectures and give tips and advice while on photo walks and photographing from the ship.

Here are a few images from last May’s expedition as a teaser of what the experience is like. To see more images from that voyage, visit my archive.

Two photographers on the bow of a ship.

On these expeditions, you’ll often find the photo team, like Photo Instructor Ryder Redfield (right), out on deck giving photo tips, especially during the beautiful sunset we had while navigating Frederick Sound.

A glacier calves in front of a zodiac filled with people.

The morning we spent on zodiacs photographing the awe-inspiring Dawes Glacier calve was something I’ll never forget. It was an experience for all the senses, from the crackling sound like lightening in the ice to the giant aftershock waves that rocked the ship anchored over a mile away.

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I never tired of photographing bald eagles, like this one perched on a tree branch in the Inian Islands, which were ubiquitous in the rugged Alaskan landscape.

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In Petersburg, also known as Little Norway, we had a photo walk through the picturesque fishing village, capturing scenes of everyday life.

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On the last full day of the voyage, we spent over an hour photographing orcas as they swam around the ship in nearly still waters on the Peril Straight.

I’d love to see you join the voyage with me in September of 2017. I can promise beautiful vistas, amazing wildlife, and loads of photographic learning…….but I can’t promise the same beautiful weather I had last May!

On Newsstands: 100 Places That Will Change Your Life

If you were in a book or grocery store lately, you may have seen the cover of this magazine inviting you to change your life. Indeed, this”book-a-zine” (bigger than a magazine, 600px 100  Placessmaller than a book), changed my life for quite a while last summer as I photo edited images for all of the amazing destinations held within its pages.

It had only been a couple of years since leaving my staff job at National Geographic Traveler as a photo editor and it felt great to work on 100 Places That Will Change Your Life. And, as always happens when working on these projects, my list of travel destinations has grown with priority now being given to a culinary trip to Oaxaca, a trail-restoring trek to Torres del Paine, and a trip to see turquoise waters in Croatia.

If you need a little travel inspiration and you missed this publication, you can order a copy via National Geographic here.

Seattle Washington skyline at twilight with Space Needle.

Photographing the Blue Hour

My favorite time of day to photograph cities is the blue hour. Now, the blue hour really isn’t an hour at all, but a much shorter span of time that occurs before sunrise or after sunset.

In the morning, it is the transition time where the sun is inching closer to the horizon and the sky turns from inky black to an electric blue; with the opposite occurring in the evening. Depending on cloud cover, this lighting scenario happens approximately twenty to thirty minutes before sunrise or after sunset.

During this window of time, the ambient light balances with the artificial lights of buildings and monuments in urban scenes and you can easily capture the entire dynamic range of the scene. No need to take multiple exposures and stitch together an HDR (high-dynamic range) shot!

Dinner party scene in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town with Table Mountain in background.

When I was invited to a dinner at Side Street Studios, I arrived early to scout out an angle that would include Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. Shortly after sunset, the timing was right and I captured both the activity of guests mingling and the mountain silhouetted against a dark blue sky.

Tech Talk

To capture the electric blue sky, it is optimal to use a tripod which will allow you to shoot with a lower ISO such as 400 or 800 and a wider depth of field like f/11 while keeping steady at slow shutter speeds. Because slow shutter speeds can easily be achieved at this time of day, I also love to play with motion blur from vehicles and other moving objects to add interest to my compositions.

But if you are tripod averse, as I often am, the solution is simple: turn up your ISO, shoot at your shallowest aperture, and do your best to reduce camera shake by bracing yourself or your camera against something solid. You won’t get to play with motion blur, but you’ll capture this vibrant time of day nonetheless.

The Arc de Triomphe at dusk in the Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, France.

The Arc de Triomphe already looks gorgeous with a stunning blue sky behind it, but by using a tripod and a slow shutter speed, the vehicle lights add another dynamic visual element and also fill the empty space of pavement surrounding the monument.

Be Prepared

I have to admit that I prefer photographing the blue hour after sunset rather than before sunrise. This is simply because I can easily scout out the scene I want to capture in the daylight instead of having to scout the day prior or finding myself fumbling around in the dark with a flashlight and hoping I’ve found a good position.

Once in position, take test shots and get ready for the light to change quickly. I like to take test shots and check my histogram as I go to not only adjust exposure but to also see when the scene is getting more similar in tone. I find that the optimal time for the best photograph is actually when the scene is looking a bit too dark to my eyes.

Examples of changing light at Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar at dawn.

The light changes very quickly at dawn, as you can see from these shots which were taken at 6:31am, 6:39am, and 6:45am at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

Looking Back on 2015

In my (at times crazy) freelance life, I’m lucky to get to wear three hats: photographer, editor, and teacher. This past year had me busily swapping hats and it awarded me with some unforgettable experiences.

Last year I rang in the New Year overlooking the twinkling lights of Paris before heading to Spain to photograph a chilly Marbella on the Costa del Sol and then venturing to South Africa to shoot a feature story for National Geographic Traveler. February found me teaching photography in the Galápagos Islands for National Geographic Expeditions.

Fast forward to a summer spent teaching on ships on the Equator and in the Arctic Cirle and to my first workshop co-teaching with Jennifer Davidson in Austin, Texas. After returning home for the fall I put on my photo editing hat and got to work on multiple projects for National Geographic (did you see the Adelaide and Best of the World feature stories in the Dec 2015/Jan 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveler?). After Thanksgiving I headed south again to take part in the first Epic Photo Expedition in the Galápagos.

As the adage goes, pictures tell a thousand words, so I’ll let these images help tell the story of my most memorable experiences of 2015.

On Assignment: Durban Days

Scene on the Durban waterfront.

I fell in love with South Africa in 2013 and was delighted to be asked by National Geographic Traveler to head back to photograph Durban and the Kwa-Zulu Natal region for the May 2015 issue. I went on safari in a UNESCO World Heritage site, hiked into the jaw-dropping Drakensburg Mountains on the border with Lesotho, and explored the urban landscape of Durban. I ate plenty of curry and spent as much time as I could on the waterfront documenting the everyday lives of Durbanites. The photos from this assignment were also displayed in a gallery show in Durban during the INDABA travel show.

Most Obscure Destination: Jan Mayen

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I had never heard of Jan Mayen until the day before setting foot on the island while traveling as a photo expert on the National Geographic Explorer. Located at 70°59′N 8°32′W in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, we had the opportunity to explore this Norwegian island on a rare sunny afternoon. We walked on a moonlike landscape and admired the “shy” glacier-covered Beerenberg Volcano as it would occasionally emerge from its cloud cover.

Second Most Obscure Destination: Juan Fernández Archipelago

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Located 416 miles off of the coast of Chile is a land that inspired the novel Robinson Crusoe, the Juan Fernández Archipelago. While working on the National Geographic Explorer as a photo expert on a voyage exploring Peru and Chile, I was able to go on shore on Robinson Crusoe Island and even hike high into the foothills of this verdant, charming, and almost forgotten isle.

Most Exhilarating Experience: An Erupting Volcano

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A week before I headed to the Galápagos Islands in June, I heard news of Wolf Volcano erupting. I couldn’t wait to get down to the islands to perhaps catch a glimpse. Although nowhere near the full splendor of the initial eruption, what I saw was equally awe-inspiring. One evening, as the National Geographic Endeavour navigated closer to the island and the light faded from the sky, the lava hot spots illuminated the smoke and clouds in a terrific orange color. We stayed up late into the night entranced by the glow and trying our best to photograph a low-light situation from a moving platform (this was definitely the most difficult photographic situation of the year!).

Favorite American Experience

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As much as I love to experience other cultures, I always have loved American culture. During the Picture Austin photo workshop I taught with Jennifer Davidson, we took our students to the Bastrop Homecoming Rodeo to capture this American tradition.

Most Memorable Wildlife Experience

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I’d never before seen a polar bear in the wild, and although this fellow came right up to the bow of our ship (we think he smelled the bacon from breakfast) during my Arctic expedition, I’m sharing this wide-angle shot of him in his native habitat. It struck me as so poignantly beautiful that these powerful creatures live solitary lives in extreme environments. It reminded me that the way we live our daily lives has repercussions further away than we might imagine.

Best Teaching Team

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Last month I was part of an incredible team brought together for the first Epic Photo Expedition in the Galápagos. From left to right: Mark Thiessen, Ralph Lee Hopkins, me, Jonathan Kingston, Jennifer Davidson, Tui De Roy, Gabe Biderman, David Brommer, and Rich Reed. I’m heading back this December for another epic; will you join? Photo courtesy of Greg Cook.

So Many Miles

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In 2015 I took 68 flights, six expeditions by ship, and added four new countries to my list. The year was filled with new faces and places with a little editing here, some shooting there, and a lot of teaching others to love photography.

2016 already promises lots of adventures starting with attending the annual National Geographic Seminar tomorrow in Washington, DC, and leaving for an Asian adventure next week.

Stay up to date with all that is happening here and through my quarterly newsletter. I hope our paths cross in this new year. Happy 2016!

Portrait of a man on Chitemba Beach in Malawi.

Photographing People Part II: It’s All in the Approach

In my first post on photographing people I discussed what kind of lens I usually use and what my general philosophy is on approaching strangers. Today I’ll cover when I ask for permission, how to communicate with body language, and the approach.

To Ask or Not to Ask….Permission

In most situations where I’m photographing people, if possible I prefer to ask permission (verbally or non verbally). Now this doesn’t mean I stop everybody who passes in front of my lens, but it is useful when I know I want to spend time making pictures of somebody. And of course there are moments that would be missed if I stopped to ask permission, so I take the picture! Then if I’d like to continue to shoot, I’ll ask permission.

People will occasionally tell me no, which is always disappointing, but I move on. I figure that if someone isn’t up for it, I won’t make a good picture anyway.

Two couples outside of a crepe stand in Paris

When I walked pass this crepe stand in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, I had to click my shutter immediately or the moment between the couple on the right would’ve vanished.

Body Language

Permission doesn’t need to be verbal and in fact, it can’t be if there isn’t a shared language. This is where a simple smile or a point to the camera works wonders. Or I’ll start shooting, as with the situation in the photo above, and when I’m noticed I lower my camera and give a smile or wave. I’ve gotten very few ambiguous answers with these techniques. It is usually as clear as night and day whether somebody is keen for their photo to be taken.

Krista Rossow and South African women on beach in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Although we didn’t share a language in this “discussion,” these South African women understood that I wanted to take their photos while I was on assignment in Kwa-Zulu Natal and later delighted in hamming in front of my lens. Photo by George W. Stone.

The Approach

I find that if I go into a situation nervous and unsure, people can sense the unease in my approach and will react similarly. I’m not always in the right state when approaching strangers, so I might need to give myself a pep talk. It is uncanny how people pick up on unspoken cues.

Portrait of a young monk studying at a monastery in Myanmar.

While photographing at this monastery in the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, I moved quietly, watched with interest, made eye contact, and exchanged smiles.

In the upcoming posts I’ll cover putting your subject at ease, model releases and paying for photographs, lens choice, and much more. Please leave your own tips on photographing people in the comments below.

2014 By the Numbers

It isn’t every year one can say that they’ve been around the world.

Well, 2014 was a unique year for me. I made my way around the world, with a couple extra crossings of the Atlantic Ocean and Equator thrown in for good measure. Many photos were taken (around 50k) and the passport never got cold. Here is a bit of a round-up in numbers and superlatives.

Colorful time zone map of the world

Countries visited: 18 (In order of appearance….Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, England, Denmark, Sweden, Ecuador, France, Spain, Costa Rica, and Mexico.)

Number of airplane take offs and, thank goodness, landings: 45

Trains taken: 8

First class Mexican buses taken: 1

Favorite modes of alternative transport: horse, tuk tuk, Indian houseboat, Burmese bicycle taxi, zodiac boat, cable car

Miles sailed with Semester at Sea: 23,379.5 nautical miles

Number of days spent living on a ship: 143 (115 on the MV Explorer and 28 on the National Geographic Endeavour)

Amount of college students stuck on a ship with me (and me with them): over 500

Time zones crossed: all of them

Most interesting geographic coordinate: zero degrees longitude and zero degrees latitude in the Gulf of Guinea (yes, there is a buoy out there)

As I write this from Paris, I already know 2015 will be filled with more travels and many more photos. Stay tuned for adventures from France, Spain, South Africa, Ecuador, and who knows where else. Happy 2015!