The Castaway Cafe

A photocopied menu for the Castaway Cafe fell out of my shoe this morning. 

It was 6am, and I was looking down the sight of a 12-hour day, most of it challenging. I'm not sure how this memory from Maui got in my shoe. But there it was. 

And it made me smile.  

We had breakfast there. It was a perfect morning seasoned with  light breezes and blue skies. We enjoyed our food outside, beneath a couple palm trees. I remember saying, "I never want to leave this place." 

But of course I had to. 

This has been a tough week. But this morning made it just a little better.  

Thanks to a folded menu that slid out of my shoe, 

from the Castaway Cafe.  



Taking the Picture Is the Easiest Part

What a life! Just taking pictures all day. Doesn't everyone want to be a photographer?

That's true if you don't need money. But if you want to be paid for your work, photography isn't that much different than any other business.

For example, here are the highlights from my current ToDo list for a corporate project:

  • Schedule meetings to define parameters and responsibilities
  • Negotiate agreements for the different aspects of the project
  • Corral approvals for the desired locations and find out the requirements
  • Apply for permits and request liability insurance endorsements for each
  • Assemble production team, define their responsibilities and negotiate pay
  • Collect signed W4 forms from each team member
  • Coordinate schedules for shooting locations, participants, client, and production team
  • Prepare and test equipment used for the project
  • Organize model releases and shot lists
  • Find props, purchase snacks, and approve wardrobe
  • Secure backup locations for each shoot
  • Figure out what you've forgotten to do, then do it at the last minute

And when everything is in place, take the picture.

I like the last step best.


Insatiable Instagram

I'm not 22 years old with a curvy figure and long, flowing hair.

And yet, I'm still having a blast sharing my photos on Instagram. Over the last two years, the ritual of finding an image for my daily post has made me a better photographer. And to be honest, I'm having more fun than ever.

I've tried to figure out what the hook is. The more I think about it, the more Instagram reminds me of photography as an 12-year old kid with an Instamatic. I would shoot anything that looked interesting: friends, pets, home, vacation, cars, bikes, toys, food, family - everything was fair game.

Then photography got serious. It had to have meaning.

Those were probably my worst images. They were analogous to adolescent poetry, feigning profundity, yet transparently superficial.


Let's, instead, take a picture of the cat chasing its tail. Now that's life. And that's the joy that Instagram has returned to my images. Not only can I shoot and share anything I want, so can everyone else.

My Instagram page ranges from alcoholic beverages, to silly signs, to colorful sunsets, to yes, my cat. No apologies for any of it.

And when it's time for serious photography (these days thankfully the paying kind with clients), I feel more creative, spontaneous, and yes... free.

You won't see many selfies on my page. Quite honestly, I'm a bit too old for that. But you'll see practically everything else.

And that's why I just can't get enough of it.



After All That

I have been all over the world with my iPhone.

I've sailed the English Channel, hopped out of British cabs, endured numerous buses, snorkeled off the coast of Maui, lounged around a pool sipping lava flows, and even dropped my iOS device from the top row of high school gym bleachers. And through all of this, the 5S survived.

That charmed life ended abruptly earlier this week.

The inocoulous task of cleaning diving gear led to an accidental, and extended, submersion under water. The iPhone was dead.

The 5S was my fourth iPhone, and my first fatality. I still use unlocked 3GS and 4S models as international travel communicators. The original iPhone is a dedicated music player at the house. Oh sure, it has a few bumps and scratches, but it's alive.

Not the 5S. 

After a little research, I learned that Apple will replace my iPhone for $269. I simply submitted a service request online, Apple transmitted my shipping information to UPS, and the next day I walked into a UPS store with phone in hand and said, "here."

24 hours later, I received an email from Apple stating they have received my device. The day after that they shipped me a replacement.

I hate the $269 non-budged expense. But the demise of the 5S was my own doing. And I think that Apple replacing a $800 mobile phone for $269, no questions asked, is reasonable. Plus the process was pain-free.

I will probably never, ever, drop my iPhone in water again. But I have to admit...

I wish all companies would cover my mistakes so gracefully.


Outside the Mixing Bowl

If you stay long enough, even the asylum begins to feel normal.

This must be a coping mechanism. That's my only explanation. How else could you rationalize our ability to deal with angry drivers, rude service personnel, ladder climbing coworkers, and people who are more than a few cards short of a full deck? 

We do it because we have to. 

The problem is, when you leave the mix for a period of time, coming back isn't quite so easy. Most of us experience this phenomenon when we return from vacation. 

I think the first day back at work is a profoundly sobering experience. I don't know if this has happened to you, but I've literally stood there, watched, then slowly backed away from the door.

I'm not sure if this is an argument for, or against, extended vacations. The argument for is quite simple: you find your sense of well being.  The argument against is... well there really isn't one, is there?

So once a year, we regain our vision before sliding back into the mixing bowl.  The beaters begin to spin. But with battered eyes we look ahead...

To the next two weeks of sanity on the books.


Postcard Photography

Personally, I think postcards get a bad rap from serious photographers.

if you're new to a destination, visit the local souvenir shop and browse the postcard rack. In just a few minutes, you'll see all of the iconic views of the area. You could use this information as starting points for your own work. (Plus, you might want to purchase a few extra to send to Mom who never really understood your artsy images.) 

Once you find the spot where a postcard picture was captured, start out by recording your own version. They're excellent for reference, title slides, and for those who appreciate less adventuresome artwork. 

i don't know if you've ever had this happen to you. But I've presented a series of my favorite shots from a location with one or two postcard types thrown in, only to have the viewer remark, "Ooh, that one's nice!" 


Despite these minor setbacks, don't stop shooting once you've captured the obvious. Push forward and make that scene your own.

Do it, even if you're the only one who will appreciate an alternative view of an iconic subject. 

Consider it your own personal postcard.


Long Exposures

One of the most interesting techniques in photography is to leave the shutter open and see what happens.

Generally speaking, this is not a midday activity, which is part of the reason why I like it. Long exposures work better when the sun has long passed its zenith, or has disappeared all together. Early morning, twilight, moonlight, overcast, indoors... these are great long exposure situations. 

I've been using a feature on my Olympus OM-D called Live Time for for these situations. I place the camera on a tripod and use my iPhone to control it. This is easy because the OM-D E-M10 has built-in WiFi that talks to the iOS app, Olympus Image Share.  

I line up the composition, activate the shutter release with the iPhone, then watch the image slowly come to life on the iPhone screen. When it looks the way I want, I tap the button again to close the shutter.  And the image is captured.

This is the closest thing I've experienced in digital photography to watching a photograph come to life in a tray of developer. I don't miss the chemical darkroom. But I do miss that moment of magic.

This sensation is amplified with the effect produced by the long exposure. Water becomes a foggy blanket draped across glistening rocks. Moving people dissolve from hard, edgy creatures to translucent ghosts. The world becomes a softer place when framed by long exposures. 

It's not that I despise the harsh light of reality. 

But sometimes I need a break from it. 


Yes, Cuba

On Jan. 17, I fly into Miami in preparation for a second flight to Havana.

Yes, Cuba.

I'm the Photo Guide for an 8-day field trip that includes Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. We'll be photographing Old Havana’s baroque and neoclassical architecture, its artists and businessmen, and the nightlife made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club.

I'm mentioning this now in case you've ever had designs on visiting Cuba. This field trip is organized by the same folks who I have worked with on many trips all over the world, including my recent photo shoot in Europe.

We'll have a professional bilingual Cuban guide; two tour managers, and myself. The overall group is limited to 26 participants. Once we land in Miami, transportation, housing, and meals are covered. They also arrange for our Cuban visa and health insurance.

If you're interested, you can find out more here.

It's going to be quite an adventure.


Board Shorts

Packing for Hawaii is the easiest job in the world.

I've had some complicated trips lately. My upcoming adventure to Maui won't be one of them. 

Three pairs of board shorts, 6 T-shirts, 2 button-up colorful Hawaiian shirts, 1 pair of long pants for the obligatory night out at a real restaurant, sun block, aloe, cap, shades, flippers, mask, and snorkel. It the only destination I know of where underwear is optional. (Seriously, who wears boxers in Hawaii?)

Even my technical gear is easier. No laptop. iPad mini, underwater compact camera, mirrorless camera, iPhone, headphones, and lots of music. 

I'll probably spend more time in the pool this year than the ocean. I'm looking forward to further mending my dislocated shoulder. Water seems like the perfect solution.

While in Maui, I'll be posting pictures and sharing anecdotes. But there won't be many travel tips this time around. In fact, there's only one travel tip I can think of: Whatever you do...

Don't miss the plane.



Crazy Intuition

Yesterday was unbelievable, and beyond just the news.

Yes, Apple officially announced that they would no longer be developing Aperture. That's a headline that certainly impacts me, and many in our community. But it's the way that it all unfolded that amazes me.

I woke up around 4 am. This has been my normal waking time since returning from London a few days ago. I stayed in bed for a bit thinking about the day ahead. I call this my checklist exercise.

Out of nowhere, two ideas came to me. First, I need to check-in with my contact at Apple. Don't know why; it's just time to do so. Second, I should write a note to my partner at to start a discussion about the new Photos app that will be landing in early 2015. I'd been thinking about it since the WWDC keynote.

About 5 am, I wrote Jim at lynda saying that I'm excited about Photos and that I'd love to do some training on it. I mentioned that I'm going to call Apple later this morning to get the ball rolling. I asked, "Do you want to be in on this?"

Jim replied shortly thereafter, "Yes!"

Around 9am I called Apple. No answer, so I left a voicemail saying that I'd like to chat about photography. About 30 minutes later, I received a call from Apple PR. (Apple PR is the official voice and the safest way for everyone to communicate.)

"We have some background information for you and an official statement."

"Oh, OK."

"There will be no new development of Aperture."

"Oh. Looks like I should get a piece ready for Monday."

"You're probably going to want to post earlier than that."


I quickly published the official statement on The Digital Story, then sent a note to Jim at lynda. The rest of the day was consumed with news around Aperture and iPhoto merging into the new Photos app. Friday is normally a slow news day. Not this week.

Hours earlier, at 4 am, I was simply collecting ideas for the day's ToDo list. I really had no measure of their weight. Consciously, I was totally clueless about the day ahead. Subconsciously? Who knows?

Crazy intuition.



My Old Passport

The dreaded month is almost here.

My passport expires in March, 2015. Soon I will have to start the process of applying for a new one.

I don't want to.

This passport has been with me to Mexico, South America, Canada, Iceland, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, China, Japan, and South Korea. It is filled with stamps and visas from all over the world.

When I enter customs, the official has to  flip pages to find an open spot for a new stamp. I like that. I like thinking about my visits to all of those places, the people I've met, and the photos I've taken.

This was the passport in my pocket when I stood at Ground Zero in Nagasaki and thought about all those lives. It was with me at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where I photographed the most impressive opening ceremonies I've ever seen. I had that same passport with me as we navigated the Panama Canal with only inches to spare on each side of the ship.

I don't want to give it up. I don't want a hole punched through my last decade. It should be allowed to live, just as the memories do that are associated with it.

My first stamp in the new passport will most likely be Havana, Cuba this coming January. Not a bad start. 

But I'd much prefer that Havana join my other adventures.

What a blessing it's been to meet all those people.



Nothing Better than When it Works

The suitcase is open on the floor with clothes ready to be washed.

I'm back.

I lost a jacket somewhere in Ireland and had to surrender my Swiss Army Knife at Heathrow. Other than that, the adventure was a smashing success.

My Aperture library has 2,337 new images. 251 of them are rated 3 Stars or better. Those are what I call the keepers. A dozen of them I'm hanging on to for contest entries or for possible publication. Those are the treasures.

There's no better feeling than when your plan works.

Most of the images were captured with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 that was packed in an Lowepro Dashpoint 30 and transported across Europe in the Walking Man Shoulder Bag. Many of my Instagram shots were published while riding buses to and from destinations.

The workflow was simple: photos were captured with the petite E-M10, wirelessly transferred to the iPhone 4S containing a SIMsmart card, edited in Instagram 6.0.1, then shared with my friends home and abroad.

The master files, which remained on the SD memory cards, are now sorted in my Aperture library. I'm viewing them at 100 percent on the Retina Display screen of my MacBook Pro. There's plenty of detail, contrast, and color. In years past, I would have been thrilled with photos like these captured with a camera of any size.

I did a lot of planning for this trip. I tested potential equipment configurations for weeks, making adjustments along the way, crossing my fingers that I would have the gear I needed. In the end, my plan paid off.

It's a great time to be a Nimble Photographer.

There's no going back.


The Other Paul

In 1963, Paul Berriff was a 16 year old kid with a Rollie camera and the ambition to be a professional photographer.

He talked his way into gaining access to a young Liverpool band in hopes of gaining media credentials. Over the next two years, Berriff captured a series of incredible, intimate portraits of John, Paul, George and Ringo. 

Not much was made of the pictures in the early 1960s. The negatives were stored in a tin box and forgotten about until their rediscovery in 2009. The best of those pictures are currently hanging in the Beatles Hidden Gallery in Liverpool. And if you ever have a chance to see them, do it.

At the time Berriff didn't know that the Beatles would become pop legends. But he did know they were popular enough in Liverpool to warrant attention. This is how some photographers become famous.

In his case, it's a combination of fearlessness, initiative, skill, and luck. We don't have any control over the fourth component, but the first three are often characteristics of successful artists. You could say the same about the Beatles, right?

My day in Liverpool was inspiring. The journey of the Beatles, Brian Epstein, and George Martin demonstrates how art and business can come together. 

I didn't discover the work of Paul Berriff until the end of the day. What a finishing touch. A 16 year old kid talks his way backstage, shoots existing light with Tri-X and a Rollie, and created some of the most memorable portraits of the Beatles that I've ever seen.

Two great stories.

One day in Liverpool.


Richie the Delivery Man

I met Richie about half way through my Americano at O'Briens.

My table was next to the window looking out on to the busy street. I saw his reflection in the glass as he approached the door. I couldn't believe my eyes.

He was balancing a square board on his head with eight loaves of bread on top. This is how Richie transported his merchandise from the truck. As soon as he crossed the threshold of O'Briens, he popped the board off his head and set it on a table.

"That's amazing," I said to him. The girl behind the counter smiled and said, "That's Richie."

"Can I take your photo?" I asked.

He popped the board back atop his head and asked, "Ready?"

I grabbed my compact Canon and quickly fired off one shot. I knew that's all I'd get. He set the bread back on the table.

The girl counted the loaves and signed Richie's pad.

He turned back to me. "Where you from?"

"Northern California."

"I met another American who liked to take pictures," Richie said as he walked over to my table. "We were talking and he told me he was looking for information about his father who lived here in Dublin."

I shifted my weight to get comfortable while maintaining eye contact.

"As it turned out, I had been given a picture of his father. I had never known who the gent was, but I liked the photo. But when his son told me his name, I knew I had heard it somewhere. I took the picture over to his hotel and gave it to him. He was so happy."

"What are the odds?" I asked.

"Yes, imagine that," Richie said.

He then turned on his heels and headed back to his truck.

"Thanks for the picture," I called out.

I paid for the coffee and left O'Briens. It was 10am.

And Richie had already made my day.


The Gold Ring

We stopped for breakfast before disembarking for Paris.

Four of us sat at a large round table. After a few minutes, a couple was seated with us. They had visited Paris a few times before, and were eager to share their experiences.

The told us a story about the gold ring. It's a popular con designed for tourists. Someone had shared the tale with them five years ago, before their first visit to the city. Later that very day, they saw it for themselves. They were so tickled they had to share it with us. It goes like this.

A passerby discovers a gold ring on the ground nearby. They admire it and remark how beautiful it is. 

"But I have no need for such a luxury. Would you like to have it? they ask."

The unsuspecting tourist didn't see the passerby quietly drop the ring on the ground before discovering it.

"Are your sure? It's such a nice looking ring. You really don't want it?"

"How about you give me 50 Euros for it? You get a ring worth much more than that, and I receive a little compensation for my good fortune."

Of course the ring isn't gold, and it didn't cost more than a Euro in a costume jewelry store.

We were entertained by their story, and the fact that it actually happened to them shortly after they heard this cautionary tale.

We then parted ways. They were off to Normandy, and we took a bus to Paris.

Our day was amazing and without danger. No pickpockets, cons, or rude locals. Around 4pm we split-up for a bit. I wanted to take pictures around the palace. Theresa headed off to the Louve. 

I had found a lovely spot to shoot and was seated in the shade along a busy boulevard. A stranger walked by, paused, then held up a gold ring.

"Look what I just found. It's beautiful!"

I laughed to myself, then waved the stranger away. Five years later the con was still going strong. I couldn't wait to tell Theresa that the story we had just heard this morning, came to life on the streets of Paris - just like it did for the couple that shared it with us.

Not long after, we met at the bus. Following our greetings, Theresa said, "You'll never guess what just happened to me?"

"The gold ring?" I asked.

"Yes! How did you know?"