The Worst Starbucks Ever

I don't normally visit the Starbucks in my neighborhood. Why would I? I have plenty of French Roast in the carafe on the kitchen counter.

But today was different. I was on foot checking-off errands from my ToDo list when a client called needing some information. 

"Not a problem," I thought. I'll just duck in to the Coddingtown Mall Starbucks in Santa Rosa, treat myself to a Skinny Peppermint Mocha, and send my client the details via the iPad mini stashed in my Walking Man Shoulder Bag.

I ordered a grande (feeling somewhat festive) and paid using the Starbucks app on my iPhone. Yes, the Nimble Photographer was firing on all cylinders. I found a sturdy table (a rarity in most coffee shops) and selected their WiFi via Settings on the iPad.

Nothing happened. I waited for the "yes I agree to everything in small print on this page" screen to appear, but was left hanging. I walked up to the counter.

"Excuse me, but it appears that your WiFi is down. Could you please take a look?"

"Oh, it's always like that. It's really slow here."

"Ummm, it's not slow. It's dead. Maybe the access point just needs to be restarted."

"That won't help."

I smiled. "Well, is someone working on this?"

"Oh yes. But it's been this way for a year."

A year!

That's not working on it. We're talking about WiFi, not a room addition.

I always have a Plan B. In my case, it was Verizon on the iPad. Funny thing, however. Not even my cellular would work. I was in the Twilight Zone. This place must be encased in aluminum.

Starbucks isn't just about coffee. They know that.  It's a place for people like me to escape the drone of the city, rest my feet, and get some work done. I can get a drink anywhere. I pay $4.95 for a Skinny Peppermint Mocha so I can log-on and take care of business.

I once read a survey stating that adding WiFi to your retail business helps attract customers. However, if it doesn't work, they won't return, regardless of how good your core product is.

This is particularly true for hotels and Starbucks. No matter how adequate my Skinny Peppermint Mocha may be, I'm a dissatisfied customer without a few spoonfuls of my promised WiFi. It's the unspoken agreement.

Oh, and to make matters worse,

the restroom was out of order too.


After the Rain

I noticed the light changing in the south window - a new color on the fringe of my computer screen.

The rain had stopped for the first time in two days. I can't remember the last time we had consecutive storms. For the better part of the workday, the light was steely blue - but now, some warmth.

I needed break anyway. It was 4:30 pm, and I hadn't even stopped during lunch. But it was raining then. Now it's calm. I could hear the tires on the wet street as I stood on the front porch in my socks. (Yes, definitely some color in the sky.) It was time for a walk.

I put the compact Canon S110 in my back pocket, laced up my red and gray Nikes, and locked the door behind me. The clouds in the west parted slightly. A streak of orange leaked out, but too many buildings to see much more.

I walked faster. Maybe down the street there was a clearing.

A few hundred yards away, I saw a woman standing in her front yard holding up a smartphone. That's promising. I walked faster.

And there it was. The opening, the colors, the perfect moment to shoot a sunset. 

Some photographers say that sunsets are trivial shots. That we shouldn't even bother. Nope. I love sunsets. And if I have a camera with me, I'm going to take a picture. 

I held the Canon up to the sky. The colors were perfect. In just those few moments my day became spectacular.

I'm so lucky. The minute clouds part, I have the freedom to open my door and leave. And the best time to do that

is after the rain.



How I Prepare for Travel

I have a big adventure to Cuba this coming January, and a few shorter business trips before then. I'm preparing for them right now.

I embrace the "dry run" school of thought for packing. It's my belief that we cannot conceptualize everything we need (and just as importantly, don't need) without physically trying things out first.

My preliminary kit for Cuba includes:

That bag is packed now. I carry it back and forth to work everyday, and it will accompany me on two business trips between now and Cuba. 

During that time, I will determine if the backpack is too heavy, if there's gear that I'm not using, are their additional lenses I should add, and am I self-sufficient?

I could not answer those questions properly the night before the flight to Havana.

I need to know now.

And that's how I prepare for travel.



Chasing Down Kids

There's another class of Nimble Photography that I rarely discuss: parents photographing young children.

These intrepid souls are perfect candidates for a life of nimbleosity. They already have to schlep more stuff than they ever imagined possible - bags full of snacks, water, extra clothes, books, toys... and things I don't even remember anymore.

And the irony is, even with all of this gear, parents have to move fast.

It's like watching basketball on TV. You don't realize how swiftly players move until you stand court side at an actual game. It's the same with children. Look away for 5 seconds, and they are disappearing on a distant horizon. You have no choice but to hobble after them.

When we're not wrangling, cajoling, or admonishing, we want to photograph these dear angels. That's what parents do. And pushing beyond the smartphone snapshot requires a little practice and some decent gear.

In my opinion, most compact cameras react slower than the children we're pursuing. On the other hand, DSLRs don't fit in backpacks already stuffed with granola bars and jackets.

I think the preferred tool for chasing down kids is a good mirrorless camera. Maybe a Panasonic Lumix GX7 Micro Four Thirds camera with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. That tilting electronic viewfinder could come in handy for knee-level kindergarteners.

What I'm driving at is this: I want to officially welcome parents to our world of traveling light with lots of might.

I know you're a bit tired right now. But trust me, you'll feel better

in 20 years or so.


Traveling Light with Lots of Might

The first four lines of the Happy Wanderer song go like this:

I love to go a-wandering, 
Along the mountain track, 
And as I go, I love to sing, 
My knapsack on my back. 

Part of the reason why our wanderer was so happy was most likely because all he or she had in their knapsack was a lunch and light jacket. Clearly this tune was composed long before the Nikon F SLR. ( Florenz Friedrich Sigismund in the early 1800s, actually.)

And thanks to advances in technology and design, the Happy Wanderer these days can pack a high-performance imaging device capable of producing mural-sized prints. Many of the new cameras released this Fall affirm that we can travel light with lots of might.

This is top of mind for me right now because I'm putting together holiday gift guides for publication. As I review new cameras such as the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX100 and the Canon PowerShot G7 X, I'm impressed with how much capability can be packed into a case that weighs less than a pound.

It's the return of the Happy Wanderer.

Except now when he walks through the front door,

he comes back with not only a tune in his heart,

but an SD card full of memories.



The Pounding of the Drum

It's my last morning in Manhattan. I'm ready to go.

For me, New York City has one thing in common with Las Vegas. When it's good, it's great. When it's time to leave, I can't get out of town fast enough. 

Guess I'm more country than I realized. 

I'm writing this on my iPad in the Tick Tock restaurant on 8th Ave and 34th St. I need the chatter of a hundred voices to help me write. Everyone is talking, but there are no words. It's a soft blanket of sound.  It's heaven.

In my room on the 20th floor, all I can hear is endless drumming and chanting. Word is the Dali Lama is coming. I like the Dalai Lama. In fact, I think he's incredible. But it's difficult to collect my thoughts against a chorus of which I am not a participant. 

Boom, boom, boom. Boom, boom, boom. 

It's the city. You have to be tolerant. You need to creatively solve the problem. 

There's no tapping the culprit on the shoulder and politely asking, "Can you keep it down? I'm trying to write."  It doesn't work that way. The noise is too big.

Boom, boom, boom. Boom, boom, boom.

For many seekers, the Dalai Lama is their guiding light. 

For me, these 100 souls in the Tick Tock, 

are my saviors. 



I think I've figured out why so many photographers insist on bringing everything they own on every shoot.

It's a safety blanket.

(I leave mine at home.)

I rarely need more than a couple lenses when I'm working. Before the shoot, I think about the subject and environment, decide which camera and lens is best suited for the task at hand, then bring a logical alternative or two. 

But the fact of the matter is, I rarely stray from the initial plan. And what additional gear I do bring, often remains in the bag. Sure, I'll change a battery or swap out a memory card. I might even add a filter. But that's about it for extra cirrucular activity.

What I've noticed with my Pelican-case-packing-comrades, is essentially the same. Generally speaking, they are using a lens or two, changing a battery when needed, and that's it.

So why so much stuff?

I think it's the same emotion that leads to overpacking a suitcase for a trip. We bring too much because "we might need it." Just in case. It's insurance.

Insurance is based on numbers. So let's look at the math of overpacking. If you carry 30 extra pounds on 10 trips, that's 300 pounds of discomfort. Divide that by the one or two times that you actually use an extra item. Then look at the resulting photos. 

In business, we think in terms of ROI. So my question would be: "What was your return on weight?" I call this RoW.

After this exercise, your conclusion could be that the result clearly justified the bulk. That's great. At least you thought it through. Keep on truckin'.

If your RoW isn't as positive as you'd like, do a test. Think about the next shoot beforehand, carefully select the gear your need, then pack a smaller bag.

If it works out,

this could be the beginning 

of a lighter, more nimble, you. 


Backpack or Shoulder Bag?

It's the most common question in camera-toting lore.

And I think you'd have to be a photographer to appreciate the significance of this decision. Having the wrong bag for the situation is like wearing pants that are too tight or a shirt that's too short. It just feels wrong.

I'm thinking about this because I just switched from a messenger bag to a backpack for my trip to the Eastern Sierra. There's no way I would carry my black Urban Reporter down the streets of Bridgeport. I'd look like someone who got lost on his way to San Francisco.

My blue Photo Hatchback was the perfect choice. It felt right around town, and performed brilliantly while hiking along the Walker River in search of the perfect Aspen grove. With its secure shoulder straps and waist band, I could hop from rock to rock with my gear snugly hugging my body.

Next week I fly to New York City. There's no way I'm carrying a blue backpack down 34th. I'm switching back to my discrete, black Urban Reporter 150. I can easily slide it to my front when riding public transit, it looks good sitting next to me in a coffee shop, and I can quietly pull out my camera for a few quick frames when walking to work in Manhattan.

(I'll be frank. I find giant backpacks very annoying on crowded subways and buses.)

By now, you've figured out the answer to this carrying solution quandary.

You knew what I was going to say all along.

Any photographer worth his or her salt,

has one of each.


A Cold Night in Bridgeport

There were a lot of things on my mind as I drove out of town.

Sonora Pass was ahead of me, Bridgeport behind. I left a few things there. I won't be missing them. 

In the trunk of the car there were two bags. One contained a dusty change of clothes, toiletries, and some basic hiking gear. The other, a backpack, was used to transport an Olympus E-M10, four lenses, an iPad mini, wireless hard drive, and a few accessories. It's my version of traveling light.

Just a few days earlier, I had slung these two bags over my shoulder and walked up the back stairs to the second floor of the Bridgeport Inn. I had room 23.

"It's the one with a power outlet," Laura told me when I checked in. "Plus it's near the back door and the bathrooms."

The Bridgeport Inn was built in the late 1800s. Downstairs was a restaurant and saloon. There was also a large common area "where guests once smoked, read, and kept warm."

Upstairs was divided into two sections. On the left side were deluxe accommodations that contained a bathroom, heating, television, and other comforts. They cost more than what I was paying. The right side featured a long hallway with open doors on both sides. An open door meant the room was available. If you peered in, you would see a 9'x9' space with a bed, dresser, and a single light overhead.

With the exception of room 23, there wasn't even a power outlet. No heating, and the bathroom was at the end of the hall.

I normally camp when working in the Eastern Sierra. But this was a last-minute trip, so I booked the cheapest room possible instead. I knew it would be Spartan. But there was more there than I anticipated.

Nobody told me this, but I had a pretty good idea of how the Inn once worked. My room, along with the others on the right side of the building, were short-term accommodations. The interior stairs led from the raucous saloon to the long, darkened hallway.

I woke up cold at 3am the first night. The temperature outside was in the mid-20s, and my room was probably in the upper 30s. I had to sleep curled up. I was too uncomfortable otherwise.

"This is how it was," I thought. I remember one story about life in Bodie where the prostitutes would stay all night with the miners who had hired them. It was for the warmth. And in many cases, I'm sure it meant the luxury of a night's sleep.

First thing in the morning, I went downstairs to the heated restaurant. The coffee was good. I ate a full breakfast. I felt great.

This might sound odd, but I loved the experience. By the second day, I was already in rhythm with my life in the Eastern Sierra. I ate bigger meals, found an extra blanket, and worked hard while the sun was out.

I thought about how my life is different than when the Bridgeport Inn was built. And on my way to the Sonora Pass, I realized that I would have been fine then too.

Thanks to a cold night in Bridgeport,

I gained a lot of confidence

from a little discomfort.


Packing for Bridgeport

I'm heading to the Eastern Sierra on a scouting mission.

Bridgeport will be our headquarters during the June 2015 Photography Workshop for Bodie and Mono Lake. I love this area, and Bridgeport is a wonderful place to hang my hat for a night while exploring the rugged terrain of the High Plains. 

Fortunately, the Quaking Aspens still have color right now. So I'll be able to capture a few photographs, find a good homebase for our event, and breath some clean air.

I have a room reserved at the Bridgeport Inn. It's one of those places where you wish the walls could talk. It was built in the late 1800s and has hosted adventurers, fisherman, hikers, and those seeking their fortune in the silver mines of Bodie.  I've never slept there before. Who knows what I'll encounter.

At the moment, the Bridgeport Inn is my leading contender for workshop headquarters in June. But I'm not going to make a final decision until I spend a few nights there. I'll also scout locations for our photo shoots, and of course, test places to eat. 

This is the part of my job that I love. Having the freedom to go off and see something beautiful, then figure out how to share it with others. 

I'll finish packing my rucksack this morning, record the podcast for the week, then hit the road.  I'm traveling light, of course. I'm taking the Olympus OM-D E-M 10, a couple lenses, the iPad mini, and a pocket camera. That's all I need -

Oh, except for the camping stove and some French Roast. 

I love the taste of coffee 

at 6000 feet. 



Wish Upon a Blood Moon

I had already decided that I wasn't going to photograph last night's lunar eclipse.

I just wanted to enjoy it. And who knows if I were to see anything, anyway.

So as I went to bed, I told my internal clock to wake me at 3:30 am so I could poke my head outside. It was closer to 4 when I opened my eyes. At first I wasn't sure why. Then I remembered.

The blood moon.

Theresa woke up too. She looked at me inquisitively.

"The eclipse," I whispered. "Come see it with me."

I put a blanket around her shoulders and we ventured out back. There it was, hanging in the west. Beautiful.

The air was clean, revealing a sky filled with jewels. The veiled moon dimming her beacon, allowing the stars to cast their light. 

We stood silently.

At 4 am that morning, I loved my life, my family, and the creator of such magnificent moments. The experience lasted only minutes. I'll remember them forever.

I was half naked. Cold was setting in. We shuffled back inside and upstairs to the warm bed. Heaven.

Normally, I would have cast a wish up that blood moon. But not that night. Because, as I stood there, eyes upward into the sky, I knew that I had everything

that meant anything

to me.


Cameras for Kids

I receive a lot of mail asking for camera recommendations for young adults.

On one level, it's like asking me what car to buy. There are so many factors involved, it's difficult  to formulate a generic answer. But I've learned that people want answers, so I've come up with some basic responses.

Generally speaking...

First, you have to consider how kids work. They are connected and often in a hurry. I have two teenage sons. I know this. So the first thing I recommend is a camera that can talk to their devices. Put WiFi on the list.

Next, I like system cameras over fixed lens compacts. A system camera can grow with the photographer. I typically recommend a mirrorless body with a kit lens and a second optic that suits their style. A long lens for action photographers, bright prime for existing light artists, etc.

The push-back I often get is, "I don't want to spend too much." Then you should encourage your child to pursue another hobby. On average, figure $750 to get started. Yes, that's a lot of money.

My parents bought my first camera when I was 11 years old. If they were to calculate their return on investment, I'm sure they would be thrilled.

Not every kid with a camera becomes a successful photographer. But the pursuit of that craft may lead to benefits yet unimagined.

Generally speaking...

I'll take that risk.


New Items in the Nimble Store

The dexterous elves have been busy.

We have four new items in The Nimble Store:

Nimble Fingerless Gloves ($12.99) - For those brisk morning shoots. 

Dual Function Nimble Stylus Pen ($3.95) - Perfect for using your iPad while dining in a restaurant.

Classic Lowepro Z10 Pouch ($6.95) - One of the first designed by Lowepro over a decade ago, and perfect for your mirrorless lenses.

New Walking Man Cap Putty/Navy Combo ($26.95) - The latest edition to our cap collection is ideal for warmer weather with its light-colored material and stylish navy bill.

Plus, we've lowered shipping rates to make our quality items as affordable as possible.

Hope you have a chance to come by to peruse our growing selection of nimble products.

(We're having a blast with this...)





Top 10 (Plus 3) Cameras for Traveling Photographers

The world is catching up to us, even National Geographic.

I just read the article, Top 10 Compact Cameras for Travelers on, and the list included much of the gear that we've been working with for some time. Some of my favorites on the list include the Fujifilm X-T1, Olympus OM-D E-M1, and the Sony Alpha a7 - all great cameras.

This list is meaningful for a few reasons. First, it's a stamp of approval for non-DSLR cameras. We didn't need this affirmation, but there are many photographers still on the fence about mirrorless bodies. This will help assure them that those cameras are worthy of serious work.

Beyond that, however, this list implies that you don't need a full frame sensor to produce amazing photographs. Yes, the Sony Alpha is full frame, but the other entries are Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and in a couple cases, even smaller than those two.

For me, however, there are three more entries that I think should be considered. Here are my additions.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 ($649) - This body has most of the important features that an enthusiast would want, but at about half the price of the flagship OM-D E-M1 mentioned in the National Geo article. You do give up weather sealing, however. So if you plan on soggy adventures, you might want to look at the OM-D E-M5 as the other alternative. Otherwise, this body is a steal.

Panasonic LUMIX LX100 16.8 MP compact camera ($899) - Panasonic took a well-established, refined compact camera, and figured out how to replace its smallish sensor with a hefty Micro Four Thirds chip. Plus, you get an excellent Leica zoom. If you don't want to carry extra lenses, this could be your answer.

Canon PowerShot G7 X compact camera ($699) - Canon tries its hand at the 1" sensor compact, and seems to have created a wonderful little camera for the traveler. The G7 X features a f/1.8(W)-f/2.8(T), 4.2x optical zoom (24mm-100mm), flip-up touch-screen LCD, and 20MPs of resolution. I think it's going to be popular with discriminating shooters.

All of these cameras have a high nimbleosity rating, and will serve the enthusiast photographer very well...

Even when not on assignment for National Geographic.


Next Stop: New York

Fall brings shorter days, colorful trees, and my favorite US photography show: Photo Plus Expo.

This October event is particularly exciting for me this year because I'm working with an entirely new team. I'm attending press meetings as an editor for c't Digital Photography Magazine and as the evangelist for Rocky Nook Publishing. Two companies that I adore and am thrilled to be representing.

One of the things I'm working on right now is setting up a speaking schedule for meeting with my photographer friends in the c't/Rocky Nook booth.  If you're attending the show, please come by and say hello. I'll have a Nimble Photographer microfiber cloth on hand for you.

I want to meet you.

We'll also have issues of the magazine on hand. If you haven't seen c't Digital Photography in real life, you need to. It's beautiful, and it's unlike any other photo publication in North America. (We have a 20 percent discount going right now, btw.)

I'll also be speaking in the Panasonic booth on Saturday with my friend Frederick Van Johnson, and am on the presentation docket for Being so "on the go" brings out the Nimble Photographer in me.

I'm toying with the idea of packing only my iPad mini, the WD My Passport Wireless, and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 for my editorial work. That's right, no laptop. I'm testing this kit right now. It's so light and nimble. Everything fits easily in my Lowepro Urban Reporter 150. And I can carry it all day without fatigue.

I love fall.

New clients, new gear, new ways of working. Guess you could say that,

I'm turning over a new leaf.