Calm in the Face of the Wind

The first time I set foot in Reykjavik, I was will 11 other photographers anxious to prove their worth. It was unspoken, but clearly felt.

At that time, a decade ago, I was unknown compared to the others. Yet there I was. And I wanted to find my place among them. The book "Lost in Iceland" was popular in 2006. The feeling was familiar.

Ten years later, I returned with more photographers. This time, I was older than my comrades, and I no longer wrote for a major publication, as they did. I was sovereign in the land of independent people, and quite fine with that.

It's interesting when you no longer care what happens outside your craft. Whether I was exploring an uphill street in Reykjavik, walking along the black sands of Vik, or marveling at the steam rising out of a mountain, it was just me, the land, and my camera. 

I carried less gear than anyone. In my mirrorless shoulder bag, I packed the OM-D E-M1 Mark II that we were testing for Olympus. I had two lenses for it, the 12-100mm f/4, and the 25mm f/1.2. I brought along my versatile TG-4 to record GPS coordinates and capture shots for social media, since we were not allowed to publish shots from the E-M1 quite yet. And that was all I needed... other than warmth.

I had no less than four layers of clothing at any given time: a thermal long sleeve, collared shirt, down vest, and waterproof overcoat. I complemented this outfit with a stocking cap, scarf, and gloves. And there were many moments when I was still cold.

But this was a great adventure, and I wanted to feel every biting moment of it. Walking down darkened snow-covered trails to capture the Northern lights, watching hail stones bounce off astonished visitors then settle on the ancient moss, and feeling the icy spray of a waterfall on my face - this was Iceland, and I was immersed.

There were many moments when I enjoyed the company of my travel mates, but kept to myself otherwise. I never felt lonely or judged. I ate Iceland hotdogs for breakfast and drank local beer at night. In-between, I was focused on the stunning landscape before me. 

I thought about how nervous I was 10 years ago when I first visited Reykjavik. As it turned out, my apprehension unwarranted. I made a good showing then.

But this time, I belonged the instant I stepped off the plane, to Iceland itself. 

"Who's the tall guy with the small camera bag?"

"I don't know, but I think he's been here before."

So true, in so many ways.



Changes in a Decade

My first visit to Iceland was in August, 2006. I was a member of the "Lightroom 12" team, there to test Adobe's answer to Aperture in the beautiful and desolate Icelandic landscape.

In less than a week, I'll be landing in Reykjavík again. As I was packing my bag, I thought about how my gear has changed over those 10 years.

In 2006, my go-to camera was the Canon 5D with a new 24-105mm f/4 L zoom lens. This optic on that hefty DSLR body was a formidable tandem in its day. The resolution wasn't that high, 12MP, but the full frame sensor combined with good low light performance provided the quality and versatility that I needed for assignments like this on the road.

My A-to-B bag was a Lowepro roller. Needing a camera bag with wheels spoke volumes about the gear I was lugging around. I liked the roller well enough, but to this day I remember tiring of it - too big, too heavy, and I felt like a tourist.

Ten years later I've replaced the roller with a Lowepro ProTactic 350AW backpack. It measures 12"x9"x17" and weighs just a smidgen over 4 pounds. I slides easily under the seat in front of me while flying, and it's easy to carry on my back, over my shoulder, or strapped to the extending handle of my rolling suitcase. And it's tough as nails.

Inside, I have an Olympus OM-D E-M5 MarkII with a 16MP sensor and weather-resistant sealing. It costs less than half as much as my Canon 5D and has more features. Add 6 MFT lenses, accessories, a Pentax ZX-5 35mm camera. and two Pentax lenses, and I still have room for my laptop, iPad, international iPhone, and the usual complement of cords and chargers.

The best part of all of this is the feeling of freedom. I'm no longer a pack horse pulling a rolling camera bag through international airports. My tools are versatile, my bag is light, and I can't wait to step foot in Reykjavík once again.

A lot has changed in 10 years. 







30 Degrees

I was downtown dropping-off a couple rolls of film at Jeremiah's when I decided to make a detour to Rubios. As far as I'm concerned, anytime is taco time. And my stomach was in empty agreement.

When I returned to the bike and unlocked it, I didn't notice anything amiss. But after a few petals, I felt something wrong. Dammit. The back tire was flat.

BTW: Why is it always the back tire that succumbs to bullhead thorns? Front tire: never flat. Complicated, gear-ladened back wheel: every time.

I looked-up the closest bike shop on my iPhone and walked beside my limping Cannondale to the shop.

"Do you have time to fix a flat while I wait?" I asked in a polite voice.

"Yes, of course."

"Great. I'll just hangout and browse while you work on it."

The technician who helped me was about 5'4" tall. We were truly an odd pairing. I wonder what he thought while he worked on this fully-extended XL bike frame?

After about 10 minutes he found me over in the accessory section and told me the tire was fixed.

"But I noticed that your handlebars seem out of alignment. Do you want to take a look?"

"Actually, I do. Been meaning to work on them."

He had me straddle the frame like I was ready to ride, then instructed me to put my hands on the bar as I normally would. He walked from one side to the other, taking mental snapshots of my riding position. I swear he was squinting one eye.

"This bike is a little small for you," he remarked.

"All bikes are a little small for me," I said with a smile.

"I have an idea that might help. Want to hear it?"

"I do."

"Your handlebars are too low in relationship to the seat. That puts stress on your hands and back. If I changed your handlebar stem to one that has a 30-degree angle upward, you would notice a big difference."

"Really? Just 30 degrees? Can you do that now?"

"I can."

"I'll go back to shopping."

Another 10 minutes passed and he walked the bike over to where I was standing.

"What do you think?"

"Wow. That looks good."

"Try it."

So I walked the bike outside and took it for a spin. What a difference. My hands and back were totally relaxed.

"I love this," I said as I rode back to him standing by the door.

"Yeah, it's good, isn't it."

When you think about it, that new stem was a relatively small adjustment. Just 30 degrees. No one would notice unless I pointed it out. "Hey, check out my new handlebar stem!" No measurable response. Of course. It just looks like a bike.

As I rode home, I was thinking about small adjustments. They really are important. Whether it's our photography, our job, our relationships, or yes, a bike with low handlebars, small adjustments can make a big difference. "I need to do more of this," I thought.

Speaking of which, we made one other small adjustment that day. My new intertube is puncture resistant and filled with green goo. Screw you, bullheads.

I think I'm going to like that change as well.


I Didn't Buy an iPhone 7, but I Did Get a New Case

I've gone round and round about this. Yes, that sounds like a lot of work. But it wasn't. My internal debates happen in off-moments, such as waiting in line at the grocery store.

This weekend I reached a conclusion to one such debate. I'm not buying the iPhone 7, at least not now. I did purchase, however, two red onions, coconut water, and flour tortillas.

Like any important financial decision, and believe me, new iPhones fall in to that category, there were pros and cons. The pros centered around the new camera in the Plus model. Or should I say, new cameras - they've added another one to the back side, with a different focal length. That's tempting. Mix in some intelligent software, and there are all sorts of things we could do.

But the downsides far outweigh that benefit. I would have to get a 7 Plus - not exactly a nimble device. I would have to start over on my monthly payments (and they would probably be more than the $34 I'm ponying up for my 6S). And I don't like the missing headphone jack on the 7.

Yes I know: how backwards thinking of me. I should embrace the opportunity to keep track of a dongle adapter for all of my existing accessories, including a very cool light meter and my credit card reader.

So instead, I bought a new case for my iPhone 6S. I found a Spigen Tough Armor Heavy Duty case for less than $20. It's handsome - downright manly looking - light, and will protect my 6S investment. It's like having an entirely new device.

I'm not exaggerating about that feeling. It's funny. I had been using an Apple leather case that I bought at the time of the phone purchase in the Apple Store. Since the 6S had just come out, there weren't many case options then. It's an OK home for the device, but not nearly as cool as the Spigen. Hence, it all feels so new. I like the beveled edges on the new case.

The thing is, I'm photographer. I use other cameras besides my phone. The iPhone 6S takes great pictures. And if I need more, I'll use something else. It's not like I have a shortage of cameras around here.

Now that I've made my decision, I laugh at myself for taking so long. Honestly, there are much more important things in life to contemplate at the grocery store..


The Last Chapter

I felt a little hung over as I closed the laptop. Maybe numb is a better description. My eyes were tired.

The cat jumped off my lap and strolled over to the window. She always does that when I close the laptop. She knows I'll be standing up a few moments later. And she wants the departure to be her call, not mine.

But today I just sat for another minute. I had just finished writing a book. The world could wait.

The Apple Photos Book for Photographers is unlike anything I've written before. Those of you who have read the earlier eBook version know what I mean. Each chapter begins with an anecdote, not a technique. These openers connect to the discussion that follows. Some more tightly than others. And then I circle back to the story later on.

What I completed today is the print version. It's updated for macOS Sierra, includes two more chapters, many new pictures, and plenty of polishing. It's cool that I finished it on the very day that Sierra was officially released. I had been working with a beta version for a couple months.

What I've been doing since I returned from Maui is reading the final layout, word for word. In the past, I found this task painful. This time was different. I like this book. It entertained me. The stories are good. The technique is solid.

I finally got up from my seat and wandered around the studio for a while. I wasn't exactly sure what to do next. I had items on my ToDo list, but none of them interested me at the moment.

So I put a camera in my shoulder bag, got on my bike, and rode off to the creek. That was the right call.

We don't get to celebrate much these days. I've never been toasted at a cocktail party like Truman Capote. Yet, in the last year, I've completed 6 titles for, written a book, launched a new web site, opened a used camera store, and have been fired from two writing jobs. 

I got off my bike and walked along the creek with a Pentax ZX-5 in hand. The water wasn't moving much. It's late in the season. But the rain will come soon. That will make the ducks happy.

A few compositions caught my eye. I love the sound of the shutter. For some folks, it's champagne and laughter. For me, today, I'm happy with my bike, a camera, and the beauty of a quiet creek on a September afternoon.

I'll get back to work tomorrow.