Photo Blog

'Why Travel?'

As the quad engines of the Airbus A380 begin to turn at a couple thousand RPMs, accelerating myself and a few hundred other passengers down the two mile runway at San Francisco Airport, I reflect on the question posed to me by a co-worker earlier that morning: When would I stop traveling and just be still for a moment?

Sleep deprived and jet lagged we touched down twelve hours later in a foreign land, filled with a different culture, currency, and language. With dark rings under my eyes, anxiety creeping in being ten time zones from home, I wash my face in the sink of the airport bathroom asking myself the same question. In fact, throughout the entire two week journey, I thought about this question a lot: Why travel? 

Travel is challenging. It's stressful and at times, to be blunt, just difficult. You're thrust into an unfamiliar environment and you're responsible for obtaining your basic human needs: shelter, food, water. Granted the advent of the internet has made the broad logistics infinitely easier, hotels around the world are posted on various travel sites, but you can and to some degree should still place yourself in precarious situations as you immerse in the new land. 

This recent trip to Norway, we left our hotel in Bergen to hike along the mountain peaks between Ulriken and Floyen. A perfect opportunity for any landscape photographer. It's a stunningly beautiful 14km hike on a less than well marked trail that usually takes 4-5 hours to complete. We're not virgin hikers. We've backpacked, camped, been to national parks in ours and foreign countries. We brought a local map, downloaded the area from Google maps, had water and snacks, but as the sun began to dip, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and I began to panic. 

We came to a fork in the road. We knew we were close to the finish but the signs were in Norwegian and the pack of local college students we had been following diverted south, doubling back into the mountains. It suddenly occurred to me that there was a subtle split in the trail a few kilometers back and we haven't seen any other people since then. I started regretting having my attention diverted from the trails while trying to photograph the golden light dancing along the landscape. I checked my watch, the various maps, the sun approaching the tops of the mountain cliffs. I continued to panic. 

In the end, after a few fitted attempts to correct our course, we found a Canadian ultra marathoner who was wrapping up his day on the trails. He kindly shepherded us to the finish. Crisis averted. In reality, my wife likes to point out that she was quite calm through the whole process and knew we were trudging in the right direction, both of which are mostly true. 

The other aspect of character development that comes with travel is tolerance. You are just one out of seven billion humans on this blue planet we communally live on while we spin around the sun. There are a lot, I mean an almost unfathomable amount of different cultures, identities, and social norms found in our species. The way we eat, the way we pray, the way we work, the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, the way we treat anyone who does these basic principles differently than us. Immerse yourself in a foreign culture. Leave your world behind. Learn another way of life. Become tolerant of change and grow as a human. 

I won't deny that traveling can be challenging, but the ability to explore, solve puzzles, be thrust into culture and situations which you've never experienced before and survive, creates growth. The process as a whole is adventurous and at the end of the day you are stronger for embracing the challenge. Break through your social comfort zone and culture bubble and go explore this beautiful world of ours. 


'Traveling Photographs'

Recently I enjoyed a pint after work with a long time friend. We're from the same hometown, went to the same university, and serendipitously landed in San Francisco just a few months after the other. We're both heavily engulfed in our own lives and although we do our best, time has a way of passing without you realizing. 

Lately, I haven't seen him as frequently as I'd like. As we're playing catchup over a local microbrew, recalling and discussing the last few weeks, months, personal interactions, we gradually stumble onto the topic of Traveling Photographs. 

He points out that which I've already realized, although the images captured are beautiful and serene, they're centrally located. Mostly San Francisco and the Bay Area, not distant exotic, foreign realms. 

The concept for Traveling Photographs came to me while I was running in Golden Gate Park a few months ago. It's a simple concept but one which reverberates powerfully in me. Although I would love to continuously travel around the world, I'm limited, as all of us are, by life's commitments. Budgets, time, and work act as brakes on my travel photography. However, uploading my photos and photo blog to the web, it is limited only by the speed of light.

When someone views my photographs, the images quite literally travel to that person. Instantly and through the connectivity of the web, the photograph's electrons and data bits seamlessly travel to locations I only dream of seeing. The term Traveling Photographs, although referencing my now mostly stationary travel photography, is more about the photographs themselves traveling to the viewer. All over the globe. Inter-connected. Intimately connected. By my photos and their travels.

I hope one day to see the world where my photographs have seen. But for now, I take great comfort in knowing, they've spanned tens of thousands of miles, seen numerous cities, countries, and continents. Making this large blue marble we live on feel that much smaller and making for a refreshing conversation over a pint.

'Sydney & New Zealand'

Just a few weeks into dating my wife, we traveled on a week long trip of the U.S. west coast. 3 cities in 7 days. It is certainly a bold move to take with a newly budding couple, which could have been fraught with dismay and disappointment. I think vacations with a partner are an excellent barometer for the relationship, even one just a few weeks old. Travel can be stressful and fatiguing; add to that tight quarters, bathroom functions, limited privacy, and you're either gonna walk away a stronger pair, or a distant memory. 

Tens of thousands of miles, dozens of trips and almost 10 years later, my wife is still my best friend and an amazing co-pilot. This May we're celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary, which I think is the "wood" anniversary. So we unanimously decided instead of getting that new wood dining room table, we'd throw away traditional custom, keep our plywood IKEA butcher block for a while longer, and take a trip to Australia and New Zealand instead.

Ok so the flight is long. I mean, really long. Mind numbing, disturbingly long. The type of long where you start to question whether you trust yourself around the emergency exit. You sit, eat, stretch, walk, eat again, watch a movie, doze off, wake up, check the flight tracker and you've still got 7 hours to go. That kind of long. It's a bit daunting. But I live in San Francisco, a flight to Europe, Asia, or Australia are all pretty comparable. Nonstop to Paris is 11, 14 to Hong Kong, and for this trip, the nonstop to Sydney was 15. Wear your compression stockings! 

It was February when we flew to Oz, which in the Southern Hemisphere was their summer, equal to the Northern counterpart's August. It was warm, sunny and stunningly beautiful. Sydney is kind of a hybrid between London, Seattle and San Diego. Beautiful beaches full of beautiful people, marinas, harbors, water everywhere, and all with a subtle British flare. You'll hear "Take away" instead of "To go", "Good to you" as a salutation, mayo is the first choice over ketchup, and you might find yourself in a queue, which as foreign as it sounds, is simply a line. The mass transit is clean, efficient, on time but you'll still need to Pardon the Gap. "Pardon" instead of "Mind" just to slightly distance themselves from their British cousins. 

Sydneysiders (yes, that's what they're called) are active and healthy. Large running packs blazed by us continuously, while the street cafes proudly served locally sourced, organic produce. I guess it stems from the accessibility to the outdoors. Bored? Take a quick ferry to Manly Beach and go surfing. Wear your sunscreen, reapply, and if you forget, the lifeguards get on the PA every hour or so to remind you. They're pretty serious about skin cancer. Remember the hole in the ozone? Ya, it's still there, smaller but present, not blocking UV rays directly over Australia. SPF 50 sounds about right. 

From a photography perspective Sydney packs a pretty powerful punch. The Sydney Opera House, perched on the Sydney Harbor, offers easily accessible vistas for both sunrise and sunset photographs as well as some long exposure water captures. The Sydney Harbor Bridge, a large, very photogenic structure, especially once the sun fades, as it really illuminates brightly at night. Sydney offers plenty of cityscape skyline shots, endless beaches, cliffs, and alcoves for your seascape photographs. I don't know if I was blessed with good light and high humidity or if this is simply a Sydney summer norm, but while we were there the sunrises and sunsets were absolutely explosive with powerful, dramatic cloud formations and beautiful, deep red colors. I guess everything is just a little more intense in Australia, even their low light. 

Like most metropolises,I'm sure there are downsides to Sydney, but whatever they are, the Aussies sure do a good job keeping them behind the curtains. It's almost as if you know you're so far away from the rest of the planet, current events seem that much less important. Might as well get another pint and enjoy the view. Overall, I loved our time in Sydney and hope some day we get to spend more time re-exploring the urban area as well as other spots in Australia. 

'What Really Matters'

I've realized in the limited time that I've been publicly sharing my San Francisco landscape photography that my tastes and likes don't always match up with other peoples. 

I'm quite cynical, harsh, and an extreme perfectionist about my photos. I find one glitch, a subtle flaw, and suddenly that's all I can see. I linger there until it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, forever scarring the image and leaving me with hesitations about releasing them from their cocoon, kicking them out of their nest, and exposing them to the world. It is such a fine line between being uploaded for the world to see, or spending eternity locked on my hard drive.

I find myself feeling bad for the rejected photographs. If it weren't for the weather, or my lack of detail, or just bad luck, those 'almosts' could have been spectacular. Instead of popping up in people's news-feeds they remain in my 'Possibles' folder. Purgatory for photographs. 

Well that's me. Probably somewhat OCD, especially when it comes to my photography. I have a baseline confidence that dissipates when displaying a piece of my art. A direct link to me. A piece of my soul. A window into how I perceive the world.

The insecurity of the rejection has established a perfectionist evolutionary survival technique in me. A means to protect myself from myself. If I weren't a perfectionist, I would be uploading photographs that had no right leaving my desktop. Being self-critical to an extreme helps protect the best of my photographic art from being diluted by mediocrity and my over caffeinated enthusiasm. 

Photography is real life, real scenes, real landscapes, so inevitably there are going to be real flaws. Of course you can photoshop the imperfections but its never quite the same as if you captured it through the lens. The Tell-Tale Heart will forever beat.

Even some of my best landscape photos leave me wondering, what if I went out with a different lens, during a different season, viewed in different light, could the image be better? It's an endless pursuit of perfection. It keeps me continuously hunting for my white whale: 'The Perfect Photograph'. I only truly publish and share the absolute best of my best. Or at least try to. Every time I go out on a shoot, a scavenger hunt to find more photos, I'm lucky if I capture a few that I'll be willing to share with the world. In a way, it's Darwinism at its finest. Only the strongest survive. 

Photography is art. Art is individualistic. Individuals are opinionated. It's amazing to me which landscape photos people tell me they like the most, their favorites. All different. All for different reasons. Ironically, usually none of which coincide with my personal favorites. It used to bother me that maybe I wasn't expressing my art and by default myself. But now I just smile and appreciate the comments. 

It isn't about the opinions or the comments or even the compliments, although they are nice. Not to sound cliche stating that it's the drive not the destination, but for me, it really is about the photography. This is my escape. My relief from the stress of life. It's an amazingly pleasant thought when I get home, download the images and none turned out how I liked. Frustrated for a brief moment, I stop and smile. 

The time I spend preparing, checking weather reports, clearing my schedule, planning, driving, hiking, scouting, setting up, waiting, waiting, waiting for the perfect light, perfect surroundings, the perfect moment. Hopefully capturing a divine creation, a majestic scene. Time well spent with my wife and our dog as they accompany me on the journey. That is What Really Matters. Besides, there will be another sunset tomorrow. 

'First Few Years As A Photographer'

I'm big into reflections. I use reflections in my photography because they can make dramatic photographs. Lately however, I've been reflecting on a personal level because I keep thinking and reflecting about these past few years, my first years as a photographer.

Photography, although my love and my passion, is not how I pay my mortgage. I work as a Nurse Practitioner at a local hospital in San Francisco. It is incredibly high demand, stressful and draining, days filled with a sea of ICU bells and whistles.

One of the advantages to my career is that the days are long but few and there are long stretches where I'm not working, leaving me with a bounty of time to explore. Armed with our newly adopted yellow lab, Luna, I sought out to learn this foreign land of San Francisco and all the beauty it contains.

Throughout my first few years of photography, I began to learn not only the art of taking a photograph, but the art of nature, the cyclical rhythm that beats and repeats quietly in the background.

I learned that a full moon rising is always coordinated and connected to a setting sun, every month, year round.

I learned that contrary to commonly thought, San Francisco does have seasons. They're subtle and not as dramatic as the leaves changing, or blizzards measured in feet not inches, but if you focus on the weather you can see them ever changing around you.

A San Francisco fall, the days will be long and warm but the mornings will be filled with beautiful low lying fog that just barely covers the Golden Gate Bridge, only being held back by the sun breaking the horizon.The winter rains can produce crystal clear skies, allowing you to peer out to the edge of the continental shelf, the Farallone islands, some 23 miles in the Pacific.

As the winds change and the winter showers begin to bleed into spring, it creates spectacularly vibrant green rolling hills where once was brown, draped in infinite spring flowers,  but only briefly.The seasons in Northern California are that the inland summer desert sun heats the air causing the cool waters of the Pacific to condense into a perpetual Fogust.

This year as a photographer I learned about the art but also the business. That sales and respect are not expected but earned. That 'Likes' are flattering, but prestige is honorable and much more difficult to obtain. I learned that there are many, many good photographers, but very few Masters, yet many self-proclaimed, ironic because the true Master knows his talents and is humble.

But most importantly, more prominent than the lessons of nature and the lessons of man, was what I learned about myself and my family.

This past year, I saw more sunrises than the first 34 years of my life combined. I watched the sun rise and set with my dog, and if it wasn't too early, with my wife as well.

Looking back, at my reflection, I can't tell you whether the sky was pretty. I can't tell you if I captured the photo or not. But after reflecting for a bit, I realized it was never about creating a photograph. It was about the time that I create for myself and the time that I create for my family.

And the patience that there will always be another sunset tomorrow.

'Spending Time In The Pacific'

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of an extreme work day, daunting tasks ahead of you, deadlines, meetings, chaos. You stop, take a deep breath, look back at your life and wonder: "How did I get here?" 

I had that moment on a recent trip to Kaua'i with my wife. I found myself on an extraordinarily beautiful hike with mountains, the Pacific, my love and a soft tropical breeze when I stopped and wondered: "How did I get here?" To be fair, I was actually wondering, how did here get to me. 

How did this Garden of Eden come to exist? Looking out at this deep, red colored rock, I thought about how some 50 million years ago the Pacific tectonic plate shifted and began moving northwest so that by about 5 million years ago it crossed over the Hawaiian hot spot and the birth of this archipelago begun. But my quest for where I was went deeper. This red rock is red from iron, a heavy metal element which is only fused in the aftermath of a supernova, a relic stars death. 

So many billions of years ago, a massive star exploded after it exhausted its hydrogen supply of fuel. During its explosion it became so intensely hot that it began fusing elements together, including iron, which then traveled at incredible speeds, through our galaxy, into our solar system and collided with asteroids, debris and dust until it snowballed into the blue marble we call home. 

After 4.5 billion years of turmoil, this chunk of iron found itself beneath our planet's crust, just at the same time the Pacific plate, chartered it's new course. Packed with immense heat directly from the Earth's core, the iron left the crust, destined for greater things. It collected and collected and collected, spewed out as magma until it finally broke the surface of the Pacific.

Roughly 5 million years of hurricanes, salt spray, wind and rain exposed away the black lava rocks to reveal this iron rich underbelly and oxidized it, creating beautiful red colored rust. Just in time for me to catch a 757 crowded with 158 others, stuffed into economy, traveling halfway across the Pacific at almost the speed of sound, in order to hike, think, and wonder just how here got to me.