The Cowboy Poet’s Way


A bit of background on the image, as originally posted for AFAR:

For the Rhythm of Cowboy Poetry

The Bar U Ranch had a hand (and a hoof, and a horseshoe) in shaping life in Western Canada, and today is preserved as a national historic site packed with interactive exhibits, immersive educational programs, and more. If you’re lucky, your visit may coincide with the famed Bar U Chuckwagon Cook-Off (annual, first weekend in June), and you and your posse will get a chance to taste a bit of the Wild West.

And don’t forget to actually enter the historic buildings (they’re not just for show), many of which are manned by period players fully dedicated to bringing the Bar U Experience to life. What looks, feels, and smells like a leather shop is actually the domain of the Bar U’s poet cowboy, and if you’re lucky, and if you’re polite, he might just recite one of his original elegies for you and your crew.

The Down and Dirty:

If this were a commercial shoot, and my one and only goal was to come back home with a brilliant portrait of the Cowboy Poet in his studio, I wouldn’t have left light to chance – I would have arrived at the Bar U Ranch with a bag full of lights, modifiers, and other lighting gear. But Bar U was just one stop on a jam-packed itinerary, and I had roughly five minutes to get in, shoot a portrait worthy of printing, and move on to the next stop. I lucked out with the way that the light came streaming in the window (left of frame), but had only seconds to recognize how that light was mixing with the ambient leaking in to the rest of the frame, and how it would look on the cowboy’s face and clothing.

If I had let the camera think for me, this would have been a mess. The camera would have tried to even out the light throughout the scene, and would have pushed the exposure high enough to brighten the background – in the process this would have blown out the delicate highlights on the face, hands, and hat. Because I was shooting in Aperture Priority – in order to control my depth of field, of course – I quickly had to roll my exposure compensation dial back –.07 of a stop (three clicks) in order to bring the exposure back down to earth. This may not seem like a lot, but it’s a big deal when dealing with lighting extremes. I also touched up my focus manually here; even when you place your Auto Focus cursor over what you think is your subject’s face, the camera can, when the lighting is tough, hunt for contrast – in this case, it hunted for the hat, which popped against the dark background. Had the brim of the hat been in focus, the eyes, at F/4, would not have been as sharp as I needed them to be.

I also recognized that even with bright light on my subject, this scene was still rather dark; I had to push my ISO all the way to 1000 just to get a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. This was a bit of a gamble considering the cowboy poet was moving quite a bit, but I managed to freeze him decently well.

Image specs:

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8

Aperture: f/4    

ISO: 1000    

Shutter speed: 1/30    

Focal Length: 42mm


Special Thanks:

Special thanks to my friends at AFAR Magazine and Travel Alberta for sending me on an incredible assignment in the Great White North. It’s always good to go home. I’ve collected a few of my favorite highlights into an AFAR Wanderlist that you can see here: The Great Canadian Grizzly Odyssey.

Catch up with me on twitter: @FlashParker and instagram: FlashParker

Lonely Planet Magazine: Spanish Flavours


My latest feature for Lonely Planet Magazine – a road trip story about the sights, sounds and tastes from Barcelona in the East to Santiago in the West, and all the northern coastal highlights in between.

“The problem with Spain is that Hemingway didn’t write about enough of it. Had the old man from the sea done more than romanticize the bulls of Pamplona and Ronda, tip over barstools from one corner of Madrid to the other, and immortalize travel in the south the South during his lifelong trysts with transnationalization, perhaps more of this beautiful country would exist at the forefront of the wayfaring traveler’s imagination. Yet Hemingway spent a finite number of days in Spain, and missed out on many of its essential experiences that have remained on the margins of bucket lists since Papa passed away. Spain’s Northern provinces in particular, with their tremendous natural attractions, historical cache, and gastro marvels, may inspire you to write volumes of prose all your own (if you can put down the tapas plates and wine glasses long enough to pick up a pencil and paper), while Barcelona, at the heart of Catalonia, has more cultural, culinary, and aesthetic charms than most other countries. Spain’s intoxicating diversity is exemplified on a trip from Catalonia to Galicia, with diversions through Basque Country and Cantabria along the way. “

Click through for larger images.

All images shot with Nikon D800 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.




 p60_Spain MIH-lowres

Catch up with me on twitter: @FlashParker and instagram: FlashParker

Tierra Story

Chile_74003 From the pool at the Tierra Atacama: you want to be here, now. Trust me.

If you’re keen on checking out two of the most spectacular locations on earth (hint: you 100% are), check out this contest being put on by the Tierra Hotels group.

The concept is simple:

“At Tierra Hotels, we love hearing travel stories. Share yours and win a 3-day trip to Chile at one of our hotels.

Facebook: Post on our Facebook wall one of your stories from around the world (Could be anywhere and any story!) + photo, add #travelstory #tierrahotels.

Twitter: Write a tweet with one of your stories from around the world (Keep it short! Could be anywhere and any story!) + photo, add #travelstory #tierrahotels.

Instagram: Upload a photo + one of your stories from around the world (Could be anywhere and any story!), add #travelstory #tierrahotels.”

See? I told you – simple. I’ve been to the Tierra Atacama property, and it’s magic; I’m all over this contest for a chance to visit the Tierra Patagonia property, which is purported to be every bit as spectacular as its desert-bound cousin.

Saint Lucia for USA Today


Starry night Over Saint Lucia

I skipped down to the Caribbean paradise of Saint Lucia to write a story for USA Today’s Go Escape Magazine, and to check out the Ladera Resort, a property that has landed on just about every “Best Hotels in the World” list written in the past ten years. Long story short; Ladera was as remarkable as advertised, and Saint Lucia is stunning.

USA Today Travel has posted my print feature online, and you can check it out here – thought the magazine is still on news stands through July, so you can grab a copy to check out more images from me, and some fantastic travel pieces from my travel writing comrades.

Click here for the whole story.

USA TODAY TRAVEL’s Go Escape magazine is available on newsstands now through July 26.

Special thanks to my friends at J Public Relations for arranging my visit to Ladera, Saint Lucia’s stunning crown jewel. Ladera is the only resort in St.Lucia located on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, overlooking the Pitons and the Caribbean Sea.

Catch up with me on twitter: @FlashParker and instagram: FlashParker

Don’t Fight the Light


Today I’m going to discuss light – and how I learned a few years back not to fight it. I’m using this image shot at the Grace Cafayate in Argentina to illustrate my point.

Tools of the Trade:

- camera with manual settings

- any old lens in your bag (this write up is more about technique and less about gear)

The Down and Dirty:

This image is about what I don’t do as a photographer now versus what I would have done four or five years ago. Four or five years ago, I would have seen the blown highlights in the sky and the soft light as enemies to be vanquished from the battlefield, or balls to be smacked off the polo pitch. I would have strapped on at least one graduated neutral density filter to bring the sky back into play, and I would have jacked the contrast to obscene levels. I may have even fought against the gorgeous color of the light. I hate my old photographic self. He was a monster.

These days I do my very best to capture the world as it is presented to me. I go for natural beauty – not the type manufactured later in Photoshop (not to say that images don’t need some tweaking from time to time, but as a travel photographer, it’s sort of a good idea to be in the right place at the right time in the first place). This means that I shoot when the light is good, like it was this day in Cafayate. The sun was going down, and about to disappear behind a mountain ridge – but for ten solid minutes, it glowed beautifully just like this.

The first thing I wanted to do was represent the color accurately; Auto-White Balance mode would have washed out my color, so I flipped my WB setting to Cloudy to allow that golden light to shine. Next, I made the call to shoot with an aperture of f/5 because I wanted the players and their horses to be tack sharp, but the background to be nice and soft. This had the added benefit of allowing me to use a shutter speed of 1/1600, at ISO 200 – perfectly fast enough to freeze motion, and to keep the image free of noise.

Again, the light – I really wanted the light to be the star of the show here, and not beat it back with a stick. I wanted the image to have a bright, like feel to it, so I made sure to meter for one of the riders, and not the sky or the background. This kept the camera from pulling the exposure back to far and making the image a dark mess.

I used a Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 lens to capture this image – I was standing on one side of the polo pitch, so I needed a bit of reach to see the guys on the other side. This was shot at 112mm.

Here’s what the image might have looked like had I let the camera do all the thinking for me:


This is kind of gross, to be honest with you. It looks like two guys playing polo in a nuclear winter, not in one of the prettiest places on earth. The camera wanted badly to “fix” the blown highlights in the sky, “correct” the color, and even the playing field, so to speak. This is exactly why it’s important that you understand the ins and outs of your gear, and know what the camera is going to do before it does it. You need to know everything about exposure and light, and you need to know what your histogram is saying – so that you can ignore all of it and make the camera do what you want it to do. When I’m working, I rely on technique and emotion, not on what the camera wants me to see, or how it wants to represent a scene. There’s a big difference between a guy who likes cameras and a photographer; tell the camera what to do. Be a photographer.

Image specs:

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8

Aperture: f/5     ISO: 200     Shutter speed: 1/1600     Focal Length: 112mm

Special Thanks:

Special thanks to my friends at J Public Relations for arranging my visit to the gorgeous Grace Cafayate in Argentina’s remarkable Salta Region; Cafayate is about as impressive a wine region as there is on earth. Stay tuned for my print features, coming to a few of my favorite mags later this year.

And of course, huge thanks to Chimu Adventures for helping to put together a brilliant South American itinerary.  Chimu Adventures is the finest travel outfitter in Argentina, and offers tailor-made expeditions that get at the heart of the country’s most essential experiences.

Flash Light Photography Expeditions:

For more handy how-to photographic bliss, check out the Flash Light Expeditions Pocket Guide series I’ve written and photographed with Dylan Goldby of

Chiang Mai, Thailand: While We’re Here

This pocket guide from Flash Light Photography Expeditions will help you get the most out of your visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Created to support our annual Northern Thailand Photography Expedition, this tiny tome is all about helping you craft a winning travel portfolio during your time abroad.  Click here for more.

 Flash in the Wild: A Pocket Guide to the Right Light

Welcome to the wild. This pocket guide will help you get the most out of your small off-camera flash while shooting on location. Whether you’re a burgeoning amateur, semi-pro or professional photographer, you’ll benefit from the more than 20 step-by-step breakdowns in our new guide.
This guide is for anyone who ever wanted to create a big scene with small lights, but didn’t know where to begin. From city streets to the darkest wood, we work through one exciting location after the other while bending light on a whim. We’ll show you what you need to pack into your kit, how to build a lightweight, everyday shooting system, and most importantly, how to react to, read, and control your light. Click here for more.

The Alto Star Gate


Today I’m going to zip through the making of the Alto Star Gate image, and show you just how easy it is to shoot the stars above – and how you can add a little extra somethin’ somethin’ to your images with the help of a flashlight.

Tools of the trade:

- camera with manual settings

- wide lens with a relatively fast maximum aperture (f/2.8 or faster)

- sturdy tripod

- high-powered flashlight (with an LED light if you have one)

- remote triggering device (not 100% necessary, but it’ll make your life easier in the long run)

The Down and Dirty:

Making an image like this is incredibly simple – if you’re new to star photography, you’ll be amazing at just how swiftly you’ll be able to put together gorgeous images if you do even the smallest amount of prep work.

The first thing I do when I set out to shoot the stars is, well, find the stars. The night sky above the Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the clearest in the world, with spectacular views of the Milky Way. I knew that I wanted to make the Milky Way the star of this image, but also add some interesting foreground elements, so I put my gear in a position to capture both at the same time.

I set my camera on my tripod and switched everything to manual – manual exposure in the camera itself, and manual focus on my lens. When it’s dark out your camera’s focusing engine will hunt for focus forever, so it’s best just to do everything yourself. I knew that I was going to light the rocks to the right, so I turned on my flashlight and set it as close to the rocks as possible, walked back to the camera, and used the light to set focus.

Next, I used my TriggerTrap mobile dongle + smartphone app to dial in what I thought would be a correct exposure; I started with a minute, but that actually added too much movement to the stars (for this image I wanted the stars to appear as they would to the naked eye). I dialed back the exposure time to 30 seconds, and locked it in. So, even if you don’t have a triggering device, you can still pull off a shot like this – just about every camera on the market today will allow you to do 30 second exposures in manual mode.

Next, I used the timer to give myself 10 seconds to get into position (tucked behind the huge boulder to the left of the image). When I heard the shutter open, I started painting the rocks to the right with my flashlight. I simply waved my light over every bit of exposed rock that I could for the duration of the exposure. It’s like whipping a light saber around with no one watching – tons of fun.

I went back and forth to the camera a few times to fine-tune focus and the exposure until I had it right where I wanted, though with this sort of image it won’t take long to get what you want; it’s an incredibly easy process.

I mentioned using a lens with a large maximum aperture. Fast glass lend themselves to astrophotography because they’re able to “see” more stars when used wide open – the reason why is another blog post in and of itself, but just remember that you want to use the fastest lens in your bag when you’re shooting the night sky. Faster lenses mean more trouble hitting focus in the dark, but that’s a small annoyance in the grand scheme of star shooting.

Image specs:

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (I shot this in the D800 DX crop mode)

Aperture: f/2.8     ISO: 800     Shutter speed: 30 seconds     Focal Length: 11mm

Tripod: Manfrotto BeFree Travel Tripod

Trigger: TriggerTrap Mobile Dongle Kit

You can purchase the triggertrap mobile dongle kit for whatever camera you’re using here: This is one of the best investments you’ll ever make as a photographer.

Special thanks to the incredible Alto Atacama resort for putting up with me while I ran amok all over their property and the desert while working on my editorial features.

And of course, huge thanks to Chimu Adventures for helping to put together a brilliant South American itinerary.  Chimu Adventures is the finest travel outfitter in Argentina, and offers tailor-made expeditions that get at the heart of the country’s most essential experiences.

Gear Review: Aviator Timbuk2 Travel Backpack


My Aviator Travel Backpack high atop Chile’s Toco Mountain – 19,423’ Licancabur in the distance. I used the Aviator as a day pack for excursions throughout a 6-week series of assignments in South America from April – May 2014.

I’ve flung dozens of bags over my shoulders through the years in an effort to find the perfect balance between form, function and, though maybe I shouldn’t admit it, style. I’m a journalist and photographer, but the last thing I want to do is draw attention to the camera pack on my back. Yet I still need to be able to haul my gear from one corner of the world to the next, with space for a change of clothes and my toothbrush – what to do, what to do?

Let me step back a bit. Finding a camera bag isn’t much of a problem; there are thousands on the market, many of which make a fine home for your camera. What I’ve been on the lookout for is a bag that will allow me to carry everything I need for a long spell in the field, but also handle well when it’s not loaded down on daily excursions.

I picked the Aviator Travel Backpack because it’s not a camera backpack; the large open space allows me to configure it exactly as I want, and remains flexible while on the road. I ordered the Medium Snoop Insert, a padded messenger bag insert that fills up most of the interior of the Aviator when full – and I pack it full. I took this combo out into the field on a 6-week assignment in South America.

Here’s what I packed into the Snoop:

Nikon D800

Nikon AW1 w/ lens

14mm f/2.8 lens

24-70mm f/2.8 lens

80-200mm f/2.8 lens

50mm f/1.8 lens

85mm f/1.4 lens

SB800 flash

3 1TB My Passport hard drives

wall charges for both cameras


USB Cables

laptop cords

memory cards

mini air blower

lens pen cleaning brush

The Snoop holds EVERYTHING listed above, and slots comfortably into the main compartment of the Aviator. I still have space to fit my GoPro case, HoldFast Money Maker and HoldFast Ruckstrap straps in alongside the Snoop, and extra room for a pair of pants and a shirt. My travel laptop fits into the padded rear compartment, while the top pouch of the Aviator holds my keys, a book, my passport, travel documents, phone, my Saddleback wallets, and more. I didn’t have to fill my pockets with little bits of equipment, or hold onto any of my electronics; they’re all safely tucked away. I buckled my Manfrotto BeFree tripod to the outside, and was set to go. Is my camera gear easy to get to in this configuration? No, not really. But that’s the point; while in transit, I don’t want anyone to have quick access to my gear. I also don’t want to drag a huge wheelie case, or have to ship everything in padded plastic containers – so this is a fantastic solution for hauling my travel photography kit.

When I arrive at each destination I pull most of the gear out of the bag, and use the Aviator as a day pack; I hiked all over the Atacama in Chile with this bag, and when it’s not loaded too heavy, it’s quite comfortable. I wish there were a slot for a water bottle on the outside, and it’d be nice if the top section were a little easier to access – pulling the zipper all the way around after unbuckling the central section can get tiresome – but otherwise, I really enjoyed traveling with this bag. (NOTE: I solved the waterbottle issue by fixing a carabineer to the top outermost strap, and securing the bottle via the bottom strap). Styling is fantastic – it actually may look nicer than my regular carry-on luggage – and it seems like a rather durable piece of kit. Overall, a fantastic option for hauling my gear from one place to the next, and an excellent choice as a weekend bag if I were going to go without the camera equipment and pack traditionally. Not that this is a likely scenario, mind you, but for the sake of argument, let’s roll with it.

- flash