Lonely Planet Magazine: Spanish Flavours

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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.

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

Saint Lucia for USA Today

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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. www.jpublicrelations.com www.ladera.com

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

Don’t Fight the Light

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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:

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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. www.jpublicrelations.com www.gracehotels.com

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. www.chimuadventures.com

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 www.welkinlight.com

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.

Flash Light Photography Expeditions: Flash in the Wild

www.flashlightexpeditions.com

We’re unwrapping something special today.

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We’re thrilled to announce the official release of our first photography handbook today. Flash in the Wild: A Pocket Guide to the Right Light is 66 pages of fresh content shot on assignment around the world.

Welcome to the wild.

This pocket field guide from Flash Light Photography Expeditions 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.

Order a copy at the introductory price of $14 and receive a free digital version.

Digital and iPad editions are $5.50.

Travel well. Travel often. Shoot better.

Brought to you by Dylan Goldby and Flash Parker.

 

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10 Most Inspiring Cities in the World

I’m not Johnny Cash, and I ain’t been everywhere, man. I haven’t been to Tallapoosa, Oskaloosa, Grand Lake or Crater Lake, for Pete’s sake. I have been to Fargo, but don’t ya know, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But I have been around the block a time or two, and I’ve visited some amazing cities along the way. Half of my job is photographing beautiful places; the other half is writing about them. These are the ten most inspiring cities I’ve ever visited, places that spur creativity unlike anywhere else I’ve tread.

No two places are the same, of course. I love Dublin and Yangon, but the reasons couldn’t be more disparate. Seoul has a very different vibe from Porto, and a weekend in Montreal is a totally different experience from ten days in Luang Prabang. Difference, of course, is what makes travel so exciting. In making this list, a city need only qualify under two criteria; it must inspire photographic curiosity, and it must stir literary ghosts.

Keep in mind that I’m focusing on cities alone – if it were a list of my ten favorite travel destinations, things would be different. But since most of my work begins and ends in large urban centers, I thought I’d kick off my first “Top 10” list with a bang.

I’ve included a trio of places you shouldn’t miss for each destination. Quirky cafés, world-class brew pubs, boutique hotels, secluded temples – that sort of jazz. Little things that help make a place unique.

 

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Dublin, Ireland

Arguably the world’s finest literary legacy. Crumbling Georgian architecture. Noble Celtic heritage. St James Gate and Guinness by the barrel full. Atmospheric Liffey River. The green lung of St. Stephen, and the tortured liver of Temple Bar.

If you succeed in removing yourself from the pubs, cafes, and bookshops, Dublin’s hardscrabble streets hold plenty of intrigue for intrepid travelers.

Don’t Miss:

1. The Porterhouse | Brew Pub

16-18 Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Dublin

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2. The Winding Stair | Café & Bookshop

40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Dublin

winding-stair.com

 

3.  Glasnevin Cemetery | Cemetery and Museum

Glasnevin Museum, Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Dublin

glasnevintrust.ie

 

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Seoul, South Korea

To the world Seoul is bright neon lights, fuel-efficient cars, genetic research, and mountains of kimchi. The Land of the Morning Calm is deservedly lauded as a spreading ground for future tech, and well known as the K-pop powerhouse, and rightfully so – just try and pretend you don’t sing Gangnam Style on your way to work – though Seoul is furiously rebranding as a design-centric, green-focused hub to East Asia, and a welcoming haven for the independent traveler.

Some of the world’s best street food, Korean BBQ, ancient palaces, bustling markets, and a furious nightlife scene make Seoul one of the most exciting places to visit in East Asia.

Don’t Miss:

1. Namdaemun Market

49-1 Namchang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

Subway Line4, Hoehyeon Station

 

2. Gyeongbokgung Palace

161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

 

3. Anyang Art Park

Anyang 2-dong, Manan-gu, Anyang, Gyeonggi Province

 

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Yangon, Burma

Burma, Myanmar, the mystical python kingdom, is a place where nothing is ever as it seems, and expectations are shaped on the fly. There is a side of this country that few visitors ever get to experience, even though it exists right before their eyes. Yangon is a vast, quixotic city, home to busy thoroughfares that shoulder ancient pagodas, an absurd chicken market, a vibrant, colorful Indian Quarter, crumbling colonial architecture, and some of the world’s friendliest people.

Watch the breathtaking Shwedagon Pagoda come to life at night, dine on succulent Shan noodles at a hole-in-the-wall café, swap black-market currency in Chinatown, and walk among the ghosts along Strand Road at midnight.

Don’t Miss:

1. Chicken Wholesale Market

Outside Yangon, near the airport

 

2. Shwedagon Paya

Dagon Township, Yangon

Daily: 5:00 pm–10:00 pm (closed on Saturday and Sunday)

 

3. 999 Shan Noodle Shop

No. 130 B 34th Street, Kyauktada Township, Yangon

 

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Montreal is more than just curds, fries, and gravy (if you’re not familiar with poutine, then I feel sorry for you). Montreal sits at the epicenter of one of the most unique cultural enclaves in all of North America. Old European charm, contemporary art and design, raucous nightlife, fine French dining, invigorating green spaces, and enthralling boutiques, galleries, and museums culminate in Quebec’s marvelous cultural capital, and imbue all who visit with a certain joie de vivre.

Montreal also serves as Canada’s craft beer capital, which may put a serious hurting on your early morning photographic designs.

Don’t Miss:

1. Patati Patata

Dining in Montreal begins and ends with a trip to a local poutine shop. Poutine is a unique Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Patati Patata is a favorite among young locals. 4177 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. 9am-11pm.

 

2. Dieu du Ciel

Craft brewers like Le Cheval Blanc, and L’Amère à Boire have been brewing brilliantly for years, but Dieu du Ciel sets itself apart with masterpieces like the Corpus Christi Rye Ale and the Peche Mortel Imperial Stout. 29 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montreal, Quebec. www.dieuduciel.com

 

3. Atwater Market

Shop for artisanal breads, cheeses, and chocolates at this robust market built in the 1930s. Dig a little deeper for gems like seaweed caviar, salted codfish, and fresh pig’s feet. 138 Avenue Atwater, Montreal, Quebec. www.marchespublics-mtl.com

 

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Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago is a city on the cutting edge of gastronomy, urban design, contemporary culture, and, well, gigantic metallic beans.

Chicago is unlike any other place in America. It’s more than the Midwest’s biggest hitching post; Chicago’s culinary dreamscape is every bit as nuanced as New York’s, and not half as pretentious. Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, formerly home to about a million slaughterhouses, is now the ultimate pit-stop for haute pub grub (Haymarket Brewery); the Market District has a fancy new tenant in the beloved Schwartz Pickle Factory (One Sixtyblue); and that notorious deep-dish death sentence pizza is never more than a few blocks away (Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria).

Chicago is so enticing, in fact, that even Batman decided to relocate here on Christopher Nolan’s wishes. It may have been the skyline that brought the Dark Knight West; one look at the shimmering towers from Lincoln Park or Northerly Island at sunset is enough to make anyone want to pack a toothbrush into their utility belt.

Don’t Miss:

1. Lincoln Park

For brilliant views of Chicago’s skyline.

2045 North Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL

 

2. Haymarket Brew Pub

737 W Randolph St  Chicago, IL 60661
Tel. (312) 638-0700 haymarketbrewing.com

 

3. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

805 S. State Street, South Loop, Chicago, IL 60605

Tel. (312) 786-1000 loumalnatis.com

 

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Hong Kong, SAR, China

Arriving in Hong Kong is to step into the future – at least how I’ve always dreamed the future may look, so long as the future is a curious blend of Bladerunner style and Disney-sponsored endorsement deals. HK is the financial wunderkind of the east, and the post-modern skyline reflects that; skyscrapers stretch from one island to the next in an infinite concrete and glass conflux. At times the city seems so foreign and impenetrable that it’s hard to wrap your head around – you want to see more than high-rise apartment blocks and shopping malls, but you can’t figure out how. That’s half the fun, of course; exploring this psedo-dystopia is one good time after the other, once you realize that you’re never too far away from world-class dim sum, a traditional Chinese Market, a 7-star hotel spa, planet earth’s wildest grey market, and an armada of traditional dragon boats built to cruise.

Don’t Miss:

1. Fragrant Lotus | Restaurant

160-164 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong

Tel. 852-2544-4556

 

2. Peninsula Hong Kong | Hotel

Salisbury Rd, Hong Kong

Tel. 852-2920-2888, peninsula.com

 

3. MacLehose Trail | Hiking Trail

Sai Kung District, New Territories East, Hong Kong

 

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Tangerine-robed monks toting parasols through the mist. Elephants crashing through the jungle. Asia’s most underrated cuisine. Dark Beer Lao. Waterfalls demanding ill-advised cannonballs. An incredible open air night market (the best place in the city to sample traditional Lao food), a vibrant local arts scene, and more Buddhist temples than almost any other city on earth. Just thinking of our time in Luang Prabang has me yearning for hotpot by the Mekong River, sausages infused with lemongrass, canoe trips on the murky water, and chilly bottles of Dark Beer Laos – seriously, I can’t stress how much I love this beer.

Though it is not known as a land of superlatives – there is no highest mountain here, no longest river there, no park of pagodas anywhere – Laos offers opportunities to experience something different every day, whether you’re looking for excitement on the river, adventures in the jungle, or relief from the urgency of humanity in the most elegant of Asian cities. The slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is indeed a pilgrimage of a certain kind, while Luang Prabang itself is the sort of place where you can unwind until your visa runs dry.

Don’t Miss:

1. Villa Deux Rivieres | Hotel

One of my favorite hotels in Asia; next door is a really unique vegan restaurant serving traditional Lao food with a veggie twist.

Kingkitsalath Rd 43 Unit 02, Luang Prabang

Tel. +8562077377571 villadeuxrivieres.com

 

2. Phou Si and Wat Chom Si

Climb to the top of the hill in the center of town for fantastic views of the city and her rivers. Evening views are spectacular, but remember a torch for the walk down.

 

3. Ock Pop Tok | Retail Shop

Handmade textiles, arresting bric-a-brac; runs textiles workshops and tours to local villages.

73/5 Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang,

Tel. +856 71 253219

 

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Porto, Portugal

Porto is the birthplace of Port Wine. If that doesn’t do it for you, then you don’t like travel (or you’re not a raging alcoholic, I guess). If you manage to dig yourself out of a port cellar long enough to explore the city, you’ll find gorgeous medieval architecture in the form of ancient fishing apartments along the beautiful Duoro River; the Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage area done right. A river cruise is a great way to spend an evening, but you can’t go wrong exploring Porto’s litany of churches and cathedrals, testing your mettle on the city’s towering bridge during a storm, and rewarding your bravery with a sinfully delicious Francesinha sandwich.

The whole of Porto’s old center is a photographer’s dream; ferret warrens connecting one crumbling building to another, caves concealing quirky cafés, and hilly terrain marked by galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Don’t Miss:

1. Bufete Fase | Restaurant

Rua de Santa Catarina 1147, 4000 Oporto

Tel. 351 222 052 118

 

2. Sandeman Port Cellars

Largo Miguel Bombarda 3, Vila Nova de Gaia

Tel. 351 223 740 534 sandeman.eu

 

3. Mercado do Bolhão | Market

Rua Fernandes Tomás, 4000-214 Oporto

Tel. 351 223 326 024

 

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Hoi An, Vietnam

A sleepy Vietnamese town on the Thu Bon River, a place where colorful shops loom over ancient cobbled streets, lanterns illuminate the path through a grandiose covered bridge, and tiny men pilot tiny skiffs across the glassy surface of the water. At the river’s edge, crates have been turned upside down and stand in as tables, with tiny plastic stools nearby. A plump, jovial woman places a steaming bowl of Cao Lau before visitors – tongues wag in awe. Cao Lau is a regional dish made with hearty flat noodles, pork, and veggies. The noodles are made with water from an ancient Cham well, while the recipe is a closely guarded secret (if you believe what you hear on the road. I try to believe as much as I’m told).

Dining on the river in Hoi An is a quintessential Vietnamese experience. Foodies flock here to sample what may be the best-tasting noodle dish on the planet, But Hoi An is more than a place to stuff your face; it’s one of Asia’s most charming and laid back travel destinations (quite a feat for a country with roughly 400 million motorbikes). I’m a huge fan of sipping frosty beer by the river for pennies a glass, shooting the beautiful Japanese covered bridge (especially when there’s a local wedding taking place), sampling what seems like an endless array of local culinary delicacies, haggling over prices on shiny suits (none of which I ever buy), launching paper lanterns over the Thu Bon River as night falls, and reveling in the solitude of a slow boat ride out to sea.

Don’t Miss:

1. Morning Glory | Restaurant

106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Hội An

Tel. +84 510 3241 555

 

2. Hoi An Photo Tours

54 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hội An

Tel. 090567198, hoianphototour.com

 

3. Japanese Covered Bridge

At the West end of Tran Phu St., Hội An

 

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Jodhpur, India

Just about any city in India could have made this list, but I decided to go with the one that pissed me off the least. Delhi is insane, and a fantastic place to photographic, but a bit of an overwhelming, nightmarish glut of humanity. Agra has the Taj… and that’s about it. Udaipur’s stark whiteness is mesmerizing, but when we found a dead cow floating in our fishing hole, it was disqualified from this list. Jodhpur, then, takes the title! And why not? It’s as bright and vibrant as any other city in India.

Jodhpur’s market is a buzzing hive of human activity – but it’s unlikely that someone will grab your ass or touch your face at random the way they might in Delhi. Views of the Blue City from Mehrangarh Fort are sensational – so long as you brought a telephoto lens to compress the perspective. The giant clock tower at the center of town (in the middle of the market) may help you get orientated after wandering through the endless maze of ancient alleyways, while the shopping is apparently fantastic (I avoided it like the plague – which I think I got from a rat in one of the havelis. Learned my lesson about flip-flops in India).

Don’t Miss:

1. Mehrangarh Fort

The Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, 342006

Tel. 0291 254 8790

 

2. Sardar Market

You don’t need an address for this. Follow your nose – or look for the clock tower at the heart of the market.

3. Ice Cream Shop

We wandered down the main drag south of the clock tower for about 30 minutes to find this place – and for the life of me, I can’t find the name in my notes. Oops. The secret dies with me.

 

There you have it – the cities that have inspired me most. Some were a lock from the start (Dublin, Seoul, Yangon) while others made it in at the last second (Jodphur, Chicago). I’d love to know what cities have inspired you!

 

Honorable Mention:

Chiang Mai, Thailand | Toronto, Canada | San Francisco, California | Galle, Sri Lanka

Beijing, China | Jogjakarta, Indonesia | Pokhara, Nepal

 

- flash

PS: I’m much better at updating my Facebook page, so if you’re so inclined, head over there for the last goings on from the empire.  Click to join me on Facebook

Project 366: Week 1

I’ve neglected my blog for a while now, but only because I’ve been working on 101 different things. Like shooting to pay the bills and keep the water hot. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I hate taking cold showers in the dark. Hate it.

One of the things I’ve been working on is a personal project that, in a lot of ways, is designed to help me in my professional work. That’s the idea behind my Project 366, at any rate, and so far it has been quite a bit of fun. Time will tell if real life gets in the way of completing this thing, or if I suddenly get interested in something else (Hot Yoga is a contender), but I don’t foresee any significant breaks in the action for the next little while.

Rather than wait to break down each photo at the end of the week, I’ve been including detailed walkthroughs with my posts on flickr and Facebook. Going forward, I’m only going to be including the info on the Facebook images – so hit the link to my page, LIKE said page, and follow along, if you feel so inclined.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this project so far – and there’s plenty of gooey goodness ready to see the light of day. I have a few alternate versions and supplemental material to go through as well.

The Story.
Back in February I started work on a project. The genesis of that project was to craft a workbook of my favorite lighting designs, and to push myself to try new techniques. I wanted to do something that would keep me busy in the dead of winter and while I wasn’t on assignment, but it grew and grew and grew… and left me with this mess.

And thus this Project 366 was born.  The goal is to use, shape, mod and mold light 366 different ways. It’s an ambitious goal, and I can tell you from time to time I stumble. Sometimes I fall flat on my face. Not every one of the images included are world-beaters, but then some of them never were designed to be. I’ve held back from posting this for quite some time because I wanted to make sure that I could see it through – if I’m out shooting all day on assignment, sometimes the last thing I want to do is come home and shoot some more. But I did it, all for the sake of light. And now I’m going to share it.

 

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News Flash: July 2011

I’ve thought about doing something like this for a long time and decided today would be the day that I did it. This is the first edition of what I hope will be a monthly newsletter packed with insider tips, tricks and photography news. The first edition of the News Flash comes in at a slim 1 page, but we’re after quality here, not quantity. Depending on how well this is received – if it is received at all! – I’ll go bigger and better with the August 2011 edition.

Now, to ask you, faithful readers; what would you like to see covered in a newsletter like this? What types of tips and tricks do you want to see myself and the good people at Flash Light Photography Expeditions cover? I’m all ears.

- Flash

 

Post Script. I can’t seem to sort out how to embed a high resolution file here. If you’re having trouble viewing the News Flash image here, click here to see a larger version (or full size) on flickr.

 

 

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The $10,000 Assignment

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Let’s be honest with ourselves; we all want to get paid to take pictures out here.

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Good day, one and all!

This is the first post I’ve had a chance to do for www.flashlightexpeditions.com – I’d be ever so appreciative if you would head on over there and take a look at some of the things we’re working on.

As a photographer, as a writer, as a photojournalist, this is what you want, right? You want XYZ Magazine’s features editor to call you out of the blue, tell you that she loves your work and commission a gargantuan project from you – all expenses paid, round trip across the globe, $400 per diem. You want this dream to be reality. This is the way you want to work, to travel and to live. You know that if you catch just one big break, if someone would only realize what you have to offer as a creative professional, you would do sensational work.

So you wait.

And you wait.

And you’re waiting.

I believe the only way to make it as a creative professional is to treat each and every job as a $10,000 dollar assignment – no matter what you’re being paid. If your local paper comes to you and asks you to shoot a Saturday Morning USA Market piece but can only offer you $100 – times are tough in the print world, they’ll say! – treat it as if you’ve been sent on assignment by National Geographic, like they’re flying you to Marrakesh to get down and dirty in the most colourful market in the world.

I’m not telling you to undervalue your work. If you feel as though you’re worth $10,000 a day right now then that’s exactly what you should charge. Who am I to determine your value? But if you’re a beginner struggling to get your foot in the door you need to take a real, hard look at yourself and your career in the mirror and you need to come up with a plan. My plan was – and is – to treat every single assignment like it was the biggest and most prestigious in the world.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up to a job with a big kit, unpacked my lights, set up my gear to hear, “Shawn… I thought this was only going to take two minutes? You’re just taking a picture, right?” The fact of the matter is this: I’m never just taking a picture. I’m always creating images, expanding my portfolio and, most importantly of all, networking.

Networking is key. I do a lot of it online – sending queries, inqueries, images, portfolios, etc. I’m always looking to build a new relationship with an editor or publisher. I’m also always on the lookout for real life, walking and talking people. You can’t build a career in a creative field online (unless you’re some kind of weird crypt-keeping blogger or Myspace stripper, I guess); in my experience, it is easier to convince someone you’re the right man or woman for the job if you can meet them in person. Doesn’t hurt if you keep a stack of business cards in your bag and a portfolio of images on your iPad, either. Just sayin’.

 

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Even when I’m on vacation I shoot like I’m being paid to do it. I’m always asking myself if I can turn what I’m shooting and what I’m experiencing into a story or a set of photos that will get the attention of one of the editors I regularly work for – or someone new entirely.

———

Should you work for free?

No. Never. Not on purpose, at any rate.

I began my professional career in the arts as a screenwriter. I used to do a lot of work on spec; I got burned on it from time to time. No one wants that. No one deserves that. You’ve worked hard to create and you should be compensated for it. But let me tell you something – you’re not always going to be compensated monetarily. Not when you’re starting out, anyway.

Think about that photo tour you’re planning on taking later this year. Is anyone paying you to go? Is someone putting up the money for you to chill on the beach, hike through the jungle and explore the gnarliest markets in the world? Of course they’re not. Are you still going to go? Of course you are! If you are, or want to be a travel photographer, you’re making an investment in yourself and your own talents by going on this trip. Shoot what you want and how you want, but don’t forget to explore every avenue you can to show people – and tell people! – what you’re doing and what you’re good at. Treat your personal vacation as a professional assignment. Get out to see the sunrise. Take advantage of the good light. Meet the people that make a place interesting and unique. Work at it. Simply work! This creative game isn’t any easy one. No one is going to chase you down for assignments and gigs; not when there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing. So many talented, motivated people. Don’t forget to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Setting yourself apart.

Focus. Focus, focus, focus!

Telling someone you’re a travel photographer is cool, but everyone on vacation who owns a camera is a travel photographer, to an extent (trust me on this; I’ve sat through plenty of unedited family slide shows of 3,000 images). You need to find a niche, not a genre. Back to screenwriting once again: it’s one thing to tell people that I write movies. It’s another to tell them I write politically charged-techno thrillers (Wireless) or crude R-rated slacker comedy (I Hate Dating). One thing I’ve always been good at is nicheifying (that’s your Flashism for the day). Back to photography: travel is your genre. What is your niche? Mine is built right into my name. Sure, I’m adapt at shooting grungy markets under natural light or bold landscapes under the sun, but when I turn in a package of images to an editor I always make sure there are a few images in there with my stylistic stamp on them. I use flash. Sometimes it’s just a gimmick, but it’s the way I’ve carved out my travel (and to a degree, my commercial and portrait) niche.

Back to the $$$ game.

Treat every assignment like it’s the biggest one you’re ever going to get. One day, it will be. I’m still waiting for Nat Geo to track me down, too.

- Flash

www.flashlightexpeditions.com

Join us on flickr! www.flickr.com/groups/flashlightexpeditions/

SWAT Walkthrough

I’m currently working on a few personal projects. One is a 52 Weeks in the SPC Challenge. Another is a Family Portraits Series. These two projects came together last week when I shot my cousin, who is a SWAT Officer. This is a perfect story of photography.

Now, I knew that I wanted to capture a fitting environmental portrait of Mr. SWAT (I also knew I wanted to play with flashbangs, grenades and bazookas, but that’s another post) and I knew that for the 9th week of the SPC Challenge I would be tasked with creating a Dave Hill inspired image. Some of my friends in the SPC have expressed interest in how I put the final image, so I thought I’d take them through it, step by step, starting with a look at the final image.

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Above: The final image, after an initial series of adjustments in Lightroom 3, some merging of frames in Photomatix and some tweaking in Photoshop CS5. I spent approximately 10 minutes creating this frame – not a whole lot of time, when you think about it. Why so little time? Because I did most of my work in-camera, before I started putting things together in the post-production phase.

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Above: The RAW image, SOOC. Let’s walk through how this was created.

Lighting: I used two SB-80DX Nikon flashes inside a 60" Softlighter II, high camera left for the key light. My light was quite a few feet away, but I also wanted it soft and able to give coverage over all of Mr. SWAT. I needed a large light source.

I also used a SB-28 Nikon flash in a 28" softbox @ 10 o’clock to provide rim to the right and light the rifle.

Finally, I used a SB-25 Nikon flash, bare, far camera right (rim). I triggered these three flashes with Flashwaves. It’s vitally important to get your light where you want it in camera; there’s not much you can do once you’ve taken the image to fix bad light, so be careful.

The zoom-burst. This is also done in-camera. It’s rather simple to pull off when using flashes, too. I started by setting my lens to its widest focal length and slowly started to “zoom through the image;” I began the process of zooming in and clicked the shutter, following through with my zoom until the shutter closed. The flashes froze Mr. SWAT crisply, but left those areas unaffected by the flash susceptible to the zoom effect. This is an incredibly easy technique to master and is in fact one we’ve all tried before; think back to how many times you’ve used a point and shoot camera with flash, how the flash has frozen your subject yet the darker areas, the areas untouched by the light from the flash, are blurred. This is standard Facebook party album stuff.

Now for the post-production.

With the file loaded into Lightroom, I set to work creating virtual copies and adding my own custom presets on top of the image. I’ll show you a few of those. Canada_57481-2Canada_57481-3Canada_57481-4

From top to bottom:

Tarnished reputation. Decent colour, but too washed out to stand on its own.

Megan’s Gloom. This frame stands alone the best of the three, but it is too dark and the background doesn’t pop as much as I’d like it to.

Dave Hill Mock. Yuck. This looks like a tonemapped HDR nightmare. I would never, ever process a photo in this manner and allow it to stand on it’s own. That being said, for this SPC challenge, I needed the frame to have a lot of structure, good highlight definition yet somehow still retain a lot of contrast. I pushed this frame to the limit and would generally not show anyone the results.. ever. ha!

I took these three frames and exported them to Photomatix. Effectively, this combined the good bits that I wanted from each frame and did away with the rest (with a little subtle tweaking I was able to ditch the painterly look of the Dave Hill Mock frame).

Finally, I took the image into Photoshop and did a little more tweaking; I upped the contrast, sharpened the scene overall and bright down some of the highlights.

Like I said previously – no dodging and burning to take this to Jill Greenberg territory (though that would be an interesting exercise in and of itself), no masking, no layering. Most of the heavy lifting was done in-camera. I mixed and mashed a few frames out of Lightroom… and that’s it. My simple, effective Dave Hill-inspired super zoom burst SWAT tutorial.

Questions? Fire away.

- Flash

“What should I buy?”

In a word, I don’t know. Only you know you. Below is me. I know me. I don’t know you.

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Once or thrice a week this question is tossed in my direction. Often, it’s a question about lighting gear. In other cases it’s about camera bodies and lenses. I’ll often take the time to answer, though I am writing this entry to serve in stead of my carefully calculated responses. Any time I can free up a couple extra hours a week by answering a question wholesale, I’ll take it. This will be short and sweet, but I think it’ll get my point across.

Let’s get started.

This week I was posed a question by an associate from the Seoul Photo Club. This associate, a budding shooter in his own right, asked me which camera he should buy – the D90 or the brand spanking new D7000. What follows is his original question:

Hi Shawn, tomorrow I will buy a cam. Do you think D7000 is worth $650 extra (for me)? I mean do I really need 1.5 extra fps, few extra AF points, and more pixels. I do not shoot videos. So, not going for the video comparisons. I think may be with that $650 I can pick up one or two good lens with the D90. In couple of years I will be upgrading to a Fx body if I need for sure. Also D7000 is new and it’s not that tested extensively.
What do you think?
Thanks.

What do I think? Well, my intuitive friend, I think the same thing you think – and I think that you answered your own question while writing your query. If you don’t think you need the extra FPS, AF points and pixels, you probably don’t. If you can use the extra $650 (who couldn’t?) on something more worthwhile, then by all means go ahead.

I am flattered that my friend basically asked me to validate his own suspicions but it’s not really necessary – he, and you like him, know your style better than I do and know what rig suits that style. What follows is my original response to the above question, in line with what I’ve been talking about:

To be honest, if it were me, I would go with the D7000, but only because it has a robust body and I find that important for what I do and how I work. Otherwise, with regards to the things you’re talking about – fps, af points, etc – you answer your own question. They are certainly not worth the $650 above and beyond the D90 if you don’t think they are. Take that money, buy the D90 and pick up the 50mm f/1.4 or the 85mm f/1.4. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. The cameras are so similar (of course the extra touches on the D7000 are nice, but…) that it’s more intelligent to buy the D90 and pick up an amazing lens along with it. then start saving your coins for the jump to full frame.

Follow your gut. When you’ve done all the research, as my friend obviously has, when you know all there is to know about the gear you’re deciding on, only you can make the right choice for you. I can swing your vote, sure, but I’m only basing my comments on my own experiences when the important thing is the experiences you create for yourself.

 

Coming up next: a few starters guides, since I haven’t done one of those in a little while. Filters, first!