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May 2018

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The Meaning of Travel

Travel has a different meaning for everyone.  We all seek something different when we get away from our daily routine.  For me, travel began many years ago merely being a tourist running around seeing all of the sights the guidebooks told me I simply should not miss.  “Hello Eiffel Tower”; take the obligatory photo.  “Here I am riding a vaporetto on the Grand Canal”; take the obligatory photo.  This is a thrill for many and this is ok.  I remember hosting a couple in London not too long ago.  One of the visitors barely lifted her nose away from her guidebook.  I couldn’t help but say, “Look up!  Look up!  You’re missing London.”

I am a gentleman traveller and a curious one at that.  I seek experiences and moments that have meaning.  I want to know the people of the place where I am visiting.  What do they think?  What are their customs and will they share them with me?   What can they teach me about life?  What can they teach me about my home country? And, I’m always curious about people’s level of happiness.  I don’t know why.  It’s simply a curious pursuit of mine.

Perhaps at this point in my life peeling away the superficial bits that separate cultures are what I find more appealing.  Quite frankly, I think deep down we are all the same.  The father and leader of the nomadic Berber tribe worry how his children will fare in the changing world.  The twenty-three-year-old kid in Bali wonders what truly interests him and what he will do with his life.  The examples go further, yet the stories are the same that we know in the western world.

Our experiences from our own cultures are what separate us only in the way we try to solve problems.  We are all trying to “make it” in this world and I’ve seen this over and over wherever I go.

This is the purpose of this blog.  I want to inspire you to travel as far, and wide, as is possible for you.  I want you to have experiences you never thought possible.  I want you to learn that you’re braver and stronger than you know.   Travel for your own reasons and not where a magazine tells you to go.  Go off the beaten path and scare yourself.  Challenge what you know and think how you can become a better person because you travelled.

I have flown well over a million miles.  Does this make me special?  Quite frankly the answer is no.  In the literal sense, I received two luggage tags from American Airlines for that milestone.  There is no meaning in that.  I overheard someone once say I jet across the world because I am trying to find myself.  To that I say, I did not know I was lost.  I have even heard I am having a wild love affair in London.  Aside from the shallow notion of that statement, I can only say – “Yes, I am having an affair; an affair with London.”

There is meaning in a journey.  A journey is not just A to B, it is also the in between.  A journey is the moments, and the memories, and glimpses of a time gone by.  What I feel, the colours of the world, the taste of the air, and the lives touched along the way – including mine.  A journey is making new connections to a place, and to cultures foreign to my own.  It is a change of perception.  A journey is finding myself on the path less travelled.  It is cautious steps and giant leaps of faith.

A journey is taking time, taking a breath, charting my own course, and being a part of a story worth telling.

A journey is reaching the end, and then discovering I am only half way there…  For a free spirit like myself, this is of the utmost importance.

Why do you travel?

That said, you might like Extending Boundaries, a travel video showing how travel can lead to personal growth.

Is it possible to have too much in the frame of your image?
The answer is yes, yes and yes.

Two key factors will help you gain a full understanding of photo composition despite any rule I offer in this course.  The first factor is viewing other photographer’s work.  By viewing other photographs you can see firsthand what a photographer captured and how they captured it.  You can then make notes of particular ways photographs have been taken then apply these techniques to your own photographs.

Do keep in mind I am by no means telling you to copy other photographer’s work.  Instead be original and create your own unique photos using tested techniques.

The second factor to understanding photo composition is putting the rules into practice.  You will hear me say this over and over –  practice, practice and more practice will lead you to achieve stronger composition.

Above all else, the number one rule of photo composition is the most important to remember.  Simplify your scene the best you can.

Too much unnecessary clutter leaves the viewer of your photographs confused because they don’t know where to look.   All of the clutter leads to no one particular focal point.

Let’s take a look at a few images that are cluttered.

In this first photo, we see an overview of a bunch of buildings. Perhaps the point is to show an overcrowded city scene. If this is the case, the photographer achieved the goal. On the other hand, take a look at the image again. Does your eye go to one particular spot? It doesn’t. There is too much clutter for the eye to be directed anywhere.

The same is true of the photo with the pile of tools. It is one big mess, isn’t it?  I almost want to buy the person a toolbox.  When viewing this photo the eye wanders around the image aimlessly. There is no focal point.  Do you see one?

This third image is nice with its soft colours and linear display across the frame. But, where does the eye go? The flowers? The fabric? The ruler? At first glance, we want to like this photo because of the softness of the colours but there is not one clear focal point making the composition ineffective.

 

Is it possible to break this rule and have a cluttered image that works?  The answer is yes which can be seen in this image of very cluttered bookshelves. You might call this clutter overload! Because of the lines created by the bookshelves the eye is led to the open doorway. In this image, the clutter has a focal point and the composition is effective. The composition of this photo works quite well.

The image below uses what I would call organised clutter.  The shirts are nicely lined up across the frame of the photo.  My eye goes directly to the blue shirts which appear to be the focal point. The cuff of the shirt also stands out because it is different than all of the others. So, yes. clutter can work if used effectively in photo composition.

If your image has a clear focal point despite all the clutter madness, you capture a photo that will work.

As always, practice will make you a better photographer.  Practice will help you recognise these situations which will, in turn, lead to a nice composition for your photos.

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Travel Destination :: Kathmandu Nepal

I can’t resist sharing these images captured with the iPhone during a walk through the outskirts of the Thamel area of Kathmandu.  Away from the myriad of tourists, and tourist shops, I found an area far more interesting a few streets away. Unsure where I was going, I walked and found a purely genuine, and beautiful Kathmandu.

The perpetual noise of the city faintly touched this area reminds me of just how hectic Kathmandu is.   Life slowed down here and I appreciated the authenticity of how life is lived.  In a remote sense, if there was a Nepalese Norman Rockwell, he would have painted these scenes.

Nothing was staged for tourists, and only day to day life occurred just as it should.

Thamel is distinguished by its narrow alleys crowded with various shops and vendors. Commonly sold goods include food, fresh vegetables/fruits, pastries, trekking gear, walking gear, music, DVDs, handicrafts, souvenirs, woollens, and clothes. Travel agencies, small grocery stores, budget hotels and restaurants also line the streets. Cars, cycle rickshaws, two-wheelers and taxis ply these narrow streets alongside hundreds of pedestrians.

The area has been the centre of the tourist industry in Kathmandu for over four decades, starting from the hippie days when many artists came to Nepal and spent weeks in Thamel. Even though Thamel has been referred to as a “ghetto” by some, many low-budget travellers consider it a hot-spot for tourism.

You might enjoy discovering more about Kathmandu in another post on this travel blog.

Map Showing the Location of Thamel Kathmandu

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Many bridges in London offer stunning views for photographers and visitors alike.  Chelsea Bridge has been one of my favourites for several reasons.  It is a cool looking bridge, especially illuminated at night.  The lights swoop from one end of the bridge to the other in beautiful fashion.  Additionally, the lighted bridge reflects beautifully in the Thames River.

Chelsea Bridge offers a nice view of Albert Bridge, which is further west along the river.  Albert Bridge also illuminates beautifully in the night.  My number one recommended view from Chelsea Bridge is Battersea Power Station.  This iconic power station takes me back to another time in London and for this reason, I’ve become fascinated with it.  In fact, one might say I’ve stalked Battersea for years as I’ve been to this area over and over again.  I’ve also explored every angle of the building with my camera.

With the redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station, the verdict is out whether or not this remains a favourite area of mine.  From what I have seen thus far, the view of the iconic building will be blocked a bit while standing on Chelsea Bridge.  In the end, it may very well be brilliant all the way around.  Will the building remain one of my top night photography spots?  Let’s wait and see.

If you are not into photography should Chelsea Bridge be high atop your things to do in London list?  My honest answer is no.

Getting to Chelsea Bridge does take some effort.  If you are unfamiliar with London, take a taxi or simply walk West along Victoria Embankment.  Do know from Houses of Parliament it will take some effort to reach Chelsea Bridge (it’s not close).  No matter where your walk begins, you’ll see the great scenery along the way.  You could stop in Tate Britain during the day, for instance.  Too, this walk is a good thing to do in London.  It’s especially nice when you want to escape the hordes of people you’ll find in other parts of the city.

Below are a few photos of I’ve taken over the years of and from Chelsea Bridge.

Map Showing The Location of Chelsea Bridge ::  51.4834° N, 0.1494° W

You might also like the views from the Golden Jubilee Bridge or London Bridge.

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Photographing light trails (or light streams) was one of the first tricks I learned.  I thought this one was of the coolest things ever and would get very excited when one turned out just right.  I have to confess I have not outgrown the light stream technique.  I might add not much effort has been put into curbing this.

London is great to Photograph Light Trails not because the city is overrun with traffic, but because the iconic double-decker bus lends itself beautifully to this little trick.  Think of it as an adventure when you are wondering the things to do in London.  Where can you find the best places to do this?

6 Best Places to Photograph Light Trails in London

Oxford Street
Stand in the middle of the street, and don’t be surprised if a bus driver fusses at you.  Also be aware the buses will pass you closely. It is not dangerous, just be prepared (and at ease) with traffic flowing on both sides of you.  And, as the buses pass by there will be a rush of wind so be certain your camera equipment is secure.  You don’t want it crashing into the pavement.

Oxford Circus
This has been made a bit more tricky since the pedestrian walkways changed, though still entirely doable.  The best part about night photography in Oxford Circus is the cross traffic.  Buses flow along Oxford Street and Regent Street.  If you use a long enough exposure, you’ll capture crossing light streams, which you can see in the photo below.  Also keep in mind buses turn which adds another interesting element to your image.  Nighttime is an ideal time as there are few pedestrians in the area so you’ll not be in the way of anyone.  By all means, avoid rush hour as it’s a madhouse during this time.  

Cambridge Circus
Any corner of the Cambridge Circus area is interesting.  I like the Palace Theatre as a backdrop, especially if the theatre sign is interesting.  Obviously, my photo is from years ago.  Today Harry Potter plays at the Palace Theatre.  Traffic flows heavily through this Central London thoroughfare.  Seldom do I carry a tripod in London.  I rely on lamp posts, traffic light posts or guard railings

Piccadilly Circus
Almost anywhere here is good.  I particularly like the northeast part either facing toward Shaftesbury Avenue or Regent Street.  The road configuration of Piccadilly Circus seems to constantly change.  Despite the confusion, there are always spots where you can stop with your camera and not be in anyone’s way.  That said, the Piccadilly area is in constant motion.  When I say constant motion, I don’t simply mean traffic on the road.  A lot of people congregate in this area.  I don’t recommend using a tripod.  Be creative in the way you steady your camera.

Parliament Square
In particular, I like the middle of Whitehall and Westminster Bridge Road with Elizabeth Tower and Westminster Palace as a backdrop.  In the middle, there is a huge metal “box.”  I’m sure this box is the control of the traffic lights.  No matter what it is, it serves you kindly when you need a sturdy surface to steady your camera.  Move around the square!  Parliament Square is sort of interesting though it does not provide the best angles for light streams.  Also, try the back corner of Westminster Abbey (closest to Westminster Palace).  I’ve captured some great images of passing double-decker buses with Big Ben in the background.   (The image below is part of my London Art Photography Collection and is available for purchase.)

Westminster Bridge
Do you want Elizabeth Clock Tower in the background?  This is the place.  Actually, walk on the bridge where the Thames River is.  If you face West, Big Ben will be across the road on your left.  There are so many buses passing by, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to capture your photo.  There are usually a lot of people on the bridge, most with selfie sticks.  Be careful in this area especially if you plan to use a tripod.  

This list will continue.  In the meantime, what are your favourite places to photograph light streams in London?  Feel free to share your own London light stream photos.  I’d love to see them.

You might also like the Gentleman’s Guide to the Best Places To Photograph London.

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Great video of children swimming in a natural pool at Pura Mengening in Tampaksiring Bali.  It is scenes like this that make travel worthwhile.  This is the way life should be – all without a care in the world.

To reach the area, go down a few stairs (ok, more than a few), and you will find two pools with clear crisp water.  The source of the water comes from a cliff and between roots of trees. Fresh cool air, beautifully natural and shaded scenery add to the charm of the area, confirming paradise is indeed in Bali.

There is one pool for women and girls and another for the men and boys.    This is where the real charm of the area becomes evident.  Some bring their soap to bathe while the children leap from rocks, push each other into the water and relentlessly splash.

I spent hours simply taking the scene in while my camera captured the moments.  I simply sat and watched and was taken back to my own childhood.  Back then I was often left to entertain myself with my own vivid imagination.  There were no buttons to push or electronics pulling me into a black hole of nothingness.  I had to actually use my mind in creative ways if I didn’t want to be bored silly.  The kids in the Pura Mengening pools reminded me of that time and a reminder that kids are kids in any language or culture.  Such a beautiful sight and one to remember.

If you prefer the ocean, listen to the waves of the Indian Ocean ::

Bali is an all-time favourite destination of mine.  You might enjoy Bali 360 a 360 video of Lake Batur or Travel Destination of the Day – Bali about a full moon ceremony in a small village.

Destination:  Bali Indonesia

If there is one place there should be a hanging disk with two revolving arms and twelve numbers, it’s an airport.  Have you noticed?  Isn’t it peculiar there are no clocks in airport terminals?  I’ve flown over a million miles and have been in many airport terminals – small to large.  And, no clocks!

One must arrive at the airport on time.  Arriving at the departure gate is imperative, so why the lack of prominently displayed clocks?

“Look at your phone,” you say?  My phone is in my pocket and my hands are full. What’s more is when I left my 9 to 5 job years ago, I gave up wearing a watch.  Yes, I thought time didn’t matter so much – except when you’re at an airport.

Right now I am sitting in the Miami International Airport.  A regular fitness routine and ample time are required to walk through the terminal.  No joke.  And, no clocks to guarantee timeliness.

To my recollection London, Dallas, LA – no clocks!  Kudos to New York’s JFK Airport, Terminal 8, however.  Directly after passing through security, there is a row of clocks showing time around the world.  Want to know the time in Tokyo?  JFK’s Terminal 8 has you covered.  Perhaps JFK received all the clock shipments intended for other airports. Perhaps not knowing the time isn’t terribly important.  After all, late is my middle name.

You might enjoy the Meaning of Travel.

Let’s keep things simple.  Why simplify and why does it work so well in photography?

When you look at a scene with your naked eye, your brain quickly picks out subjects of interest.  Go ahead try this.  Take a glance around the room where you are.  Are you finding something interesting?  With our eyes – and brain – we are able to look at a scene and selectively see only the important elements and basically ignore the rest.

When you point your camera to ANY scene, your camera does not discriminate.  A camera sees all the details within the field of view.  Your camera captures everything in front of it, which can lead to a cluttered messy picture with no clear focal point.   When you view your photos later you might even be confused and not remember what the subject was because it’s smaller in the frame or even less striking.

So, remember – and this is very VERY important.  Don’t let your camera rule you.  YOU rule your camera.  You will be the one to make decisions and then you set your camera accordingly.  You are also smarter than your camera.  You are the one with the knowledge and you share your knowledge with your camera by inputting the settings.  Good photographs are seldom created by chance.

So, what you need to do with regard to composition is arrange the elements of a scene within a photo, catch the viewer’s attention, please the eye or make a clear statement – these are all qualities of good composition.  In your scene what is most important.  What do you want the main focus to be?  It is this viewpoint that makes your subject the centre of attention in the frame.  You can’t always keep other objects out of the picture, so try to keep them in the background or make them part of the story that is in your frame.

By developing photographic composition skills, you can produce photos that suggest movement, life, depth and form, recreating the dynamic scene that made you pick up your camera to capture it.

That said, Simplicity is the key to most good pictures. The simpler photo is, the clearer and stronger is the resulting composition.

One good rule is – tell only one story. Ensure there is only enough material in the picture to convey one single idea. Although each picture is composed of numerous small parts and contributing elements, none should attract more of the viewer’s attention than the primary object of the picture. The primary object is the reason the picture is being made in the first place, so don’t distract from the main subject.   Select a viewpoint that eliminates distractions so the principal subject is readily recognized.

Photography is a creative field of study.  You can not just turn on your camera and expect magic to happen.  It takes time and practice.  A lot of practice
 

Photography is about the frame you put around an image, yet the story doesn’t end there.  It goes beyond the frame, through a kind of intuition.  It captures the gesture of a particular moment and conveys a message through careful thought and emphasis on certain key features.  It says – LOOK!  This Photo Is Special!

This is why I begin this series about photo composition – to get you to the special part by learning to see in a new way.  By that, I mean learning more about and mastering composition.

When you make a composition, there are countless possibilities.  In the weeks ahead, I’ll help you explore the possibilities.

So, what is photo composition?

Photo composition is the arrangement of elements in a photograph.

That’s it.  Simple as that.   Composition means what the photograph is made up of.  Photographs are merely visual information whether a photo is artistic or a simple documentation of a subject.  So, basically, when you compose a photo when you travel, you are deciding which elements to include when you click your shutter release button.

What’s more – composition is the essence of good photography.   You could even say the composition is the most important element of a photograph.  I would say that before anything else.

A poor composition can make a fantastic subject look dull and uninteresting.  But, a well-set scene can create a wonderful image from the most ordinary of situations.  That’s right, a good composition can make the ordinary look extraordinary.  This is our goal in this photography composition series.  I want to help you make your next travel photos sensational.

In the posts ahead I will go into detail about the rules or laws of composition.  Don’t worry, we are not going to spend hours discussing the overrated rule of thirds.  And, don’t feel you’ve got to remember every one of these rules and apply them to every photo you take.  Every rule and element in the posts ahead are aimed to help you.  Soon, you’ll guide your viewer’s attention in the way you want your photograph to be perceived.

Spend time practising each one of the photography elements and in turn, the rules will become second nature – meaning you will automatically put the rules into practice without thinking.  You’ll soon learn to spot situations where the different rules can be applied to the best effect.

Does this sound like a challenge?  It can be, though with practice, and I do mean a lot of practice, you will master composition with no trouble.

The Queen’s Walk takes you over Westminster Bridge, along the south bank of the River Thames towards Tate Modern then back over the river on the Millennium footbridge to St Paul’s Cathedral. This pedestrian walkway is several miles long and passes some of London’s most popular tourist and visitor attractions all of which can be visited throughout the year.

So, if you are looking for the best places to take perfect pictures of London, you’ll be delighted with every step you take along the Queen’s Walk.  There are brilliant photos waiting to be taken and you’ll be pleased with your results.

START:  Westminster Underground: District and Circle or Jubilee Line

Westminster Bridge → South Bank Lion → County Hall (London Sea Life Aquarium) → London Eye → South Bank Centre (Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Rooms, Poetry Library) → National Theatre → National Film Institute → Tate Modern → Gabriel’s Wharf → OXO Tower and Centre → Shakespeare’s Globe → Millennium Bridge → St Paul’s Cathedral

FINISH:   St Paul’s Underground: Central Line

START at Westminster Underground Station. Come out of the station at EXIT 4. You will be opposite the Palace of Westminster looking at the largest four-faced clock tower in the world. Big Ben, is not the Clock Tower but is the largest bell inside the tower that strikes the hour.

Turn left out of the station on to BRIDGE STREET SW1 and walk up to VICTORIA EMBANKMENT SW1. Cross straight over the road and walk on the left-hand side of Westminster Bridge to the South Bank Lion.

Walk DOWN the steps from Westminster Bridge onto The Queen’s Walk (Thames Path, South Bank). Walk straight ahead past the Old County Hall (London Aquarium and National File Museum) and the London Eye wheel. Continue along the path, under the bridges (Hungerford Millennium foot and railway bridges) to the Royal Festival Hall.
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Continue on the path past the Royal Festival, Queen Elizabeth Halls and Purcell Rooms. Walk under Waterloo Bridge to the Royal National Theatre. Continue on the path past the business offices to Gabriel’s Wharf and the OXO Tower.

Continue on the path past Tate Modern, the Millennium Footbridge (does not wobble now) and Shakespeare’s Globe, go under Southwark Bridge. Walk across the Millennium footbridge to St Paul’s Cathedral.

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