December 2018


The call to prayer, also known as Adhan, in Istanbul.  Istanbul for me is one of the fascinating cities in the world.  This is a city to which I always want to return.

The sound of the ice cream truck would jolt many back to their childhood.  For me, the sound of Adhan transports me right back to my family’s villa in Tripoli Libya.  Tripoli is where I grew up and the mosque was right around the corner from home.  Yes, travel and being immersed in cultures foreign to my own started early for me.

Five times a day the muezzin would summon Muslims to worship and the sound beamed from the minaret high above the mosque.  At first, the sound was shocking until it became a normal part of the day.  Being a kid I called it the sound of the wounded moose.  Today, it’s a melodic sound placing me back on the marble floors playing with my hot wheels.

What is Adhan?
In Arabic, the word ‘Athan’ is to call or to inform.  Religiously, it is a call made to inform people that the time of the prayer has begun. It is obligatory for the congregation in the mosque while for individuals praying alone at home, for example, it is a highly preferred act. It begins by proclaiming the greatness and oneness of Allah and the denial of disbelief and polytheism, testifying to the messengers of Muhammad and then calling to a prosperity which is everlasting, pointing to the return to Allah.

The ‘Iqamah’ is the second and final Call to Prayer and is uttered immediately before the beginning of the obligatory prayer indicating that it is actually time to perform the prayer.

Istanbul was the first place for me to hear Adhan since leaving Libya.  I remember stopping in my tracks as a broad smile swept across my face.  Funny how this happens.  As I travel far and deep, I hear the call to Adhan more often.  The feeling simply doesn’t change.


Destination:  Istanbul Turkey

There are obvious reasons to Love London – the ones the tourists flock to the city to find.  Big Ben, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown and the list goes on and on.

Are there more meaningful reasons to adore London?  In the video above I explore 24 reasons to love London.  My reasons aren’t superficial, but ones you can’t really see or capture with a camera.  Do you get a feeling when you are in London?

My List of 24 Meaningful Reasons To Love London
::  It’s a city of infinite possibilities.
::  You don’t have to travel far to see a famous landmark.
::  London gives you the freedom to be who you are and be what you want to be.
::  London IS the universe and you’re in the middle of it.
::  The remarkable feeling of walking over the Thames River at night.
::  The contrast between old and new; what came before and the future.
::  The buzz and the endless energy of London.
::  There are stories and history at every turn you take in London.
::  Sometimes being in London is like walking around in a movie.
::  There are endless creative opportunities in London.
::  The Royal Family (i’m not convinced of this one).
::  No matter how long you’ve been in London, there is always a new place to discover.
::  There are monuments to everything that ever happened in London.
::  Culturally, London is a mecca.  You’re blessed with culture no matter where you go.
::  London is as international as it is British.
::  When you’re in London, you can choose a life of adventure.
::  You’ll never be bored in London even if you have nothing to do.
::  London welcome eccentricity.
::  Old London architecture is some of the finest in the world.  The verdict is out regarding modern buildings.
::  There are quiet spots to escape to amongst the hustle and bustle.
::  When you’re in London, you imagination expands beyond comprehension.
::  Whether or not you like The Shard, it does have stunning views you shouldn’t miss.

::  London’s double-decker buses are not only iconic, but they’re cool.
::  We might loathe the London Underground, but it’s a marvel of engineering.

I can easily say everything I learned I learned from London.  This city opened my eyes and broadened my way of thinking.  During university days, I saw two men kissing in Earl’s Court Road outside the Underground Station.   I had never seen this before in public.  You can imagine my fascination with this public display. Multiple languages, different dress styles and a freedom of expression far surpassed anything I’d experienced elsewhere.

Museums, theatre and even store windows inspired me to learn more and explore creativity beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving.  London taught me to push myself further, test my limits and stretch them to new heights.

The American in me says I can be anything I want to be.  London taught me I will be anything I want and not care what others think.  London touched me at an early age and continues to do so today.

24 Reasons to Love London.  What are your reasons to love London?

view of london from primrose hill

Destination:  London

Mastering aperture takes time and a lot of practice.  This partly because the aperture you select affects your other camera settings, especially shutter speed if you want your photo to be properly exposed.

For your images for this Backgrounds Photo Composition Exercise, set your camera to AV (Aperture Value).  This will allow you to select the aperture each time while your camera chooses the correct shutter speed for the light available.   Keep everything else on automatic, including the ISO, until you feel confident.

Go outside – perhaps in your garden or a public park and choose a wide range of apertures.  Your goal is to produce photos where the background is soft and dreamy.  The background will lack detail.   Other images you take will result in the background being pin sharp.

Start at the lowest F number (such as f 3.5 or 5.6) and keep changing the aperture until you reach the highest F number (f 16  f22, etc…)

You will take a photo at each F-Stop or number.

When you are satisfied, compare your photos at the different aperture settings.

Do note with longer focal lengths the depth of field (the amount in focus) will lessen.

When you have completed the Backgrounds Challenge, please share your images with me on Twitter.  My Twitter home is @MarkPaulda

Always keep your photographic eye open while walking along the south side of the River Thames. From Westminster Bridge all the way to Tower Bridge (and beyond) you’re guaranteed remarkable views, more iconic London sights than you could ever hope to see in one go and simply a great walk.

When people visit London for the first time, I always recommend this very same walk. There are countless reasons to include south of the River Thames as one of the best places to photograph London because of all the photographic opportunities.

Plan to spend all day or an entire evening along the river path. If you are adventurous and a night owl, start late in the evening and work your way along the Thames into the wee hours of the morning. The area is safe. I’ve done this many times.

The photos included in this post are only one example of what can be captured. There is plenty more, guaranteed.

Where did I take these photos?

Enjoy Your Walk.

A wonderful quote from the legendary actor Orson Wells. Academy Award Winning actor for “Citizen Kane”, Orson Welles was also quite the food connoisseur and a wonderful humorist. Here he does a different take on the Kennedy quote of “ask not what your country can do for you”, turning into a priceless food quote. This is only one example, there are countless others, for example…”My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four…unless there are three other people”. If you are not familiar with Orson Welles…look him up, by all means, watch his movies ( they’re brilliant!), and check out his other quotes. As I said, he was quite a humorist.

If it is possible for a landscape to touch the soul, then White Sands is the place.  Large white gypsum sand blows across the Tularosa Basin forming various types of dune formations.  White Sands is a vast sea of white in the brown Chihuahuan Desert with the Sacramento Mountains in the background.  A bit out of the way, but not too far if you want to be left speechless by a brilliant landscape.

Why should White Sands be on your travel list?  There are the obvious reasons:  the unimaginable landscape, the coolness of the sand, or the large patch of white in the otherwise brown Chihuahua Desert.

Then there are my deeper reasons for those in a quest to find something extraordinary.  

My List Of Why White Sands Should Be On Your Travel List:

:: Your mind will travel miles away from everyday life.

::  White Sands will touch deep within your soul.

:: You’ll notice every breath and hear your every step.

:: The silence will let you hear your thoughts.

:: You’ll better understand the power of nature.

:: You can test your strength inside and out.

:: No better place to get yourself centred.

:: One of the most amazing landscapes you’ll ever see.

Consider these ten interesting facts about White Sands National Monument ::

1. The White Sands National Monument is made up entirely of gypsum crystals that form dunes that stretch over 275 square miles.

2. The park is on the Register of Historic Places and can be found in any New Mexico travel guide.

3. The idea to make this area a National Park was first thought of way back in 1898.

4. The White Sands National Monument is completely surrounded by military installations and is periodically closed for a few hours at a time while they carry out testing.

5. Located in the Tularosa Basin, the park and the dunes are fully enclosed; there is no outlet to water of any kind, so the gypsum never gets dissolved in water.

6. Four marked trails allow visitors to explore the dunes on foot; guided tours are also available where a Ranger leads the expedition.

7. Visitors can go sledding year-round at the park. Sleds are available for purchase at the visitor centre and you can spend the day having fun in the sun.

8. The site of the first atomic bomb detonation is located on the northern boundary of the National Park.

9. Gypsum, what makes up the dunes is actually a clear substance; the dunes appear white like snow because the gypsum grains are constantly banging into each other. The scratches then reflect the sun’s rays making them look white.

10. Gypsum doesn’t absorb heat from the sun, so even on the hottest day of the year; the dunes are cool and comfortable to walk on.

I’ve written extensively about White Sands on this blog and this landscape dominates my last book, El Paso 120.  Rest assured there is more to come.

Destination:  White Sands National Monument

Stephen Sondheim wrote a marvellous song for “Company” titled “Another Hundred People.”  Company is one of my all-time favourite Sondheim shows.  A few of the lyrics of the song include:  
“Another hundred people just got off of the train,
And came up through the ground,
While another hundred people just got off of the bus,
And are looking around
At another hundred people who got off of the plane,
And are looking at us,
Who got off of the train,
And the plane, and the bus,
Maybe yesterday.”

Whenever I’m in Liverpool Street Station, I think of Sondheim’s song.  If you’ve never listened to “Another Hundred People,” do check it out. The song not only reminds me of trains and all of the people getting on and off trains but London in general.  Londoners are busy and they fiercely guard their precious time.  If only I had a pound for every time I’ve heard – “let me check my diary…”

That said, here is another busy day at Liverpool Street Station in London.  It is interesting to stand above and watch how people navigate and weave through one another.  Why doesn’t anyone bump into another?  During busier times the people dodging one another look like scrambling ants on the ground.

Off the top of my head, I can think of only two train stations in London where you can stand above and watch the mad rush of commuters on the main floor below.  One station is Victoria Station and the other is Liverpool Station.

Being an observer of society, I enjoy catching the view of people interacting even if they are not directly engaging with one another.  It’s almost like a human race or maze.  People weave in, weave out.  Some people abruptly stop without ever thinking someone might be behind them.  All the while no one seems to collide, trip or fall.  How does this happen, I wonder?

For those of you wanting to either photograph or capture video at a London train station or Underground station, do beware.  Many London stations are privately owned, which means you are capturing private property.  If security or a station manager finds you, you will be told to stop.  In my case, the station manager at Waterloo Station (who was also not very pleasant) called the police making a mountain out of a nothing at all.

The outside of the station is sort of interesting, which you can see in the photos below ::

I was laying on the ground to capture this image.  As luck would have it, a London policeman stood over me before he realised I was neither hurt nor drunk.


Remember, Backgrounds can be used to help fill the frame of your photo.  You can also use backgrounds to your advantage by making them part of the story you are trying to tell in your photograph. 

You can’t usually leave out the background completely, but you can control it to make a strong composition

Notice in each of the following images below how the backgrounds have been used effectively and notice how they compliment the main subject.   Achieve a brilliant result simply by using an aperture such as F2.8, F3.5, F5.6.  Give this a try to produce stunning results for your next photograph.

Please download the free PDF for additional examples of effective uses of backgrounds.

Photographs Showing an Effective Use of Backgrounds