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The Gentleman Wayfarer

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World Book Day is tomorrow as it is every 23 April.  Commit yourself to reach back to the classics, then begin reading.  Some book titles included in this list are expected, though there are a handful of surprises.  And, if you’re thinking what to read during a general free time on the sofa, or by a pool or an ocean, I’ve got you covered.  

A well-read gentleman is also a good conversationalist.  It’s the perfect excuse to get lost in a good book.  

Self-Control: Its Kingship and Majesty by William George Jordan

The turn of the 20th century was the golden age of personal development books. In contrast to the self-help books of today, which are filled with flattering, empty, cliche platitudes, they’re direct, masterfully written, and full of profound and challenging insights that centre on the development of good character. Even in this golden age, one author stands supreme: William George Jordan. His Self-Control is full of beautifully written wisdom on self-reliance, calmness, gratitude, and more.

Self Control It's Kinship and Majesty William Gordge Jordan

 
How to Be A Gentleman: A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners by John Bridges

Being a gentleman isn’t just being a nice guy, or a considerate guy or the type of guy someone might take home to meet their mother.  A gentleman realizes that he has the unique opportunity to distinguish himself from the rest of the crowd. He knows when an email is appropriate, and when nothing less than a handwritten note will do. He knows how to dress on the golf course, in church, and at a party. He knows how to breeze through an airport without the slightest fumble of his carry-on or boarding pass.  And those conversational icebreakers―“Where do I know you from?” A gentleman knows better.  Gentlemanliness is all in the details, and John Bridges is reclaiming the idea that men―gentlemen―can be extraordinary in every facet of their lives.

How To Be A Gentleman A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners John Bridges

 

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favourite books of all time.  This New Orleans-based novel won author John Kennedy Toole the Pulitzer Prize. Its perfect comedy of errors is centred around the character of Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy and socially ignorant, but very intelligent man, who still lives with his mother at the age of 30. A Confederacy of Dunces serves as a guide for what a man ought not to be while providing sound entertainment all the while.

A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole

 

Lord of the Barnyard: Killing the Fatted Calf and Arming the Aware in the Cornbelt by Tristan Egolf

A literary sensation published to outstanding accolades in America and around the world, Lord of the Barnyard was one of the most auspicious fiction debuts of recent years. Now available in paperback, Tristan Egolf’s manic, inventive, and painfully funny debut novel is the story of a town’s dirty laundry — and a garbagemen’s strike that lets it all hang out. Lord of the Barnyard begins with the death of a woolly mammoth in the last Ice Age and concludes with a greased-pig chase at a funeral in the modern-day Midwest. In the interim there are two hydroelectric dam disasters, fourteen tavern brawls, one shoot-out in the hills, three cases of probable arson, a riot in the town hall, and a lone tornado, as well as appearances by a coven of Methodist crones, an encampment of Appalachian crop thieves, six renegade coal-truck operators, an outraged mob of factory rats, a dysfunctional poultry plant, and one autodidact goat-roping farm boy by the name of John Kaltenbrunner. Lord of the Barnyard is a brilliantly comic tapestry of a Middle America still populated by river rats and assembly-line poultry killers, measuring into shot glasses the fruits of years of quiet desperation on the factory floor. Unforgettable and linguistically dizzying, it goes much farther than postal.

Lord of the Barnyard Tristan Egolf

 
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I saw the theatre production of Treasure Island at the National Theatre not once, not twice, but three times.  Then, I read the book again with much delight.  Pretty much everything we think of when we think of pirates comes not from the pages of history but from this book: treasure maps with “X” marking the spot, deserted islands, peg legs, parrots, and more. Published as a children’s tale (and a rather adult one at that), American novelist Henry James praised it as “perfect as a well-played boy’s game.”

Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson

 
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton

Read Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, then read the Constitution.  Composed of 85 articles, The Federalist Papers served to explain and encourage the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The majority of the essays were penned by Alexander Hamilton and originally published in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet. While the Constitution lays out the laws of the land, these essays provide the 18th-century version of the ballot/blue books we get the mail around election time, explaining the laws that are being proposed. It is essential reading for any civically minded American.  Forget the theatre production.

The Federalist Papers Alexander Hamilton

 
Your Car’s Owner’s Manual

Yep, that dusty book in your glove compartment. Come on, bring it out and get to know your car better. So, it’s not exactly “literature” but it’ll teach you something that will come in handy.  Guaranteed.  By the way, I was shocked to learn the battery in my Mercedes is located under the driver’s seat.

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

The fundamental work on free-market policies: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” Want an education in economics?  This book is a great start.

The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith

 
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The granddad of books about people skills, the advice found in How to Win Friends and Influence People is still sound and applicable 80 years later. Carnegie writes about skills like making people feel valued and appreciated, ensuring you don’t come across as manipulative (which happens unintentionally more than we think!), and essentially, “winning” people to your viewpoints and ideas. While it can sound a little disingenuous in its description, these are true skills that people use every day, and this book is a great resource for boning up your social game.

How To Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie

 
The Republic by Plato

The Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning the definition of justice and how a just city-state should be ordered and characterized. It is the great philosopher’s best-known work and has proven to be one of history’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory. In it, Socrates and other various interlocutors discuss the meaning of justice and examine whether or not the just man is happier than the unjust man, as well as the theory of Forms, the immortality of the soul, and the role of the philosopher in society.

The Republic Plato

 
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Robert Jordan is a young dynamiter in the Spanish Civil War. He’s an American who’s volunteered to fight against Franco’s fascists and is sent behind enemy lines to take out an important bridge to impede enemy forces from advancing. He lives in a rudimentary camp with anti-fascist Spanish guerillas and comes to embrace their hearty way of life and love. And of course, there are some incredible battle scenes, which were informed by Hemingway’s own time as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War.

For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway

 
On the Road by Jack Kerouac

A defining novel of the Beat generation, On the Road, is fictional, but a semi-autobiographical account of two friends’ road trips across America, against the backdrop of a counter-culture of jazz, poetry, drug use, and the drunken revelry of back-alley bars. Along with their travels, they’re searching for what many young men are: freedom, ambition, hope, and authenticity.  

On the Road Jack Kerouac

 
Travels With Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck

To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colours and the light—these were John Steinbeck’s goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.  With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way, he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers. 

Travels With Charley In Search of America John Steinbeck

 
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s.  A Moveable Feast brilliantly evokes the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the unbridled creativity and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomized.

A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway

 
Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

After a terrible storm, the Swiss family Robinson becomes shipwrecked on a deserted island. With teamwork, ingenuity, and a bit of luck, the group strives to overcome nature’s obstacles and create some semblance of community and civility within their new environs. A truly classic survival and adventure tale.

The Swiss Family Robinson Johann David Wyss

 
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

While there’s plenty of political, moral, and economic philosophy in this book, it’s coated in an action thriller of a story. Set in the near future, our protagonists are Dagny Taggart, heir to a transcontinental railroad empire, and Hank Rearden, the head of a steel company who’s invented a revolutionary new alloy. Together, they battle against evil government bureaucrats and socialists to hold civilization together, while all the while powerful industrialists are mysteriously disappearing, leaving behind only the cryptic phrase “Who is John Galt?” Though this book is associated with passionate libertarianism, the story is an interesting one to ponder no matter one’s political persuasions.

Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand

 
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

The ultimate tale of betrayal and revenge. Edmund Dantes, days before marrying his beloved Mercedes, is brutally betrayed, arrested for treason, and consequently taken to a prison on an island off the French coast. The story goes on to tell of his escape from prison (don’t worry, it’s early in the novel and doesn’t ruin anything) and his becoming wealthy and re-entering society as an educated and sophisticated Count. He plots his revenge, eyes reclaiming his love, and ultimately…well, you’ll just have to read it.

The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas

 
Self-Reliance & Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance” contains the most prominent of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophies: the need for each individual to avoid conformity and personal inconsistencies, and to follow their own instincts and ideas. You’re to rely on your own self versus going with the ebbs and flows of culture at large. Other essays in the collection focus on friendship, history, experience, and more.  Is it just me, or is this Self Reliance a necessity in today’s world?  I’m anything except a conformist.Self Reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson

 
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

There is nothing more manly than a bout with the Devil. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote this entertaining commentary on the social bureaucracy in Moscow during the height of Stalin’s reign. Lucifer himself pays the atheistic city a visit to make light of the people’s scepticism regarding the spiritual realm. The novel also visits ancient Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate’s rule. Even for the non-religious, this book will provide plenty of food for thought.

The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov

 
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

This 1897 play follows French cadet Cyrano de Bergerac. He’s a poet, musician, and expert swordsman — a true Renaissance Man. Unfortunately, Cyrano has a tragically large nose, which hinders his confidence to the point that he’s unable to profess his feelings to Roxane and feels he isn’t worthy of anyone’s love. What is a man to do in such a situation? Read and find out.

Cyrano De Bergerac Edmond Rostand 
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

It’s all well and good to be a dreamer, but a man must also be grounded in reality. It’s a lesson that Don Quixote comes to learn in the 17th-century eponymous book, which is widely considered to be the world’s first novel. Quixote, along with his squire Sancho Panza, travels the world in search of grand adventures and heroic deeds which would earn him the title of Knight. He continues against all odds, and in some cases, against all common sense. It’s funny, surprisingly easy to read given the fact that it’s over 400 years old, and can provide a man many lessons on the aspirations of heroism.

Don Quixote Cervantes

 
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This short, but ever-popular tale is a young woman’s take on humanity and horror. Mary Shelley was just 21 when Frankenstein was first published in 1818, and the book is widely regarded as the first popular science fiction/horror novel. While you surely know the monster and the story of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein bringing him to life, it’s a much darker and more philosophical book than what pop culture has made it out to be. You learn about science, ego, pride, and ultimately, what it means to be human.Frankenstein Mary Shelley

 
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Dickens should be a part of every man’s reading life, and A Tale of Two Cities is a good starter. It’s set in London and Paris during the French Revolution and depicts the plight of the French peasantry, their turn to violence towards the aristocrats who marginalized them, and the parallels to London society during the same period.A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens

 
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

In this travelogue, Paul Theroux recounts his 4-month journey through Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia on the continent’s fabled trains: the Orient Express, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express and the Trans-Siberian Express. His well-documented and entertaining adventures have come to be considered a classic in the travel literature genre. This journal satisfies the vicarious traveller and inspires the adventurous man.The Great Railway Bazaar Paul Theroux

 
The Iliad & The Odyssey by Homer

These epic poems are some of the world’s oldest pieces of literature. They’ve been read, enjoyed, and studied for thousands of years, and for good reason. They are not only beautiful to the ear, but contain lessons that every man can learn about heroism, courage, and manliness. The Iliad takes place during a few weeks of the final year of the Trojan War and details the heroic deeds of both Achilles and Hector, as well as a variety of other legends and stories. The Odyssey, a sequel of sorts, is about the great warrior Odysseus’ voyage home after the Trojan War. He faces various obstacles in his return to Greece, and we also see how his family back home dealt with his assumed death.The Iliad and The Odyssey Homer

 
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The novel that catapulted Hemingway to worldwide fame and success. The Sun Also Rises follows Jake Barnes and a group of ex-patriot friends through Spain and France, with plenty of wine-drinking and bull-fighting. The novel is a bit semi-autobiographical in that the main character is trying to deal with his war wounds — both physical and emotional — and escape to the supposed romanticism of travelling and eating and drinking to your heart’s content. Does Jake find happiness? You’ll have to read to find out.The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway

 
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

While the book’s plot centres on an ageing, disinterested father and his three adult children, the substance found within goes much beyond that. Dostoevsky’s final and greatest novel, this book also involves spiritual and moral dramas and debates regarding God, free will, ethics, morality, judgment, doubt, reason, and more. It’s a philosophical work clothed as a novel — which of course makes Dostoevsky’s weighty ideas easier to digest. The McDuff translation gets rave reviews.The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Written in the early 1500s, this is the classic guide on how to acquire and maintain political power (even if those methods are sometimes unsavoury) — a so-called “primer for princes.” Its precepts are direct, if not disturbingly cold in their formulaic pragmatism. It asks the classic question: “Do the ends justify the means?” A worthy read for any man wishing to better understand the motivations and actions that tend to rule modern politics.The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli

 
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set among New York City elites in the roaring ‘20s, this book is considered one of America’s great literary products for a reason. Narrator Nick Carraway is befriended by his mysterious millionaire neighbour, Jay Gatsby, and proves to be a crucial link in Jay’s quixotic obsession with Nick’s cousin, Daisy. The metaphors, the beautiful writing, and the lessons one can garner about reliving the past all make The Great Gatsby worth reading, again and again. Our interview with NPR’s Maureen Corrigan is worth a listen. She is the author of So We Read On: How To Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures. We discussed her research into why a novel was written about Jazz Age New York that resonates with Americans nearly a century later.The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

 
1984 – George Orwell

Read 1984, then go delete your Facebook account.  Perhaps the most essential to re-read today, 1984 sets stage in an oppressive futuristic society monitored by the ever-watching Big Brother. Protagonist Winston Smith goes to work every day at the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites and distorts history. However, Smith decided to begin a diary — an action punishable by death. Amid modern-day data mining, the fall of Net Neutrality, and lunatic leaders, we cannot forget the toll of tyranny and totalitarianism.1984 George Orwell

 
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Another assigned high school read you probably didn’t appreciate when you were sixteen, it’s time to revisit the ambling of George Milton and Lennie Small, migrant workers who search for jobs throughout California amid The Great Depression. And with all great novels, it’s been banned time and again for its mention of violence, swearing, racism, sexism, the works, but it’s an essential commentary on the nature of The American Dream, the dichotomy of strength and weakness, and the loneliness of isolation.Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck

 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Often called “the greatest American novel,” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn proceeds Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and is renowned for its use of written vernacular in imitation of southern antebellum society. The story follows teenager Huck Finn and his friend Tom Sawyer as they navigate themes of race and identity. So, yeah, you should re-read that one today, especially given that the original novel has been the subject of censorship in schools for years.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain

 
The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

If you need an “excuse” to read some of the best love poems ever written about oceans and women and the earth, say you’re brushing up on your dating one-liners. But the words by Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda are so much more than kindling. They are pure fire and combustion. This book will wake up your soul. It also mends broken hearts.The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

 
The Stranger – Albert Camus

An ordinary man finds himself on trial after committing a murder in one of the greatest novellas of the 20th century. A dissection of morality and the philosophy of the absurd, The Stranger is particularly relevant today as we face a world of heightened sensitivity and, perhaps, a society that makes no sense to us.The Stranger Albert Camus

 
The Call of the Wild – Jack London

Try this: Take the novel on a long, boring, or otherwise dreaded journey. Close the last page a changed man (it’s that phenomenal) with a new outlook on struggle and bonds. Set in Yukon, Canada, during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, London writes of Buck, a dog that is abducted and forced into the chaos and brutality of frontier life. In a word: rugged.  Secretly: a tear-jerker.The Call of the Wild Jack London

 
Lord of the Flies – William Golding

A band of British boys are shipwrecked on an island and try to maintain order and normalcy the way governments do. As you might guess, it all goes terribly, terribly wrong. Lord of the Flies, the first novel from Golding, is a perfect glimpse at the nature of savage inclination. It’s a short read but it’s a damn good one.Lord of the Flies William Golding

 
Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger

We’ll bet you first glimpsed the vibrant red cover of Catcher in the Rye some time in high school. But don’t let your memory fool you into thinking it’s a kids book. Possibly the best coming-of-age tale in all of literature, Salinger writes of the young and relatable protagonist Holden Caulfield and his first-person commentary on the world as he struggles between embracing adulthood and hiding in his childhood memories.The Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger

 

How To Be A Gentleman

Have you seen movies where a person looks through a keyhole? On the viewer’s side, the side where the person looking through the keyhole, the scene is dark and perhaps ominous? Through the keyhole might be a mysterious scene or even something magical?

As viewers of the movie, we are taken into a scene and we feel as if we’re part of the action. Not only is the actor in the movie looking through the keyhole, but we are as well. We see what the actor sees at the very same time. We feel the suspense, angst, shock, horror, joy, enchantment – whatever emotion the moviemaker wants us to feel, we feel it, too.

This is an effective method in moviemaking and cinematography as we become part of the action. This is also an effective method in photography.

As photographers it is important to draw the viewers of your photographs into your image. Your photograph is the keyhole, so to speak, that allows viewers to experience or view what you have seen and captured with your camera. If your viewers can be drawn into your photo, then they will feel the emotion or feeling that you’re trying to convey. And, if you can draw viewers in and make them feel a certain way, then you my friend, are not a picture taker but instead a photographer.

How do you draw people into your photographs? You begin by mastering photo composition. You master photo composition by practicing all key elements until they become second nature to you. Becoming a great photographer really is that simple tho’ it is a lot of work.

One suggestion regarding photo composition is to challenge yourself. One way to challenge yourself is to change the camera you use. For example, if you typically shoot with a digital camera of any sort or a mobile phone, let’s say, then switch to a film camera for a day or even a week.

You can pick up inexpensive film cameras at ebay. And yes, you can still purchase film and have it professionally developed.

I have a variety of film cameras but for this blog post I chose the Fisheye camera from Lomography. I also chose black and white film. Better still, I chose London as my backdrop.

The cool thing about Lomo’s Fisheye camera is the captured image is actually a circle with a pronounced black border. Basically, the result is like looking through a keyhole – at least that’s how I see it.

I’ve included a variety of images I captured over a week’s time. The shots are entirely random tho’ you’ll recognise some of the scenes. Have a look at the photos. Are they the best images of London you’ve ever seen? No. They are not the best images I’ve seen either. The better question is – have you seen London portrayed this way before? Unless you’ve practiced this same photo exercise, your answer is undoubtedly a no.

Photographing a familiar scene in a new way with a new perspective and with a camera you’re not entirely familiar with will allow you the freedom to explore and test your creativity.

It is easy to be comfortable. It’s easy to always surround yourself with the familiar. The easy way is not the best way to improve your photography skills.

You will grow by challenging yourself. You’ll reach new levels of achievement by stepping away from your comfort zone.

It’s safe to say you’ll surprise even yourself by creating a masterful composition that draws your viewer into your vision. And in the end, involving the viewers of your photographs is exactly what you want.

The following is an exerpt from “Alice Through the Looking Glass”.
Notice how Alice first envisions what life might be if she and kitty could go through the looking-glass house. In an instant, Alice does go through the looking glass and she takes us with her when she does. This is exactly what you want to do with the viewers of your photographs.

“But this is taking us away from Alice’s speech to the kitten. ‘Let’s pretend that you’re the Red Queen, Kitty! Do you know, I think if you sat up and folded your arms, you’d look exactly like her. Now do try, there’s a dear!’ And Alice got the Red Queen off the table, and set it up before the kitten as a model for it to imitate: however, the thing didn’t succeed, principally, Alice said, because the kitten wouldn’t fold its arms properly. So, to punish it, she held it up to the Looking-glass, that it might see how sulky it was—‘and if you’re not good directly,’ she added, ‘I’ll put you through into Looking-glass House. How would you like that?’

‘Now, if you’ll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I’ll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there’s the room you can see through the glass—that’s just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair—all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see that bit! I want so much to know whether they’ve a fire in the winter: you never can tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too—but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I’ve held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.

‘How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they’d give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink—But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it’s very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I’m sure it’s got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It’ll be easy enough to get through—’ She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.

In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind. ‘So I shall be as warm here as I was in the old room,’ thought Alice: ‘warmer, in fact, because there’ll be no one here to scold me away from the fire. Oh, what fun it’ll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can’t get at me!’

Then she began looking about, and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that all the rest was as different as possible. For instance, the pictures on the wall next the fire seemed to be all alive, and the very clock on the chimney-piece (you know you can only see the back of it in the Looking-glass) had got the face of a little old man, and grinned at her.”

If there is a single road that leads to a view unsurpassed by few others in the southwest, then surely Transmountain Road cutting through the Franklin Mountains would be it.  The winding and ascending journey along Transmountain will take one to 5120ft, which is where I stop one brisk January pre-dawn morning to watch the sun rise above the far horizon.

The temper of the mountain is calm at this hour, almost in a slumber in the brisk morning air.  No giant pine trees soften the winter wind whispering in my ear.  No singing birds or running deer to take my eye off the sky. Only high-elevation cacti and desert brush crawl along the rocks and boulders often jutting out like nature’s high rises descending in to the valleys on either side of the Franklins.

Looking west I see the near full moon sinking below the horizon.  Seconds later, I turn to the east marveling at a fiery ball nudging above the desert floor, and the royal blue sky rapidly transforms with bursts of splendid golden hues as if Mother Nature’s paintbrush splatters across the heavens. In an instant natural fireworks fill the sky as the moon sets and sun rises instantaneously as I watch in awe.  A moment passes and the sun’s rays stretch across East El Paso tickling the sides of the Franklin Mountains waking her for another day.

Gradually the glow of the rising sun ascends from the base of the mountain to its top as one slowly opens their eyes after a good night’s sleep.  A perfect mixture of burning red, glistening yellow, royal purple, and flaming orange sweep upward in a near swift motion as the sun reflects off of the quartzites, sands, limestones and marbles composing the mountain.  There is a sparkle in the Franklin’s “eye” as it resumes its role as the jewel of El Paso.

Overlooking the Rio Grande River, with broad fortitude, the Franklin Mountains are the northern ramparts of the Paso del Norte (Pass of the North), leading from Mexico into the United States.  The mountain range dominates the skyline of the city of El Paso beginning within the city limits in the south extending northward across the New Mexico border for a distance of about 15 miles (24km).  The Franklins are the southernmost extension of roughly continuous north-south ranges extending nearly 99 miles (160 km).  Today, Franklin Mountains State Park, established in 1979, is the largest urban park in the United States covering approximately 37 square miles and 24,247 acres, all within the city limits of El Paso.  The Franklin’s presence are an unmistakable beauty and vigor giving the city its natural character.

The advancing day with the blazing sun high above changes the mood of the mountains as they tower above the area, showing the strength of a wise old man (12,000 years and counting) El Pasoans respectfully know and love. Looking at its aged face, I can see its character lines and crevices showing thousands of years of life and experience.  From native Americans to gold- seekers to Spanish conquistadors on their mission to conquer and colonize the Puebloan villages in present-day New Mexico, the mountain range has indeed proven its endurance and resilience.  There is no doubt the Franklin’s are the physical strength of El Paso.

As the earth revolves once again with the sun descending in the western sky I can not resist watching the mountain relax almost as if it is letting out a deep breath after a long day’s work.  The face of the Franklin’s softens, often offering a reassuring smile with the changing light.  A chorus of golden amber and lush scarlet dance in unison, together with clouds catching the waning sun’s flare spilling even more color across the sky. Again, the rocks and boulders of the Franklin’s glimmer glorious red, purple and luxurious gold tones from the waning light from the setting sun , each winking at me as if to say goodnight.  Another dramatic end to a day. Another day in the life of El Paso’s Franklin Mountains.

Mont Saint Michel is a small rocky islet, roughly one kilometer from the north coast of France at the mouth of the Couesnon River, near Avranches in Normandy, close to the border of Brittany. It is home to the unusual Benedictine Abbey Church (built between the 11th and 16th centuries) which occupies most of the one kilometer diameter clump of rocks jutting out of the ocean.

It is connected to the mainland via a thin natural land bridge, which before modernization was covered at high tide, and revealed at low tide. Thus, Mont Saint Michel gained a mystical quality, being an island half the time, and being attached to land the other : a tidal island.

In 708 the Archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, and commanded him to build a chapel on the top of Mont Tombe, a rocky island in the middle of an immense bay. Overawed by this apparition, Aubert obeyed and built a sanctuary to the glory of God and Archangel Michael.

Throughout its long history, Mont Saint Michel has had many roles. First a religious sanctuary with its monastic communities, it became a place of worship with its immense pilgrimages, a centre of intense academic activity with its production of manuscripts and illuminations, a symbol of national resistance with the glorious feats of arms of its knights and a formidable prison when the priests were ousted in the French Revolution of 1789, putting an end to the religious vocation of Mont Saint Michel.

In 1870 Mont Saint Michel ceased to be a prison. It became a historic monument which gradually became a tourist centre.

The religious vocation of Mont Saint Michel was re-established in 1965 with the arrival of monastic communities from Jerusalem perpetuating Mont Saint Michel’s thousand- year old spiritual heritage.

In 1972 UNESCO classified Mont Saint-Michel as a “natural and cultural World Heritage Site”. Mont Saint Michel is also called one of the “wonder of the Occident”.

Excerpt from my new book, Sí El Paso – a photographic journey through El Paso, Texas.    Sí El Paso is published by TCU Press and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, markpaulda.com as well as your favourite bookseller.
Si El Paso
El Paso is like an island except it’s landlocked by Mexico, New Mexico and the rest of Texas. The culture and traditions from each area blend together on a daily basis making El Paso difficult to understand, even for us sometimes. Are we Texan? Mexican? Indian? American? 

The answer is we’re El Pasoans. There is no pretense about us. We’re likable, genuine, and hospitable. When you come to visit us, you’ll feel more welcome than any other place you’ll go. El Paso is a big city with a small town heart that will make you feel warm inside. 

El Paso is proud, and we have reason to be. Our history reaches back nearly 12,000 years at Hueco Tanks where the first human settlements can be traced. The Spanish established themselves during the mid-1550’s; Old West gunfighters took the law into their own hands on the streets of downtown; and we’ve always lived hand-in-hand with our sister city, Juarez, to our south. There is no other city like El Paso. We’re unique and El Pasoans like that we’re different. 

In 1903, Henry Trost moved to El Paso and introduced the Chicago School of Architecture style to the skyline. You could even say Henry Trost created El Paso’s skyline. At the time of Trost’s death in 1933, the El Paso Times wrote, “He was one who let himself be known by his works, rather than his words, one who made a valid and lasting contribution to the development of this region. His was a life of purpose and achievement, and he leaves the Southwest richer for his having lived and worked in it.” Henry Trost’s most revered architectural creations live on today with many restored to their former glory. Trost would be humble seeing his buildings survive into the twenty-first century. El Pasoan’s are proud to show off his architectural creativity. 

El Paso is more than our bountiful history. El Pasoans thrive on being an authentic mix of Mexican, American and Western cultures. English and Spanish are spoken concurrently and sometimes the two languages are spoken within the same sentence – that’s normal. We celebrate Dia de los Muertos (All Souls Day) not because Madison Avenue marketers tell us to, but because it’s a genuine way to celebrate the life of our ancestors. Folkloric Dancers flutter across our stages like butterflies in the desert wind; the horns and strings of Mariachis beam melodies through the Franklin Mountains; Luche Libre amuse crowds much better than the movie; and western urban cowboys buck off bulls like bouncing ping pong balls. We also think our Mexican food is the best anywhere in the world – and it is. And yes, we’re proud to celebrate America’s Independence as anyone would in the nation’s heartland. 

Our trusted friend, the Franklin Mountains, stretches through the middle of the city. Throughout various times of the day, her moods reveal a feeling as the sun transitions from east to west. The Franklin’s warm blithe spirit display during sunrise or sunset, and her stern formidable nature protects us from natural disaster. She’s reassuring in El Pasoan’s daily lives, and we miss her while we’re away.

We love the clear blue skies that seem never-ending like ocean waves into infinity. There is a sense of freedom that you can’t truly understand until you hit the road in any direction from El Paso. There is a mesmerizing effect mile after mile of desert terrain can have on you. It’s a wonder how nothingness can cleanse your soul. The expansion extends mile after mile forcing your mind to center itself and fill with thoughts you believe to have exited years ago. The world seems right contrary to the twisted reality we face on a daily basis. 

I travel around the world often and the same query always arises – “Where are you from?” When my reply is, “El Paso,” I’m met with dumbfounded expressions followed by, “Why El Paso”? The truth is I never have a good verbal answer because El Paso is difficult to explain. So, I take the old adage, “Show me, don’t tell me.” Si El Paso is a pictorial answer many El Pasoans want to offer to anyone curious about the Sun City, but we can’t quite put the feeling into words. 

 

Imagine yourself riding a bubble in the wind. The quiet peaceful serenity of floating gently in the breeze, brushing the pecan orchards or drifting silently above the Rio Grande River.  The silence is interrupted briefly, as Pilot Bill Lee burns, adding heat to the bubble that keeps us aloft. Then, back to the silence, as we climb, up above the treetops, where we overlook El Paso’s upper valley.  Even birds fly by beneath us, seemingly unaware of our presence.  This is the joy that is Hot Air Ballooning.

Hot air balloons are the oldest successful human carrying flight technology, dating back to the Montgolfier brothers’ invention in France in 1783.  The first hot air balloons were basically cloth bags, sometimes lined with paper, with a smoky fire built on a grill attached to the bottom. They had a tendency to catch fire and be destroyed upon landing. On September 19, 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster become the first passengers in a hot air balloon launched by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. For manned flights King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots but a young physicist named Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis Francois d’Arlandes successfully petitioned for the honour. They took off at 2 p.m. on November 21, 1783 from Château de la Muette in Paris watched by King Louis XVI. They traveled about five and a half miles  for 20 minutes – the first free flight made by man. 

Today, however, countless hot air balloon pilots can provide you with a safe and skilled bird’s eye view you’ll remember for years to come.  As you float effortlessly above ground you “see the area from a unique perspective,” says fellow passenger Julie Hammink.  “The valley looks like a patchwork quilt from several thousand feet up, and it made me want to look in every direction at once.”  As the mighty Rio Grande meanders below, the vastness of the unique El Paso region unfolds and stretches from one direction to the other.  The beautiful green textures of the river valley contrast with stark Chihuahuan desert providing the chance to appreciate a unique and peaceful view from above. The breathtaking views of the mountains, north to New Mexico and south to our neighbors in Juarez, Mexico only add to the experience of being aloft.  

What a fantastic view there was one early Sunday morning as the sun began to peer over the Franklin Mountains giving the valley a stunning glow.  “To be up in the air floating around on such a beautiful day, I couldn’t help but feel peaceful and calm,” says Henry Delgado.  “Pilot Bill performed his job like a master craftsman.”  While Bill Lee is a professional and licensed hot air balloon pilot don’t expect a definite landing area as there is no steering wheel or brakes in a hot air balloon.  Despite this Julie muses “it wasn’t Mr. Toad’s wild flight…it was more of a sensation of walking around slowly on very long legs.”  Any concerns truly vanished once we gently lifted off the ground and began drifting along- the flight was sensational and the feeling of achievement has lasting effects.  Since the balloon moves with the wind, one feels absolutely no wind, except for brief periods during the flight when the balloon climbs or descends into air currents of different direction or speed.  Upon landing Pilot Bill decreased the amount of fuel and with a slight bump we were back to land again in an open Canutillo field.

Floating high in the sky is an adventure all its own, but the hot air ballooning experience begins early in the morning from the moment the balloon and basket come out of the trailer to the inflation of the balloon and continuing through to the traditional and humourous champagne celebration at the end.  Much preparation goes into the launch of a hot air balloon and from the direction of Pilot Bill we were part of every step.  There is a strong camaraderie among balloonists taking pride in their craft and as Delgado says, “I felt as if there was a genuine invitation into the world of ballooning.”  Indeed there was.  You can fly throughout the year, early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  The flight duration is usually one hour to an hour and a half but you must allow three hours in total for the time which covers inflating the balloon, a champagne ceremony after the flight and returning to your pick-up point.

“The best part of ballooning is the people you meet along the way,” says Pilot Bill, so do expect to walk away from this experience having met new friends who genuinely welcome you to the world of hot air ballooning.   If you are seeking adventure for yourself or an unforgettable gift for those who have it all round up the family or a few friends as there is no better ride.  As the Irish say, “The winds have welcomed you with softness.  The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.  You have flown so high and so well, that God has joined you in your laughter, and he has set you gently back again in the loving arms of Mother Earth.”  Happy Flying!

Recoleta Cemetery: Buenos Aires, Argentina

recoleta cemetery in buenos aires

On top of a hill in one of Buenos Aires’ most upmarket neighbourhoods lies the city’s most curious yet captivating attraction: the Cementerio de la Recoleta.  It is a veritable city of the dead, populated by the tombs of Argentina’s deceased elite.  The list of people buried here includes national leaders, military personnel, Nobel Prize winners and wealthy citizens. Even Eva Peron, First Lady and champion of the poor and destitute, was eventually laid to rest here in a casket five meters below the surface.

At first glance it was clear to me that Recoleta Cemetery is, and always has been, a bastion of wealth.  Four towering white pillars hold up the entry gate; a forerunner of the grandeur that lies inside.  Many of the 6400 mausoleums built here are grand and ornate, and some are even works of art.  What they lack in size is more than made up for by the craftsmanship that went into creating them.  It seemed to me that these tombs stood primarily to draw attention and show off the status of their occupants.  I got the impression of huge self-importance and competing egos.  It appears that if one lived large in life, then one remains lavish after death. Needless to say, this place is definitely over the top.

The architecture and ornamentation seen within the cemetery is of many different styles, often in complete contrast to its surroundings.  Greek temples, Baroque chapels and charming Art Deco palaces sit side by side, with the occasional humbler brick structure in between.  The urban setting has confined them to being miniature versions of the buildings that inspired them.  More than a few have fallen into disrepair, and it was these that struck me most.  The task of restoration and upkeep falls to the descendants of the buried; perhaps some of these had no one left to look after them.  They were derelict, crumbling and neglected.  I wondered which once lauded member of Buenos Aires society lay beneath them.  Had their names been forgotten?  As souls pass on to eternity is everyone equal or are we all on different levels, as this cemetery seems to suggest?  Does wealth still matter after death?  Recoleta cemetery seems to tell a different story to what the scriptures preach. 


I was far more interested in the rustic, rugged beauty of these decaying tombs than the grand opulence of the rest.  They inspired me to create a series of black and white film photographs that reflect the sombre, tranquil atmosphere that this place carries.  This particular medium also emphasizes the details, the difference between what remains and what has been lost to neglect.

You could spend hours wandering through the eerie roads of this cemetery.  Wide tree-lined avenues give way to narrow shadowed walkways. The layout is similar to planned out city blocks, complete with a central plaza.  The place has become a peaceful retreat for many local stray cats, although you are sure to pass more than a few tourists as well.  Symbolism runs rife, with religious statues watching over almost every tomb.  Masonic symbols can also be seen adorning walls and mantelpieces.  Bouquets of wilting flowers have been left behind by families and admirers seeking to pay their respects.  Wrought iron doors and window shutters, weeping angel statues and Lots of the mausoleums have glass faced windows, allowing passers-by to take a look inside to where the wooden coffins lie.

Countless stories and legends are tied to the cemetery.  Established as the city’s first public burial ground in 1822, it was at first unpopular, but eventually overtaken by the upper tiers of society.  Eva Peron is undoubtedly the name that draws the most visitors to her tomb – although its appearance is quite underwhelming – for her political actions and her commemoration in pop culture.  However, there are plenty more interesting characters that were laid to rest in Recoleta.  Some of them are even remembered with life like statues that represent their achievements and interests.  Each mausoleum bears its family name, and they carry on the tradition of listing dates of passing but not dates of birth.

If you happen to be in Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery is definitely worth dedicating an afternoon to, to stroll its walkways in quiet reflection.  Spend some time admiring the remarkable architecture and sculpture and you will probably find yourself in a contemplative mood.  The cemetery is open from 8 am to 6 pm every day, and there is no entrance fee.  If you are interested in learning more of the history, there are English speaking tours at 11 am every Tuesday and Thursday.

Directions:

Recoleta Cemetery is easy to find.  Head to Las Heras Avenue, and keep walking down it until you reach Junin. Then continue for two more blocks until you reach Vicente Lopez street.  At this point you should be able to see the huge wall that surrounds the cemetery.

Map Showing the Location of Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires ::
MAP SHOWING LOCATION OF RECOLETA CEMETERY

 

One of the great lessons while traveling is keeping one’s eyes and senses open to all of the quirky, fun and beautiful things in our world.  It’s often the “small things” that make us smile or laugh.  We might even have our Western sensibilities challenged.  What is normal and acceptable in the destination you’re visiting might be just the opposite in your own home town.

Finding the quirks in the world is one of the great parts about travel.  And when I say quirks, what I really refer to are the things we are not used to.  I talk a lot about how travel is the best education anyone can receive and it’s true.  It is the unexpected moments that we witness, smell, taste, hear and even step over that we will remember long after we’ve left a place.  This is travel and what travel should be.

Have you had these moments?

I’ll never forget going to my first full moon ceremony in Bali.  I had just arrived, turned the corner and saw a pig’s throat slit and watched its blood drain into a bucket.  Sure it was alarming at first, but the act is also a common part of the ritual during the ceremony.  The Balinese are fine with the sacrifice and I shouldn’t be the one to judge their traditions. 

Eid Al-Adha is a ritual in Islam when a sheep, cow or a camel are sacrificed in the memory of Abraham who was stopped from slitting his son’s neck on Mount Arafat by the angel Gabriel.  Abraham was willing to slay his son at Allah’s request as a supreme act of faith.  The angel, Gabriel, prevented Abraham from going through with it, saying he had already demonstrated his love for god.  Instead, a goat was slaughtered.

The traditional ritual continues today.  I’ll never forget the chorus of bah, bah, bah from sheep who were kept in everyone’s home the night before the slaughter.  The King of Morocco is the first to commit the act on live television.  Once the king sacrifices his sheep, the rest of Morocco can follow suit.  After countless slaughters, I was stepping through rivers of sheep blood as I walked through the Old Medina.  Believe you me, I’ll never forget this experience.

Not all travel memories are so dramatic.  I loved the little boy standing next to a British guard at Horseguards Palace for a photo.  Curiously, the boy peered behind the guard then turned back with a huge smile.  In Tokyo I saw a sign outside a barber shop with a menu of prices pinned to the door.  Instead of price list, the sign read “Price Rist.”  I found that charming and couldn’t resist going in to have my hair cut.

I also loved the woman walking down a Tokyo street wearing a Geisha outfit.  We don’t expect to see sights like that in our modern world.

There are a lot of moments waiting for you as you travel – moments that make you go “Hmm…”  So, keep your senses on high alert.  Don’t be offended or startled if something you experience doesn’t meet the criteria of the Western world.   Embrace everything you see, hear, touch, taste and smell as part of your experience.  Be ready to be challenged and grow from your travel.  You might even have a travel experience of a lifetime.

As you travel around the world or even in your own city, you’ll want to take some of the best travel photos you’ve ever taken.  Consider the following iPhone travel photography tips so you can take great photos.

You Can Zoom in the Dark
One of the best upgrades on the iPhone X is its better 2x lens, especially in low light. That means you can use both lenses, regardless of the lighting conditions, without sacrificing image quality.

Try Brightening the Scene With a Flash
We typically think of smartphone flashes as cold, harsh, and [unflattering]. But the iPhone X’s new technology, called Slow Sync, has made it possible for the camera to capture beautiful, warm images while using the device’s cutting-edge Quad-LED True Tone flash.  Give this a try in a dim restaurant or outside, after sunset.

Play With New Live Photo Effects
While capturing live photos — or images with a few seconds of video before, the iPhone X has a trio of effects utilizing this technology.  Now, you can blur the action like a DSLR camera with the Long Exposure setting (for smooth waterfalls), create a continuous Loop, or make a Boomerang-like Bounce that plays the action backward and forward.

Try Portrait Mode on Food
The iPhone X made major advances with the Portrait mode.  In addition to capturing beautiful portraits with blurred backgrounds,  try the setting on food photography.

The iPhone X also has five new lighting modes for Portraits, including natural light, studio light, contour light (for dramatic shadows), stage lights (to illuminate subjects against a black background), and mono (to produce stage light-like photos in black and white).

Experiment With Burst Mode
For your best chance at the perfect shot, use the phone’s Burst Mode to shoot 10 pictures per second. To use this feature, simply hold down the shutter button in your Camera app.

Travel photography is often about capturing a fleeting moment.

Don’t Forget About Video
If you see amazing clouds slowly moving across the sky, for example, you might use time-lapse mode.  But if the scene features super fast motion like birds landing in water, you should try slo-mo.

 

How does a gentleman travel?   The answer is simple.  A gentleman travels the easiest and most convenient way possible.  In the literal sense, a gentleman travels by commercial plane, private plane, his own plane, a friend’s plane, big boat, small boat, privately chartered boat, SUV, chauffeured driven car, Business Class and First Class, over mountains, over oceans, up and down escalators, on foot, subway, train, metro, cable car, and even a camel or a mule.

In a deeper sense, a gentleman travels to discover the world.  The sights, sounds, aromas, tastes and touch of an unfamiliar place expand the knowledge of anyone who travels.  You can travel across your neighbourhood, your city and even around the world.  No matter where you go, you’re sure to receive an education you’ll never find in a classroom or a book.  You can learn a wee bit from television tho’ television really is a black hole that steals your time away from more meaningful things in life.

The cultures and the people we meet along the way teach us that we are all just trying to make it.  We simply try to make it in different ways.  But everyone you meet along the way will teach you something you didn’t know before.  If you’re lucky, you will learn a lot about yourself as well.

Travelling around the world with my camera I am afforded stunningly beautiful opportunities to capture what is before me.  I am often awestruck at man-made structures.  I’m often in complete wonderment being amongst Mother Nature’s magical creations.  But, what moves me most are the genuine souls of varying cultures who unconditionally help to uncover special parts inside of me.

Whether a divining wind sways me, or a guiding hand shifts me, I always find myself in the path of strangers who sequentially become my brothers or sisters.  Perhaps this is sheer luck.  Perhaps I have a sign on my back that says – “Hey!  I’m a nice guy.  Come talk to me.”  Perhaps not knowing why is of no great importance and I accept my good fortune without question.  

There is a peacefulness with this which I hold very close to my heart.  Quite honestly, these are moments never obtained with the click of the shutter.  These moments of building new bonds stay etched in my mind.

Travel is one of the most rewarding and powerful gifts we can give ourselves.  You can obviously give the gift of travel to others.   I’ve said this many times throughout this blog tho’ I’ll say it again.  Travel is one of the best educations you can ever receive.  There is no substitute for travel.

So, how does a gentleman travel?  A gentleman travels with an open heart and an open mind.    He travels with eyes wide open.  He rarely travels with a set agenda.  A gentleman travels with few expectations.  And, he takes each day as it comes.

 

 

Discovering London should be done in layers and in stages.  In order to truly experience one of the greatest cities in the world, you have to look at London at every angle.  You must experience one layer before you move onto the next.  It is impossible to visit once and see everything there is to see in London.   There is absolutely no way to experience everything London has to offer in one go and perhaps even ten.

There is a great quote that sums up London.  “I’ve been walking about London for the last thirty years, and I find something fresh in it every day.”  I could have written the quote as I myself have been exploring London for the last thirty years and yet there is still so much I haven’t seen or experienced.  Every time I set out on foot I find something new and interesting about London that I hadn’t known before.

London is layered.

The first time you visit London you will want to see all of the must-see sights.  Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus.  All of these sights will be on your list.  You’ll probably also want to ride on the iconic double decker bus, ride on the London Underground and have your photo taken in a red phone box.  This is the surface of London.  The superficial, if you will.

Museums aren’t superficial at all.  The National Gallery, Tate Modern and British Museum will also be on your list of things to do in London.  London’s museums are world class and they are free.  You’ll feel as if you’ve been cultured at the highest level having been mere steps away from the masters of art.  You’ll feel as if London has fed your curiosity with a silver spoon.  You’re right to feel this as the city has so much to feed you.

The next time you visit London you’ll stay at the same level.  You’ll feel as if you know London inside and out.  You’ll return to familiar sights, you’ll hop on the London Underground feeling like a Londoner, and you’ll pop into the café or restaurant you remember so fondly from your last visit.  You might even find your way from Point A to Point B without getting lost.  But, you’ll still get lost when a street curves in a direction differently than what you expect.

If you decide to go for a walk instead of taking the Underground, you’ll find a new route and the next layer of London. You’ll find a new place you hadn’t noticed before.  You’ll find a charming street or mews that puts a huge smile on your face.  You’ll pop into art galleries instead of only exploring the large museums.  And, you might even attend more than one theatre production.

As you discover more about London, your curiosity will get the best of you.  You’ll want to know more but there isn’t time.  You make a mental list of what you want to see and do during your next visit to London.

It’s during your third visit to London that you might want to cross each and every bridge in Central London.  Instead of only riding the London Underground, you’ll walk more and you’ll get lost more.  The streets still curve in unexpected directions but when you get lost, you won’t panic.  You will keep walking further and explore streets just to see where they go.  You’ll find new neighbourhoods and sit in parks you never knew were there.  

Instead of only visiting Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll find incredible churches like St Bartholomew The Great near Smithfields.  You’ll stumble upon St. Dunstan-In-The-East and be amazed how London’s noise is silenced when you walk into the public gardens.   Curiosity might get the best of you as you try to discover other secret places in London – and there are plenty to discover.  Pickering Place off St James’s Street with it’s brilliant sun dial, or Holborn Viaduct are just two secrets waiting for you.

You’ll be charmed even more by London.  You’ll be so charmed that by your next visit you’ll relax a bit.  You will understand that visiting London is not a race but instead a layered treasure waiting to be discovered.  You’ll sit on a park bench to eat your lunch.  When the sun comes out, you’ll lay on the grass in Hyde Park, Green Park or St. James’s Park just like Londoner do.  You’ll want a cuppa instead of a cup of coffee.  And, you’ll think to venture beyond the ground floor at Fortnum & Mason.  When you’re finished there, you’ll pop into Hatchard’s book shop next door and know you’re walking into history when you do.

Each layer of London will reveal a different part of the heart and soul of the city.  With each layer you peel back, you will want to discover more.  Many elements make London tick and move.  The vibe and energy of the city are immeasurable and you’ll feel both with every step you take.  It’s the addictive vibe and energy that will keep you wanting to return for more.

If you’re a keen photographer, you’ll want to capture the best possible photos of London.  I dedicate a section of the blog to the Best Places to Photograph London.  Have a look.  I make finding the best London photo spots easy to find.  Consider the following photo composition tips for your next photographic journey in London.

Rule One 

Simplify the scene.

When you look at a scene with your naked eye, your brain quickly picks out subjects of interest. But the camera doesn’t discriminate – it captures everything in front of it, which can lead to a cluttered, messy picture with no clear focal point.

Remember, don’t let your camera rule you.  You rule the camera!

What you need to do is choose your subject, then select a focal length or camera viewpoint that makes it 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.

Silhouettestextures and patterns are all devices that work quite well in simple compositions.

The simpler the shot the bigger the impact

Move in close to cut out other parts of the scene
Silhouettes and shapes make strong subjects
The balloons radial lines draw you into the frame

Rule Two

Fill The Frame

When you’re shooting a large-scale scene it can be hard to know how big your subject should be in the frame, and how much you should zoom in. 

In fact, leaving too much empty space in a scene is the most widespread compositional mistake. It makes your subject smaller than it needs to be and can also leave viewers confused about what they’re supposed to be looking at.

To avoid these problems you should zoom in to fill the frame, or get closer to the subject in question. The first approach flattens the perspective of the shot and makes it easier to control or exclude what’s shown in the background, but physically moving closer can give you a more interesting take on things.

Rule Three

Horizontal vs Vertical

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and take every picture with the camera held horizontally.  In fact, I was taught to shoot this way and only this way.  It took time for me think of turning my camera vertically.

Try turning it to get a vertical shot instead, adjusting your position or the zoom setting as you experiment with the new style.

Rule Four

Avoid The Middle

When you are a newbie, or just starting out, it’s tempting to put whatever you’re shooting right in the centre of the frame. However, this produces rather static, boring pictures. One of the ways to counteract this is to use the Rule of Thirds, where you split the image up into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and try to place your subject on one of these imaginary lines or intersections. 

Let me say, however, this is an overrated approach.

Instead, move your subject away from the centre and get a feel for how it can be balanced with everything else in the scene, including any areas of contrasting colour or light. 

There are no hard and fast rules about achieving this kind of visual balance, but you’ll quickly learn to rely on your instincts – trust that you’ll know when something just looks right.

Rule Five

Leading Lines

A poorly composed photograph will leave your viewers unsure about where to look, and their attention might drift aimlessly around the scene without finding a clear focal point. 

However, you can use lines to control the way people’s eyes move around the picture.

Converging lines give a strong sense of perspective and three-dimensional depth, drawing you into an image. Curved lines can lead you on a journey around the frame, leading you towards the main subject.

Lines exist everywhere, in the form of walls, fences, roads, buildings and telephone wires. They can also be implied, perhaps by the direction in which an off-centre subject is looking.

Rule Six

Dutch Tilt

Horizontal lines lend a static, calm feel to a picture, while vertical ones often suggest permanence and stability. To introduce a feeling of drama, movement or uncertainty, try the dutch tilt technique.

You can need nothing more than a shift in position or focal length to get them –wider angles of view tend to introduce diagonal lines because of the increased perspective; with wide-angle lenses, you’re more likely to tilt the camera up or down to get more of a scene in.

You can also introduce diagonal lines artificially, using the ‘Dutch Tilt’ technique. You simply tilt the camera as you take the shot. This can be very effective, though it doesn’t suit every shot and is best used sparingly

The Dutch Tilt can be used for dramatic effect and helps portray unease, disorientation, frantic or desperate action, intoxication, madness, etc….  

Rule Seven

Space to Move

Even though photographs themselves are static, they can still convey a strong sense of movement. When we look at pictures, we see what’s happening and tend to look ahead – this creates a feeling of imbalance or unease if your subject has nowhere to move except out of the frame.

You don’t just get this effect with moving subjects, either. For example, when you look at a portrait you tend to follow someone’s gaze, and they need an area to look into

For both types of shot, then, there should always be a little more space ahead of the subject than behind it.

Rule Eight

Backgrounds

Don’t just concentrate on your subject – look at what’s happening in the background, too. This ties in with simplifying the scene and filling the frame. You can’t usually exclude the background completely, of course, but you can control it.

You’ll often find that changing your position is enough to replace a cluttered background with one that complements your subject nicely. Or you can use a wide lens aperture and a longer focal length to throw the background out of focus.

It all depends on whether the background is part of the story you’re trying to tell with the photo. In the shot above, the background is something that needs to be suppressed.

Rule Nine

Be Creative With Colours

Bright primary colours really attract the eye, especially when they’re contrasted with a complementary hue. But there are other ways of creating colour contrasts – by including a bright splash of colour against a monochromatic background, for example. 

You don’t need strong colour contrasts to create striking pictures, though.

Scenes consisting almost entirely of a single hue can be very effective. And those with a limited palette of harmonious shades, such as softly lit landscapes, often make great pictures.

The key is to be really selective about how you isolate and frame your subjects to exclude unwanted colours.

Rule Ten

Breaking The Rules

Photo composition is basically a visual language – you can use it to make your pictures pass on a particular message.

Just as we sometimes use the written word to create a deliberately jarring effect, we can do the same with photos by breaking with standard composition rules.

When you understand the rules of composition and then break them on purpose things start to get interesting.

It’s often best to break one rule at a time, as John Powell does in the image above.

Just remember: for every rule we suggest, somewhere out there is a great picture that proves you can disregard it and still produce a fantastic image.