Travel Photography in Jordan Can Change Lives
Kathy Vick is proof! Kathy joined us in 2012 for our first trip to Jordan, alongside Ken Kamimesky and Colby Brown. It was, to say lightly, a life-changing experience for her. She took some time to write about her experience and share her favourite photos. You can see more of her images (and her other work) on her Smugmug website. Enjoy!
Our TGL Jordan 2014 trip is almost full, but we had two spaces open up last minute. If this post piques your interest, let us know!
My The Giving Lens: Jordan Story
First, a little bit about me: I’m married, our kids are all grown (I’m a grandma!), I love to travel but my husband hates it. I have loved photography since I was in junior high school, but never thought I was good enough to do it for a living. I also work a pretty technical job, but have this creative side that just needs to be satisfied. In summer of 2012, I was very unhappy with my job and needed a big escape. I saw a tweet for the workshop on Twitter, and was immediately intrigued. Getting to meet a photographer I really admired AND traveling to a place I’d never go on my own AND working with women learning arts and crafts?? It was like someone planned this trip just for me! But I was really nervous – would I get along with everyone? Was I a good enough photographer? Was I too old for this sh*t??
And most important – was it dangerous to travel to Jordan? At the time I actually travelled, there was still bombing activity in Tel Aviv and the West Bank. My family thought I was nuts, but I decided to apply, and after an awesome conversation with Kate – I was in!
You hear people talk about “life changing” experiences, and generally I think “yea right”, but in my case it is true. After my trip with The Giving Lens, I came home so inspired that I realized I needed some big changes in my life. I had just spent almost two weeks with the most awesome people having the most awesome experience, and I wanted more. When New Year’s rolled around, I had found three quotes that I loved, and I decided to use them to inspire my life in 2013. As a result of all of this, I changed jobs and am way happier with what I do for a living, and I worked hard on my photography skills as a way of feeding that creative monster inside of me. My life in 2013 was a bit scary, and full of change, but overall one of the best years I have ever had, and it all started with this trip to Jordan at the end of 2012.
Here are the three quotes (not resolutions!) I used for 2013 and how my Jordan trip inspired each of them.
“Life’s not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away”
Probably my most favorite quote. I had so many breathless moments on that trip, it’s hard to know where to start. But I will share my most breathless moment. One of the coolest things we did was climb to the top of the monuments in Petra to the “Place of High Sacrifice”. This is a relatively easy climb for people not afraid of heights, but for me this was a huge scary thing. I’m not in the best shape physically for something like this, and adding an almost-panic-attack on top had my heart pounding every step. Technically, I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m terrified of anything I can fall off of. This climb was not that dangerous but it scared me a lot. I almost backed down every step of the way because of the heights, but the encouragement I got from my new friends was just amazing. I couldn’t believe I actually made it all the way to the top, but I know I never would have made it without all of the support from the team. They were with me every step, and went as slow as I needed to go. I will never forget that moment when I got to the top and realizing I had done something I never thought I could do. I was definitely breathless!!! But in the best way – it was a breathtaking site, and an incredible feeling of success for me. That’s when I realized I need to do more things that scared me, and that take my breath away. Oh and by the way – the other thing I learned was that going up was not even HALF as scary as going down!!!!!!!! But I survived that experience and learned I can do a lot more than I think I can with the right group of people around me.
“When trying to pick between two evils, I usually like the pick the one I haven’t tried before” – Mae West
Another favorite quote. To me, this doesn’t mean do bad things, but when I have a choice of risks, pick the risk I haven’t taken before. Try something new. Pick a path I haven’t travelled. Do something I haven’t done before. In so many ways, this described my entire Jordan experience. I went to the Middle East, somewhere I had never been before, where I didn’t know the language and couldn’t read the letters, with a bunch of people I had never met before. I went to places that required a lot of physical activity and climbing – something I’m definitely not good at. The entire trip was a big risk for me, but in the end I’m so happy I did it. Jordan is a very western (and female!) friendly area of the Middle East, and because we were treated so warmly by everyone, I’d actually like to go back and see more of it. When it comes time for vacation now, instead of just thinking of beach resorts, I’m seeing adventure travel and exploration as a part of how I plan my trips. I’m figuring out how to try something new instead of revisit different versions of the same trips I’ve done before. This trip to Jordan really opened my eyes to exciting travel opportunities, and convinced me that I need to try more new things.
“If you want to take better pictures, go stand in front of better things”
My first thought when I typed that was “It doesn’t get much better than Petra”, but then I realized it did. Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, made famous recently by “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” And it was spectacular – but so was the Wadi Rum Desert. The place where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed. The place where for thousands of years, civilization has travelled. But so was Wadi Feynan – a nature preserve, with animals and local Bedouins who have lived there for longer than my country has existed. And so was Mount Nebo – the place where Moses stood and first looked over to see the Promised Land (although I suspect his view was less smoggy than mine!!). And so was the Dead Sea – which could disappear in a few decades. All of these places were amazing to see, and I can’t imagine picking one as more important than another. I have been to Southwest United States, and have seen the Grand Canyon – but to see the sunset over Wadi Rum, how incredibly HUGE it is – it takes your breath away (hey, my first quote again!) and makes you feel very insignificant. Everywhere we went was an opportunity to stand in front of something amazing. After returning from this trip, I have started looking for that “better thing” to stand in front of to take great images. I’ve started looking at my home state of Washington and finding beautiful things to see when I can’t travel. And I’ve started looking for the beauty – landscape, architecture or people – in everywhere I go. I am seeing the world with new eyes, and that is a direct result of my travel to Jordan with TGL.
I could probably write for days about how awesome the trip was, how much fun I had laughing and learning with everyone, but you kind of had to be there to
appreciate some of it. There are some things only the 16 of us will be able to share, like
Michael’s lost and found sunglasses… Ken’s donkey ride … who could forget Chicken Stripes(not a typo!) and hamburgers without cheese… and I still smile each time Hummus is on a menu. These are the moments you bring back from a trip like this that are hard to explain but impossible to forget. But they all inspired my new outlook on life, and I relive them all in my three guiding quotes for 2013.
I can’t thank Kate, Colby, Ken, Michael and Mohmmad for planning the trip and leading us all on such an awesome adventure. Thanks to everyone on the trip for sharing their experiences, their photography skills, and their friendship (Laura, Heidi, Kristal, Julie, Mike, Linda, Jenny, Andy, Mitch, Laila, and Saleh, you’re the best!!!). It’s over a year since our trip, but I still can relive almost every moment in my head as if it were last week. And thanks to the wonderful country of Jordan and their friendly people for making us all feel so welcome. I hope this inspires you to do something that takes your breath away, to take a risk you haven’t taken before, and to stand in front of better things.
If you want to see more of my images from Jordan, I have a SmugMug gallery here: http://mskathyv.smugmug.com/Travel/Vacation-2012
Oh and if you are still on the fence about visiting Jordan – ping me, I’ll push you off
Travel Photography Tip: Shooting Sunrise!
Finishing off May’s theme of Shooting Sunrises, we’re thrilled to have Tomasz Huczek here to run us through his tips for getting the best results. Enjoy!
Rich landscapes and boisterous seas are the main subjects of Tomasz Huczek’s photographs. He presents a vibrant world showcasing nature at its most beautiful. His passion for photography was discovered after moving to the sunny Cyprus where exotic environment gave him an impulse to creatively capture the beauty of surroundings. He believes that the best photographs happen only at the right place and time and he is always patiently waiting for that moment. Although he works in works in software engineering, he cannot imagine life without his camera.
Determination and Consistency
For me going out shooting is like going hunting. I never know what will happen, and many times I won’t even take the camera out of my bag. Getting up very early, reaching the location with all the equipment, waiting for the sun to appear, only to discover that the weather is hopeless, the sky is colourless or the rain makes it impossible to shoot might be very discouraging. The only solution to finally get the shot of your dreams is to keep on trying.
As well, getting to the same location over and over again also presents the same place in a variety of light situations that make each sunrise a unique experience. All the pictures below have been taken almost at the same spot:
Here is what can be done to improve our chances of getting the ideal shot on the day you show up and conditions are perfect.
Photography Equipment for Sunrise
This one is a must. Without a stable setup it’s close to impossible to take a decent, good quality shot without noise. Especially when the light is soft and we need longer shutter speeds to expose the picture correctly.
Filters are not required but very useful. Polarisers increase saturation and make colours richer and also remove all sorts of reflections. ND filters help to achieve dreamy blurred look by extending the exposure to even a few minutes. My very long exposures were taken with times up to 10 minutes using 10 stop ND filter.
Another very handy tool. Required for long exposures above 30 seconds as most of the cameras have an exposure limit controlled by internal timer. To overcome that, **bulb** mode needs to be used and with cable release the exposure time can be precisely controlled. However, it’s a good practice to use it for all kinds of shots as it helps to reduce vibrations and camera movement.
This one is particularly needed when taking long exposures with strong filters. When the light is limited from the lens side using NDs, it’s crucial to make sure it won’t come from anywhere else. Uncovered viewfinder during 40-second exposure will most likely ruin the shot.
This one is particularly important for early hours, when it’s still relatively dark and light metering system might give the wrong values. For the long exposures, manual mode is inevitable – camera won’t be able to help us out with internal metering system.
Manual white balance
If the photo is taken in RAW then the white balance might be corrected in post-process, but it’s a good idea to set it to manual. All the pictures will be consistent and it certainly helps with the merging of different shots for high dynamic range photographs.
Disabled AF during a shot
This has happened to me so many times and I still forget about it from time to time. After framing a picture and setting the focus, disable AF. In the low light or with the ND filter on the lens, the focusing system of the camera will get confused when you half-press the shutter or use a cable release.
No VR, IS
All the stabilisation systems are meant to be used for handheld situations. When the camera is on a tripod it won’t help, additionally it can engage the system to kick in when something moves within the frame ruining the shot.
Weather is very important but often times very unpredictable. Clouds make a huge difference because they reflect the light, make it softer and that is where all the colour is absorbed. I usually check the forecast when I plan to go out for a sunrise. If the location is close and it doesn’t take much time to get there I always look through the window in the morning to see the sky. If it’s completely clean I will stay at home – the sunrise will most likely be dull and colourless. Even the smallest clouds make a difference – have a look at the photo below:
Both pictures were taken the same morning. The clouds on the left side make a huge difference.
When we have done everything we could, there is one last factor that comes into play – luck. Unfortunately we cannot do much about that. We just need to be in the right place at the right time, which takes us right back to the beginning: determination, and consistency.
Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Sunrise - #3 – Amy Heiden!
The May theme for our guest blog posts is sunrise, and here, Amy Heiden talks about her process for shooting sunrise and the time leading up to sunrise, otherwise known as “blue hour”
Tips On Photographing Sunrise And Blue Hour
While traveling, I spend many hours a day driving from location to location and am not often near a computer with an internet connection. I find it very important to have access to sun, moon and weather data from the car.
Before any sunrise or sunset shoot, I check Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app (http://photoephemeris.com/) to calculate sun and moon data for a particular location. (If I’m going to be out of cell range, I will take a mobile screen shot of the location prior to arrival and save it on my mobile device for reference later.) Most often I utilize this app to ensure an on-time arrival at a sunrise location. Not only that, but I can also use TPE to ensure that the subject I’m photographing will be lit from a desired angle.
After checking the sunrise time and glancing at weather, I’m ready to drive to a location and shoot!
In the images below, I hiked up to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, with enough time to prepare my equipment and pick a composition, but in this case it was still dark, so I needed to take a test shot to check exposure and focus. To do this, I took a 10 second exposure at ISO to 3200. (Depending on the histogram I will add or subtract exposure time and continue testing until I achieve the desired exposure.) For this image, I liked the exposure at 10 seconds and ISO 3200, so I calculated out what exposure I needed to take the shot at ISO 200. To do this, I reduced my ISO by one stop at a time (divided it in half) from 3200 down to 200. I start at 3200, reduced to 1600, 800, 400 and 200. In this example, I adjusted my ISO 4 times (4 stops) and now I want to calculate the exposure time, so I will add 4 stops (double each time) to the exposure. I start at 10 seconds, double to 20 seconds, 40 seconds, 80 seconds, and 160 seconds. After adjusting my ISO and exposure by 4 stops each, I determined at ISO 200, my exposure will be 160 seconds. Once those settings are adjusted in the camera, I am ready to shoot.
I knew wanted to capture the scene on the left during twilight, or “blue hour”, which occurs approximately 30-45 minutes before sunrise and gives everything a very blue hue. During this time the colors of the subject will appear less saturated and the shadows much darker. The image on the right was taken on another day from the same location. I anticipated that the abundance of clouds would lens to a nice color, so I had to wait 30 minutes from arrival to try getting the shot I wanted. Here, you see the sunlight bouncing off the clouds and the colors of the orange and yellow rock formations beginning to show. As you can see, both images evoke different a different feel based on the light and colors.
But what happens when I’m traveling and hit a snag on the way to shoot sunrise and don’t make it to a spot by blue hour, but I still really want a long exposure or a blue cast? I certainly could adjust the white balance of the image in post, but creating a long exposure effect after the fact wouldn’t be as easy. Instead, I would use a Neutral Density, or ND, filter. This filter allow me to slow down exposure time or aperture to gain a motion effect or to add a specific tint to an image.
Though the two images below were shot within 4 minutes of one another, for the exposure on the left I used a Lee Big Stopper, a 10-stop ND with an inherent blue tint, to capture the look of ‘blue hour’ and get a longer exposure to smooth the slight motion in the clouds. Similar to blue hour, while using the Big Stopper, the dunes lost their saturated orange and the shadows were dark. Alternatively, the image on the right was a short exposure taken without a filter a few seconds after the sun broke the ridge, creating a higher contrast and warmer tones.
If you have not yet shot ‘blue hour’, next time you plan a sunrise shoot, try arriving 30 minutes early and get a few twilight shots to compare against sunrise and see which results you like best. If you enjoy the blue hour images, the Lee Big Stopper can give you similar results.
Amy Heiden is an explorer and photographer with a lust for adventure. For the last five years, her focus has been centered around the documentation of abandoned asylums, factories, houses of worship, military sites and ships before they are destroyed and their stories long forgotten.
In addition, Amy frequently travels in search of landscapes and cityscapes in places like the Eastern Sierras, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, New York and her hometown of San Francisco.
Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Water with Cameron Siguenza
Continuing with our April theme of Photographing Water, we have landscape photographer Cameron Siguenza with us. He shares with us three simple habits he has that helped him get these four incredible shots.
“Siguenza’d”: Verb. To obtain an epic photograph. Ex: “I totally siguenza’d that shot.” [anytonym: "boncore'd"]
How I took these 3 Waterscape Photographs with 3 Simple Guidelines.
Stay in the moment:
I took this waterscape photo just up the coast from Santa Cruz while waiting for a sunset that never came. The light was very bright and harsh but there were clouds passing over the sun. I waited until the sun briefly went behind the clouds to help tame the brightness in the shot. I also composed the photograph so that the brightness fell on the right side of the photo, to show contrast with the darker left side. I then used my Lee filter kit holder, with a 3 stop singh Ray Reverse graduated filter, angled to the right to further tone down and soften the sky area. I used a circular polarizer to help with the reflection and the clouds. I was with some fun friends who were talking and not using their cameras, while they waited for the weather to improve.
I was watching things more closely, missing out a bit on their fun conversations while standing knee deep in cold water. Out of all of this, I saw a brief 90 seconds or so where I took several memorable shots that looked very different. The day ended with a fairly uninspiring sunset, but we enjoyed our outing just the same.
Keeping an Open Mind:
Occasionally I hear that a photographer should always go to completely unknown places, while I simply prefer to find something interesting no matter where I am. This is easier said than done of course, and this challenge continually inspires and motivates me.
In this infrared photograph of popular Multnomah falls near Portland, Oregon, USA, a very popular tourist destination, I used a classic composition of the falls to offset the look of infrared photo. To contrast between the tones of the upper and lower part of the falls, I left out the sky, which also helps to simplify the photo somewhat.
Patience and warm clothing:
For my final photo, I ventured out into the chilly night air up the coast from Santa Cruz, CA to spend most of the night on a salt mist enshrouded beach, with a few bright flashlights, warm clothes, my trusty Induro tripod and a variety of Singh-Ray and Lee filters for long exposure experiments. I spent hours of my time, shivering occasionally, while light painting the water with my flashlight countless times to get the right effect, while trying to stick to a good 30-120 second exposure range. By sheer luck, a meteor appeared, but I took probably 1000 or so photos that night as I was experimenting a lot. I composited in the ocean section in Photoshop, as I liked the way the ocean looked the best from a different exposure. I processed the image 3 times in PS CS6 for foreground, mid ground and sky.
Cameron enjoys photography, travel, and building software companies. Cameron grew up in remote areas of British Columbia, Canada, and happily lives with his family in Santa Cruz, California. Cameron uses two camera systems, a full frame modern DSLR, and an inexpensive DSLR that was converted to infrared in 2012.