Oct 092015

I am very excited to announce that I’ve teamed up with SNAPP Guides to produce photographers guides for Oregon on their very innovative app platform. Take a look at this video to see what it’s all about:

These guides, for locations all over the world, are going to be a great resource for photographers. No matter if your interest is nature and landscape photography, travel photography or even street photography, detailed information will be at your fingertips.

I hope you see the potential here, and that you’ll help get the ball rolling by backing the Snapp Guides Kickstarter campaign. Even a $5 contribution will help, but check out the bonus offerings if you kick in a little more (or a lot more!) before the October 22 deadline.


Oct 082015
Aspen trees on Steens Mountain

Aspen trees in fall color at Jackman Park on Steens Mountain, southeastern Oregon.

If you’re looking for a good place to photograph Fall Color, Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon is looking good right now.

Overall, I’d say this is not a great year for fall color in the Pacific Northwest, due to the lack of rain and unusually warm temperatures we’ve had going back to early spring, but on a visit to the Steens earlier this week I found plenty of colorful trees to work with.

Driving the Steens Mountain Loop starting at Page Springs Campground just east of Frenchglen I found multiple groves of aspen, and those from Fish Lake up to Jackman Park are at the peak of color.

This being a somewhat odd year for the leaves, some trees are still green, while others are bright yellow. In a few places, especially near Jackman Park, you’ll see groves where the leaves have turned orange.

My guess is that the color will be good for at least another week, and there are currently no storms in the weather forecast that will blow the leaves away. In fact, the weather is predicted to continue to be unseasonably warm, so a roadtrip to southeastern Oregon will be a delight.

Somewhat surprisingly, the cottonwood trees around Frenchglen have not started to turn color yet, and the aspens over in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge are just beginning to turn.

Keep in mind that this is hunting season, so be sure to wear bright colors when you’re out in the woods or the sage. On another note, the Steens Mountain Loop Road is in very good condition now; yes there are many places with minor washboarding, but there are no deep ruts and a regular passenger car can make the whole loop.

For more information about photographing Steens Mountain, and the surrounding area, see Chapter 12 in my book Photographing Oregon and the BLM page for Steens.

Roadtrip anyone? If you go, let me know what you find.


Jul 242015

Topaz Labs, makers of photo editing software for Lightroom and Photoshop, announced a few days ago that they’re running a special on the newest version of their Adjust plugin. I’m a fan of plugins in general, and have found other Topaz products to be pretty cool, so I downloaded Adjust and have been exploring and testing. Here are some examples of what the plugin can do, using a photo of an old church from my recent visit to San Blas on the Riviera Nayarit coast of Mexico.

raw image file in Lightroom

RAW file in Lightroom 6, Adobe Standard camera profile.

The photo above shows the image just as imported into Lightroom (v6/CC). The sensor in my Nikon D750 did a great job of handling the contrast in this scene – the histogram shows no clipping in either blacks or whites, just a nice mountain range from shadows to highlights. In Lightroom’s Camera Calibration panel I tried the Camera Standard profile, but chose Adobe Standard instead because the histogram looked a little better in the shadows.

image with adjustments made in Lightroom

Basic Lightroom adjustments applied.

I applied several Lightroom adjustments to bring the image more to my liking. These included light to moderate movement of the sliders on Color Balance, Exposure, Whites, Shadows, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. I wanted to bring up the shadows a bit, add a little mid-tone contrast, and bring back the slight amount of warmth from the late afternoon sun.

photo with Topaz Adjust Light Pop Smooth applied

Topaz Adjust Light Pop Smooth.

Next I opened the photo in Topaz Adjust. My first test was to try the presets in the HDR Collection. I’m not really into the heavy HDR look, but I often find that I like what happens when I apply a very small amount of HDR processing. Judging from the quick previews that Adjust provides, the Light Pop Smooth preset looked like it might be suitable. I like what it did with adding a little more definition to the clouds, and also that it opened up the deep shadows in the bell tower a little.

photo with the Simple Pop preset applied

Topaz Adjust Simple Pop.

Then I went back to my basic Lightroom-adjusted image, opened it in Adjust again, and played with some of the presets in the Classic Collection. Most of these are designed to make minor adjustments and improvements, which is what I was looking for. A click on Simple Pop produced an image very similar to the HDR Light Pop Smooth, but on close examination it appeared that mid-tones in the latter were slightly smoothed out and toned down compared to Simple Pop. Both versions added a little bit of punch to my photo, which I think improved it over what I’d produced in Lightroom.

photo with Topaz Adjust preset Warm Tone I applied

Topaz Adjust Warm Tone I.

Going beyond just some improvement in your basic photo, if you want some help in producing an image that will get across your feelings or your interpretation of the scene you were photographing, or if you just want to get, as a photographer friend of mine likes to say, “Artsy-Fartsy”, Topaz Adjust gives you some excellent options.

photo with Topaz Adjust Vintage Grunge IV preset applied

Vintage Grunge IV.

I had fun hitting my basic LR-adusted file with some of the many additional presets in Topaz Adust, just to see what happened. I’m fairly conservative in my image processing, so went Yuck! on some of the previews, but several of the presets generated a Like! A nice feature of Adjust is that you can save the presets you like, and even ones you create yourself, to your personal Favorites collection.

In my tests, I just went with the default slider settings for each preset. Adjust does give you the ability to modify the preset (and save as your own) and fine tune your photo to a very fine degree. I’ll be working on that more in the future.

Some photographers make the argument that it is possible to do anything that apps like Adjust can do in Photoshop or Lightroom. I’m not so sure about that. I think the folks at Topaz know some special voodoo. Okay, expert-level Photoshoppers may be able to produce similar results, but personally I’m a big fan of plugins and presets that quickly and easily improve and enhance my images, especially when I can run my mouse over the preset options for an instant preview.

Topaz Adjust can be used with both Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, Topaz plugins require a separate little app, Topaz Fusion Express, that generates a TIF for editing. I do most of my processing in Lightroom these days, so I access Adjust by going to Photo > Edit In > Topaz Fusion Express; at that point I select options for working on the original file or a copy (always a copy!), then open in Adjust. It’s a little simpler and quicker working from Photoshop, just go Filter > Topaz Labs > Adjust.

Topaz has a very good intro video on the features and use of Adjust that will get you up to speed with the plugin in no time.

Two things I’d like to see Topaz work on for the next version of this program:

(1) The preview images don’t look sharp if you have the zoom set to Fit and the size is something like 16.7%. Viewing at 50% and 100%, the images were sharp. Depending on your monitor size and resolution, you may be able have your preview at something like 25% and get a sharp image.

(2) Topaz Adjust only works with TIFF files, so if you usually save your files in the PSD format, you’ll have to convert or save a copy in TIF format.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with Topaz Adjust and I’m happy to include it in my set of tools for photo editing. If you’d like to explore the possibilities yourself, download the free trial here: www.topazlabs.com/adjust.

Topaz is running a special promotion on Adjust through July 31, 2o15. They’re offering a discount of 40% off ($20 discount), reducing the price to just $29.99. That’s a darn good deal. Use coupon code: JULYADJUST.

Disclosure: that link just above is an affiliate link, so if you decide to purchase Adjust, Topaz will reward me handsomely. But it won’t cost you a cent more, so go ahead and click the link. :)

Jul 182015

Covers of Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington books

Trying to decide where to go and what to photograph in the Pacific Northwest? Here’s a great deal: through the end of July, I’m selling my award-winning guidebooks with no charge for shipping. That’s the equivalent of more than 20% off for a personally autographed copy of Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington.

Note:  This deal is only for orders placed via the “Add to Cart” buttons on this page http://www.gregvaughn.com/books.html and it is only good for books to be shipped to U.S. addresses via standard USPS mail.

If you don’t already own both books, now is a great time to get them at a very good price. These guidebooks to the best scenic, landscape and nature photography locations in Oregon and Washington also make great gifts for photographer friends and family members.

Don’t wait – this deal ends on July 31, 2015!


Jun 242015
Historic Dahmen Barn in Uniontown, Washington

Dahmen Barn, Palouse Country, Washington.

I’m just back from leading a photo workshop in the Palouse country of southeast Washington state. I certainly wasn’t the only one leading a workshop or photo tour there, at the prime time for lush green fields of wheat, peas, and barley, but there’s plenty of room for everyone on Steptoe Butte and miles of farm roads to explore.

It was great to see friends Jack Graham and Bill Fortney on the Butte with their workshop, and to run into Jason Savage and his clients while photographing a classic red barn. Somehow I missed Andy Williams with Muench Workshops, Chip Phillips from PhotoCascadia and Photoshop guru Tim Grey with his group, but it’s great fun, and very interesting, to see what those folks are posting now on blogs and social media.

One of the locations that just about everyone visiting the Palouse goes to is the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown. This year, photographing the barn and the famous iron wheel fence proved to be a bit of a challenge for photographers visiting in June. The artists co-op that now owns the property tore down the old, very weathered, structure that was attached to the barn and replaced it with a new building that will provide better facilities for artists and events.

Many photographers were disappointed to see this when they arrived at the location because the new structure stands out like a sore thumb next to the classic Dahmen dairy barn.

I spoke with one of the members of the Board of Directors for Artisans at the Dahmen Barn. She assured me that the non-profit organization is well-aware of the issues for photographers and has plans to improve the situation in the very near future. The exterior wooden walls of the new structure, which do mimic the original, will soon be stained to a color very closely matching the old weathered wood. Furthermore, covers and other decorative embellishments will be added to disguise the new utility boxes, and there will be shutters and sliding doors to cover the new windows and doors.

I was very disappointed to hear from this Director that some photographers had actually yelled at her when they visited recently and discovered the changes. That is totally not okay, and totally unfair to a person representing a group of people dedicated to preserving this remarkable site. I too was certainly a bit annoyed to get there and find that I wouldn’t be able to make the photograph of the barn that I had planned on, but there is no excuse and absolutely no reason to be rude when you run into such circumstances.

So what can you do when you get somewhere and the view is really different from what you planned on, based on all the other photos you’ve seen of the location?  As Dewitt Jones so wisely says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. Take it as an opportunity, and a challenge, to make the best of the situation and come up with something that works, and will give you an image different from all the other photos you’ve seen published and posted before. Great creative with your composition, and maybe with your image processing as well.

My solution was to try to use part of the wagon wheel fence to block the modern elements of the new structure, at the same time using some of the wheels to frame the classic old dairy barn. I also went with a retro black & white/monochrome treatment to try and minimize the recently torn up bare dirt in the yard in front of the barn.

For the above image, I experimented with some straight black and white conversions, using the Lightroom presets that Michael Frye provides in his excellent tutorial “Landscapes in Lightroom 5” (not at all outdated by the release of LR v6 and CC), and then experimented with various filters and presets in Silver Efex Pro and OnOne’s Perfect Effects. Each gave me some great interpretations. The one I liked the best for web display, as above, was achieved using Perfect Effects 9 with the Tarnished Bronze preset in the B&W module, which not only does the conversion from the full color RAW image, but also adds the border effects.

Another challenge, and opportunity, that all of us faced when visiting the Palouse last week was what to do when the skies were just plain and blue. The kind of conditions that visitors bureaus love to promote, but where serious photographers long for dramatic clouds.

One of the great things about photographing in the Palouse is that you can use just about any lens in your bag, from super wide to super telephoto. And when the skies are boring, it’s time to bring out the long telephoto and zoom lenses. My photo workshop clients were able to capture some great images using their 70-300mm, 70-200mm and 200-400mm lenses, zooming in on focal points of grain storage silos, red barns, and the beautiful patterns of wheat fields and undulating hills of the Palouse.

A great thing for photographers shooting the Palouse (as well as many other locations), is the new Dehaze tool in the just-released versions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Give it a try in the Effects panel of Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. I see also some potential for using this tool to add apparent haze for an effect with some images.

On a bit of an aside, if you have my book Photographing Washington, note that in the reference to shooting the Palouse, I mention on page 285 a barn on the east side of Glendale Road. That barn collapsed sometime in the past couple of years. 

Did you get to the Palouse for the lush green fields this year?  If not, go for the golden and “amber waves of grain” around harvest time from mid-July to early August. And if that doesn’t fit your schedule this year, put this trip on your bucket list for a future date.

If you’re interested in visiting and photographing the Palouse in the future, email me, check my workshop schedule or check on this page for links to some of my other photographer friends leading photo workshops and tours in Washington.

Apr 162015
Kalalau Valley from Kokee State Park lookout

Kalalau Valley

The islands of Hawaii are not just one of the top travel destinations in the world, but also a paradise for nature and landscape photographers. Of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai more than the others is the vision that most people have of a tropical Pacific Island – lush green valleys, volcanic mountains covered in rainforest, and miles of gorgeous white sand beaches along the coast.

I visited Kauai quite a few times during the years I lived in Hawaii and got to know it fairly well. If you are planning to visit the Garden Island, here are my recommendations for the top ten spots for nature and scenic landscape photography.

1. Kalalau Lookout – Kokee State Park
The view of Kalalau Valley from Kokee State Park is one of the most stunning vistas in the Hawaiian Islands. Pu’u O Kila Lookout is worth the short hike, but the iconic image of the valley and Ka’a’alahina Ridge is best taken from Kalalau Lookout in Kokee State Park. Be prepared for fog, rain and chilly temperatures, and don’t give up if the view is totally obscured when you arrive – the clouds and fog often roll through with breaks to reveal the grandeur of Kalalau. The photo above was taken during a very brief break just as the sun was setting. If you have to wait, work on close-ups of ‘ohi’a-lehua and ginger flowers or the graphic fronds of the uluhe fern.

Waimea Canyon with rainbow

Waimea Canyon

2. Waimea Canyon
Some call this deeply eroded gorge “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Maybe it doesn’t quite measure up to its namesake, but there are some grand views from the rim of Waimea Canyon. As with much of the rest of Kauai, the rock and dirt here is a rich rusty red due to high iron content. There are several developed viewpoints affording panoramic vistas the canyon. The view is looking east, and mid- to late afternoon light works best.

If you are visiting in June or July, walk the 0.3-mile Iliau Nature Trail for photos of the iliau, an unusual plant, related to the silversword, that is found only on Kauai. The blossoms are quite spectacular. If you’re familiar with the desert southwest U.S. you will see the resemblance to yucca in both the spiky leaves and the flowers.

3. National Tropical Botanical Garden at Lawai
Both native and exotic tropical plants and flowers abound at this beautiful public garden in a valley to the west of the Poipu resort area. The south side of the island is the generally sunny, but overcast days are great for close-ups of flowers, leaf patterns and such.

4. Spouting Horn
Among the several well-known blowholes in the Hawaiian Islands, this is perhaps the most famous. Fortunately, it’s also fairly safe to visit and photograph. Waves enter a tunnel in the rugged rocky coast and then shoot up through a hole in the lava, sending a sudden powerful spray of water up to 50 feet in the air. This is also a good place for sunset photos fall through spring, when the sun is setting a little to the south.

Wailua Falls with rainbow

Wailua Falls

5. Wailua Falls
Waterfalls abound on Kauai, but the majority are not accessible to the public. This one is easy to get to, as well as being one of the largest. Depending on recent rainfall, the 80-foot drop will occur in two or three channels, or soon after heavy rain, a single mass of surging whitewater. Visit the roadside viewpoint early in the morning, both to avoid crowds (the prime viewing angle is extremely limited), and for a good chance of capturing a rainbow at the falls. It’s possible to hike to the pool at the base of the falls, but the trail can be steep, slippery and dangerous.

juvenile Great Frigatebird in flilght

Great Frigatebird, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

6. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Even if you’re not a serious birder, you’ll probably enjoy a visit to Kilauea Point. Red-footed booby birds, tropicbirds, ‘iwa (frigatebirds) and Laysan Albatross frequent this refuge, often flying close enough for great photos even with a moderate 200-300mm lens. Unfortunately, public access to the refuge is limited to 10am-4pm, but there is a nice early morning view of the lighthouse from the entry gate.

Hanalei Valley from lookout

Hanalei Valley

7. Hanalei Valley NWR and Hanalei Bay Beach Park
There are actually three (or more) great photo locations around Hanalei, but I wanted to keep this list to an even ten. Almost across the highway from the Princeville shopping area, look for the roadside pullout and Hanalei Valley Lookout. The cliffside viewpoint overlooks verdant Hanalei Valley and its patchwork of taro farms, backed by the forested mountains central to Kauai. The north side of the island is often rainy mid-day, so try this view early in the morning (good chance of rainbows) or late in the afternoon.

If you’re interested in seeing and photographing native Hawaiian waterbirds, drive into the valley on the road along Hanalei River. Hawaiian stilt, coot and gallinule (all sub-species of birds familiar to west coast birders) can be seen along the edges of the valley taro patches. You may also find the Nene (Hawaiian Goose), the Hawaii State Bird, both here and at Kilauea Point NWR.

Hanalei Bay Beach Park isn’t so much a nature photography location, but you’ll definitely want to go there for the views of the pier, a panorama of the idyllic bay, to catch surfers working the waves, or, in summer, to photograph the sun setting along the coast to the west.

leaves of the red ti plant

Red ti

8. Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Like McBryde and Allerton Gardens at Lawai, Limahuli is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden organization. Here you can see native plants, introduced exotics, and terraced fields farmed with traditional Hawaiian agricultural practices. The garden also works to preserve and restore some of the native species unique to this area. Among the accolades this garden has received: Limahuli was named best natural botanical garden in the United States by the American Horticultural Society.

9. Ha’ena Beach and Ke’e Beach
The view along Ha’ena Beach to Mount Makana, the “Bali Hai” of the 1958 movie South Pacific, is probably the number one signature shot of Kauai. White sand beach, clear turquoise water and the distinct shape of the forested peak – it’s the idyllic vision of a tropical paradise.

The road ends at Ke’e Beach. Walk north a little ways from the beach access at the parking area, then look back for a fabulous view of the steep cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. When the surf is up (most common in winter), the wave action here is spectacular – the waves seemingly explode as they hit the reef. Ke’e and Ha’ena beaches are both great sunset locations.

waves and cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, from Ke'e Beach

Na Pali Coast from Ke’e Beach

10. Kalalau Trail
The 11-mile trek to Kalalau Valley is for serious backpacking only, but you can enjoy some of the best of it with a 2-mile hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach if you are an experienced hiker (parts of the trail are steep and rocky). Soon after the start of the Kalalau Trail, look back for a view of Ke’e Beach, then continue on the path for dramatic views of the Na Pali Coast. The beautiful white sand beach at Hanakapi’ai is great for photography, but extremely dangerous for swimming due to strong rip currents. From the beach, you can hike another 2 miles up the Hanakapi’ai River to a 300′ high waterfall. This is a moderately strenuous hike. Please note: I strongly advise you to NOT hike to Hanakapi’ai (beach or waterfall) in the winter. The trail gets slippery treacherous, the beach usually washes away and people have been swept away while trying to cross the river. You can, however, at any time of year, get some great views of Ke’e Beach and the Na Pali Coast just by hiking the first 1/4 mile or so of the trail from the trailhead at Ke’e.


Well, there you have my list of the best of Kauai for nature and landscape photographers. Do you agree? Let me know in the Comments, and feel free to add your own favorites.

For more great photo locations in the Hawaiian Islands, check these other blog posts:

Maui – www.wandersandwonders.com/2014/02/18/top-10-places-on-maui-for-nature-and-landscape-photography/

The Big Island – www.wandersandwonders.com/2014/03/10/top-10-places-on-the-big-island-for-nature-photography/

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Apr 072015
Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park.

I’m very pleased to announce that I will be co-leading a photo workshop in Yellowstone National Park this Fall. For anyone interested in sharpening their skills in landscape and nature photography, this will be a great opportunity in one of the iconic locations of North America.

This photography workshop is one of the many wonderful programs offered each year by the Yellowstone Association. My co-leader for the workshop is long-time friend Terry Donnelly, who has been conducting workshops at Yellowstone for several years and is an outstanding educator as well as an all-around nice guy. Oh yeah, he also makes really pretty pictures.

Come join Terry and I from September 28-October 1, 2015 for “Colors on the Landscape: Fall Photography in Yellowstone”. The workshop will provide instruction in both technical and aesthetic considerations in photography, combined with plenty of on-location shooting in some of the landscapes that Yellowstone is famous for.

Click the links to find out more about all the Yellowstone Association programs and download the Summer Catalog. And this link for details about the workshop. Ready to register? Go here and click on Add to Cart.

Please share this post with any of your friends who might be interested in this photography workshop, and on social media via the links below.

Feb 122015

Cover of guidebook "Photographing Washington"

The North American Travel Journalists Association has just announced the winners in their annual awards, and I’m very pleased to say that Photographing Washington was honored with the Bronze award in the Travel Book & Guide category.

The NATJA award comes on the heels of receiving the Silver award in the Travel Book category in the 2014 Benjamin Franklin Awards.

For more information on Photographing Washington and my other award-winning guidebook, Photographing Oregon, please click this link.

These books are part of a mult-award winning series of guidebooks for photographers available from PhotoTripUSA.

Feb 072015

Screenshot capture from Peru Tourism website

It’s genetic, I’m sure. Not only did I inherit a love of travel from my parents, but I’m sure I got my penchant for planning from my mom as well. On family vacations, we had a daily itinerary with details of each stop determined long before we all piled into the station wagon.

My sister inherited it, too. She’s heading to Greece this spring, and already she’s devoured multiple guidebooks, checked out numerous DVDs from the library, spent hours checking websites, and watched every pertinent episode of Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain. I’m sure she’ll have her bags packed a good two weeks before take-off.

When I locked in a trip to Peru recently, I immediately started planning and researching. While I’m more than willing to go with Serendipity during my trips, and doing so has often resulted in fun adventures and great photos, I always want to start out prepared. And yes, I was a Boy Scout (motto: “Be Prepared!”).

So, here are some of the ways I’m preparing for my trip to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu (bucket list!), what tools I’ll use for research, and what gear I’m planning to take. Each of these items is on one of several checklists that I refer to when I’m getting ready to travel.

Pre-trip Research

As a guidebook writer/photographer myself, I normally start my trip research by looking at several guidebooks and buying the hard copy or download an ebook of the one I think looks best. This trip is part of an SATW meeting where most of my itinerary is set by the hosts and I don’t have to find lodging or recommended restaurants, but I know that a good guidebook will have in-depth information on history, culture, and environment in addition to listing Must Sees and where to find the best local cuisine.

A visit to the website of the official visitors organizations for my trip destinations is usually my next step in research. The CVBs usually have in-depth information about sights, culture, climate and activities as well as lodging and dining options. They often have a gallery of photos showing highlights of the area; more and more the quality of the photos on these websites is very good and the images bear studying. Independent websites and blogs are great for getting information from fellow travelers with real world experience from personal visits. A quick Google search will likely turn up tons of those for every popular destination.

Searches on Google Images, Flickr, and stock photo agencies like Getty Images and Alamy give me more ideas of what to put on my shoot list. I don’t intend to copy what others have done, but seeing what’s out there helps me be prepared for when I’m on location making my own images.

When I find something like an important landmark or a building with great architecture in my research, I’ll go to Google Maps or Google Earth (or a guidebook or website map), pinpoint the location, and note which direction the the landmark or building faces. Is the best light going to be in the morning or afternoon? I can even try to determine more precisely the best time for photographing the location by using an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) to show not just the time of sunrise or sunset, but the exact direction of the light on the day I’ll be there.

For the cities I’m going to visit, I’ll try to find a good street map on a destination website or use Google Maps, then make a print and mark the locations of places I want to visit.

Climate and weather are going to determine what clothes I bring, and to some extent the photo gear I pack, so I check websites with long-term climate data and average temperature/rainfall, and as the trip approaches I’ll check current forecasts. The Intellicast weather app for the iPad/iPhone is excellent for the latter.

I still have some clippings, brochures, press releases, etc. in analog filing cabinet drawers, so I’ll check those, as well as digitally stored docs of the same sort.

Lastly, friends and friends of friends on social media can offer help and suggestions. A post in a Facebook Group for travel photographers, bloggers, writers or PR/DMO people can net some very useful information.

Photo Equipment

When I’m doing a road trip, I pretty much pack everything, including the kitchen sink (nicely, that’s built into my VW Westfalia). When the journey involves air travel, however, I need to carefully consider each piece of gear in order to stay within weight limits.

My Peru trip is limited to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu. With the latter two destinations at high elevation, I’m really aiming to keep down the weight of what I’ll be carrying around all day. This trip won’t take me anywhere with opportunities to shoot wildlife, so I don’t have to pack my long telephoto lenses or even the tele-converter. Here’s what I will take:

  • 2 Nikon DSLRs. One full-frame and one 1.5x crop frame.
  • 14mm, 12-24mm, 16-35mm, 18-200mm, 24-85mm and 70-200mm lenses (with lens hoods for all).
  • Polarizing filters to fit the lenses. If I was going to an area with waterfalls or I knew other moving water would be one of my important subjects, I’d also take a neutral density filter.
  • Canon 500D Close-up Lens. Combined with the 70-200mm lens, this gives me excellent close-up/macro capability. Nikon makes similar quality 5T and 6T close-up lenses, but for some reason, not in the 72mm size.
  • Tripod. Word is they are not allowed at Machu Picchu, but I use a tripod whenever I can, and I plan on doing some night photos in the cities. My Gitzo tripod + Really Right Stuff ballhead are small and light enough that I can and will carry them all day if I think I might need them. And if I use the tripod, I’ll most likely be using a remote release for the camera as well.
  • Memory (SD/CF) cards. Enough of these that I can go for at least several days without having to download and re-format. The price of these cards has come down so much now that many photographers bring enough of them for their whole trip. I always go with the higher-end cards from SanDisk or Lexar, and will start the trip with them freshly formatted in each camera.
  • Extra batteries and charger for the cameras.
  • On many trips, I’d be bringing an on-camera flash and diffuser, plus extra batteries and charger. I’m debating whether to bring those on my Peru trip and may leave them behind as I almost always find ambient light sufficient. My cameras have a pop-up flash that I sometimes use if I need a little fill.

When I’m going to be doing things like walking around a marketplace and don’t want to be encumbered with a lot of gear, or be an obvious target for thieves, I’ll just take the small DSLR body and a couple of lenses in something low-key like an old Domke Satchel shoulder bag. Most of the time however, I want to be prepared for anything (Boy Scout, remember), so I use a LowePro Fastpack 350 photo backpack that holds not only the above gear (minus the battery chargers) but also:

  • LensPen and microfiber cloths for cleaning lenses.
  • A few yards of black gaffers tape (superior to duct tape) wrapped around the allen wrench that’s needed for my tripod quick release plates.
  • A bright red cotton bandana. Comes in handy for drying equipment and eyeglasses that get wet from rain or waterfall spray (or for body parts after a dip in a mountain lake or river), for shading the neck in all-day outside walks, another layer of warmth around the neck or on the head when it’s cold, etc. So far I haven’t had to use it as an emergency signal, but that’s the reason for the color.
  • Pocket pack of Kleenex tissue.
  • Ziploc bag for trash.
  • Large plastic trash bag. When the ground is wet, I can sit or lay on it, or put my camera gear on it to keep it dry. Can be used to improvise a pack cover when it rains.
  • Poncho – one of those cheap, thin, plastic things that fits in a sandwich size ziploc. They’re big enough to cover me even when I’m wearing the backpack.
  • Op/Tech Rainsleeve to put over the camera and lens when it’s raining. A large ziploc can be hacked to do this, but the Rainsleeve is much better and easier to use, and they’re not expensive.
  • Small collapsible umbrella that I can stash in the water bottle pocket of my backpack. If it’s not windy, this can be a lot easier than shooting with the Rainsleeve on the camera. On bright, sunny days, it can shade a small area or a person’s face for close-ups with less contrast.
  • Hotel shower cap. These also work fine as rain covers for small camera+lens combos. I put one over the ballhead on my tripod when walking around with it in drizzle and rain.
  • 4″x6″ memo book, customized with pockets to hold business cards, model releases and photo tips/reminders. This, and a pen, will most often be in my pants pocket when I’m out shooting, for instant note-taking access.
  • Energy bar. I’m partial to Clif Bars and Nature Valley Chewy Fruit & Nut. When I’ve been on the go for hours and am starting to lag, snacking on one of these really perks me up.
  • Small bottle/tube of hand sanitizer.
  • First Aid/Emergency kit. Carried in a quart size Ziploc bag: several bandaids of various sizes, alcohol swab, a couple of Benedryl (antihistamine) tablets, half dozen Ibruprofen, safety pin, enzyme-based digestive aid. For foreign travel, I add a couple of anti-diarrheal and anti-gas caps. Depending on where I’m going, I might include a very small container of sunscreen and/or bug repellant. When I’m on a road trip and doing any hiking, I also include a Bic lighter, emergency whistle, and Mylar “Space Blanket”.
  • Elastic knee brace. The old knees aren’t what they used to be, and in particular don’t like the prolonged pounding of a downhill descent with the added weight of camera gear, so I always have these in my backpack. Trekking poles help immensely, but I anticipate the only time on this trip the knee joints might need help is at Machu Picchu, so I’ll leave the sticks at home this time.
  • Water bottle. Whenever possible I try to avoid buying and using the ubiquitous small plastic bottles of drinking water. I’ll either bring my own bottle, or buy one at the beginning of the trip and refill it. The water at the hotels I’ll be staying at should be safe, and I’m planning on having a SteriPen to treat questionable sources.
  • 12″x17″ sheet of white closed-cell foam, ~1/2″ thick. This lives in the slot in my backpack intended for a laptop (which will also still fit). Makes a comfy, and dry, place to sit or kneel, and can used as a reflector/diffuser for close-ups in bright light.
  • Swiss Army Knife. Actually this always lives in my pants pocket, but I’ll include it with the camera stuff here. I’ve carried my large Victorinox with 15 tools and blades every day for many years. It lacks pliers so I’ve been tempted to trade it for a lighter weight multi-tool, but I’ve not seen one of those that includes toothpick, tweezers, and corkscrew – all essential and used frequently. I do have to be very careful and remember to put the knife in my checked luggage for flights; I place a note on top of everything in my suitcase to remind me.

The Lowepro Fastback is an extremely well designed and constructed photo backpack, and itis comfortable enough to be worn all day on a hike. I bought the blue and black version because it looks more like a regular daypack, and doesn’t broadcast the fact that I have a lot of expensive gear in it. Several similar photo backpacks have built-in rain covers, which would be a very good idea for this trip.

Computer and other electronics

Whenever I pack for air travel I’m amazed at how much computer and related electronic gear I’m taking. Then I remember that I used to have to pack 100-200 rolls of film, a whole lot more lens filters, and a heavier tripod. On recent trips, I’ve been really tempted to try and get by without a laptop and just go with an iPad, but I’m not quite there yet. Here’s the list:

  • MacBookPro. A recent version with 15″ Retina display is both my travel and desktop computer. I’m willing to carry the weight for its capabilities. Charger and cord go with it, of course. I’ll likely pack the Magic Mouse too, as I find it much easier, quicker and precise than the trackpad for navigating the computer, especially when editing and processing photos.
  • iPhone. I resisted a cell phone for a few years, now don’t know how I could get along without it and the v.6 is a wonderful tool. Earphones, USB plug, and charging cable for that as well. Loaded with all kinds of apps. Which reminds me, I need to download the LAN app, since I’ll be flying that airline to, from and within Peru. I’m thinking of picking up a set of Olloclip lenses for the iPhone 6 for more options with Instagram photos.
  • iPad Mini. This might seem superfluous with the laptop and phone, but I use it for reading books in place of a Kindle, and much prefer it over the phone for email, maps and apps like the above-mentioned TPE. When I get a new camera, or if I’m instructing someone in use of theirs, I download the owners manual to the iPad for use in the field.
  • Western Digital MyPassport hard drives. I’ll pack two of these, one with Time Machine for a complete backup of my MacBookPro system plus space to download the photos I take on the trip. The second one will be used for the second backup of any photos I take and download during the trip (with the HD on my laptop and two externals I figure I’m pretty well backed up – certainly way more than I was in the days of carting around rolls of exposed film). The WD Passports are quite small, have proven to be reliable, and the 2TB version has enough capacity that I can bring all almost all of my important files with me. When I’m on extended road trips in the US, I bring additional drives with several years of raw shoot files and an archive of processed images in case I get requests for images with a short deadline.
  • USB Flash Drive. Very handy for transferring files when sharing, giving presentations, etc. The price has come down so much on these, and the capacity has increased, such that they’re viable for backing up photos.
  • Camera memory card reader. Not going to need one on this trip, as both cameras I’m taking use only SD cards and there’s an SD slot built into the MacBookPro. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
  • International voltage adapter. On my last overseas trip I picked up a very compact adapter that works just about anywhere. Sure was nice to get rid of the old brick with a bunch of attachment plugs.
  • Triple-tap AC adapter. How many times have you been in an airport waiting area, cafe or hotel room with all the electrical outlets already in use? Some travelers pack a multi-outlet power strip; I find the triple tap sufficient plus it’s small and light enough that I include it in my carry-on so I have it available at the airport. If you’re going to buy one of these, make sure to get one with the grounding prong and slot.
  • Extra AA batteries and AA/AAA charger. If I bring the flash unit, I’ll also bring rechargeable AA batteries and a compact charger.

Almost of the above will go in my carry-ons. With the photo gear in the backpack (just barely carry-on size) and the electronics in a satchel-type shoulder bag, I can fit my tripod, clothing, toiletries and miscellaneous other stuff in a soft-side 26″ wheeled suitcase. Once I’m on location, any of the electronics that I don’t anticipate using during an excursion with be left in the hotel room, either in a room safe or in luggage that is locked and secured (see below).


I’ll be visiting two quite different climates on my Peru trip, and while the weather will not be extreme anywhere, I need pack for both hot, sunny days and cool, rainy periods. February is the dry season for Lima, with temps in the 80’s (F), humidity about the same, and lots of sun. In contrast, it will be the wet season in Cusco and Machu Picchu, with daily high temps in the 50’s, and rain likely much of the time (Sounds just like Oregon in early Spring, so I’m not going to have much trouble adjusting).

With all the camera and computer gear I travel with, I need to minimize clothing to keep within baggage allowances. Pants, shirts and underwear will mostly be lightweight nylon or poly fabrics that can be rinsed in Woolite in the hotel bathroom sink and hung to dry overnight. Here’s what will go in my check-in luggage:

  • 1 pair nylon travel pants in basic trouser style so they can work for evening functions where cargo pants would be considered gauche.
  • 1 pair convertible nylon pants with cargo pockets. I know a lot of people hate zip-offs, and I agree they’re kinda ugly, but they’re oh so practical. I can wear them for swim shorts if hot-tubbing and au natural is not appropriate.
  • 2 short sleeve T-shirts, high-tech fabric like the REI Sahara or Nike Dri-Fit. I prefer the feel of cotton, but the other fabrics work a lot better in humid climates and dry much quicker when they get wet.
  • 2 long sleeve button front shirts, nylon or blend, at least one of which is suitable for slightly dressy occasions. After many years of living and working in sunny Hawaii, my arms have taken all the UV they can handle, so I need to keep them covered as much as possible. Even when it’s warm, I prefer to wear a lightweight long-sleeve shirt to repeatedly having to apply sunscreen.
  • 2 pair underwear, ExOfficio or similar drip dry fabric.
  • 2 pair lightweight SmartWool socks and 1 pair DarnTough light hiker quarter socks. Both of these have excellent cushioning for walking around all day.
  • 1 pair shoes that are nice enough for upscale restaurants, etc., but also comfortable for walking.
  • 1 packable, Gore-Tex (waterproof but breathable) shell jacket. Layering a T-shirt, long sleeve shirt and this jacket should be plenty of warmth for the early morning Machu Picchu visit, and if it’s not raining as the day warms up I can stuff it in my photo backpack.
  • Wide-brim, water-repellant hat. Both to keep the rain off my eyeglasses and the sun out of my eyes. With chin strap for windy conditions or to let it hang on my back if it gets in the way while shooting.
  • Pick-pocket proof wallet/passport holder.

In addition to those clothes, I’ll wear on the airplane some comfy cotton canvas pants, a long sleeve T-shirt plus long sleeve button up shirt (I’m often cold during flights), low-cut waterproof trail shoes, and a braided nylon belt. The plastic buckle on my belt, and my plastic watch band, won’t set off the Xray machine, so I usually get through security without that extra touch from TSA. The nylon belt has more than once saved the day during a trip by securing gear to a raft, holding a broken suitcase together, etc.

I tend to go with dark clothing because light and bright colors cause too much reflection on the LCD screens of my cameras, iPad/iPhone, and computer. Dark colors are also better at hiding dirt. The one exception I make is my rain jacket because I often wear that in dim conditions and it makes for a nice color pop for selfies or to throw on someone else who volunteers to model.


Other stuff that will get stuffed in either the check-in bag or my “personal carry-on” (AKA purse equivalent):

  • Sunglasses and an old pair of prescription eyeglasses in case something happens to the ones I wear all the time.
  • Toiletries, the usual; meds and vitamin/mineral/herbal supplements, aloe vera, plus a couple of homeopathics like Apis, Arnica and Traumeel. Several days worth of Wellness Formula, an immune system booster that I consider magic and start taking immediately if I feel a bit out of sorts.
  • Small plastic bottle of Woolite for washing clothes.
  • A few Zip-loc bags of assorted sizes. They always come in handy.
  • Ear plugs. Indispensable. Not just for sleeping in noisy hotel rooms but to at least partially block the constant din inflight if I don’t want to listen to music.
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent in larger sizes, to refill the mini bottles I keep in my backpack.
  • Waterproof pouch case for the iPhone. I don’t anticipate needing it this time, but you never know. Boy Scout, remember, Be Prepared!
  • Camera sensor cleaning kit.
  • Extra model releases and business cards.
  • More Clif Bars and granola bars.
  • Starbucks VIA instant coffee. Almost always better than the hotel room packets. If there’s room and I’m not otherwise overweight, I’ll bring a coffee cup.
  • Pacsafe (the original wire mesh kind that could swallow a backpack or small suitcase) and wire cable with loops on ends (like a bike lock cable but only about 1/8″ thick) to lock my suitcase to something immovable in the hotel room.

That’s about it. Based on years of experience as a photographer and traveler, I’m pretty sure the above kit will have me prepared to take maximum advantage of my time on this trip. In addition, wearing the backpack and looping the handles of the shoulder bag on the extended handle of my wheeled suitcase, I can manage everything without the need for luggage carts or assistance when navigating airports and transfers.

Unlike my sister, I won’t be packed two weeks in advance, but neither will I leave it til the last minute. As part of final prep I’ll charge all the batteries, including spares, for all cameras and electronic gear, and I’ll re-format all the memory cards for the cameras (after making sure any images on them have already been downloaded and backed up). Lenses will be checked for dust and smudges; cameras tested for dust on sensors. If necessary, I’ll dump some files from my laptop to make room for the new trip photos. If I haven’t done so recently, I’ll scan my passport, drivers license, credit cards and medical insurance card, and email myself those files in case they get lost.

A couple of days before I leave, I’ll call my credit card issuers, or visit their websites, to let them know I’ll be traveling, so that I don’t suddenly find my account blocked due to the bank trying to prevent fraud.

Just before leaving, I’ll snap photos of my suitcase, backpack and shoulder bag with my iPhone, to help ID them if they get lost.

One last thing, actually one of the very first things I’ve done to get ready: I’ve made it a priority lately to get out and get more exercise. I’ve been spending too much time in front of the computer lately and I’ll be doing a good amount of walking, at altitude, while in Peru. I’m making it a point to do hill climbs on my daily walks and hikes. I definitely don’t want to be lagging when there is going to be so much to see and do in a short time.

As always when travel time again draws near, I’m getting excited. Have I left anything out? What do you pack and how do you carry it? What other resources do you use for planning your trip? Please share your tips in the Comments below.


Jan 072015

Like many of my photographer friends and colleagues, I find it fun, interesting and informative to review the photographs I made in the past year. In 2014, I concentrated on locations in western North America, with trips to California, British Columbia, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, and of course lots of wandering around Oregon. Here are my personal favorites from the year, in chronological order:

Snow geese in flight at dawn; Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Snow geese in flight at dawn; Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

The year started very well for me, leading a private photo workshop in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The photo above was taken while scouting locations for the morning fly out of snow geese and sandhill cranes a couple of days before the workshop.

Ocean and sea stacks at dusk, from Cape Blanco, Oregon.

Ocean and sea stacks at dusk; Cape Blanco, Oregon.

Late winter is a great time to visit the Oregon coast, and I especially like the southern coast from Cape Arago down to Brookings. When I arrived at Cape Blanco State Park, it looked like conditions were favorable for a good sunset. Heavy clouds rolled in, however, and while the sun never popped out from under the cloud bank, a beautiful glow appeared briefly in the southwest sky just at dusk.

Black and white photo of clouds over Sierra Nevada Mountains from Owens Valley, California.

Clouds over the Sierra Nevada from Owens Valley, California.

Three times in the past year I drove from Oregon to Southern California, traveling either to or from via US Highway 395 along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. John Muir famously called the Sierras the “Range of Light”, a highly appropriate tag for this incredibly beautiful mountain range. With the fresh dusting of snow and dramatic clouds, I thought a black and white image, à la Ansel Adams, was the right choice for this scene.

Lupine and balsamroot at Rowena Crest, Oregon, with sunrise over the Columbia River Gorge.

Lupine and balsamroot at Rowena Crest, Oregon, with sunrise over the Columbia River Gorge.

The waterfalls and wildflowers of the Columbia River Gorge offer a wealth of photo ops, most especially in spring when the balsamroot and lupine bloom at Rowena on the Oregon side of the river and the Columbia Hills on the Washington side. Somewhat ironically, while I lamented in another blog post that I didn’t get the photo I’d planned for during this trip, this image was recently licensed for a full-page magazine ad.

Laburnum trees, purple alliums and blue bells in bloom at VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The Laburnum Walk at VanDusen Botanical Garden; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

In May I joined friend, publisher and photographer Laurent Martrès in Vancouver, BC, specifically to photograph the Laburnum trees, aka Golden Chain trees, at VanDusen Botanical Garden. This landscaped tree tunnel is a visual (and aromatic) sensory overload. The vibrant color in this image is not the result of pushing the Saturation slider in processing – the yellow of the blossoms is almost unbelievably intense.

Metolius River, Deschutes National Forest, Central Oregon.

Metolius River, Deschutes National Forest, Central Oregon.

The Metolius River is a favorite vacation destination for many Oregonians, and is especially renown among fly fishing enthusiasts. A couple of years ago I received a request for a photo of the river from a friend who visits repeatedly and finds relaxation and spiritual renewal on the banks of the river. After a couple days of hiking and driving up and down the river, I found this view near Camp Sherman, and I think it illustrates well what is so special about the Metolius.

Sunset clouds over Broken Top and South Sister from Ray Atkeson Memorial viewpoint at Sparks Lake; Cascade Mountains, Central Oregon.

Sparks Lake and sunset clouds over Broken Top and South Sister; Cascade Mountains, Central Oregon.

One of the highlights of 2014 for me was hiking, camping and just hanging out for several days in the Oregon Cascades with photographers Tom Kirkendall and Vicky Spring. For most of the trip the weather wasn’t all that great, and in fact we got drenched twice hiking on the Canyon Creek Meadows trail. But after one of those rainstorms we were treated to a beautiful and long-lasting rainbow, and one evening while at the Ray Atkeson Memorial on Sparks Lake we witnessed a truly spectacular show of clouds over Broken Top and South Sister.

Sunset sky and clouds over Waldo Lake; Cascade Mountains, Oregon.

Waldo Lake Sunset, Cascade Mountains, Oregon.

Waldo Lake is the second largest and the second deepest freshwater lake in Oregon, and its water is among the clearest and purest in the world. The lake and the surrounding forest and wilderness are fabulous for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, camping, mountain biking and just plain relaxing. Located at the crest of the Cascades, it’s often windy at Waldo, with choppy water, but on this day the wind calmed and glorious clouds formed just at sunset. What more could a photographer ask for?

Lower Kentucky Falls; Coast Range Mountains, Oregon.

Lower Kentucky Falls; Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon.

Fall color and waterfalls just seem to go together naturally in the Pacific Northwest. Silver Falls State Park and the Columbia Gorge are the most popular locations for this combination, but there are several really nice waterfalls in the Coast Range. An easy hike on the Kentucky Falls Trail leads through fantastic old-growth forest to three very photogenic waterfalls, with the bonus of a variety of mushrooms lining the way.

Joshua trees at sunrise; Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Joshua trees at sunrise; Joshua Tree National Park, California.

My last trip of 2014 was another jaunt to San Diego, during which I wandered even more than usual. Since I’d already done the US 395 route along the Sierras twice in the previous nine months and was planning to return to Oregon that way, I opted for US Highway 95 in Nevada on the way south. Between Reno and Beatty I enjoyed the particular beauty of stark Basin and Range country under stormy skies, and had fun exploring the mining days ghost towns of Goldfield, Gold Point, Candelaria and Rhyolite. I had dim weather in Death Valley, a pretty nice dawn in Mojave National Preserve, and then a spectacular sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park.

Okay, there’s my Top Ten for 2014.  Some were easy choices, and there are certainly a quite few more that were considered. Perhaps the best thing about putting this post together is the reminder that I am very, very fortunate and truly blessed to have been to these places, seen these sights, hiked many miles of trails, wandered many miles of roads and delighted in the wonders and glory of nature.

Interested in purchasing any of these photographs? Photographic prints and canvas gallery wraps of these images are available by clicking the link for this gallery at FineArtAmerica. Editorial and commercial licenses and personal use downloads are available through my website at 2014 Favorite Photos.

Note: you can view a larger version of each of these photos by clicking on the photos above, or by visiting my website and going to the 2014 Favorite Photos gallery.

UPDATE: I missed the deadline for including this post in Jim Goldstein’s annual “Best Photos of 2014 by JMG-Galleries Blog Readers”, but I encourage you to check out the amazing selection there. If you have a 2014 “Best Of” gallery of your own images, I invite you to include a link in the Comments below.

And, of course, sharing with your friends is most welcomed – just clicked on one these links: