I flew to California a few weeks ago, business as usual. It had been many years since my last visit to the golden state so I was excited, as I always am to travel to a new place. Los Angeles. LAX. As I waited at the baggage pickup, I saw three armed policemen with assault rifles. “I’m not in Kansas anymore”, I thought. That balanced my joy at seeing airplanes from all over the world as we taxied in: United Emirates, China, Canada, aircraft I don’t see at our New Orleans airport.
Off I went to the hotel, in Long Beach. Checked in, time for a drive, as usual. Explore. On the way in, I passed the Pacific Coast Highway. When I first heard of it, I assumed it was just a road along the beautiful coast of California. To my surprise it was more like a big avenue; fully commercialized, at least as it ran through Long Beach. I drove south for an hour, as it was late in the day and as the sun set, returned to the hotel. Although the Westin in Long Beach overlooks the Pacific, it isn’t on the beach. So, I knew that after tomorrow’s business I would have to drive south again, out of town. One rule of photography that never fails when on a tight schedule, find the water. Harbors, beaches, boats, ships, seabirds. Trust the ocean. It will never disappoint, especially at sunset.
As I drove the highway, I looked west, saw the beautiful sky and knew if I could only get through the houses, stores and shopping centers, I would be rewarded. I simply took a right and drove toward the beach. After a bit of a search, I ended up at the Long Beach pier, next to a public parking lot. I slogged up the sand berm in dress shoes and onto the beach. Surfers, swimmers, photographers shooting the sunset. it was quite a show.
I shot the sunset, as I stood on hardened sand that was being slowly covered by the rising tide. Dress shoes be damned. I could smell the salt air. It lifted my spirits and washed away all of the day’s grabbing details. It’s a sense of freedom I can only find away from home. Alone, seemingly as always. That irritating reality that necessarily accompanies the making of art.
I kept shooting as the light faded with a wonderfully red sky, seagulls, beach walkers, surfers and our small group of photographers spread out, but snapping away as the sun set.
And, as if on cue, a surfer turned to survey the end of the day. Maybe for signs of a last wave or just to smell the salt air and feel totally alive.
Two years ago I flew to Washington . Unexpectedly, I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. The “PNW’ is a land of mystery and beauty. With ever changing weather to the stunning vistas, she’ll leave you breathless, humbled and yearning to return. It was on my second visit that I encountered the werewolf. For sure, you think I’m nuts. Trust me. I have the photo to prove it.
When I landed in Seattle last Christmas it was cold. I wanted to see the city at night, a magical time for me. It was raining, what Washingtonians call “mist”. I drove in and parked at Pike Place Market, which tells you it was after hours. Pike’s is a world class market with fish mongers, and purveyers of a million different things. As I got out of my car, I walked a few paces and stood right in front of the original Starbucks, my favorite coffee next to Chicory New Orleans Blend. Needless to say I loved it. A new and world class city, at night, at Christmas time.
I had dinner at Steelhead Diner, a lovely restaurant right next to the market. Its chef is from New Orleans which made the meal more special. The bartender directed me to “downtown” and I walked a few blocks, surprised by how many young people were walking the streets at about ten oclock at night, in the rain, of course. It’s the PNW. Get used to it.
I came on an area with small amusement rides and beautiful Christmas lights strung on the trees. So, I decided to try a technique which is simple yet can give wonderful results. I shot the lights in the trees with a slow shutter speed while I zoomed the lens. It’s basically “painting light onto the sensor” and can yield amazing images.
So, there you have it. Straight up, no Photoshop, no trickery. And it’s still on the card. Anyone who doubts it can see, but has to buy me coffee. New Orleans Blend Chicory of course.
The first secret to great travel pictures is to “Leave home”, per Steve McCurry, whose work is well known. Remember the wonderful picture of the Afghan girl with the piercing green eyes? As in all things now, I encourage you to Google him. His latest book is Steve McCurry, The Iconic Photographs. His pictures are travel photography at its finest and won’t fail to inspire you.
I traveled to Maine last year to help Mom prep the family home for sale. Of course I wanted to be out taking pictures rather than cleaning house. But I learned something in the process. Even though I wasn’t free to roam for hours with camera in hand, I did sneak out and was lucky enough to get several good pictures. One was taken close to the house.
I drove along a back road in the very rural area for a while, seeing nothing particularly interesting. The paving ended and I decided to keep going. I was rewarded with a magnificent quiet pond and deep blue light.
I didn’t know Knight’s Pond was there. Like many beautiful Maine places it was undisturbed: simply nature at her most beautiful. I parked and sat on the shore taking pictures as the sun set. It was quiet, except for the wonderful call of a loon in the distance. Click on the image and I bet you can hear her.
There was a great sense of adventure in simply finding the place. In spite of my hankering to get out, travel for miles and get the defining image of Maine, it was right under my nose.
Not long after that, the morning fog hung like a shroud over everything. Fog is a photographer’s friend. It brings an otherwise uninspiring scene to life.
So, I hotfooted it to Belfast harbor, twenty minutes from the house. Fog and boats are magical. Sure enough the sun was coming up but was still mostly concealed, a yellow disc fighting to get through.
If I get several good images in a trip I am happy. “Have camera- will travel”. Easy. Get on the plane and go.