Blackmore Lake Hike

Gorgeous day for a hike. The underwood was still wet from the night rain and the woods had a distinct smell of fir and wildflowers. The trail was marked with patches of Indian Paintbrush flowers, Lupine and wild daisies. The occasional squirrel would poke its head from a tree and watched me as I hiked by. The hike to Blackmore Lake was an easy 2 miles each way (uphill one way) from the trailhead at Hyalite Reservoir, which is half hour drive from Bozeman at the end of Hyalite Canyon. This location offers a variety of activities, from fishing, to boating, camping, etc. I rode my motorcycle to the reservoir and the air was a lot cooler in the canyon than in town, making for a very pleasant ride. Blackmore Lake is pretty low right now, but in any case it’s more of a pond than a lake (when I say it for the first time I though about how Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine is actually a big lake and not a pond). A litte meadow opens up just further up from the lake, and the trail continues to Blackmore Peak, which is another 3 miles ahead. I will explore that in the future as some dark clouds in the early afternoon were calling for rain. There was not heavy traffic on this trail but I did cross a few people, and their dogs. It’s definitely a beautiful and relaxing location, and an easy spot to reach for anyone visiting Bozeman. All pictures taken with my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone. All images are clickable for larger version.

 

 

 

 

Again in Seoul

Gwanghwamun

My favorite time to write is while on public transportation, be it on an airplane or a train. Here I am, sitting on a plane from Detroit to Salt Lake City on my way home from a quick getaway to Seoul, South Korea. And a quick getaway it sure was. I left Montana on Tuesday morning and returning today, which is Friday. That gave me a full day in Seoul. Sure, that’s not much to see the city but the whole purpose of this trip was a chance to fly the upper cabin of the Delta Boeing 747 one more time before it retires at the end of the year (United will be retiring theirs as well soon). And I also had been to Seoul before (see my previous blog post: A Stroll in Seoul), so one could say this is a continuation of my previous trip as I focused on sights that were new to me. Seoul is a fascinating and vibrant city where people are quick to smile and a dollar goes  long way (it’s still only about $4 for a one way train ticket from Incheon airport to the city and a 2 liter bottle of water will cost you less than a dollar). I confess that I didn’t go out seeking photograph opportunity on this trip, I was just happy to be there. Well, it’s not that photographic opportunities do not abound, it’s more like the light was just not the best. A sunny day will give you strong light with harsh shadows and a sunny day is what I go (but who am I to complain), so perhaps once home, as I start cataloging these new photos, I will work on some black and whites as that gives more justice to harsh lighting conditions.

I like to walk and this trip was no different than many others where I consumed the bottom of my shoes. I arrived on Wednesday night after a 13 hours flight from Detroit (and 2 other flights before that) and after dropping my small backpack at the hostel I booked by Hongik University for a whopping $16/night (breakfast included), on a direct train line from the airport, I went to explore the neighborhood and find something to eat. I really like that area, Hongik University has a fun, multicultural, night life and it’s brim with cheap restaurants, coffee shops and beer houses. I will most likely stay there again.

Namdaemun Market

The next morning I took the subway to Namdaemun Market. One could find all sort of things here, it reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. There’s an above ground section, that spans across a large area and multiple small alleys, as well an underground claustrophobic as well as rich of all sort of merchandise section. I truly enjoyed both as I walked around taking pictures and GoPro video while being greeted by the smiles of many merchants.
I wasn’t there to buy stuff (although there’s so much I would buy) but I love this city, and I think they could tell.

Library and City Hall

In one of the small alleys I found several restaurants displaying a variety of locals dishes and tantalizing smells. Letting a gracious lady lure me inside one of them I try a typical Korean dish which was still new to me:  Bibimbap (literally: Mixed rice. It’s served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables chili pepper paste and soy sauce). I loved every bite, as it contained several flavors that perfectly married each other. I liked it so much that on my flight from Incheon to Detroit I had it again as it was one of the meal options.

Satisfied with my lunch choice I, once again, took the road to walk toward the City Hall. This is a gorgeous modern glass building that sits just across the Deoksugung temple area which I had visited on my previous trip (see past blog post: A Stroll in Seoul). I would recommend spending time in this area to anyone interested in travel and architectural photography. The harmony of the lines in those buildings just make for some great shots. Walking down this large avenue I arrived at my destination, the Gwanghwamun Gate and temple complex. I shared some of the sights with a young woman from Holland (originally from Syria) whose name is Arua, if memory serves me correctly. As we took each other’s pictures we talked a bit about world events. Of course we touched a bit on the topic of Syria, and she made me realize how hard it is for people who only have the Syrian passport to travel anywhere as most countries will not accept that passport for entry. It is sad that a whole people can be discriminated based on their nationality. I have not met a whole lot of Syrians but those I met where beautiful people with a quick smile, a sense of humor and a will to share what they have with other cultures. I hope they will find peace soon.

Hongik University area at night

After another walk to the subway station I took a train to the National Museum of Korea. Those who are museum lovers will find thousands of artifacts to entertain them for the whole day; those who are not will still rejoice from the gorgeous setting and building, the many collections inside that are worth at least a quick browsing, and the fact that admission is free.

After this I went back to Hongik University area to relax and grab some dinner. The next morning I had a 6am alarm clock to get me to the airport in time for my 10am flight.

Seoul has so much more to offer, but I’m truly intrigued by the beautiful sights advertised in posters around the subway stations. With mountains, rivers, waterfalls and lakes, as well as gorgeous foliage colors, it seems that South Korea will be calling my name sooner rather than later.

City view from the National Museum of Korea
Bibimbap

 

 

(Click on images to see a larger version in a new tab)

 

 

 

New Article Published

EV Mag SmallThis past week I had another article published, this time in New Zealand online magazine for photographers “Extraordinary Vision”
EV is a beautiful magazine, available on Android and iOS platforms (you find it in the app store), which goal is to expand the way a photographer sees things allowing thus to help him take better and unusual photos. I hope you will enjoy my article, it contains some cool photos I took on Easter Island.

The article is called “Beyond the Ocean: Rapa Nui” and you can download a free copy (and more) until July 15th here: https://extraordinary-vision.com/free-issues

Review: ThinkTank Photo Airport Accelerator

_MG_5822sm
Fulfilling a lifetime dream

My most recent trip was to a destination I had wanted to see all my life: the remote Easter Island (Rapa Nui). This island has captured the imagination of more than one photographer and it had been on my bucket list of must-see places for a very long time. Typically, because of its remoteness (and expense) this is not a trip that one does often, so I wanted to be ready to capture the beauty of the island without compromise. Rather than traveling with my most used lenses I decided this time I had to bring along my whole collection and two bodies: my full frame  Canon EOS 5D Mark III and my crop Canon EOS 7D. Having a second body is not strictly necessary, but I wanted to be ready in case anything happened to my main camera. I contacted my friends at Think Tank Photo who asked me to provide a list of the equipment I was taking along as well as a description of what type of travel I was planning to do (hiking, not checking any luggage with the airlines). After a few days they recommended and provided one of their bags: the Airport Accelerator V2.

_MG_5840sm
Stylish and well designed

The bag arrived in just 3 days in a well packed box. My first impression was of a sturdy well-designed bag, somewhat light and slightly large. It would definitely fit on the overhead bin of the plane, but a nice surprise would come later. A little side pocket on the top contains a steel wire with lock, a definite bonus for those who seek extra safety, handles on two sides (those who read my article “Get Your Gear Home Safely” on the Popular Photography May 2013 issue know I’m a big fan of handles, they extend the life of the bag greatly when checked with an airline) and straps that turn the carry-on bag into a backpack; these straps also have ever-useful “D” rings. The back is very well padded and seats well against my back as I hike. There are two zippered compartments for laptop, tablets, cables, etc. plus the main compartment for 2 camera bodies and a whole assortment of lenses. The main compartment has 3 zippered  pockets which I used for business card holder, postcards, extra memory cards in their original packaging, pens, markers and more. Other than the two cameras I brought along the following Canon lenses: EF 10-24mm L, EF 15mm L fisheye, 100mm L Macro, EF 100-400 L, EF 50mm and a Rokinon 14mm which I had just received but never tested. I also had a GoPro Hero 4 Black with an assortment of accessories, remote timer for the cameras, several filters, egg cooking timer (useful for time lapses with the GoPro), a lens/sensor cleaning kit, 4 batteries, charger, a lot more cables that I can count, 1 laptop and 2 tablets. The bag also contained a waterproof cover which fortunately I didn’t get to use. Everything fit comfortably inside it. Outside there’s also a pouch for a small tripod (which I used) and comes with two straps to hold the tripod in place on the top end.

20150415_130417
The Airport Accelerator fits under the seat of a plane. Bonus!

By the time it was zipped up and locked (the main compartment and secondary can be locked with a separate lock; I always keep spare combination TSA approved locks around) its weight was about 35 lbs/16 Kg, definitely more than I wanted to carry on my shoulders but for this journey well worth the effort.

The first tests were at the airport: the full bag went through the TSA scanner without a  glitch. My first flight out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming was on a regional jet (those with a small overhead bin, because of which, larger carry-ons won’t fit and have to be “valet” checked to the door of the plane at destination). The big surprise here was that my Airport Accelerator actually fit (tripod removed) under the seat in front of me, and that made me a lot less anxious about the rest of the flights (3 flight to reach Santiago plus a fourth one 4 days later to reach Rapa Nui).

_MG_5823After Easter Island I flew to Sardinia, Italy which took another 5 flights, were the pack was brought on the plane as carry-on. In Sardinia I lightened up its weight and took it on a long steep hike through the hilly countryside. Regardless of the scorching sun, the Airport Accelerator felt very comfortable on my shoulders.

My back suffered a bit from the heavy weight of the backpack while on Easter Island, but as I said, I really overdid it, add to this that I’m 5’6″. The backpack is very comfortable and padded in all the right places and if anything it alleviated the pain. I don’t think I would carry a full pack on a long mountain hike (I should rent a yak for that), and it was not designed with that purpose in mind, but for trips with mixed transportation were there isn’t a lot of non-stop walking involved this backpack would be my first choice.

airport_accelerator_small
Fits well under the seat of a United Airlines plane.

 

 

Click the link to access my affiliate ThinkTank page.

 

 

 

MotoGP Weekend at the Circuit of the Americas

High speed and close quarters
High speed and close quarters

What a great weekend!
Beside photography one of my passions is sport bikes. Last weekend I flew down to Austin, Texas to watch the MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas with the hope of capturing some good photos of this event, for once leaving behind landscape photography. For those of you who don’t know what MotoGP is, it is the motorcycle equivalent of the Formula 1 car race.
I got there before the bulk of people arrived and was able to spend quite a bit of time around mingling with the bike makers staff and exploring the grounds to find a good spot and indeed I found one. I only brought one lens with me, the Canon EF 100-400 L coupled with the 2X Extender and my Canon 7D which gave me an actual 1200mm focal (manual focus at that point).

_MG_3787
Marquez grabs the first place in front of Dovizioso

Photographing races is all about speed, for that reason I left the 5D Mark III home and took advantage of the 7D high frame rate. This is an exciting event and I look forward to going again next year, the one thing I would do different though is I will take advantage of the loan program of the Canon Professional Services Platinum Membership. If you are a die-hard Canon user like myself (and Canon does have a phenomenal customer service, I’m not sponsored by them so this is a honest assessment based on years of experience) you have probably collected a number of Canon cameras and lenses which have a point value toward a CPS membership level: Silver, Gold or Platinum. In Europe the CPS program works a little differently and it is not based on points but on number/type of cameras and lenses owned.

andrea2
Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati racers

Back to the MotoGP, the event lasts for 3 days (Fri-Sun) and it’s a great opportunity for speed shooters as well as those photographers who do not have experience shooting high speed subjects but want to try. In that case I recommend taking advantage of the whole three days (there are several qualification races and Sunday is the actual competition), and there is plenty to be entertain with besides the races. I was surprised to see such a high number of people supporting the Italian racers or Italian bikes and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso took home the second place, with Yamaha’s Italian rider and world champion Valentino Rossi taking the third place. First place went, with little surprise on anyone’s part, to Honda and its Spanish rider Marc Marquez who once again used his own kind of magic to take a good 3 seconds lead (eternity!) on the Ducati. It was fun and I hope to see you there next year!

 

 

_MG_3817b
Marc Marquez of Honda, his bike is inclined approx. 64 degrees.

 

Maverick Viñales
Suzuki Ecstar Maverick Viñales in a tight turn.

 

South East Asia Part 1: Vietnam

hkg1
Hong Kong by night

If there is one place capable of capturing the collective imagination with visions of fabled treasures, unexplored jungle, ancient rituals and mysterious cultures the Angkor temple complex is certainly it. It is the lifetime dream of the traveling photographer, on par with Easter Island and Machu Picchu.

Flying over the jungle for a while with views of lakes and river and lush landscape, I stretch my neck left and right trying to catch a glimpse of Angkor Wat but our route does not take us in its proximity. The landing at Siem Reap airport is smooth and right on time. While our Cambodia Angkor Air Airbus taxis to the terminal my excitement grows, as images of stone faces and jungle covered ruins plays in my mind.
I have been traveling with my friend Michelle for a while now, and we have recently met some other friends from Wyoming down in Sihanoukville (where we just flew from). Together we hop on the Tuk Tuk that is waiting outside of the terminal to take us to our guesthouse: the Seven Candles.
I want to spend a few words on this place in case you, dear reader, end up in Siem Reap a day or another. Seven Candles (http://www.sevencandlesguesthouse.com/) is more than a guesthouse, it’s a school for rural children and part of the profits go to the education of these children. Please take a moment to read about the foundation: http://www.sevencandlesguesthouse.com/#!our-foundation.
Lori Carlson, a transplant from Austin, Texas manages the guesthouse. She has a quick smile and many helpful tips, which contributed to making our stay more enjoyable,

Way up to the Big BuddhaOur trip began in Tokyo, with a 26 hours stopover to show my friend Michelle around the city since this was her first time, and continued to Hong Kong were three days were just enough for a visit to the Po Lin monastery, a few museums, catch up with old friends and have dinner at my favorite Nepalese restaurant. From there we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (the old Saigon) in Vietnam for a quick tour of the city. We arrived at midnight and a short taxi ride took us to the hotel in the city center. Asian hospitality never ceases to amaze me: not only was the location of our hotel convenient, but our room was large, modern, had a huge bathroom window overlooking the city and the hotel had a beautiful rooftop restaurant/bar where we could enjoy a delightful meal and drinks for just a few dollars. The staff was, of course, very friendly and helpful too.
The following morning’s rain did not stop us from enjoying the city. We took a rickshaw to visit the local market (similar to a bazaar) which was overfilled with trinkets and souvenirs that made me wish I had any room in my small backpack, the only luggage I dragged. When the rain finally stopped and a bit of sun came out, we walked to the War Remnants Museum. The visit was somber, the museum was full of people but hardly any word was spoken, as the many photographs on the wall grabbed everyone’s attention. I had a sense of déjà vu, projecting myself in the Atom bomb museum I had visited in Hiroshima years before. It’s incredible to see the kind of atrocity people are willing to commit in the name of some temporary political ideology, but it’s good that we have places like this that can remind us of the past and push us to be better people to ourselves and those around us. Taking photographs is allowed in most parts of the museum, but I limited myself to a few shots of machinery in the front yard.hkg3

The good mood returned in the evening with a walk in the business district, watching and avoiding the movement of thousands of scooters, which was quite an adventure in itself. If I were asked what are the three most difficult things I have done in my life, I would say that crossing a street in Vietnam was definitely one of them. We concluded the evening with a visit of the Saigon Skydeck. Located on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, at a height of 178 meters, we enjoyed a night view of the city and its myriad of lights from above. A lengthy walk home and a pleasant dinner on the roof was all that was left for the day, the following morning was going to be spent for the most part on a bus to the capital of Cambodia: Phnom Penh.

Ho Chi Minh City from the rooftop restaurant