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).

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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.

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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!

 

 

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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

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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

Last Minute Trip to Argentina: Part 1

 

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires
Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

As I flip through the pages of my Lonely Planet guide to Argentina I feel an excitement growing like I haven’t felt it in a long time. In the past few years I have traveled near and far (mostly far). Just a week ago I was strolling along the roads of Munich; before then I was in Italy just in time to witness the birth of my first nephew;  two months ago I had the opportunity to visit my old college roommate in his beautiful hometown: Stockholm. So far this year I’ve been to five new countries and about to make the sixth as well as returning to several others. Every place I see is special in its own way: be it the orange sands of Wadi Rum, an ancient cemetery in Japan where spirits seem to breathe on the back of your neck, or the warm azure waters of Palau in Micronesia. Every place has given me unique memories and wonderful emotions (I couldn’t stop my eyes from getting moist while watching the sun breaking through the clouds from below while I was standing at the top of the Haleakala Mountain in Mau; or falling into a revered silence as the clouds broke up to reveal the ancient Machu Picchu before me) but all this traveling has taken its toll, it has taken a little bit of the magic of the unknown away. It is a bit like working in a movie set after another (which I have done): you will never watch a movie the same way. You will still enjoy it, but it will be different. I’ve gone from place to place making my wishes come true, loving it, but at the same time feeling like something was missing.

Buenos Aires is a bright and lively city
Buenos Aires is a bright and lively city

This time is different, though. I feel the excitement building up and I can’t wait to be at destination. This trip was not planned; maybe that’s what makes it so different and appealing. I sat in front of my computer yesterday, on my birthday, working on some photos, when out of nowhere I thought of Argentina. I quickly typed “weather in Ushuaia” on my browser but the results were less than encouraging: I would have left a cold place for another, not in the mood for that. I switched the search to “weather in Bariloche” and the results were much better: sunny with 27C/80F.

I type this half-way between Denver and Atlanta; tonight I will be on a flight to Buenos Aires where I will meet up with some friends flying out of Houston. I’m getting shivers from this, I already know, amazing adventure that is about to start.

How Else Would You Celebrate Your Arrival in Buenos Aires?
How Else Would You Celebrate Your Arrival in Buenos Aires?

Bariloche, gateway to Alta Patagonia and home of some of South America’s most scenic National Parks is my mother’s dream place. This trip is dedicated to you, mom. Thank you for giving me the positive energy to make it happen and also thanks for never stopping guiding me: with your curiosity, your intelligence, your creativity and your compassion.

The Photographer’s Blues

You have been taking photos enthusiastically for months, with subjects ranging from landscape to macro to long exposures and you have participated, or at least been lurking, in many online forums but all of a sudden you just don’t feel it anymore, you want to go out and take photos but can’t bring yourself to do it. You’ve just been diagnosed with a common case of the Photographer’s Blues. It happened to me last year; after years of being driven to search a variety of light conditions, new locations, new angles on old locations, being an active member of the photographic community and devouring books and magazines, I bumped into a wall. The motivation to grab my camera was completely gone and I worried if it would ever come back. As months passed and a large pile of unread photography magazines piled up on my coffee table I occasionally would look at my non-growing collection of photos in my hard drive. Something had to be done, I wasn’t going to let this “photographic depression” take over and put an end to what had been a passion since the age of six. My first step was creating a blog, if grabbing my Canons wasn’t the highest of my priorities, writing was still something I considered enjoyable and personalizing a pre-existing interface for my new WordPress blog was actually a fun task. Some of you might not be too big on writing, but a blog doesn’t need to be a collection of long essays, you can post quick thoughts or just images with a caption. At first it might be just for you and your family or close friends but as you grow a following, you will find more inspiration, motivation as well as materials since many will offer their ideas. After all, this article would have probably never been written had it not been for a fellow blogger’s complaint that she did not enjoy taking photos anymore. Besides a blog, and as a good complement to it, if you haven’t done so already, starting a website gives you exposure (no pun intended) as well as providing another outlet to your creativity. Even if you’re not computer savvy at all, starting a website today is easier than ever. Internet Providers like 1and1 or Zenfolio (check my website under Discount Offers for details) allow you to register your own domain name for a small fee and give you a selection of tools, as well as templates, to start a website in minutes. You can create pages of any kind as well as professionally looking galleries. If you have a larger budget and some HTML and CSS programming knowledge or are willing to learn them, a software like Adobe Dreamweaver will really allow you to have total control and flexibility over your creation.

Photographers are everywhere, and most of them are social people looking to learn new things or willing to share what they know. So, why not get in touch with other photographers in your community and start a club or a weekly meeting/photoshoot. Not only that’s a great way to make new friends, but everyone wins in terms of knowledge and portfolio images as well as finding a great enthusiasm booster. Starting something like that can be easily achieved with just a post on Craigslist. I was a very active member of the online community of a well known photo magazine, but ended up abandoning it because of the excessive spam (eventually everyone left). It was great times, we had weekly assignments, photo critiques and everyone had something to share. It always saddened me how the magazine management let something that great just die. Recently I created discussion forums on my own blog and I’m hoping to capture the same environment of cooperation that we had then, minus the spam. Search “create online forums” on Google and you will find enough tools to make your own. Don’t feel up to the task? Make yourself a promise to become involved in a discussion forum with at least two or three posts a week. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, those who have the answers are usually more than happy to share; we all like the feeling that comes from having helped someone.

If you can afford it, take a photography seminar or in-the-field workshop. You’ll learn from a pro and be taken to places you probably didn’t even know; and chances are you will learn functions of your camera that you didn’t even know existed or that seemed too esoteric.

I left the most exciting one for last: travel!

Get in your car, get on a plane, get on a cruise ship… just go somewhere new. I’m what you could call a professional traveler. To me traveling is a way of life. I like to see new places, explore new foods, meet new people. I can guarantee you that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve flown to Europe for as little as $400 round trip from Los Angeles. My two weeks in Peru (and who doesn’t want to photograph Machu Picchu?) came to a total of less than $1,000 (flight included from Salt Lake City). A 4 nights cruise to Bahamas was $262 (gratuities included as well). All it takes is a bit of planning and some good price shopping skills. Go to new places and you will come home with a new collection of photos that you will be excited to share with friends and other photographers.

And if you really don’t or can’t get away from home, find the nearest forest near you and photograph trees. Get into the woods with a wide angle lens and explore its possibilities. Try to make those trees look as imposing as you can. You will like the results.

I’m writing this while sitting on the steps of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Arts. I hope my ideas make you want to grab your camera. I’ll end this article here as my right index is itching once again to press the shutter.