Travel Photography | Part III | Background & Levels of Scale


Something as simple as altering the background can greatly enhance the aesthetic of a photo. Sometimes the subject will blend in and get lost in the background. Usually, it can be as easy as crouching down or photographing at a different angle. When photographing people, repositioning them to a better background can make all the difference. Shooting away from the bright sun (as opposed to into the sun) will also increase the depth and saturation of colors, resulting in a much more pleasing photo. In addition to physically moving the subject or the camera, changing the depth of field to “blur” the background is also a good technique I use frequently with portraits and in nature. This allows you to keep the focus on the subject and not be distracted by the background. With the photos of the orchids shown below, in one I stood behind the orchids and used the sun to backlight the flowers and have a shadow as a background.

In the other, I positioned myself directly in front and I used the sun to front light the orchid, using a large aperture (f/2.8) to blur the background slightly. Each techniques creates such a different effect, it becomes a personal preference.   


When I travel, I am aware of at least 3 levels of scale when I am taking photos. I take photos of the whole landscape, one taken closer to get a feel for the texture and color of the environment, and then one still closer, perhaps a macro shot of a detail. The point of this is to allow the viewer to really “feel” the place at all levels. I want them to experience it as if they had been there.


Travel Photography | Part II | Aperture & Shutter Speed


In both the natural and man made worlds, I am continually looking for patterns and shapes to photograph.  Sometimes isolating one part of the subject or scene results in a more interesting image by highlighting something that gets lost in the clutter. Lines, both architectural and natural, are also important in a photograph because they can draw the viewer’s eyes into the photo. Look for the patterns and lines in the photos below.

Notice how the road draws your eyes into the image...


This refers to the depth of that which is in focus. A photo with a large depth of field (small aperture/large f-stop) would have many objects at different depths in focus, such as the photo of the columns at the Vatican and the Italian vineyard shown above (both photos were taken with at f/9.0). A neat effect can be achieved by using a small depth of field (a large aperture/small f-stop) to keep the foreground in focus but blur the background, as in the photo of the grass below. A camera setting that I use a lot is the aperture priority setting. I first decide if I want only a small depth or all of the image to be in focus and choose the appropriate f-stop, then let the camera decide on the corresponding shutter speed.

The image below was taken at f/4.0, 1/4000. I knew I wanted to have a soft focus on most of the grass and have just one blade be crisp, so I chose a large aperture (which is a small f-stop number) and the camera determined the corresponding shutter speed would be 1/4000 for correct exposure.


It is important to understand the relationship between aperture and shutter speed. To make it really simple, the aperture is the size of the hole that lets light into the camera. Shutter speed is how fast the shutter opens and closes, thus determining the amount of light entering the camera. A large aperture means that the aperture is allowing a lot of light to come in, and therefore, the shutter speed needs to be faster so that the photo isn't over-exposed. A small aperture means that the aperture is allowing less light to come in and therefore, the shutter speed needs to be slower to allow more light to enter the camera so the photo isn't under-exposed.

There are some situations where shutter speed is especially important: when there is motion, and when there is low light. In general, if there is motion, a slow shutter speed will blur whatever is moving, whereas a fast shutter speed will freeze the subject, as in the photo of the birds and the surfer below. Both were taken at 1/1250.

The photo below was taken on a bus in Hong Kong. I left the shutter open for 4 seconds, capturing the streaking lights of cars passing and the neon signs on the buildings. There is a lot of camera movement because I was on a bus, but I think it makes for an interesting overall effect. 

In this photo, a shutter speed of 8 seconds makes the flowing river smooth and glassy, giving the overall image a dramatic effect. Had I not used a tripod, the whole image would be blurry, but here, the tripod isolates the movement of the river, not the camera.

*As a rule of thumb, photos with a shutter speed slower than 1/60 s won't be crisp unless a tripod is used.


Travel Photography | Part I | Light & Composition

In my lifetime, I have been blessed with abundant travel. My family and travel are the two biggest influences in shaping who I am today. If you have any opportunity to explore that which lies beyond... seize it with all you have... and if you let it, it will change you in the most extraordinary ways.

A while back I was asked to write some articles aimed at amateur photographers, outlining some basic tips to help improve one's travel photography. With access to higher end technology at a reasonable price, more and more people are opting for digital SLR's instead of a typical 'point and shoot'. As well, with the ability to manipulate the settings and instantly view the image, the system is not nearly as intimidating. However,  after the initial excitement and experimentation has worn off, a common trend is to keep it on the automatic setting. The problem with this is that once you stop experimenting and learning about the many factors that  influence the final image, you surrender the chance for improvement and creativity. It's important to take advantage of the features your camera has to offer and make those average photos amazing! With a few helpful tips, you can take your photography to a new level and return from your next trip with incredible photos!


This is one of the most important factors that will determine whether a photo will be spectacular, average, or just terrible. Very rarely is the light “right”, however, there are always ways to make the best of a bad lighting situation. Harsh, bright sunlight can create dark shadows and bleached scenes; in this light it is best to use a fill flash when photographing people to minimize shadow (or better yet, move them into the shade), and to choose subjects such as open landscapes where you are shooting away from the light source. Cloudy days and diffused light result in deeper color and less shadow intensity, which is good for shooting in narrow streets and forests. In general, the best light is early morning and early evening when the sun’s rays are softer. Creating silhouettes, like that in the image below, finding interesting shadows, and backlighting are different ways to use the light to your advantage and create more diverse and appealing photos (this photo was taken in a volcano crater in Indonesia).


 This photo was taken in Rome at the Vatican at sunrise. The rich, early morning light creates warmth and interesting shadows.


Your photography will become much more interesting and visually stimulating if you use the rule of thirds when framing your subjects. Imagine your viewfinder is divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally, dividing your image into 9 equal blocks. Position your subject at one of the intersection points instead of in the center of the viewfinder. In the photo below, I positioned the boat in the right third which creates more interest and energy (photo was taken in Venice, Italy).

In addition to the rule of thirds, framing your subject can make a dramatic difference in your photos. Use foreground objects such as architectural elements (doorways, arches, windows, etc) or anything found in the environment (this could range from a flower to a bicycle to a statue). In this image, I used the scrub vegetation to frame the volcano which also helps to give the viewer more information about the environment. It is important to note that the foreground object should compliment the subject of the photo, not overshadow it (this photo was taken at sunrise at Mt. Bromo, an active volcano in Indonesia).

Another example of having something in the foreground, in this case the palms of a palapa on the beach are hanging in the top of the frame, not only giving more information, but also creating a different feel.

Perfect Waves, Markets Galore & a Firefly Dance | Day 29

I walked along a narrow concrete path, worn from heavy rains and relentless sun, partly illuminated by a random, swaying light bulb. On one side, water flowed swiftly along a culvert, skillfully working its way through the maze of waterways, ultimately ruling the fate of every rice crop in the area. On the other side was darkness, a night air thick of croaking frogs and humming crickets that echoed off the stone walls and rice fields, reflecting a sky of foreign constellations. Silhouettes of Balinese cottages and temples framed the sky, majestic and angular. I closed my eyes so I would remember the sounds, the weight of the air, the mustiness of the rice field. When I opened them, the reflecting stars were dancing above the fields, twirling and spinning, the evening breeze conducting this night symphony. One of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen, in its simplicity, in its splendor. Another exquisite gift from nature. A firefly dance. 

It’s never easy to fit in a month of travel with your family. Busy and conflicting schedules, lack of time and money… but at the end of it all… this is all we have. Experiences, memories, laughter, love... and all the moments in between. One life. It’s all we get, so make it a good one.

I look forward to the next adventure… xoxo

I think this is one of my favorites from the trip...


When are you free?

I first started traveling when I was 2. We were living in Germany on a teaching exchange, and summers and holidays were spent exploring the nearby countries, all literally a hop, skip and a jump away. So at 2, I had my first taste of a foreign country, one with exotic tastes, sounds and languages. I remember watching some children playing in an alley, dark hair and skin, staring at my white head of hair, eventually getting up the nerve to come over and feel it with hesitating hands and big smiles. That was my first memory of Turkey. I think. I remember eating a pretzel at a carnival. There was a parade and everyone was wearing elaborate masks and costumes. I was horrified when they "kidnapped" my mother and put her in a wooden cage. That was my first Octoberfest. Years later, driving through a windy, mountain road in Guatemala, we passed some villagers, wearing beautiful woven dress and bare feet, laden with wood for their fires. We pulled over and offered some food. I remember huge smiles of white teeth against dark skin, cookies in their pockets and overflowing in their arms. I remember their gratitude.
I remember a million different markets, where we experienced the heart of the city and its people. I remember hiking active volcanoes, through jungles and deserts, over mountains and behind waterfalls. I explored at least a dozen countries before I was 10, having countless amazing experiences that have ultimately shaped who I am today. For this I can thank my parents. Through these travels they showed me gratitude, respect, appreciation, awareness, love and courage in a way that just can’t be taught in schools.
Later in life, when I began to choose where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do… I found that I still sought out those windy roads and alleys. Even now, I yearn for an adventure. I crave new tastes and sights. My heart jumps just at the idea of turning a corner I’ve never been, driving a road I’ve never driven. I love the rugged, I love the refined, but mostly, I love the real. It is in those moments, of exploration, of sharing, of experiencing a culture and its people, of the unknown… where I feel free.

Southern Italy Video (Take 1)

Last summer I was lucky enough to spend 5 weeks exploring Southern Italy. I had contacted various Agriturismos in advance that were interested in exchanging free accommodation for my photography services. Agriturismos vary quite a bit, but are basically bed and breakfasts on a working farm, which in Italy, translates to vineyards and olive groves! Bonus! The Cabbiavoli Castle in Chianti was a favorite of ours (and Julia Roberts), close enough to Florence, Pisa and many other quaint villages to explore on day trips. Le Camicie was an exquisitely restored farmhouse perched on the Tuscan hillside amidst vineyards, and only a stone's throw from the infamous Montepulciano and Montalcino. Il Casale, also in Tuscany, and Serre Di Parrano in Umbria, both restored farmhouses, were surrounded by fields of sunflowers and castle hilltop villages. Mesogheo, an hour and a half outside of Rome at the base of the Camposaro Mountains was truly a wonderful experience. Masseria Salamina, in the Puglian "heel" of Southern Italy was like no other; set in an olive grove with trees dating back 400 years, this Masseria was breathtaking. We were spoiled at Baglio Lauria, an ancient Franciscan monastery set in the Sicilian countryside near the Greek ruins of Agrigento and again at Baglio Spano, a restored wine cantina near Marsala. The rolling vineyards and hilltop castles in Chianti, the endless fields of sunflowers and the cobblestone villages of in Umbria, the ancient and unforgettable city of Rome, the rugged coastline and whitewashed walls of Puglia, and the very traditional and unique land of Sicily... it is impossible to choose a favorite.

This video was made from phone video clips. Enjoy the montage!


And Then, the Vegetarian Ate Meat

Like many women, I dabbled in vegetarianism. It wasn't for any particular reason. Red meat didn't repulse me. It wasn't necessarily for health reasons. One day I just decided that since I ate such little meat, that maybe I'd try to eat even less of it... like none. For me, this lasted about 5 years. I don't really remember the day I started, but I very clearly remember the day my vegetarianism came crashing down. Actually, a more appropriate description of my end to vegeatarianismo would involve a romantic interlude with an Italian man in a tiny village called Chiavenna, nestled in the valley above Como Lake. This glorious man who converted me in an instant was at least 80. And so very wonderful.

The late afternoon sun was dropping quickly, and most of the tiny village was still dozing for their afternoon siesta (I know that's Spanish, but I can't remember the Italian version!). It was freezing, and yet I was determined to capture as much of this spectacular scene as I could before that soft, yellow light only found in this part of the world disappeared for another day. Winding around each corner was so exciting, I wanted to explore each and every narrow little alley in the village! But, we were also very hungry (I think I inherited this low blood-sugar thing from my father, and those who know me don't want to be around when it dips too low!). Just our luck, or be it fate, there was one store open, selling fruit and olives and grappa and cheese. The old Italian man called us over, seeing how cold we were, ushered us inside and was quick to offer a tasting of grappa to warm us up. The liquid fire warmed up my tummy in an instant. As I stood there, taking in the small store, I noticed a frayed black and white photo of the store owner and George Clooney. George towered over the old man, his arm draped loosely across his shoulders and a warm grin on his face. By their interaction, it was apparent they were friends and this was one of George's regular haunts when he was at his villa down the valley. It was warm inside, and I could smell a duskiness, probably from the huge rounds of cheese, fresh bread piled in baskets, garlic hanging from the ceiling, fruits piled neatly in various containers, no doubt all grown within 5 kilometers... and of course, the unmistakable smell of cured meat. As I took in the scene, this very special place that was so authentically Italian and reeked of tradition and passion, the old man told stories in his old Italian dialect. He spoke of the grappa and his brother in law that made it, he spoke of the cheeses and how they are aged in caves, which ones came from his own goats milk. He spoke of his life and how it has been spent entirely in the same valley. He said it with pride and a smile that made his eyes sparkle. And then... he grabbed my hand and brought us into the back room where he kept the salami and rounds and rounds of cheese. He cut into rounds of cheese bigger than a tire, peircing the thick skin and letting us be the first to ever taste them. Every piece was a gift that he presented as such. And then he pointed to the salami and his excitement heightened. Saving the best for last, he couldn't wait for us to taste his biggest accomplishment, his home-made salami. How could I possibly refuse? I knew my days of vegetarianism were over as I relished slice after slice of the best salami I've ever tasted (and still to this day). I savored every moment spent in that tiny Italian store. I knew it was an experience I would cherish the rest of my life. This old man opened his heart and his store and his life to us, no questions asked. And we gave it back in return. I can't think of a better way to give up being a vegetarian!