Light Moods.

Due to the worldwide Covid outbreak, it’s difficult to simply jump on a plane to explore far off lands. That’s not to say I couldn’t, it’s just that I feel I shouldn’t – if that makes any sense. I am, however, on the verge of just doing it (safely and selectively, of course). In the meantime, it’s given me the opportunity to search out places and events close by that would otherwise not make the visit list. California being such a large state, there’s plenty of locations to explore – even the smallest & obscure. Nearly equal time from the Norcal and Socal, is a sleepy little town of Paso Robles. Known long ago for its thermal springs, is overshadowed now for its vino and olive oil growing and production. So much so, there seemed to only be one place offering any kind of hot springs – and they were a day-like spa! Like Starbucks, there were multiple tasting rooms on any given block in the main part of town. My not being anything close that would resemble a ‘wine person’, much less a consumer of alcohol in general, when in Rome (or Paso as it were) … right? I was more interested in boutique-like wineries with a good (aka interesting story) over the larger more well known names. This quest is a whole different story …

… when the hot summer sun sets, what to do? Sip more wine? Sure. But, a recent art installation, which I first saw online earlier in the year was only supposed to be a 3 month temporary exhibition intrigued me. Having great success, they’ve decided to extend the exhibit until early next year. After arrival near sunset, much though, effort and ongoing construction was evident. My first thought was … this is a lot of construction for something temporary! Talking to folks working there, as I sometimes do, word has it that they expanding the installation and making it a permanent ‘landscape’ fixture! So, what is it you ask? It’s called Sensorio.

Sensorio is a collision of tech and nature. It’s immersive. If you take pause to take it in, it’s a surreal experience of the visual senses. A portion of it adds sound. If you have the time or interest, make the trip down, sip some wine, sample some olive oil and be sure to make a reservation ahead of time to visit this special place.

(Click on first image to see it full screen)

Since no photography accessory equipment (mainly any kind of camera support like a tripod or monopod) is allowed, I brought one of my more ‘forgiving’ cameras that allow me to fire off frames at very slow speeds that other cameras would have too much hand-shake. It doesn’t help to employ learned calm breathing techniques too! Darkness and handheld (camera) usual spell disaster, so these are mostly acceptable.

As the night wore on and the sky darkened too much. Yes, there’s a certain point when the sky turns pitch dark, it no longer has any interest. I much prefer the Blue Hour at latest, unless I’m shooting astrophotography. I also love to play with the camera in creating abstracts of normal everyday things – the below is a sample.

I hope this inspired you to make it down (or up or over) here!

Happy Trails!

In my teens, I was a Boy Scout, albeit not a very good one. My M.O. wasn’t to move up the ranks with badges or medallions – those didn’t interest me to much. I have always fancied the freedom of meandering outdoors, waking to the sweet aroma of withering trees being whisked by the changing winds and the campfires … awwwh, the — feeling of standing by a burning ring of fire with smoldering hot embers of wood gasping for the last bit of air begging for a fresh log to reawaken itself into a fiery flame of warmth into the cool night. Yes, I learned/experienced a number of things that lend themselves helpful in my general life skills today (basic knot tying, being in the outdoors, etc.), but I was in it for the fun of rough-housing it with the others in the troop. Memories of adolescence days gone by indeed … fast-forward to present day and in the last number of years, I have found different ways to getting outside to enjoy, consume and bathe in what nature gives us – nowadays mostly through photography.

There are times, however, getting away from city life for the sake of exchanging the concrete jungle for dirt jungle in is satisfying at the most basic level. This past weekend, I found myself — another first – backpacking. As a Boy Scout, we did a fair amount of multi-day backpacking – maybe that’s where I didn’t see much point of carrying about a third of your body weight (at the time) into the wild and come right back with the same stuff a few days later. It just seemed like a senseless effort! Today, even with high-tech outdoor gear specifically designed for backpacking, I still can’t say it’s my favorite thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’d likely do it again (maybe), but I did learn a lot about the planning and lugging your survival gear to the point of absurdity. Here’s my story …

Across from our campsite on Treasure Lake.

Getting a relatively later start from the trailhead was probably a slight miscalculation, more on that later. We head out over friendly terrain with gentle up and down slopes through shaded forest with the occasional sunbeam poking through the trees. It’s visually a great hike as the trail is chockfull of several water crossing ranging from logs, boulders and wooden bridges as you are pretty much following the meandering stream that eventually leads you to your destination. As the distance increased, so too did the inclines and elevation – I guess this is typical for trails like this; it’s a workout on the lungs for sure! We had received reports that the presence of snow was likely near the top (or about 1/4-mile from the top) and weather was clear in the low 60s (*F). By the time we reached the snow line, we were 2nd guessing pressing on as we didn’t know how much (worse) it might get and more importantly, the sun was getting lower by the minute and quickly approaching the ridge to the west. Making quicker decisions to make it through the thigh deep snow in many sideways approaches, we finally reached Treasure Lake. With about 45 mins left of sunlight, camp was setup in record time and even had enough sunlight to cook a much needed hot meal – sparked up the water boiler and rehydrated a yummy bag of Beef Stroganoff before settling into the tent for the night. Water was plentiful as filter lake water is as pristine as you can get.

Setting up camp beside the half frozen Treasure Lake was surrounded and protected by snow covered terrain making for limited exploration during the day – bummer. From the high winds of the day giving way to a snowy evening that continued on and off throughout and into the morning, we decided to hightail it off the mountain as early as possible, not soon after daybreak. On the way down and after getting past the more gnarly snow covered traverses, we were treated to a snowy downfall through the forest – a truly magical hike back to the car.

Northern Beaches

I’ve wanted to come up to this area in Northern California for a long time and out of a whim, I gathered a few friends and headed up north towards Ft. Bragg. Given the recent fires surrounding the area, we weren’t sure whether we going to get anything due to the smoke, much less being able to gain access to the place we came up for.

Setting up camp, I made a rookie mistake and left, of all things, my tent! Luckily, the campgrounds are car sleeping friendly so I just inflated my pad and slept in the SUV … phew!

Just a handful.

First stop, Glass Beach. From all accounts, this beach got its name roughly 60 years ago as it was used as a dump site. I guess back then, they weren’t too concerned with environmentally disposing of human trash, so they simply backed up trash by the truck loads until about 1967 or so. As the roaring seas rushed in and out everyday, everything but the broken glass disappeared. After years of ebbing and flowing with the tides, the glass shaved itself into smooth pebbles of white, blue, amber and different shades of green. Even as people have taken them, there’s still enough along the shores to marvel at. If you visit, please resist the urge to take any and allow others to enjoy the beauty that nature has turned human waste into.

Next stop, after a nights rest (in the car) is another magical place that has eluded me for years, is a place that could easily be overlooked. Not only is it not the easiest to find, but you have to hit it just right or else Mother Nature hides it from view. Almost alien-like perfectly rounded boulders peek above in rushing Northern California shoreline waters. Thinking … how did they get here? They’re certainly too heavy to be washed up from the ocean and if they did, why are they not swept out to sea? Standing back from the shoreline, it stands up against a sheer cliff wall of sandstone. My guess is, parts of the wall gave way to the crashing waves over time, causing landslides into the ocean (you can see remnants of a slide on either side of where you stand). Fallen earth and hardened driftwood all tell me this is the probably case.

Like the glass bottles sharp edges, huge chunks of sandstone were given the same treatment (by the ocean) and made these perfectly mounded orbs not but 30 meters from the cliff. After allowing the sun to set below the horizon on this moonless night, darkness begins to set quickly. Attempting to catch a vertical Milky Way, for first-timers at this location was sort of a crap shoot, but thanks to apps like TPE or Photopills was able to get a pretty good idea of what to expect. Not having been here before, access back to the car from the beach was always back of mind concern for me and the others, so I didn’t want to stay too late into the evening.

Waiting for darker skies, we had to move our position 4 or 5 times as the tide rushed up closer and closer to the cliffs much of swiftly than anticipated – which only heightened my awareness to getting back safely. But, in the end, you can always find some composition that’s acceptable before calling it a night. In the above photo, by the time we left (~8:30pm) the water table had risen 1/2-way up that dark band on the right!

Do your scouting for best times to go, be respectful and leave no trace behind, leaving it so others can enjoy the same experience you did.


While remaining largely in place during this time in our lives that challenges our resolve to be kind to one another, I find myself, in part, getting lost in my thoughts over recent travels & wander jaunts . Often times, as life continues to steamroll by us, past experiences fast become weakening shades of blur.

Last April’s adventures along the southern coast of Fujian Province in mainland China was yet again a reminder that taking pause to sniff what most wouldn’t dare often times reaps the most rewards. The vastness of the coastline can either jade or inspire you to seek out the beauty in this cross-section of human intervention with natures wonders.

I have long since been enamored with the abstract world around us; zeroing in as close as comfortable enabling a certain level of peacefulness to be achieved – even though there’s chaos swirling around you. Having this time to take myself back to this place through my lens and relive these places through my imagery, it almost always carries back the full and vivid sights, sounds and aromas where landscapes melt their way to dreamscapes begging the question … what are they?

Is knowing important?

Often times not.

Anatomy of a Photoshoot.

Upon any given photo session, I usually only pick ONE image – the champion image. Often times, in any session, there are a few gems that are at time forgotten about and ignored. During this unprecedented time in which we around the world are experiencing – more specifically here in LA County, where we are in a state-wide shelter-in-place order, I decided to bide my time in looking at these sidelined images.

This particular shoot is on the Ganges River in Varanasi where I hired a boatsman and Sanhu (Hindu priest) to be my model for about an hour on one early morning.

During a shoot, I am often strapped for time and this one was no different. So, one subject in a limited space (a small rowboat), what do you do? I knew that using an external off-camera flash was necessary to bring out the details of my subject as different floating positions with a rising sun would sometimes backlight (my subject). No room for a lightstand and limited human capacity, I had to both handhold the flash and camera at the same time. Although I’m used to shooting this way in my several travel junkets of similar genre, it’s not the ideal scenario, but I’ve learned to manage.

Set the ambient lighting and appropriate shutter speed and just shoot from there. Composition is always top of mind as is making sure focus is on my subject, along with directing my subject through a series of poses. I speak no Hindu, he spoke no english. You learn quickly to use the other senses to communicate – this is what makes this work so endearing, satisfying and humbling.

What do you think? Which one is your “champion” image?

Holiest City in the World.

Hindu Sanhu {priest) riding with us on the Ganges.

I am told that it is the oldest inhabited city in the modern world, believed to be overt 3000 years old. It’s main attraction for both Hindu pilgrims and tourists alike are the ghats, or steps that lead from temples to the western river banks of the Ganges River. Daily, you will find hoards of pilgrims dunking, drinking and bottling up the water from the river as it’s believed to have healing and spiritual powers.

Amidst the narrowed pathways not fitted for cars, somehow they along with motorbikes, tuk-tuks and bi-peds find their way to the holy waterway of the river. As you can imagine, the streets are teeming with congestion and small commerce ranging from fruit sellers to street food, open-aired haircuts, not to mention t-shirts and jewelry. But, once you reach the river itself, the daytime provides a calm relaxing stroll between Assi Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat – never mind the several requests by local boatsman asking you if you’d like a boat ride on the river (we were asked no less than 25 times along this 2 mile stretch). In the early morning and evening every single day, brings a ritual called Aarti, which rings in a new (day) and marks the ending of the day. This is what makes this city so unique. Witnessing these rituals brings hundreds upon hundreds of people on the Assi and Rajendraprasad Ghats – it’s a surreal event to experience firsthand.

We jumped in a boat after Aarti to head northward towards Manikarnika Ghat where an important event occurs. Hindu’s believe that the Ganges and the city are so sacred that hundreds of dead bodies are cremated here (everyday). It’s virtually non-stop 24/7; more so in the nighttime where pyres burn simultaneously throughout the night. Each cremation site is arranged in a rectangle with wood stacked about 3ft. high where the shroud covered deceased is placed (on top of the wood pile), then another foot of wood on top it. No less than 5 sites burn simultaneously and a seemingly endless queue. I covered my mouth as to not breath in the smoke directly – the thought on inhaling what’s burning in front of me just seemed wrong. I was told that it takes roughly 1000lbs of wood to burn a corpse; as evidenced, there’s piles upon piles of chopped wood stacked 10s of meters high around the ghat. After the cremation is complete, what remains (ash and some unburnt bones are tossed into the river). This is believed to complete the cycle of life.

From Aarti to the burning pyres, everything along the Ganges River is surreal and nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my travels so far. This city has been known as Barnasas, sometimes Kashi and better known around the world as Varanasi.

It’s Mounting Day!

Hindu Sanhu (priest) over Jaisalmer city.

Have you ever seen something in the movies, on the internet or in pictures and said to yourself, “One of these days, I’m totally doing that!” That day finally happened. This time, it was setting out on camelback through a desert. The romanticism of riding along sand dunes like Lawerence of Arabia seems like a nice dream event, doesn’t it?

Today, was that day. Saddling up at 10:30am, our destination is our tent camp some number of kilometers away. Camels are a way of life in the desert, so I don’t mind riding them. They provide pack mule-like help and are well equipped to withstand extreme heat in these harsh environments – I found that they have a huge sweat gland right behind their head. Dromedaries or one-hump camels are most common – especially in this part of the world where rider is in front of their hump and a second rider in back (of the hump) – kinda makes sense as I’d hate to be the one on top of that hump. From a clippity-clop trot to a steady and rhythmic gallup, you learn quickly how to ride each gait accordingly – more out of self preservation than anything else. Preservation of your seat bone, muscles and much more, that is. 

Fast forward 6+ hours, with a couple of breaks later (off camel), we reach our camp near 5pm. That’s a long day in the hot desert sun!  (PSA) If you ever find yourself traipsing through the desert, I highly recommend wearing long sleeve and long pants with a good SPF, a brimmed hat with an added bonus of a neck gator soaked in water to keep your temperature in check. I had re-soaked mine 3 times as it dried out a few times along the way. I made this call and boy, I’m glad I did – it saved me from getting sun burnt and overheating. It was about 90*f this time of year with no shade and usually pushes north of 130*f during the hotter months.  

Some say it’s not the destination, but the journey that’s most rewarding. I usually subscribe to this in most cases, but in this case, I’d have to dispel that notion as the air conditioned tent complete with veranda out front and an attached bathroom/shower area was an oasis for sure! The tent was like 20’x20’ with a king size bed! I guess you’ve just got to try some things once, eh? Traditional folk music and dance was a nice ending to a hot, bumpy and wayward journey through the Thar Desert not far from the Pakistan border. Would I do it again. Certainly not. Am I glad I did it? Yep. Some things are best done once to savor the experience and save important body parts from further dismay.

Right Out of the Gate.

Tired muscles, unclear head and slightly weary body, we leave the poshness of our comfy hotel for an early AM flight far out west to the “major” city of Ulgii. A quick westward flight just over an hour, we land on a small airstrip to unload bodies and luggage before it continued onward. We are met by our smiling guide ‘Sunshine’. Brief welcoming pleasantries as our Land Cruiser is loaded up. We hop in, back out of the parking lot only to take an immediate right turn. 

What a right turn it was. The road was a straight single track that lead itself into the vast open prairie. Our heads were barely cleared from the early morning flight and here we sit trailing off on smooth straights, bumpy heavily rutted tire-laid ‘roads’ – it was something out of a Mad Max movie. Surrounded by stark mountains, we’re bumping and grinding out new trails as we make our way to the Eagle Festival nearby.

As this region belongs to Kazakh’s (Kazakhstan is not far to the west), the traditional trance-like minimalist Kazakhstanian music blares unselfishly throughout our Land Cruiser’s speakers. The rthymic beat, Sitar-like twang beating our heads with every bump in the road, one couldn’t help but have an out-of-body experience in its repetitive downbeat. Many road fork diversions later, we reach an opening where a sharp right turn was taken up towards and through a little valley. Maybe it was the discussion b/n driver and guide and pointing fingers, but it felt lost. After about 40 mins, not stopping for pause, we continue up on a slight upward pitch close to a small hill to our right. As we round it, we can see a small gathering way up near the top of the next hill range. We have arrived. 

Сайн уу Mongolia!

Or, welcome to Mongolia!

For those familiar with making the journey across the Pacific pond know that the 10+hr flight from the west coast of USA is either nothing or an absolute painful ride. Having jumped on a great deal on United Airline from LAX-SFO-PEK, then a 6hr layover in PEK (not counting the 1hr delay in LAX due to SFO runway construction) before taking a quick 2hr. hopper to ULN, finally reaching Ulaanbaatar some 19+hrs later to bed down in a hotel in the capital city.

Less than 6 hrs sleep, we make our way back to a semi-familiar ULN airport to journey westward to the land of Kazakh’s of Ulgii. Let the sojourn begin!

It’s about the Environment.

Someone said to me the other day that had to do with my likes or dislikes for portraits (of people) – me shooting this genre. I was a bit puzzled as I love this genre! Especially when my subjects are in their own natural environment. Not only do I get to make images of them doing what they do, but I am also humbled to learn of their life’s story.

During a recent junket in China last May, we visited several villages that afforded us access into some of the local’s homes. One of the most endearing things about this style of making portraits is that when you are invited into their homes or shops, you have to possess a certain level of honor, respect and gratitude for their time and patience as you attempt to ‘see’ places where you’d like to photograph them while at the same time slowing everything down to understand the essence and presence of just being there in the moment (with them).

As a seeker of natural light for this genre, sometimes you only have minutes to make images before it completely disappears – such as the case with this master calligrapher.

As you can see, I progressively drill down deeper with each successive frame to tell a story or set a storyline in motion.

Here, I see this light beam coming from a hole in the roof and a table that was the recipient of the light. Sitting hime down and begin what he does best all happened with a few seconds … shoot shoot shoot and it was over in less than 2 minutes as the sun shifted enough to not hit the table anymore.

Unlike most specialists in photography, being a generalist affords me to shoot all day long, finding light where it benefits a worthy image – no matter if it’s landscape, environmental portraiture or street photography. My travel workshops encourage, teach and practice these photography genres while on the road in attempts and hope that you will embrace your newfound skills and continue to travel with camera in hand.

Come check out the next departure into this rewarding photographic sojourns at … Intrepid Photography Sojourns. Share it with a friend!