Topic: San Diego (5 posts)

Photo Travel

How do you plan for, prepare, purchase and pack for a trip that has an emphasis on photographing? How do professionals do this? How do I do it? 

For the sake of brevity we'll assume you have a destination and motivation. There are other kinds of photo trips, of course, like the one I am on while I am writing this in San Diego. This one has been, shall we say, speculative. But here I will speak to the issue of what you bring, what you leave behind, how you decide, how you pack, what you pack in, how you transport what you bring and how you come back with great pictures. 

For this blog I will assume you're flying to your destination.

For the inexperienced the single biggest mistake people make is that they bring gear they won't use. Too many cameras, cameras of different formats, too many lenses, too many of everything. Pack light! I've said this before but it is worth repeating: pros do not go on extended shooting trips with new gear or unknown components. The last thing you need to do is learn something on site.

It used to be dogma that you would bring an extra camera body. I don't anymore. Got a lot of lenses? Don't bring them all, in fact don't bring anything that duplicates focal lengths. Try to cover from wide to long and perhaps one fixed focal length that is fast for low light. To bring a tripod is a big decision but one I don't have to make. I always do. Mine is short enough that I pack it in my check-in suitcase, which rolls. I use a carbon fiber tripod to save weight.

Clothing? Light, packable, minimal and replaceable, chosen for the environment you'll be working in. Unless you're going into the wild it is very often easiest to buy some things as you need them. I had a friend with questionable hygiene who simply bought new underwear as he needed when he traveled, throwing away the old. 

Now that so many of us are digital the next big question is do you bring your laptop or not? I bring it, with a backup external hard drive.  I download shot RAW files every night, load them into the Aperture library, copy the RAWS onto the external hard drive, reformat the card and then go through them in Aperture, tweak them if I want, realize what I have and have not done with the day's shooting towards doing better tomorrow. 

Of  course, you've remembered to bring all the chargers and cables, a cable release, any needed filters, right? And power converters if you are traveling outside the US.

I was thinking about this as I was preparing for the trip I am on now. I have done this preparing for and packing so many times over my career that it is a ritual. Things go in the suitcase, backpack and rolling case now almost automatically. Rituals can be very helpful as you can go into an automatic mode that gets it all done. I once watched Fred Sommer cook us hamburgers for lunch in Prescott, AZ. Talk about a ritual-this was a virtuoso performance that elevated the making of a hamburger to high art. 

What is the best suitcase? Depends. I use a rolling semi hard case that is large but light made by Burton. It is perfect for my needs.

One final plug and that is don't neglect your own backyard, the USA, in your travel plans. This is one big and diverse country, incredibly rich in environment, culture and people. Believe me, you have not seen it all. Domestic travel is cheaper, easier and faster to get you to your destination. Not as exotic as someplace on the other side of the world it is true and yes, I like the big trip to far away too, but right here is very fine also. 

How do you make pictures that work for you beyond just being a pretty record of where you've been? Depends on your ambitions. Want to make pictures that when framed and on your living room wall speak to your trip and how colorful it was there or how friendly the locals were to you and your group? Want to get that great picture of the penguin that is very much like what's-his-name who shoots for  National Geographic made on his last trip to Antarctica? Fine, but not me. I want to make pictures that I can fit into my oeurve, into the body of work that is what I've made over my career. I work in series so I try to make series pictures when traveling. Do I take random pictures as a reaction to my surroundings when I travel? Yes. Do I use them often? Rarely. See: Utah 2010

What do you want? What are your aspirations with your work? What's your target objective? Who do you want to show your travel pictures to and what do you hope they will do with them?  Sunday NY Times Magazine? The Met? Aperture Magazine? A one person at MOMA?  I don't know that you need to be able to answer this but it would be good to wrestle with it. 

In conclusion: Making pictures from travels taken are about the most difficult things to pull off I can think of. As I write this now I am packing for home, leaving San Diego where I've been living and shooting for three weeks. 

As far as prep goes, think it through carefully. Don't bring what you don't need. Pack as light as you can. 

Topics: San Diego,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 22, 2013

San Diego Finish

I am about to leave San Diego, where I've been for three weeks. I have written three posts on being here, including the first one where I said I would let you know when I found something to photograph. What a presumption! I never did find anything to grab onto photographically here, but it wasn't for want of trying. However, I did do a few things I like and believe are worth sharing.

So, this is a little chancy but this is a blog, not a place where I am always presenting finished work. I am going to post what work I did that I believe is good, perhaps not great, but good. This is presented in the vein of showing someones work "in process" as opposed to a finished and completed portfolio.

I would be the first to admit I don't have all the answers here. Photography is hard and I am struggling along with the rest of you to make pictures that go beyond, say something and connect.  San Diego has been a lesson in humility. Good to get that from time to time.

I've already given you some of the work done while here in the three other San Diego blogs, plus the Dunes 2013 piece so I won't repeat those here.

Here are some others. Here goes:

This is one of my favorites as it seems to smolder and pulse a little. It is also nicely enigmatic. Proof to me that I seldom know if a picture is going to work or not when I take it. Aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway.

Above taken from the USS Midway.

I spent an afternoon driving and shooting through Topanga and Malibu Canyons and Mullholland Drive north of LA.

One day at the San Diego Aquarium:

These below are part of a larger set I am working on called "Mall Backs". There is a multiple post coming that examines this work as well as the " Mallchitecture" work represented on the site:

Again, below, part of a larger series still to come but along the eastern shore of the Salton Sea. Remember the movie Alien? Remember the space ship they found? Remember what was down inside the belly of the big ship? Remember the sets were designed by the artist H.R. Giger? 

Look what I found:

President's Day morning, downtown San Diego:

And finally, today at the Air and Space Museum in San Diego, a flight crew from the 60's:

A little scary, aren't they? 

What's my lesson? What do I think you should do? I think you should go out with a camera and make pictures. I think I should do that too. Hard to follow ones own advice sometimes. 

So I've got three more days here. Don't know what that means. More pictures?  Tell you what. I get anything good, I'll post it.

BTW: a friend emailed me that she's so psyched by all my talk of aerials that she's going to try it. This as opposed to most of you that seem to read these posts but don't comment. You can you know.

Topics: San Diego

Permalink | Posted February 21, 2013

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum ( is in Balboa Park in the basement of the same building that houses the very fine Museum of Photographic Arts

I love these things; old models, little towns, little people, little cars.  No offense intended to the Railroad Museum creators and staff but it seems twisted, skewed and tilted somehow. I photograph the Cabela's stores with the same frame of mind. My friend Jim Stone's first book was called "Stranger than Fiction" and this fits into that same category of simply being too odd to be real and too good to pass up. Some of the things I get to photograph I couldn't dream up in a million years but there they are, right in front of me, available for the price of admission.

I know exactly what got me interested in "miniatures". The first trip I took to Switzerland in the early 80's with my soon to be wife, who was Swiss, was to her home town of Lugano. One of the places nearby she took me to see was "Swiss Miniature". 

Swiss Miniature, Lugano, Switzerland

This was all of Switzerland laid out as a paid attraction in about an acre. It included the Alps, the lakes, the cities, everything. I loved it. I photographed it from an aerial perspective, standing above the displays the equivilent of probably a couple of hundred feet.  The trains and houses and streets that looked to scale were, of course, small. Photography, by being a system that frames everything, loses the ability to reference size without a reality check in the frame.

These were made the same way as the zoo reptile house pictures on the blog San Diego Malaise, by putting the lens of the camera right up against the glass. This minimizes reflections and can help to steady the camera.These were made hand held with the really wonderful Sony RX-100 camera.

You do remember that you can see these larger by clicking on one, don't you? And please, don't look at these on your phone! That is just too painful to bear. I would prefer the Apple 27 inch Thunderbolt display or maybe a large Eizo. But not your phone!

Thanks for looking. Comments always welcome. Email address on blog page.

Topics: San Diego

Permalink | Posted February 16, 2013

San Diego Up and Down

It has been about a week since I wrote San Diego Malaise, my first post from this city where I am staying for a few weeks. Things have improved quite a bit since then and I am working better.

I was having trouble finding things to make photographs of, in truth, I still am. But I have begun a process of photographing to find something to photograph that feels like the right path. I used to tell students, "when in doubt, shoot", as often they were stuck thinking about making pictures and not making pictures. To someone my age and level of experience it can be daunting to become a student again, to photograph with no preconceived notion of the outcome or result, to put oneself in the state of making many tentative or bad photographs in order to make a few that are good. But that's what I am doing, following the advice of Neal the teacher from my other and earlier career.

First UP: When I got here I noticed that the commercial planes in their flight path to land at the airport fly right over a part of the city on their approach. I found a 7 floor parking lot right in their path, parked on the top floor,  and started pointing at the planes as they flew overhead:

Mean anything? Not yet but certainly pictures I have never made before. Such big heavy machines dropping from the air back to the ground. Lucky I didn't get arrested.

Next DOWN: Balboa Park in San Diego is where all the museums are. One way to get to it is to drive on a bridge over a gorge where there is a highway (Rt 163). I learned long ago, that, for me, being above things can be good, so I walked the bridge and leaned over the railing to point down. This used to be very hairy in 8 x 10 days but is far easier now.

Am I making great pictures? No. Am I making pictures that fit into my oeuvre? Not yet. But I am working, keeping the system going, looking. On the hunt. This is good.

Next up in the San Diego series? Why, the Model Railroad Museum, of course.

Stay tuned. 

Topics: San Diego

Permalink | Posted February 9, 2013

San Diego Ramble

I am headed off on a photo trip for three weeks to San Diego, CA. Those of you that know me know this is what I do. Go someplace, establish a base (usually a small house rental), hire a car,  and explore with a camera. I have no real ties to San Diego, but know northern California reasonably well and thought a trip to something new in February would be good. Besides, Boston isn't at its best in the middle of winter. San Diego is close enough to the Yuma, AZ area where I was last winter that I can get back easily enough. I plan on photographing the Imperial Sand Dunes again.

Will I post blogs while there? I don't really know. Probably, particularly if I get some pictures I care about. If you've been following, I have more Wheat picture posts to get out and I will finish those soon. I also have three photographer profiles to get out as well. 

An old friend and I were talking the other day about this trip. He and I have traveled together over the years many times to make pictures. I was saying that I might not photograph so much this time and he said, "yes you will" and he's right. 

I plan a future post on how to prepare for, pack for and organize travel so as to make pictures that are meaningful and contribute to your oeuvre. My fiend Lou Jones has written elegantly about this topic and he travels more than anyone I know. He has a great book on it called Off the Charts. This is something it is far too easy to do poorly... travel, take lots of photographs and come home with nothing worthwhile. I wrote about my own problems with this when I was younger in the the post Harry Callahan. I am thankful I learned this lesson early.

Next up: San Diego.

Topics: San Diego,Ramble,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 2, 2013