Since you all seem to be great photographers...

Travel discussion for St. John
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Post by jmq »

NYtimes article on topic...
Heads Up | Photography Trips
Safaris Where the Hunt Is for the Perfect Picture
The golden light was falling on the Mojave Desert, but no matter where Alberto Zanella pointed his fancy new camera, the rusting chemical tanks looked like an orange blur. He tried steadying the camera by kneeling on the sand, to no avail. Then he tried fidgeting with the autofocus mode, but wasn’t sure how — the manual was back at the hotel.

Happily, a photography teacher was by his side. “He told me to lower my aperture,” said Dr. Zanella, 30, from Bethesda, Md., who was using a Nikon D80, a digital single-lens-reflex camera he bought over the holidays. To learn how to operate it, he flew cross-country to join other amateur photographers for a weekend class. “This gives me an excuse to shoot.”

Taking photos while traveling used to be an afterthought, like airport souvenirs. But thanks to the boom in digital cameras, vacation photos have proliferated like spam. There’s no film to waste, no Fotomats to visit and oodles more pictures to clog e-mail inboxes. But are those pictures any good?

A growing number of shutterbugs seem to think not, and that has given rise to a popular new trend in travel: photography safaris. Combining guided tours to exotic locales with hands-on instruction, photo safaris seek to turn the everyday Ofoto user into a budding Ansel Adams.

“They are a huge and growing market,” said Reid Callanan, the director of Sante Fe Workshops (, a photography school that offers dozens of tours every year, including a seven-day workshop in Tuscany with National Geographic photographers. “Everybody and their brother, most major photo magazines and many photographers are doing them.”

Workshop regulars rave about the camaraderie. Everybody is there to take pictures and talk shop. And thanks to the immediacy of digital photography, there are daily critique sessions, giving students instant feedback on their work. Students are not only escorted to postcard-ready spots, but are taught how to take postcard-perfect shots.

That was the idea anyway last January, when about 30 amateur photographers gathered near Barstow, Calif., along a tumbledown stretch of Route 66 in the Mojave Desert. Unlike most photo safaris, which are held in conventionally photogenic places like Paris or Bhutan, the focus was the rotting architecture, corroded salt flats and black volcanic craters that litter this desert landscape. “We are photographing the disappearance of the industrial age,” said Dave Wyman, a freelance photographer who ran the three-day safari.

Friday began at Tom’s, a welding and machine shop with a surrounding junkyard, on the north fringes of town. Arriving in a caravan of SUVs and minivans, the students fanned out like wolves under the low desert sun, poking their lenses into rusty antique cars, spying shadows on scrap metal and sniffing through detritus for photo ops. The students came prepared. Camera bags were stuffed with lenses, memory cards, assorted filters and spare batteries. Many brought along tripods, including one gentleman who flew all the way from England to photograph what he called the “real America.” A few wore flak jackets, as if on assignment.

And unlike so many snap-happy tourists, no one was in a rush to leave. They took their sweet time, calibrating their angles and peeling back the visual layers like an onion. “Turn everything into an abstract,” said Richard Nolthenius, an astronomer from Santa Cruz, Calif., as he studied a pile of rusty metal parts.

As the sun straddled the horizon, the class moved to the old Barstow train station, clicking away as freight trains screeched by on the steel tracks. Blurry shots became even blurrier as the sun went down and the moon rose.

It wasn’t until dinner, at a scrappy Mexican restaurant in town, that the group began to socialize and explain why they came. “I bought a camera two years ago, but I don’t know how to use it,” said Charlene Gerrish, 61, a painter from Carmel, Calif. “I normally use a point-and-shoot, but I’m trying to graduate to this camera — a Canon D20 or something."

Others were technically proficient, even nerdy. “You can learn through a book, but here you can share ideas,” said Kevin Burke, 56, a retired government employee from Las Vegas. “I shoot every day, but I wanted to go out with like-minded photogeeks.”

He had plenty of company. Dinner conversation revolved around such topics as shooting in JPEG or RAW, when to use a polarizing filter, whether Canon is superior to Nikon and, the perennial favorite, PC versus Mac. The art of photography, “when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality,” as Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, seemed to be beside the point.

After dinner, the group retired to the Holiday Inn Express, which is about as nice as hotels get in Barstow. Not that students expected much. The cost of the photo safari — including tuition, lodging, dinner and a guest lecturer, Ken Rockwell, who runs a popular photography Web site — was only $375.

There are, of course, much fancier photo safaris out there. National Geographic Expeditions, for example, runs a seven-day workshop in Venice that costs $4,870, and Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, based in Vashon Island, Wash., has a photography workshop in Antarctica that starts at $11,795 and includes a crew of 10 nature photographers, naturalists and wildlife biologists.

But picking a photo safari is not just about price. There’s a difference between photo workshops, which are structured around formal lessons, and photo tours, where the teacher basically chaperones tourists around to various Kodak Moments. The Mojave safari fell into the latter category.

SATURDAY was another picture-perfect day, with an eerie morning fog hugging the barren desert. Much of the afternoon was spent darting from one quirky attraction to the next: a town cemetery, the Baghdad Cafe, an abandoned gas station, the Pisgah Volcano, a pigeon-infested motel and a mom-and-pop chemical factory. It was a journey back in time, somewhere between the industrial and atomic ages.

After a dinner of burgers and beer, the class reconvened at the Holiday Inn Express, turning the lobby into a makeshift classroom. Computer displays were hooked up. Laptops were plugged in. Despite having no time to edit the day’s shoot, several people volunteered to show their work.

Some were quite good, eliciting oohs and aahs from envious students. What lens did you use? Where was that taken? How did you do that? But most were unremarkable — a pretty sunset, a cute dog — and illustrated the enormous gap between a snapshot and a photograph.

Still, the students were eager to see more, perhaps to feel better about their own pictures. But no one else was offering. “I don’t think so,” said Marcee Chipman, 59, a lawyer from San Diego. “Not unless you want to see all 500 of mine.”


Photo safaris combine picturesque guided tours and in-the-field camera lessons. Fees usually include intuition, lodging and some meals.

National Geographic Expeditions (; 866-797-4686) has a 10-day tour of the Galápagos islands starting at $4,150.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris (; 206-463-5383) offers a seven-day shoot of the white horses of Camargue, France, for $3,995.

Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks (; 888-676-6468) offers a three-day shoot of cowboys in Rothbury, Mich., for $899.

The Workshops (; 877-577-7700) has a seven-day architectural tour of Chicago for $1,295.

For other workshops, see Shaw Guides ( and PhotoSecrets (
When we come to place where the sea and the sky collide
Throw me over the edge and let my spirit glide
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Post by jmq »

Another one...
Footsteps | Travel Photography
They Came. They Conquered. They Posed.
TOURISM is by some economic measures the largest business in the world. Oil companies, airlines and manufacturers of ski boots, bikinis and chocolate mints for hotel pillows all depend on its vitality. It is also an unsteady business, erected not on our material need to visit Florence or the Grand Tetons but on the illusions that lead us there, or anywhere beyond the horizon of home.

Photographers are major purveyors of fantasies, realistic as well as far-fetched, and as such have been crucial to the industry’s growth. Vivid as word pictures of the Great Wall of China can be, they don’t wow a reader as instantly as a photograph of its pythonic length and girth can transport a viewer. Without enticing images of turquoise waters and ivory sands, the Caribbean would probably be empty of vacationers. The idea of the seaside as a happy destination, a place to shed clothes, worries and inhibitions, is a modern invention, implanted in our heads by photographs and movies. It’s no coincidence that the advent of mass tourism, with Thomas Cook’s tours in the 1840s, dates to the popularity of the steamship, the railroad and the camera.

Explorers are glorified tourists, and those who set off in the 19th century, for noble or ignoble purposes, quickly grasped what the new technology might do for their enterprises. A photograph could first of all buttress verbal testimony that you had done what you claimed to have done, or at least that you were there. David Livingstone employed his brother Charles to take pictures on his 1858-64 journey along the Zambezi River in Africa. Their failure to bring back photographs — Charles was unqualified to handle the equipment in hellish conditions — did not help charges in newspapers of the time that the mission had been a bust.

From then on, few daring treks to anywhere set off without a professional cameraman. Timothy O’Sullivan, who accompanied geologic and military surveys of the American West in the 1860s and ’70s, and Andrew J. Russell, hired by the Union Pacific Railroad as it laid track across the country, were both veteran Civil War photographers. Their pictures of desert expanses in Utah and Nevada are now considered works of art, but they were made for sale to the government and the public, in various formats, to help defray the costs of what were long, expensive trips.

Even when an expedition was a disaster, as happened frequently when men were racing to the poles during the early decades of the 20th century, photographs could redeem a botched effort. Frank Hurley’s plates from Ernest Shackleton’s ill-starred trip in 1914-16 to Antarctica on the Endurance supported accounts of the almost unbelievable hardship faced by the crew. Herbert Ponting’s movies of Robert Falcon Scott’s tour of the region in 1910-13 were supposed to be shown in paying venues on the explorer’s triumphant return, a plan that fizzled when Scott was lost and later discovered frozen dead. This hasn’t harmed appreciation for Ponting’s work, which required its own brand of toughness and courage.

To make an independent living, however, photographers have needed to capture dramatic views of places most of us would actually like to visit. Under the right social and political conditions these images can alter the future of the things in the picture.

Yosemite Valley was crawling with prospectors and timber merchants when Carleton Watkins visited in 1859-61. It was in part his magnificent stereographs and mammoth-plate (18 by 22 inches) prints of the mountains and forests, images he later sold in his own gallery, that helped to persuade Congress in 1864 to pass legislation that preserved the area as a public trust. Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872, thanks in no small way to Thomas Moran’s paintings and William Henry Jackson’s photographs of the stunning scenery.

The legacy of Watkins and Jackson, crystallized in the pictures and activism of Ansel Adams, illustrates the ability of photographs to idealize certain places and perhaps shelter them against development. For nature tourism to flourish, a country has to show the world it is still dotted with sanctified areas. Photographers have been essential in that movement.

As cameras in the 1890s became smaller, cheaper and easier to use, photography was transformed into an amateur’s medium. Kodak and other companies advertised the fact that anyone could take a decent snapshot. People recorded family excursions in tiny pictures that went into albums. Photography became a kind of diary.

At the same time, the picture postcard industry took off — sales were 850 million a year by 1910 — and allowed access to an unparalleled selection of foreign views for pennies apiece. Like the explorer’s more hard-fought images, these proved to friends back home that you had been somewhere. Or, even if you hadn’t, by perusing a rack of postcards and buying one — a Gothic cathedral, a remote island — that was tacked above your desk or bed, they functioned as icons for dreaming.

The golden age of the photo magazine (1920s to 1960s) was often as much about delivering the vicarious thrill of travel as documenting war and injustice. The great French weekly Vu, which in the late ’20s had sounded the alarm about Hitler, was also packed with features about skiing and the beach. National Geographic magazine became a monthly in 1896 and specialized in pictorial reports about exotic lands..

Artist photographers have more often been globe-trotting tourists than stay-at-homes. Henri Cartier-Bresson and his Leica darted around Europe, the United States and Mexico in the ’30s and throughout Asia in the ’50s as he went in search of the surreal in everyday life.

“The Americans,” Robert Frank’s classic 1959 book, was imagined as a lonesome highway travelogue about his adopted country. It has been said that Mr. Frank “proved you could photograph anything anywhere.” Legions of ambitious photographers, from Stephen Shore to Thomas Struth, have tested themselves against this standard, taking pictures all over the place that highlight the world’s strange ordinariness. These photographs were often made to combat the smoothly lovely views of places found in commercial travel magazines.

The discretion of the camera in relation to the land — the fact that by taking a picture you are removing something from a scene but disturbing nothing — has appealed to artists in tune with the ecological movement. Since the ’70s the British artist Hamish Fulton has walked 12,000 miles across five continents, along paths as stony as anything seen by O’Sullivan and Russell in the American West. Often the only traces of these journeys are a series of unglamorous black-and-whites, which Mr. Fulton sells to collectors and museums.

More-fantastic voyages usually call for more-dramatic images. To help sell the space program to the American taxpayer, NASA shrewdly signed the infamous contract in the ’60s with the foremost photography magazine of its time, Life. The trippy pictures of astronauts floating against the blackness of the universe and standing among the wastes of the moon somehow justified the billions spent. Many of us felt we had gone into space because we followed the explorers for years on television and in Life.

Richard Branson says he believes that space is the next frontier of tourism. The rare chance to view the blue marble of earth from a Virgin Galactic spacecraft will be enough, he hopes, to attract wealthy would-be astronauts for a series of suborbital flights. In a sense, the hard part of the sales pitch was already done by NASA.

We know we want to go. Images of life on Mars are tumbling around in our brains. All we need now is the money.
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Post by cypressgirl »

Amazing stuff!!! It makes me realize how much I don't know. Can this photography bug I have be a fun hobby, or does it at some point turn into another addiction (like STJ)?? :D
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Post by Ken »

I was lucky enough for my wife to give me a day with Steve Simonsen a couple of years ago for my birthday present while we were on St. John. Obviously, spending a day with someone of his caliber is going to teach you alot. A few of the things he mentioned to me that I think stick with me more than anything else.

1. If you are looking for that awesome Caribbean color that we are all addicted to in the water, shoot between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is not behind a cloud. And, of course, use a polarizer. Most of the pictures in my Caribbean folders were shot then because it is that feeling of sitting on the beach that I love and want to look back at.

2. Add some red to the photo whenever possible because it is one of the first colors your eye "sees" when viewing the photo. If you can put it near the front of the picture (bottom in a landscape usually), your eye will start there and then move around the shot taking in the rest of the details. Like this set of flowers outside Peter Bay:

3. Incorporate S-curves wherever possible. Those beach scenes of Trunk look so nice because your eye is naturally drawn to S-curves. Here's one of Honeymoon:

4. And also include diagonals wherever possible:

5. And put something in the forground if possible:

6. Finally, don't be afraid to try something new. I thought this was cool:

Lots of fun this photography. Makes me wish I was back there right now taking more pictures. Gotta wait until January...


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