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Caribbean Paradise

Beautiful Bottom Bay, southeast corner of Barbados, West Indies

Bottom Bay along the southeast coast of Barbados, West Indies

Sometime in mid to late January a subtle change begins to creep into the minds of most people who live north of the 30th parallel.  Frankly, we’re tired of winter and ready for some sunlight.  The beach seems to be a good place to dream of – maybe even a Caribbean island, say Barbados?

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate enough to spend a little time cruising around this tropical island – what an adventure!  Our rental car seemed to come from a prior generation – complete with rusted body and 40 horse-power engine.  The rental car ‘agent’ (actually a 17 year old surfer dude) gave us a map and said everything is easy to find – no problem, you’ll have a great time.

By the time we returned the car, we were missing a couple of hubcaps – and maybe even some other parts that had fallen off during our drive on the rough roads.  Did we get lost?  Of course.  There are no road signs in Barbados so you never really know what street you’re on. Did we have a great time?  Absolutely!

The beaches in Barbados are spectacular – the people very friendly.  The weather – 82 degrees Fahrenheit – 28 Celsius – it was paradise.

The time in the sun seemed to warm our spirits as we returned back to cold North America.  But before our plane touched down on our return flight we were already making plans for our next trip to the Caribbean.  Maybe this time we will check on a rental car upgrade…

Rocky coastline along the eastern shore of Barbados at Bathsheba

Rocky coastline along the eastern shore of Barbados at Bathsheba, West Indies



December in Bavaria

Bavaria Saint Coloman Church Fussen Allgau Schwangau Germany

Winter morning at St Coloman Church in Schwangau, Bavaria Germany






















Canon 5d mkII EF24-105 at 85mm ISO 100 f16 1/100 sec.

The true test of my resolve always seems to come on the first morning after a long flight.  The lure of sleeping in to help recover is intense.  But I know that missed opportunities are my biggest regrets, so I force myself to crawl out of bed in the pitch black at 4 or 5am for my first shots.

This morning it was in Schwangau, Germany – and St. Coloman Church.  I sneak out to the rental car, scrape the frost off the windows, crank it up and head out to my chosen spot.  It is officially minus 15 degrees – that’s centigrade, but all I know is that I’m glad to have my long underwear on – it’s cold!!

I’m undecided as to the perfect spot to shoot from.  Not only do I have several options, but the sun (once it rises) is going to be blocked by a large bank of clouds and also by a very large mountain that is closer to this little church than I had thought.

As I stand beside the road in two feet of snow wondering what my next move needs to be I hear bells – sleigh bells.  The first thought that comes to mind is “Santa Claus” – honest.  I think it must be the jet-lag.

It turns out to be several farmers in their horse-drawn carts heading off down the road to the Christmas market – this seems so surreal.  I can feel the farmers laughing at this crazy Yank standing next to a camera and tripod, up to his knees in snow in the middle of one of their fields at 6a.  The horses even snickered – I would have too.

Off in the distance there is a glowing castle – yes this is Bavaria, and some beautiful snow-covered mountains.  I decide to race off down the road and catch some other shots while waiting for the light to develop.

Once I get a few shots of the castle and surrounding area, I head back to St. Coloman church to see how it looks now.  It’s better.  I think it will get even better, but just in case, I snap a few shots wanting to get something in the bag.  I leave once more for some snow shots in the trees, always keeping my eyes on the sky.

I’m now back in front of St. Coloman.  The sun has just poked its way above the mountain range, the sky is blue with some wispy clouds.  The scene that I’ve been waiting for suddenly develops in front of me – it’s magic.  In about fifteen minutes time it’s all over.  The sun’s a little too high now and the cloud cover returns – but I got my shot.  Is it the best photo ever?  Not by a long-shot, but it’s the one that I had set out to capture.

The jet-lag, early morning exhilaration, and successful shooting leaves me looking for some early morning hot chocolate.  I head off toward the Christmas-card town of Fussen.

Bavaria Hohenschwangau Castle Schwangau Winter Germany

Early morning at Hohenschwangau Castle, Bavaria Germany


Amazing Umbria

Castelluccio Umbria Italy Piano Grande Photography workshop Tour

Village of Castelluccio perched high above the Piano Grande, Umbria Italy

When you think of all the great things about the region of Umbria in East-Central Italy, the list gets pretty long.  Mountains, sculpted valleys – in fact, endless landscapes, fascinating medieval villages and towns, wonderful people, killer food…  it’s easy to go on and on.

The Monti Sibillini National Park is home to some of my favorite Umbrian memories.  So much so that I bring a group of photographers back every year in one of my Photography Tours.  If you’d like to be one of those photographers in June 2012 – there is still space.  Click Here.

Most of my time is spent roaming the vast mountainous areas overlooking villages like Preci, Norcia, Castel Vecchio and Castelluccio.  But once the shooting stops, it’s time for FOOD!!  Norcia is home to some of the best cooking I’ve ever had – with local cheeses, truffles and wild boar (my favorite) – all washed down with great vini.

One evening my wife and I walked into town to one of our favorite restaurants – the staff greeted us (by now they had seen us a number of times).  As usual, the dining room was full of people – most in some animated form of conversation, but all enjoying their food.  We sat in our usual seat – tonight we were next to a priest, his friend and a nice tourist couple from Germany.

Our waiter (Luciano) approached with a bit of a frown – we had to ask what was wrong.  He said you can eat here tonight but you’ll have to hurry.  We knew that it wasn’t closing time, no one was waiting for our seat – we were confused.  Luciano went on to say that the football match started in 20 minutes and he was going to be watching it on TV.  Such is the importance of football (soccer) in the lives of the Italians. This match happened to be one of the first-round games of the 2010 World Cup.  Of course this was a big deal.

We ordered quickly, paid the bill before the food even arrived, and true to form the entire restaurant was emptied in 20 minutes time – leaving only us, the priest and friend, and the German couple to finish our meals.  Quiet, enjoyable, certainly tasty – but just the six of us.

Outside in the main piazza someone had set up a large TV.  A crowd gathered, and for 2 1/2 hours there was a Superbowl party happening below the ancient statue of San Benedetto in Norcia.

Such fun!

Come join us next June for one of two weekends photographing Umbria!

Preci Umbria Italy Landscape Photography Workshop

The last rays of the setting sun warm the medieval town of Preci in the Valnerina, Umbria Italy


Piazza San Benedetto Norcia Umbria Italy Photography Workshop Tour

Twilight in Piazza San Benedetto, Norcia Umbria Italy


A pleasent surprise in Ephesus

Ephesus Library of Celcus Turkey Ruins

Library of Celcus in ancient town of Ephesus

Don’t you love it when something exceedes your expectations?  Or maybe when reaching your destination you experience something beyond a simple visit and a tour – maybe something deeper.   Such was the case for me one day in the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey.

I first heard of Ephesus in my Sunday School classes decades ago, but didn’t realize then that the remains of the town still existed.  Recently, when the opportunity came to make a one-day stop in Kusadasi Turkey, I jumped at the chance to visit the ruins of the amazing and historic city of Ephesus some 20 miles away.

As part of my normal planning, I had looked through photos of the town, located it on Google Earth and marked the direction and time of the sunrise.  I made a list of the must-have shots, and knew that I’d have to work fast because the place is crawling with tourists most of the day.

My wife and I arrived at the gates to the city at 7:40a, bought our entry tickets, but had to wait until 8a for the gate to open.  For those 20 minutes we were alone, standing on a dusty unpaved road near the entrance.  Nothing that we saw reminded us of our current century.  Off in the distance a donkey pulling a cart lazily walked by.  There was an uncanny quiet – in fact the only sound we could hear was that of the air rushing through the giant storks wings as they flew overhead.  Somewhere in the hillside behind us the Virgin Mary most likely lived out her final years.  We could almost visualize her now walking down the winding road into town.  It was all a bit surreal.

Once the gate opened, my mind went into work mode and I quickly walked to where I knew my most important shots were going to be.  So far, the ‘crowd’ amounted to 4 Brits and us – but I knew that wasn’t going to last long.

The ruins themselves are really impressive; the beautifully marble-paved Street of Curetes is amazing.  Later, once the crowds arrived I could see that nobody really gets to look at the street itself – there’s too many people in the way.  But for that first 40 minutes or so, we could see the whole city (at least the part that’s been excavated).  The sites; Library of Celcus, Temple of Hadrian, Grand Theatre are all incredible.  But what captured me most was the sense of place and time that I felt while there.

The Ephesians designed their homes with running water – using the hot water springs nearby to flow under their stone floors and thus warm their homes.  Their beautiful mosaic floors were meticulously pieced together – and still retain their color.  Their advanced society was seen everywhere.  We were totally transported back in time and felt the daily life experiences of these people.  I’ve been to countless historic sites, but this one really struck me.

I made a number of photos that day, some that I really like.  But the real treasure for me was connecting with other humans from a totally different era.  And realizing that while civilizations come and go, we all share a common thread with those that have gone before – a thread that continues to meander through every society today.

Street of Curetes Temple Hadrian Ephesus Turkey Ruins

Marble-paved Street of Curetes in Ephesus



















Street of Curetes Ephesus Turkey ruins

Street of Curetes in ancient Ephesus


Do You Hear Bells?

Forca Canapine Umbria Italy Monti Sibillini

Wildflowers at dawn in the Forca Canapine, Umbria Italy






















Canon 5d mkII EF24-105 at 32mm ISO100 f22 1.0 sec


Every type of photography has its unique challenges.  One of the challenges for a landscape photographer is finding the best vantage point for their photo long before the sun has risen leaving them unaware of some of their immediate surroundings.

One of my favorite corners of the globe is the Monti Sibillini National Park in Umbria, Italy.  Of course the food’s amazing.  But so are the people, the mountains, wildflowers, skies, and much more.  Near the top of one of the passes is an area called Forca Canapine.  It’s a ski resort in the winter and a wonderful vista all year long.

One spring morning, I headed up to the Forca Canapine to capture the scenery at dawn.  I was able to scout the general area the day before and knew that there would be a fair amount of ‘4-wheeling’ involved in order to get to the location that I wanted.

At 5am it was still very dark at the top of these mountains, but the eastern ridge showed a bit of light in the sky – I knew the sun was on its way.  I pulled the car off the trail (it sure wasn’t a road), grabbed my camera bag and tripod and headed off through the fields.

Using a flashlight (torch for my English friends) I found a patch of wildflowers that would work great as foreground and began to set up my tripod.  All the while, I was unconsciously ignoring the faint sound of tinkling bells that seemed to carry on the breezes.

The wildflowers that I was using in the photo were just inches off the ground – so my camera needed to be positioned right in the grass.  Using a combination of live view and peering through the viewfinder, I was able to frame my shot – but only by laying in the grass with my head on the ground.  I took a couple test shots and viewed the histogram to confirm my exposure settings.  So intent was I on the shot that I didn’t notice the tinkling bells getting louder.  I kept my eyes glued to the far mountains…

The sun started to rise.  At that moment I knew I had mere seconds to get the shots before it was too high for the effect that I needed.  I had the composition that I wanted as well as the exposure settings, so I blasted away with multiple bracketed shots for about 30 seconds.  Then it was over – time to move off to a different scene.

I rolled onto my back and started to crawl out of my prone position when I glanced over my right shoulder to see 50 or 60 pairs of eyeballs.  Of course, the bells.  The whole family was staring at me; Bessie, Molly, Bossy, Rosie… they were all there, munching on grass and wondering why this crazy person was laying on the ground in the middle of their pasture.

The initial shock was the worst part.  I know that grazing cattle are not going to hurt me, but that still didn’t stop the adrenaline from racing through my body.  My brief panic and quick reaction caused the poor animals to jump.  The ensuing stampede was really more of a group jog down the hillside, and then partway up the adjacent hill – but impressive none-the-less.

As I gathered up my gear I looked around the area and saw multiple ‘signs’ of cattle.  The really shocking thing was that I hadn’t had the misfortune of laying in any of it.  I was lucky.

I made a number of other photographs that morning, spending an hour or two in the area.  Long before I started to head down the mountain in my rental vehicle, I was already planning my next trip to the Forca Canapine.  It’s one of those places that need to be visited more than once.  Just remember to pay attention to those bells.

Umbria Italy Castelluccio Monti Sibillini Norcia Wildflowers Dawn

Wildflowers at dawn in the Forca Canapine, Umbria Italy





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