The official journal of Brian Rueb, itinerant landscape photographer
A NEW PASSFebruary 14, 2013
(The above photo is NOT real, I made it in Photoshop, to help demonstrate a concept…I know your first thought was, IT’S ABOUT TIME!!!)
If you’re like me, and you conduct a large number of photography workshops in and on National Park lands during the calendar year, and you also like to be on the up and up when it comes to permits and legality…then I’m sure at SOME point you asked yourself the following question:
WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS SYSTEM? WHY DO THEY MAKE IT SO DIFFICULT?
To be certain, the National Park system has struggled to figure out a way to deal with the issue of professional photographers conducting workshops in their parks. The current setup seems to be an, ‘every park for itself’ policy. Each park is left to come up with its own requirements and stipulations on how it will implement the permit policy.
As you would imagine, This has led to MASS confusion for photographers trying to obtain permits. We’re only talking about the NPS system here though, add in State Parks, NFS Lands, Local Parks, and you have the making of a larger more difficult nightmare.
The first challenge of this process for the photographer is simply finding the permit page on most NPS websites. If you get past THAT hurdle, then it’s tough figuring out if you even need a permit. Below is a quote from a NPS website for photography permits.
“A permit is required when the filming, videotaping, sound recording or still photography involve the use of talent, professional crews, set dressings, or props; when they involve product or service advertisement; or when the activity could result in damage to park resources or disruption of visitor use. A permit is also required if the photographer wants to film in areas not open to the public, or before or after normal visitation hours. If you are uncertain whether your project requires a permit or not, contact the park for additional information. If you already know that your project does not require a permit, you can call the office to check the schedule and avoid conflicts with other activities. Generally, permits are not issued for filming on weekends or holidays.”
If you were to look on that website for information, you would probably assume you did NOT need even need to obtain a permit to operate a photography workshop in the park. Photography workshops usually do not do anything within their courses that falls under those above stipulations. The other commercial permits on the website seem to be centered around; ‘guiding’ specifically centered on backpacking, horse/mule, and rafting type excursions.
OH and in some cases, certain parks don’t even have their permit page up to date. I’ve seen 404 errors, ‘under construction’ signs, etc.
In talking with some employees of various NPS offices, understandably, this is a big grey area for them. They really don’t know how to handle it. THe photography workshop boom fell upon them over the past 5-7 years for the most part, and it doesn’t fall under the typical NPS website definition of ‘guiding’, nor is it a larger scale commercial video events that closes down stretches of road to the public and requires extra supervision from the park.
The simple reality is that in most cases, the only real difference between a photography workshop and any other group of tourists is that these groups have more camera gear, and their leaders are making money off of the event. Other than THAT, these groups visit largely the same areas, and do the same types of activities as normal visitors to the parks.
The result of this ‘fend for your own park’ permit policy is…chaos. Every park has different requirements, some require WFR training, some don’t, some require other forms of training such as, ‘leave no trace’ some don’t, some charge one amount, others another. Some parks issue permits for the year, others for the workshop. Some parks don’t even require a permit. Some parks require one level of insurance, others don’t seem to care or require it. One park demands a list of your routes, and meetings with the rangers, others you may never have any communication with a ranger. A few parks place restrictions on the photography groups, which are restrictions that they don’t place on the general public. It’s a frustrating, necessary maze to navigate.
Here’s one example of one little bit of NPS permit craziness. Last year Death Valley NPS required workshop leaders to have at LEAST one instructor trained as a Wilderness First Responder in order to obtain a permit. “Wilderness” is considered anywhere 100 yards off of pavement. Which would mean the Mesquite Dunes and Badwater. This requirement put our group into a panic and we rushed around to put one of our instructors in a last minute WFR course two weeks before our workshop, so we could fit their requirements. This course cost us about $2,000 when all was said and done, when you consider course fees and hotel for our instructor during the 8 days class. That also started the process of us getting all our instructors trained in this protocol so we had more flexibility in the future with scheduling, we also assumed all parks would eventually go this route.
I bring this up not to say that the training isn’t valuable or needed…but to point out that it is costly to an organization. I was trained in December, and it was almost $1,700 for my training. If simple first aid and CPR will do, it’s much easier on our pocket books to go that route. Although the WFR knowledge is MUCH more in-depth, and I feel essential for any kind of guiding.
This year I heard that Death Valley no longer requires the WFR training to obtain a permit. Well, isn’t THAT special. This little change has cost us almost $4,000 thus far, and knowing how easily they’ve changed their minds…we are probably still going to get everyone certified.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there shouldn’t BE a permit process…that’s not it at all. The parks are having more visitors, and of course more photographers. There certainly needs to be monitoring and regulations in order to maintain safety, and proper behavior within the parks. I think most photographers would agree on that.
The problem is now arising, (partly due to the confusing nature of the system) that some photographers are bypassing this permit process altogether. Maybe it’s due to the hassle, maybe the cost, maybe even because of some kind of disgust with the government, or some combination of other reasons. I have seen it firsthand though. Some smaller courses are bypassing the system altogether, and because of their small size, and word-of-mouth type registrations they’ll probably never get caught. It’s frustrating I’m sure for the parks, as well as for the people who DO pay an arm and a leg for permits, insurance, training, etc. in order to be in compliance.
The system NEEDS to be re-vamped, and overhauled to make it easier not only for the photographers to operate, but also for the parks to monitor and collect revenue.
I have a proposition.
THE COMMERCIAL PARKS PASS.
We have a parks pass that allows visitors to pay one fee and visit ANY NPS site they wish for a year. Why not a commercial pass? Below I’ve listed the basics of this pass, as well as tried to answer some of the concerns I think people would have.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
I think between $800-$1,000 a year would be fair, but that could be determined. Most yearly park permits run between $200-$400 for a year anyway. This would allow a compromise for those photographers who typically only use one or two parks a year for workshops.
WHAT IS THE PASS GOOD FOR?
Conducting professional photography activities in a park during a year. This entitles you to teach a class up to 7 people per pass. If you had a class of 12, then you’d need two instructors, each with a pass. Most single instructors only have 4-6 students anyway.
HOW DO YOU GET THE PASS?
The pass would be issued based on a simple application process, kind of like getting a driver’s license. IF you meet the requirements, and pay the fee the pass is issued. The process would also be easy enough that any park employee in the visitor center could issue one.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS?
- A Valid Driver’s license or passport
- Current WFR training— Safety first, you guys.
- Two million dollar liability insurance policy (if you can’t afford insurance, for your protection, don’t teach workshops)
- Permit Fee w/ completed application
- Leave No Trace awareness
Once the permit has been obtained, the rules clearly state in the paperwork that you are allowed to take your groups ONLY to the areas where the general public is allowed, any special access requires approval from the rangers at that specific park. You must follow the rules in places for the general public concerning trail use, wildlife viewing, etc.
If asked, you must be able to present your pass to a ranger. If your group is found to be disrespecting the park or breaking park rules, you can be fined, lose your commercial pass, or even be banned from obtaining one in the future.
HOW WILL IT BE MONITORED?
If the process is streamlined like this, a small staff could operate the process. They would process the fees and paperwork, and then issue the permits. They could search the internet for photographers teaching workshops, and email them the paperwork to fill out. Just so you know, they already do this on a regular basis…the hard part is that it’s one person per park trying to do it. If the person receives an email asking for permit, but they have purchased it at a specific park, they would only need email their pass number, or a copy of it, and it would be handled.
It would be easy for them to have a master list of contacts within the parks and they could email the names of anyone conducting workshops in the park without a pass. Heck, they could probably just send a notice to pay to them…”Hey we know you have a class this weekend, you don’t have a permit registered with us…email us a copy or buy one at the park this weekend. Email us the receipt, or you’ll pay a fine if the ranger finds you without the permit.”
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER TYPES OF PERMITS?
Those would remain as they are. I’m no expert on rafting guides, or running a video shoot for a Dodge commercial, those obviously take up a bit more resources and effort from the park. Leave those as they are. This is strictly for photographers conducting workshops.
HOW WILL THE FEES BE DIVIDED UP?
I would think, like the NPS Annual Pass, the fees collected by a specific park, would stay within that park (I am assuming that’s what happens). It would make sense considering the photographers who buy a pass from a specific park, probably spend more time in that park anyway. Any fees collected by the central office, would go to general funding of NPS activities, or perhaps could be divided up among the parks.
WHY WOULD THE NPS WANT TO DO THIS?
I think for a number of reasons. I’ve listed them below.
Apples and Apples- Photography workshops are not that much different than a normal bunch of tourists. Sure they have more camera gear, and usually get up way earlier than most sane folks, but other than that they don’t do too much differently than the typical camera toting tourist…they just happened to be in a grouped together.
-Uniformity and simplicity. Both those are good things, I think.
Safety- Knowing that photographers are being led by qualified instructors with some medical training, and knowledge of how to lead a group will cut down the accidents had by those photographers who wander off by themselves with no guidance. I’ve seen it numerous places where a photographer without a group got injured trying to go somewhere or do something beyond their fitness level. These usually require NPS rescues and those AREN’T CHEAP.
Revenue- The pass will generate money. I think that if it is reasonable and relatively easy to obtain, some of the photographers who currently skirt the system would probably pony up to get one.
Saves Money- The ease of the process and streamlined approach would cut down on the amount of manpower each individual park has to put towards this process now. Those people would be free to be IN the park, rather than at a desk handling photography permits.
Relationships- Photographers provide a LOT of free advertising for parks. Whether it is by handing over their rights to their image by entering a contest, or simply by posting shots of the parks on their websites, blogs, and social media outlets, photographers images are part of what brings people into the parks. People see images of Yosemite, and that makes them WANT to go there. NPS tourism has less to do with any organized ad campaign put on by the parks, and more to do with how many photos of that location exist that inspire people. People see nice photos of places, and they want to see that place, and make their own images. These photographers also bring in people who spend money in the park and the neighboring communities. It would be nice if the parks did something to help return the favor.
2013 Workshop ScheduleJanuary 9, 2013
I get a lot of emails and people look at our Aperture Academy Schedule, and then ask me, “Well which ones are you teaching?” I appreciate that people enjoy the tours I lead and want to be a part of them, I’ve made a list of (nearly) all my workshops for 2013, I’m still waiting to hear on a couple of them…
I hope this will help those people who wish to work with me this year find a class that fits them, and allow those folks who really hoped one of our lovely lady instructors would be showing up instead of me find a different option.
Go to the Aperture Academy website to book all workshops.
2013 Teaching Schedule
May 10 San Francisco Night Course- ONLY 1 SPACE LEFT!!!
May 11 San Francisco Marin Headlands- SOLD OUT
May 12 Carmel Mission/ Big Sur- SOLD OUT
June 1-2 Mt. Shasta Area workshop- 3 Spaces Available
June 7-17 Iceland Photography Workshop- SOLD OUT
July 27-28 Eastern Sierra Landscape and Night Photography workshop- Space Available
August 3-4 Joshua Tree National Park Landscape and Night Photography Workshop- Space Available
August 9 San Francisco Night Photography Course- Space Available
August 10 San Francisco Night Photography Course- Space Available
August 11 San Francisco Zoo Workshop- Space Available
August 17-18 Bodie/Mono Lake Workshop- 2 Space Available
September 21-22 Lake Tahoe Area- Space Available
October 26-27 Yosemite Fall Color Workshop- Space Available
November 2-3 Zion National Park- Space Available
November 6-7 Valley of Fire SP Workshop- 5 Space Available
November 9-10 Zion National Park- Space Available
DECEMBER SCHEDULE TBA
June 7-17 2014 Iceland – 4 Spaces Available
2012- YEAR IN REVIEWDecember 22, 2012
Well another year has passed by. When I sit down to recount my adventures from the year, and put together my favorite images from the past twelve months, I’m always shocked to find out how much I actually did during the year, and find myself saying things like;
“Oh yeah…that WAS this year.”
The time speeds by so fast often times I’m not fully aware of how much I did see, and how many places I visited until I sit down to go over my tax forms for the year and calculate the miles driven, days spent in hotels, and other travel expenses.
I spent over 110 days away from home this past year.
I drove over 27,000 miles
I flew another 35,000+
I also walked about 300-400
When I see the numbers, it helps me put everything in perspective, and really appreciate how truly fortunate I am to be able to do this with my life. I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who reads the blog, comments or likes photos I post, buys prints, takes workshops with me, and generally helps make my life possible. It’s truly humbling to see the support, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to educate and entertain people with my camera. The files have been scoured, and I’ve whittled down the numbers to put my top
ten twelve favorite images from the past year.
IMAGE ONE- GOBLIN VALLEY, UTAH
I love this image, for one, because I haven’t seen too many shots from here that I liked and I felt like I had a lot of freedom to really work on my own compositions, and avoid repeating what others had done. It was also significant because it was a taken while hanging out with my older son while we were on a road trip to do research on his state report for school. He got Utah…and by I mean he GOT, I mean I gave him three choices, and he took Utah.
IMAGE TWO- NORTHERN CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY 299
This image is always going to be bittersweet for me. I’ve been wanting to shoot this barn for a long time, and I finally had the time and a sky that fit in with my plans. However what I’ll remember most whenever I see this image is that when I got home only a few moments later my dog died. Was one of the worst nights ever. He was old, had a good run, but it wasn’t fun.
IMAGE 3- Yosemite Falls, California
I think what I like about this shot is that it kind of fell on my lap, I noticed the early morning sun was bouncing off the walls and giving the waterfall almost a “a lava like” glow, similar to the fire-falls the masses were hoping to see. When I saw the light, and the mist rainbow that looked like flames, I had to point it out to my workshop so they could all grab some shots of our own firefalls.
IMAGE 4- Arches NP, Utah
This was a memorable shot for a couple reasons, one for me this group of students we had on this workshop was just great. All my classes are great, but this one was just funny, and we laughed a lot about the most ridiculous things. WHen I had my class lined up for this shot there were a few doubters nearby (not in my group) and they were convinced there would be no sunset. I could see a tiny gap on the horizon and I kept telling them, It’ll be quick, but great, trust me. I was only really about 60% sure we’d get something worthwhile, but I hoped (and prayed) it would come to fruition…and then the sun dropped behind the clouds, and BOOOOOM. The rocks lit up neon red…it was so cool.
IMAGE 5- Prescott, Arizona Granite Dells
This is another of those places I’d seen a lot of shots from, but nothing really stood out to me…I knew it looked like a very cool spot, but I wasn’t sure how cool it would be. I was a little alarmed with how close it was to civilization, and figured it would be really tough to shoot. It was SO much more awesome in person than it was online. I shot this with instructor and friend Ellie Stone while we were between workshops in the Southwest. We were both totally awed by this location
IMAGE 6- Palouse, Washington
This was taken on a random road in the middle of the farm country while I was scouting for new locations for my upcoming workshop. The rain was off and on all day, and storms were filtering in and out of the area all day. I stopped and watched a patch of filtered light illuminate the hillside and storms brought rain just a few hundred feet beyond. It was really cool to see, and more fun to photograph. My GPS also nearly got me stuck on a random dirt road at midnight, don’t trust your GPS in the Palouse.
IMAGE 7- Mt Shasta, California
I’d been dreaming of a shot like this for a long time. On a night prior to our workshop beginning Scott Donschikowski and I set out late to get a start on figuring out how to work this image. It took 3 flashlights placed in the windows and a couple of different exposures to make it all come together. I was a little bummed that it was copied almost exactly by a couple other photographers shortly after I put it up, but oh well. It was my idea.
IMAGE 8- Jokulsarlon, Iceland
Back to Iceland in June for a workshop, and this was one of the best displays of light I’ve ever seen at this lagoon. Perfect reflections, great light, clouds. It was epic…the whole class had a field day grabbing images of the blue ice basking in the warm glow of the midnight sun.
IMAGE 9- Hofn, Iceland
I love the Icelandic horses, they’re like rockstars the way they fling their manes, and almost seem to pose for the camera. I saw this beautiful horse as I walked up a small incline, and she turned to give me the stare. THe light was perfect too…it was a lot of fun. My friend Joe Azure even found a horse that wanted him to stay forever.
IMAGE 10- Myvatn, Northern Iceland,
You know how there’s some locations where you just seem to get amazing light every time you go there. This is that place for me in Iceland. I’ve shot there several times, and each time it’s been phenomenal light, and lasted for hours. Crazy. What I like about this particular spot is that it’s always changing. Each year when I return some things that were there the previous year have stopped smoking and bubbling, and new places have emerged…it’s wild.
IMAGE 11- Joshua Tree National Park, California
There was a 3 day stretch when I was in the park waiting for my workshop to start where Jean Day and I had three unbelievable days of storm clouds…each morning and night there were out of this world sunrises and sunsets. Super fun to have. I also almost lost my whole camera bag in the desert because I got too excited to shoot and wandered off without my bag, then the light faded and the whole landscape looked the same. It took about an hour to find it.
IMAGE 12- Manarola, Italy
This was another dream class. I was in Germany teaching a class to a wonderful group of photographers working for the US Armed Forces. Before my class began my friend David Richter and I spent a few fun filled days in Italy exploring some scenic towns. THis is a typical shot, and doesn’t have a tremendous sky, or anything…but to me it’s more about the fun of the entire experience as opposed to one specific image. This entire trip was a blast.
There were more images I liked, a lot more than I thought actually, but those 12 were the ones that combined the perfect set of elements, conditions, and experiences that made them stick in my mind. One thing I’ve noticed about the images that resonate with me is that they all tend to be taken with good people. I love to go out with friends, colleagues, and clients and make images. The ones I like the best tend to be linked directly to really great life memories, not just ones made with the camera. I hope you enjoy them. If you do please share it with others, and I’ll make you a promise to get out again in 2013 and make more images, and hopefully…and more importantly, make more memories that I can cherish and share with you.
Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year.
CUSTOMER SERVICE IN THE AGE OF CONNECTIVITY.December 7, 2012
We’ve entered a new era in consumerism. We’re in what I like to call, “The connected age.” That sounds so smart right? With internet, and social media outlets operating on all cylinders it’s very simple for every photographer to not only find products, but research them, read reviews about them, and then buy them. All from the comforts of their desk, or phone. I can now literally see a new product I might be interested in, put out a Tweet, Facebook, and Google post about my curiosity for said product, and within an hour I will have all the information I need from fellow photographers about the item to make an informed decision whether or not to purchase it.
“No you don’t wanna buy that…I opened mine and it was full of dead bees.”
GREAT. I needed to know that, I’ll take my business elsewhere.
With a majority of the photography products we consume there are a number of producers to choose from. I like to use camera bags, tripods, and filters as an example. If you want to buy a new camera bag or tripod, you’ve got a ton of options of where to spend your money, most of these options have decently made, quality products. What separates companies in this age of connectivity is one simple thing…Customer Service. For me, this is one of THE most important factors in deciding which companies I buy from, and which companies I will recommend to others.
I take customer service personally as well. For me, it’s one of the driving factors in how I run my business, and deal with clients and customers. Is it tough? HELL YES! Does it sometimes cost me extra time or money in order to do well? YES! Is it always worth it in the long run? YES.
To me customer service simply means, standing behind your product or service and working at developing a relationship with your clients and customers to keep communication lines open in order to improve products, and continue to make sure everyone feels, in the end, that the best job was done.
I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, but my goal is to try to do my best all the time, and if I KNOW I make a mistake, I try to make it right in SOME way, and here’s the kicker…EVEN IF I KNOW I WAS RIGHT. Part of my fanatical drive to be good at customer service is due to my own faults as a human. I really care about what other people think about me. Sometimes I care TOO much. If someone is not happy with me, it really bugs me. I don’t sleep well. I stress. I worry. I go a little crazy. It’s not a fun part of my personality to have. It would be nice to be able to let some things go, because you can’t possibly please EVERYONE all the time. You’re going to have people who, for whatever reason, simply DO NOT LIKE YOU.
“WHY does that person NOT LIKE ME! CAN I BAKE THEM COOKIES TO CHANGE THEIR MIND!!!!??”
The good thing about being hyper sensitive like to people’s perceptions, is that it makes me pretty good at customer service. For instance, I don’t just sell images on my website, where someone can click, and buy, and never communicate with me directly. I want to communicate with EVERYONE who buys a print from me. I want to see the process from order to shipment. I work with a printer, I know personally and have developed a relationship with. I ship my prints from a company with people I know that manage it, so I know they take care to make sure it’s packaged correctly. If something goes wrong anywhere in the process, I know who I’m talking with, and can resolve it. It may take a bit longer for me to get a product, or ship it, but I know everytime I will get the quality I want, and the people who work with me will back up their goods. They deserve my business.
I know that this prevents me from selling as many products as I could, but I don’t like being out of the loop when it comes to interacting with my customers…It’s important to me that they understand I am deeply involved with the entire process…and if there ever comes a point where all my sales interferes with my ability to keep a personalized relationship with my customers and colleagues, then I’m going to have to sit down and redesign my operating style to a new method that adjusts and keeps me in the loop as much as possible. When a customer or a business associate becomes just a number or dollar sign, your business has problems.
I take the same approach with workshops. When I teach a workshop, I’m there from the beginning to the end of the process, and then AFTER. I tell people to email me whenever, for whatever reason in regards to their photography. Sure, there are times when I get inundated with emails, and it takes an hour or two a day to answer them, but I do. I have to believe that in the long run it helps build relationships that last. Really, in the grand scheme of things, I find that most emails can be answered within 3-4 minutes, and people always appreciate hearing back to their questions.
Most of the time practicing good customer service is very simple. You turn out good products, people like you, respect you, and just want follow up on something in a positive way. The return emails and correspondence is only adding to an already good relationship. There are, however, times when you need to make something right, EVEN when you KNOW it wasn’t your fault. This is what seperates good business from one needing work. Let me give you an example;
I taught a workshop a few years ago in miserable conditions. We can’t control weather, and in this case, the weather was winning out. For me, my personal mantra with bad weather workshops is to ALWAYS give it a go, do my best, shoot whenever possible, and get as much time out in the field as can be had. IN the end I would rather try and then have to redo it, than to not try and potentially miss out on something great. Good images can be made in bad weather.
For this particular workshop the person in question missed orientation, which happens periodically in our workshops. Not everyone can arrive when they need to. Missing orientation makes it more difficult for me as an instructor to teach someone, because it starts us off behind. When a student misses orientation, I don’t know their skill level, gear, need-to-knows, want-to-knows, etc. I miss all of those signals that help me plan for how I will deal with that participant over the day(s) I work with them. I have to find out that information out at 5:30am when we’re meeting for our first shoot.
This person in question was also what I refer to as “a wanderer.” If you’ve taught enough workshops you know these people. Wanderers are mostly good. Most wanderers know their gear, have a decent grasp on composition and exposure and just like to go find their own shots away from the crowd. The primary reason most wanderers take photography workshops is just to be taken to the locations. They’re not out to really learn much, they just want the good spots at the good times of day. The problem with this particular wanderer was a lack of camera knowledge. The photographer didn’t know enough to wander with a purpose and return with something useful.
From an instructional standpoint, the needier students usually ask the most questions, and get the most help. They also tend to keep closer to me and my co-instructors. I try to walk around a lot to answer questions, check compositions, etc…but if someone wanders off ¼ mile, I’m probably not going to run you down to ask…I’ll wait until you return.
For two days our group worked through tough conditions, and got in the field as often as we could, and during down times we went over post-processing, critiques, and other creative ways to spend time while rain pours down. The workshop ended, and everyone had a really good time, despite the weather, with one exception. Like I mentioned, it was tough going. I felt good though that despite the tough conditions people still got a few really nice moody images, and learned a lot. A few people even wrote into our gallery to say they had a great time, got some good photos, and had learned a lot…and appreciated the extra effort we put in to make the best out of a hard situation. One person did not have a good time, and wrote in to express thier feelings as well. Now, it would have been easy to dismiss this letter. They missed orientation, wandered off at EVERY chance, asked NO questions, and when we asked them questions they were vague, or dismissive. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.”
When I was forwarded the complaint letter it would’ve been very easy for me to be like, “Well we really tried, this was the only person who had a bad time, they never stayed with the group, and they missed all the critique/processing sessions as well as orientation. Too bad, sorry they didn’t like it.”
I ended up writing a letter back, and bringing this person along on another one day workshop at no cost to them. This second experience, I really didn’t do much differently. I just knew now how they operated, and made subtle adjustments to work with them, and because they made it to orientation, I was able to start off with more background I hadn’t had before. The result was, a much better experience, and thankfully, the person wrote in again to compliment us, and thank us for what we did. I always appreciate when the people who complain also are quick to respond positively when the right things are done. That is being a good customer. If you have the cajones to complain to a company, you’d better be quick to respond back when they do the right thing, if they handle it promptly. While we have a really good track record with our workshops, we do teach about 400 different classes a year, and about 6000 students so we’re bound to mess up at least a couple times a year, but we always do our best to make it right and as quickly as possible.
In this “age of connectivity” good customer service and relations is everything. People’s opinions matter. Some companies get this, and some, sadly, do not. I’m going to be highlighting companies I work with, that get it. I’ll also point out some that DON’T. The more we as consumers frequent business’ run by those who get it, the more other companies will have to change for the better.
Italian Travel Tales Volume 2November 25, 2012
Silence is broken by the sound of two different iPhone alarms going off. I hear David mumble, and begin the process of preparing for our first morning of shooting. I’m up too and trying to get myself together quickly so we can move out. It’s early mornings like this where I’m very glad I’m male, and not female. I work with a lot of female photographers and they all require at least forty-fifty minutes getting ready in the morning. I couldn’t handle that crap. I’d make a horrible woman. A tall, horribly put together, mess of a woman, is what I would make. I literally set my alarm for ten minutes before I want to be driving away in my car every single day. I purposely don’t shave, grow out my hair, or do any of that other crap that might take away precious seconds of sleep time to deal with. I barely shower on shooting excursions. If you look up sexy in the dictionary, my picture is NOT there.
Thankfully I roll with a bunch of dudes who take a similar stance on morning rituals, and preparations, we always wake only moments before departure.
After smacking my head on the ceiling (if I wasn’t awake already, I am now!) I’m down stairs, and David and I are fastening our backpacks and setting off into the dark to climb the 347 steps up to the road where our car awaits. Nobody else is in the hotel is awake, a soothing calm hangs in the warm Mediterranean air. The only sounds our breath (panting from all those damn stairs), the crunch of hiking boots in the roadside gravel, and something very large thrashing in the brush near the cars can be heard.
Wait, what the F*** was that last part?
We both heard it at the same time. There was something BIG, in the brush, near our car, moving in our direction. OK, I scare easily. You need to know that. I go from a normal, mildly panicked state to OH F*** there’s a mountain cat gonna’ eat me full on panic, in like, a half-second. I (ON PURPOSE) pick travel destinations with no fawking predators just to calm my crazy ass imagination down. So it was MORE than a little disconcerting to me when I heard something clearly large, making menacing noises within the foliage near my car. And it’s dark as crap out too.
David hears the sounds too, so I’m not imagining it. He looks at me. I look at him, and we pick up the pace a bit to the car. Wouldn’t you know, whatever demon beast is causing havoc in those hundred year old grape terraces thinks it needs to follow us, and picks up its pace as well. This thing is not graceful either. It’s bulling its way through the brush, at quite an aggressive speed. It wants blood. MY BLOOD! My honest to God first thought was that one of those demon dogs from Ghostbusters was in the bushes. Hey, it was coastal Mediterranean Italy! I didn’t even consider there would be ANY animals here. Branches brake, and the sound closes.
All Bets are off. I don’t care if David dies. I’m running to that damn car. The car is between us and the creature and all I can think of is that I need to get to it before the beast comes pouring out of the brush and takes me down. It can have Richter. David apparently doesn’t care if I die either, and he’s running right along with me. I’m slapping at all the buttons on the electro-key hoping one is the correct one to unlock the doors. I see the parking lights flash, and hear the click of the doors. We fling open the doors, fly into the car, and throw backpacks into the rear seats all in one motion. I start the car, flip on the high beams, and scan the hillside looking for the beast. There’s nothing to be seen. Yeah smartass, I know you thought I was going to say, ‘and then we saw a small dog run out of the brush.’ HA! NO WAY! This creature was elusive, and disappeared to wait for its next opportunity to kill, because THAT is how those things operate.
It was still dark, we hadn’t even taken out the cameras yet and we were both sweating, and filled with unwanted adrenaline. We talked back and forth about what we thought it could be, ‘mountain-lion-cat-puma’ seemed to be the only logical answer at this point. Funny, but neither of us mentioned the fact we both ran and were completely willing to have let the other die.
We spent the morning in and around Riomaggiore and the next town over, Manarola. Though not original, we both still wanted shots of the town of Manarola, stuck on its cliff, looming over the harbor and Mediterranean Sea. Though the shot is not original, what was a welcome change was that the vantage point was empty of other photographers other than David and me. In the United States, an iconic and popular shot like this would draw in masses of camera wielding photographers and the area would be elbow to elbow, interwoven tripod legs all millimeters apart from the next, and everyone jostling to get their camera in just the right angle. It was nice to be able to set up our gear, and then just sit on a nearby bench and wait for sunrise.
Landscape photographers get up earlier than any other profession, even fisherman. David and I watched the town of Manarola come to life. As morning began to take shape, and pastel hues filled the sky, lights came on in the buildings and the first fisherman began to walk out of the alleys and make their way to their boats to set off in search of their morning catch. Photographers and fishermen are not the only early risers in the Cinque Terre. Others wander out from their homes, walk to the edge of the dock, and jump into the deep blue sea for a morning swim. It looked refreshing.
We explored Manarola for part of the morning before heading back to the town of Riomaggiore to find food. I’m ready for the cone of calamari that I had seen the night before. I’ll be there early so I’m primed to get some of the first fish of the day. I stroll in to the store only to find they are still cleaning all the fish from the morning, and won’t be ready to serve until after noon. It’s only ten in the morning now, so we opt to head back to the room and nap for a couple hours and then return for lunch in a couple hours.
Due to the lengthy travel and late night we had the previous day, and the early morning of shooting we slept a lot longer then we had planned, and awoke around four in the afternoon. Not too late, but late enough. We grabbed our gear and decided to head into the towns for food, and ultimately to photograph sunset.
My first order of business was to get a cone filled with that calamari. Determined, hungry, and pocket full of Euro coins, I set right for the tiny restaurant. I did stop to have a gelato on the way…I’m easily sidetracked by ice cream. It was amazing, and worth the small detour. We tried to park in Riomaggiore, but it was packed with locals and tourists. We even tried to get a pay spot in the garage, but it was also full. I sent David out of the car to ask the attendant if there were any spots. Their conversation was brief, and I could tell it didn’t go well. I saw David calmly asking a question, and then some angry gesturing by the attendant. David returned scrunching his shoulders.
“What Happened?” I asked…
“I think it’s full.” He responded, “He never really said anything, He just kept pointing at the sign and yelling COM-PLET-OH! COMP-LET-OH”
Gotta love Italians.
Riomaggiore was a mess, so we opted to park in Manarola where the parking was not only more plentiful, but also cheaper. Once we parked we could just walk back to Riomaggiore. The walk follows along the very scenic Sentiero Azzuro, or blue trail, a popular backpacking route connecting all five of the hill towns. The easy hike from Manarola to Riomaggiore takes only about ten minutes on foot. There are gelato stations at either end to provide sustenance for the hike. That’s important.
Once I arrived at the tiny fish stall in Riomaggiore, I was sad to see a sign reading, “SOLD OUT FOR THE DAY” on the closed door. WHAT?! They had fish at night the previous day, and now they sell out in the afternoon, before the dinner rush even? BULLSHIT! I wasn’t happy, but I had my mind set on fried calamari, so I walked a few stores down until I found an open restaurant. The cuisine is pretty typical in the region, and most restaurants offer the same or similar fare. David and I ordered up some calamari, and then walked back to Manarola to wait for sunset.
Small town Italy is nice in that it offers a chance to be relatively carefree when photographing. The larger cities like Florence, Rome, and Venice are filled with pickpockets and thieves. Gear theft is a real concern, you must be careful at all times. Here in Manarola on a pleasant Mediterranean evening David and I could set up our tripods, and sit on a stone bench drinking our blood orange juice while we waited for sunset with little worry it would be stolen. Sunset wasn’t incredible, but we enjoyed the shoot, and though we planned to do some night shooting it was quickly apparent, that it would be a long time before the stars were visible, and the noise pollution from the town would be a bit much to get the shots we envisioned in our minds. We decided instead to head back to the hotel, have a beer or three, and relax.
At the bar, I told the bartender about our morning experience with the predator,to see if he had any idea that would help shed light on what we heard.
“IS there uh…any kind of large predators in this area?” I asked as he poured two Peroni.
“What do you mean? Predators?”
“You know…mountain cats, or bears, that kind of stuff.”
He laughed. “Why do you ask?”
“UH something really big was running at us in the bushes this morning, I think it was going to eat us.”
He laughed. “Is probably wild pig. We have some of those here, they are big.”
While slightly relieved that it wasn’t a mountain cat, finding out it was a large angry boar was still a bit terrifying. I told David my discovery, and he felt the same as me. It was nice to know there weren’t puma roaming the grape terraces, but still boars are pains in the ass, and would have no issues attacking me. Note to self: park closer to the hotel just to be safe.
After our beers we returned to our room, and watched what could only be described as a very strange Italian movie. Here’s the gist of it. Neither of us spoke Italian, and there were no subtitles, but we did our best to make something of it. Here’s the summary:
A very hairy man is a deckhand on a ship. He is attracted to the main lady on the boat, who is a bitch, and a snob. One day she makes him take her out on a rowboat for sightseeing, I think. The boat dies, and he can’t get it fixed. They get stranded on the boat, and she’s not happy with her boat slave. Eventually they land on an island. They are stuck there. The boat hand decides he doesn’t like her shit anymore, so he whips her ass a lot, and eventually forces himself on her…and she becomes his slave. She seems to kind of adapt to this life and maybe even like it. It was disturbing, but done with that odd Italian-esque-ness that confuses you to the real meanings or possible hidden meanings…or if you’re really even getting it at all. Maybe it was a comedy. I’m not really sure. We both finished watching the show and were as confused as when we started. Would’ve helped to know some Italian.
The morning would give us one more shot at photographing the Cinque Terre before heading to Venice for the next two nights.
Italy Travel Tales Volume 1November 17, 2012
I’ve been back from Italy and Germany for awhile now and had proper time to digest what I saw, what I did, and what I came back with. Now it’s time to spew forth the gritty details of the experience in written form.
The purpose for my travel was to teach a course on outdoor photography and post-processing to a small branch of the US Army in Southern Germany. If you’ve never had the pleasure of going through the paperwork involved with securing a contract with the military, or any government entity I HIGHLY recommend it. Something so simple as ‘We want you to teach us this’. And ‘I would like to teach you that.’ can be strung out for MONTHS….and OH the stack of papers that needed to be filled out. The whole process test the very fiber of your make up to the point you will say, “Screw it! I don’t even care if I go anymore…”
The important thing to know is that it’s just procedure…and you’re not the only one who has to do it. It only feels like it.
The paperwork FINALLY went through, and once I knew for certain I was going to Germany I began to plan the rest of my trip. I wasn’t about to fly across the world just to spend three days in Germany, and then fly right back. If I was going, I was going to make it as productive as possible. I scheduled another couple days in Germany as well as four in Italy. I’ve always loved Italy, but never really got the chance to photograph it as well as I feel I could have. Even if for only a few days I was going to make sure I ended up there and gave it a go, after all, I was only a couple hours away. It would be silly NOT to at least try to see some of Northern Italy.
I began to coordinate the trip with my good friend David who interned for us at the Aperture Academy, and lives in Germany. I hadn’t seen David for over a year, and if my travels could also help me have some time to hang out with a friend, then I was going to do that as well. David was eager to get out and shoot as well, so the two of us pieced together an itinerary that looked as follows.
DAY 1 Arrive in Munich. Pick up car, drive to Cinque Terre National Park
DAY 2 Cinque Terre National Park
DAY 3 Drive to Venice.
DAY 4 Venice
DAY 5 Drive to southern Germany
DAY 6 Southern Germany
DAY 7 Class
DAY 8 Class
DAY 9 Class. Drive back to Munich
DAY 10 fly home.
Whirlwind? Yes. Doable? Hopefully.
The more my professional photography gig evolves, the more time I find myself in airports. Flying used to be a novelty. Terrifying, but a novelty. I flew so infrequently that I could over look the shaky science involved with a huge piece of metal floating through the air and be happy just to be traveling. Now I fly quite often, there is no novelty. I am totally focused on the law of averages that says, eventually, I WILL have some less than ideal flying conditions that will paralyze me with fear. I dread flying. I am also a cheap bastard, so of course I never fly direct. I end up with flights that have multiple connections, and ridiculous layovers. “I can save $50 if I stop in Phoenix for four hours? DONE!” These added legs add more periods of take off and landing, which are statistically the best times for planes to blow up or just flat out wreck in a wheat field.
I’m never in a good mood when I fly. I’m still excited to be traveling, but just really, really, ready to be out of the airport, and off of the plane. To help cope with my anxiety I do what I assume everyone else at the airport does, eat and drink. Come to think of it, I think that’s ALL I do in airports. I arrive. I do the mandatory check in procedures, and then walk until I find the first place to eat. Once I’ve eaten, I walk until I find somewhere to drink alcohol, when that’s done it’s off to find snacks. I am not a healthy traveler.
My poor flight planning on this particular journey gave me a 6am departure, which, because it was international, meant arriving at the airport by 4:30am, which required exiting my hotel and catching the shuttle at 3:45am, which meant I woke at 3:15am. I arrived at my hotel at midnight. My day wasn’t starting well. I chose this flight because it would put me into Munich the following morning at 9am with a full day of possibility.
The Flight Schedule was as follows.
Everything went hunky dory on the flights until Philadelphia. That airport, I think, just sucks at life. Not only are the people who work their quite unfriendly, but there always seems to be something wrong with the actual flights as well.
My flight was delayed almost immediately upon arrival due to mechanical reasons. OK, I have to ask WHY do they tell people the flight is delayed because of mechanical reasons?!?!?!? Can’t we just say it’s simply delayed. Once you TELL me something is mechanically WRONG with my aircraft, I’m going to FREAK the F*** OUT!
Why not this, “We apologize for the inconvenience, but your Philadelphia based flight crew is fluffing your chairs, and adding new magazines to the seat pockets, all to make sure your flight is at maximum comfortability. We should be boarding very shortly, Thank you for flying with us.”
While I waited in a panic, I secretly hoped the would NOT fix my plane. My phone kept going off as well, moments after the actual loud speaker announcement to let me know my flight had been delayed. Thanks, phone, got it. At least the phone never added the ‘mechanical reasons’ part.
Eventually the mechanics decided the flight was NOT FIXABLE, and they switched us to another plane, which I have to say I was NOT sad about. Although that flight was a mile away in a different terminal.
I boarded the plane, and the flight, thankfully, was without too much turbulence or other issue. I watched three unmemorable movies, and ate a rare in-flight meal which resembled chicken caught in a decorative hairnet.
When all was said and done I arrived in Munich only an hour and a half past my original scheduled arrival time. My bags made the flight as well, and once they were retrieved I met David outside the terminal to head to the rental desk to pick up my Mercedes!!!! (or similar vehicle)
Did you read the part that said, “or similar vehicle” just now? No? Me neither when I purchased the rental. All I saw was MERCEDES BENZ, and was all geeked up to drive a Mercedes for the week. SO I was a bit perplexed when instead I was handed the key to a Volkswagen Golf.
Thankfully, I am not a car snob, so I wasn’t too saddened by the unexpected change in vehicle. The car looked new, seemed fully loaded, and I was honestly just happy to be outside of a plane and inside a car, fully in charge of my travel.
Seat belts fastened, David and I left the parking garage and hit the open road. I was gonna open this Golf UP on the Autobahn! Let’s see what this baby can DO! “David, set the in-dash GPS unit for Italy, we’re heading out!”
Problem #1- Apparently Germany feels no other country exists in the EU other than Germany. Their GPS units DO NOT HAVE MAPS FOR THEM!
“Vy Vould you Vant to leave Germany silly American?”
We tried numerous times to plug in the address for our hotel in Italy and were told in multiple languages that no such place existed in the system. Super.
Thankfully David had his phone with a proper GPS unit app installed on it, and was able to, with the help of some wire wiggling, and carefully positioned folded paper, to power it up and dial in our coordinates.
Problem solved, time to open it up and hit the road.
Problem #2- Traffic around the Munich area was HORRENDOUS. It took HOURS to get to the border of Austria, which meant that I never really got to ‘open it up’ on the Autobahn.
Compounding the frustration of bumper to bumper traffic was the occasional chirping of our GPS woman letting us know, there was a “Traffic disruption ahead.”
I think ‘disruption’ was a bit of an understatement.
I’ve never driven in mainland Europe before, so I don’t recall much about pre-EU road ways other than a few bus rides in my younger days where the bus was forced to stop at border checks to show passports and what not for all passengers. ARE YOU SMUGGLING YUGOSLAVS??!?!? I recall them being long, and drawn out processes. The new EU system is much faster, and requires no stopping to show passports, or travel documents. YAY PROGRESS! While the system has improved in terms of the red-tape required to enter and exit a country, some European countries have still managed to find ways to make inter-country travel annoying.
Driving in Austria, which we did oh so briefly, requires a billet to be purchased for $10. This sticker goes on your window and grants you permission to drive in Austria. We spent more time stopping to get the billet than we did driving in Austria. But the gas station where we bought the billet, DID sell Cipsters, which are chips, and which are also delicious. I ate an entire box.
Italy, requires no billet to travel inside it’s boot shaped border, BUT they will charge you a small fortune to drive on their freeway system. Every major road has a toll system. You grab a ticket before you merge onto the freeway, and then when you exit, you go through another check-point that bills you depending on the mileage you’ve traveled on that particular freeway. It is NOT cheap.
Despite these annoyances, I rather enjoyed the actual driving. Living in rural California, and spending a large part of my driving time on the oh so boring Interstate-5, I get used to seeing nothing but flat farm country. Farm-Farm-Farm-house-Farm-Farm-House-House-Arco Station-Farm. HEY COWS!
One forgets how OLD Europe is. I saw Castles while I drove, old chalet’s, things made from real stone, and all kinds of other historical looking relevant crap. There was legitimate relics on this drive, and while Europeans may take it for granted, I didn’t…it was really cool. I’d have enjoyed it far more if Italians weren’t the worst drivers on the face of the earth.
It’s not that they are so much BAD drivers, just very rude and determined drivers. Everyone in Italy drives FAST. Not just run of the mill fast, but WELL over the posted speed limit Mario Andretti fast. The freeway has two lanes, and from what I could tell, those lanes are the very slow, and momentum killing truck lane, or the ultra fast, scary, dangerous, other lane. You must drive in this other lane at some point in order to avoid being stuck behind a giant Slovakian freight truck wanting to scratch your eyes out. When you do venture into the danger zone it is ONLY a matter of time before you face the rage of the purpose driven Italian driver. Bare in mind, there are speed limits posted on all over the place! David’s GPS is rigged with a function that tells you when a ‘speed trap’ camera is approaching on one of the overpasses or signs. According to his GPS, that was nearly all of the overpasses. This caused nobody to slow down.
The posted speed limit was about 100-120 Kilometers per hour, which is about 63-74 miles an hour. That seems pretty fair. I tried to keep my speed at a respectable limit, which was around 130 Kilometers per hour (about 80mph). That’s pretty fast, for me. Bare in mind, I knew I was being clocked at every overpass, which scared me. I was trying to keep it under control. When in the truck lane, 130kph was far too fast to drive without tailgating a semi-truck all the time, but in the other lane, it was quite the opposite. It was WAY to slow to not be constantly annoying to the other drivers.
I would see the car approaching from a long distance in the way, and in my mind feel, I have plenty of time to pass the next semi, and then move over to allow this car to pass. NANO seconds later there is a Audi RIGHT on my ass-bumper, and I mean RIGHT on my bumper…inches from it. The driver is making all kind of crazy hand gestures, flashing his lights on and off like an ass, wanting me to be out of his way NOW. I panic, and move over as quickly as I can so the car can fly past me. Know that these drivers do NOT like to slow down even a fraction off their top speed, so often you get the flashing headlights well before they are on your ass. I think they start flashing them wen they back out of the driveway in the morning. They know you are slow and want you to plan accordingly so they don’t have to drop from 250kph to 248kph. This is not just the occasional driver either, this is 75% of them. They all fly past at mach 1, and go right through overpasses that I’m being told is monitoring speeding? WTF!?!? I never once knew how fast I was able to go, and also never felt like I was going fast enough…but was constantly in fear of the speed trap, and afraid to push it more.
Driving the Italian freeway (freeway seems so ironic given how much it cost to drive on them) was cake compared to driving in an actual Italian city. I was warned ahead of time to stay the hell away from driving in Pisa, so I made sure whatever route David programmed into the GPS on DID NOT go through Pisa. The only real city of size we needed to pass through was La Spezia. There was no way to avoid this either, getting the the Cinque Terre required it. I spent a lot of the drive trying to mentally prepare for the city portion of our drive.
While the speed limit on the freeways seemed to be merely a suggestion, the cities had far more difficult challenges. For starters, painting lines and making actual lanes seemed to be too difficult, and make too much sense, so they said screw it, and just make each side of the road one large lane and let people, cars, buses, trucks, bikes, and a pant-load of scooters figure it out on their own. I found myself repeating phrases like,
“Hey you ASS! That’s not your lan—You can’t pass me no—, you can’t pass me on the righ–OH I guess you can—wait WHAT?! Hey! What are you doing? I’m HERE, HEY, I’m HERE, HEY, HEY.”
Then there were the roundabouts…which are all anxiety attacks waiting to happen. Each one made worse by the announcement from the GPS lady letting me know it was approaching.
“Roundabout approaching in 1 miles. Take 3rd exit on the roundabout.”
Every Italian city has to have 437 roundabouts. It’s a fact look it up. We saw nearly a dozen of them on our way out of La Spezia proper and into the coastal hills of the Cinque Terre. Although the road narrowed considerably as we climbed out of the valley into the hills, it was nowhere near as bad as I figured, and much easier than the city driving. We coasted along nicely keeping eyes peeled for our accommodations for the next two nights- Il Borgo Di Campi.
Perched high above the sea a couple miles from Riomaggiore, the first coastal cliff town of the Cinque Terre, sat our hotel. From the outside it looked to be quite nice. Pastel colored stucco walls, an outdoor bar, and cobblestones walkways welcomed us. An ample parking area with enough space to fit numerous vehicles sat across the highway about forty yards from the Mediterranean compound. The sun had just sat as we pulled our bags out of the Golf and headed across the street to check in.
A pleasant lady with a hearty Italian accent greeted us and rapidly checked us in.
“You will be staying in Daph-a-ne.” she said handing us a colorfully painted key chain with the word “Daphne” painted on in black. She quickly gave us some directions, filled with a thick accent, and stereotypical hand gestures, and pointed us towards our room. Neither of us picked up where we needed to go, but rather than have her repeat herself, we nodded, grabbed our bags and began the search for Daphne.
Daphne was located at the bottom of a great number of steps. The bar, restaurant, and lobby areas of the hotel are located at street level. The actual rooms, which are more like small apartments, are built terrace style into the hillside. The path down to the dwellings snakes through a beautiful garden filled with flowering plants, a multitude of grape vines, and various other fruit, vegetable, and herbs that are used in the preparation of the meals in the restaurant. If you have to be walking down a zillion flights of stairs, there certainly are uglier places to do it.
With only a momentary bit of confusion, we finally found Daphne, a pretty terracotta colored stucco building overlooking a stone patio, and the blue Mediterranean Sea beyond that. We unlocked our door, and entered the building. I immediately cracked my head on the low ceiling. That would be the first of many, many times for both David and myself.
The apartment itself was simple, but had plenty of room for the both of us. A large downstairs area had two single beds, a table, dresser, and kitchenette with 2-burner hot plate, sink, and drawers full of utensils. A small fridge sat underneath the counter. A small second story loft sits above the lower bed area with a queen sized bed, and small armoire. I put my bag on the second floor, but not before smacking my head on the inclined ceiling. The entire place was designed for people 6 foot 2 and smaller.
Excited that we are FINALLY in Italy, and at our destination, David and I waste no time grabbing our camera bags and setting off for the town of Riomaggiore. A picturesque town built into the side of the hillside looking directly over the sea. Riomaggiore is the first of five of these tiny towns that make up the Cinque Terre National Park. The Cinque Terre is an interesting National Park in that it was created not only because of its beauty, but also because of the rich culture and history of the people who settled there, and over the centuries devoted their energy to being pioneers of agriculture in the tough topography in the region. They have not only built their towns on terraces but these terraces also serve as the ground that grows the grapes, olives, and lemons the area is known for.
Each tiny town must look the same as it had a hundred years prior. Other than a light din of vehicles purring outside of the towns, walking in the foot-traffic only streets puts you in a quiet place that gives you time to reflect on what life must have been like before modern amenities. Here most people still hang their clothes outside to dry and the fisherman head out early each morning to catch the fish from the sea that will fill the restaurants, and homes for dinner that evening. Placards sit posted through these towns that show photographs from decades earlier, and although the photos are black and white, it’s hard to tell what year they were taken. Time slows here, and it’s wonderful.
David and I load back into the Golf, excited for our first chance to walk among these old cobblestone streets with our cameras. For me although I’ve been to the Cinque Terre twice before, this will be my first time in Riomaggiore, and my first time out with the camera to photograph the area. A brief drive takes us off the main road, which I mentioned is quite narrow, onto a road that is half the width, and filled with twists and turns as it winds its way down the cliffs to Riomaggiore. Several sections are only as wide as a single car, and a twenty-five yards long. It takes some getting used to to maneuver this road knowing the general speed Italians drive.
As you would expect parking in a town this tiny, where all internal roads are prohibited to vehicles, would be tough. I was so concerned with the tiny roads, roundabouts, and speeding Italian drivers that I never put any thought into WHERE I was going to park when I visited. I think subconsciously I somehow thought I would be the only one there and have no problem finding a parking spot. Oops.
There was NO place to park in the very tiny pay lot at the edge of town, and a gate made it impossible for anyone other than locals with government parking stickers to park anywhere closer to the city. That put our only chance of parking far, far, FAR, outside of town on a hill, alongside the road. I forgot my “how to figure out Italian street signs” decoder ring, so for the duration of the time in the Cinque Terre I wasn’t ever sure if I was parking in a tow-away zone, an area that was somewhat off-limits, or one that was strictly off limits, but people ignored and parked anyway. To make things more confusing, in the area where there were signs with images of tow-trucks on them, there were also the most parked cars. That pushed us farther up the hill still, until we were practically back on the main road.
We were excited, so the extra walk wasn’t going to get us down, but I would be remiss to say that we both were keenly aware that we were now walking DOWNHILL to the city, and that meant we would be walking UPHILL the entire way back to the car. Half way down we found a small side trail and staircase that led down a dark, foliage lined path, and eventually into the narrow lamp lit streets of town. Guided by the lights of our phones we took the side road and entered town.
Immediately upon entering town I wanted to start photographing. The narrow paths snaking between the pale yellow and burnt orange painted buildings, all dimly lit by dirty street lamps and faint window light was eerily and hauntingly beautiful. David and I shucked our bags and set up the tripods to shoot. It was evening, and most of the townspeople were either in the main town square where the stores, bars, and restaurants were located, or in their homes enjoying dinner. Sounds of plates clinking, and people milling about their homes reverberated through the narrow streets. A small dog barked softly somewhere on an adjacent street. You could hear his collar jingle. Lack of vehicles brings a heightened level of intimacy to a town. Here everyone knows one another, because they can literally hear what the others are saying in the next building over.
Happily snapping away, I was lost in the experience. Being in places likes this, doing work with the camera makes me truly thankful to do what I do. I might have shed a tear of joyous satisfaction if it weren’t for them.
“OOOH SORRY OUR BAD, ARE WE IN YOUR SHOT?!?!?”
American. Teenage. Girls. Even here, in a distant wonderful place, on a tiny secluded street, the noise of America can find me.
“That’s OK…no worries.” I respond. David glances up from his camera, makes a sour face, we share a silent “what the F***?,” Laugh, and get back to making photos. We wander the side roads for a while before dropping farther down to the main square. The smell of fresh foods is rich, and I’m aware that I haven’t eaten since the box of “Cipsters” at the gas station in Austria. Around me crowds of locals and tourists are walking the street with gelato, or sitting eating at one of numerous outdoor cafes. I notice a few people with paper cones filled with fresh, fried calamari. “I am going to put some of THAT in my face.” I tell David.
We explore the rest of the town, looking for places to shoot the following morning, and evening. It’s a tiny town so seeing it in its entirety isn’t a difficult task and within an hour we’ve seen it, and feel good about possible sunrise and sunset locations. It’s time to eat.
I walk into the tiny shop that has been selling the calamari filled cones, and place an order.
“Sorry no more tonight. We run out.” The lady says looking up from cleaning a Tupperware container. “We have more to-mah-roh, come back to eat then.” She smiles and returns to cleaning. I’m hungry, but the my mind was set on food from this location, so anything I substitute will only be a let down. Though she’s out of fish, she has a small cooler filled with Peroni (that’s Italian beer). David and I buy two bottles each, put one in our bags, and crack open the other and enjoy the ice-cold lager as we walk the long uphill path back to the car. While on our walk back we hear the rhythmic thumping of bass, and look to see a club has opened on the hill at the far side of town. It looks fun, but we’re both tired from walking uphill, and don’t have the desire to go back.
A short drive and we’re back at the hotel, parked, and walking down the mile of steps to our bungalow. We drop off our bags, and then immediately walk BACK up the stairs again to the hotel bar where we finish the night catching up on recent journeys over several more cold Italian beers. Good people. Good Beer, and Good stories are important to every trip.
Morning will come quickly so David and I retreat back to our residence to grab some sleep. Before turning in I nearly knock myself out smacking my head on the ceiling walking up the stairs to my loft.
Thoughts on Photography Competitions…November 14, 2012
I hate photography contests. A lot. The number one reason I hate them is because I’m hyper competitive, and I HATE losing. I hate it so much that when I lose (and that’s normally the case) I pout for a week, sometimes (most times) longer. Losing is most commonly the outcome for all of us in photography competitions. It makes sense though. Hundreds, if not thousands of people submit photos to a single competition, and if each photographer submits roughly three to five images, as you can see, that quickly adds up to an enormous amount of images to be judged. Winning with those kind of odds is pretty hard.
What I try to tell myself, when I lose, is that I’m not really losing, I’m just not popular with one judge’s opinion, and that judge obviously has not seen MY photographs. Just so you know, that doesn’t work, I don’t feel better, but I continue to tell myself that if for no other reason than to deflect the blame from my work to someone else. This is not the only lie I tell myself to help cope.
I always manage to come up with a whole slew of reasons why I did not win a particular contest. Some of the better ones are,
1) The judge is an idiot, and has no clue how much processing goes into an image, and he/she just assumed I over manipulated my photos. “These colors are REAL man, he wasn’t THERE, he doesn’t KNOW…HOW EPIC that light WAS!”
2) My photos got lost and were never seen. That receipt I got telling me my submission was accepted, probably sent automatically, and by error…MY photos, are in the trash bin, or the spam folder. I KNOW IT!
3) Personal vendetta, That judge probably HATES ME, someone told him/her not to pick me! (that’s a good fall back option.)
4) Personal favors owed to the winners. There are people I’m convinced win because they kissed up to the judges at some point. Probably liking too many photos on Facebook!
6) I didn’t name the file correctly. “Did I put the underscore in the right spot?! DAMNIT, I bet I didn’t…no wonder.”
7) I’m a horrible photographer and should just quit. I usually wallow in this realm for a good day or two at least when I lose. I think its part of the ‘grieving’ process.
Those reasons are, I’m aware, ridiculous, but they’re part of what makes me, ME. I’ve really tried to curtail things in order to avoid dealing with the inevitable loss/self-pity aftermath. The first thing I did was stop entering magazine competitions altogether, as the stress and anger that resulted from those was WAY too much sometimes. A lot of angry screaming at a defenseless computer monitor. “COLORS OF FALL THAT DAMN SHOT WASN’T EVEN TAKEN IN FALL…YOU ASS! YOU PUT THOSE LEAVES THERE…HOW CAN THE JUDGES NOT SEE!!!”
Those competitions ultimately come down to who has the most friends they can coerce in to voting for their photo, and who has access to the most computers. I couldn’t ever keep up with it, so I opted out. Plus, I got infuriated looking at horrible photos with over a thousand votes while mine sat with thirteen or fourteen. DO MY FRIENDS NOT CARE!?!?! Are my friends trapped in caves??!? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE!?
Now I only enter a few competitions a year, mostly local ones or those without a ‘People’s Choice’ because OBVIOUSLY people can’t be allowed to CHOOSE…they ALWAYS choose wrong. This focus on local fame is good in that my odds are somewhat better at actually winning with the smaller entry pool, and these contests are typically only based on the judges vote, not some bunk public popularity contest like high school prom royalty. While slightly less aggravating these contests still have issues. A new problem arises in that, while I do win sometimes, I don’t win ALL the time. THE WORLD IS NOT PERFECT!!! DAMNIT!!! I still lose…and when I lose, I lose my damn mind and end up going to the showing to see what beat me.
I’m predictably never impressed. So much so that nobody in my family will go view the show with me. Sore loser? Yes, yes I am.
“REEEEALLLY? NO WAY. That’s ****** HORRIBLE” I tell myself. Then at the end of my stroll around the gallery, I’ve dismantled the artistic credibility of all the other entries, and end up feeling somewhat better about my loss. On the rare occasion I do find some photograph acceptable of the award bestowed upon it the most I’ll grant it is a, “That’s pretty cool, I guess.”
Why do I share my poor sportsmanship with you? To help you heal. That’s why. I’ll always be a poor sport, and hate losing in my very core, it’s IN MY DNA!!!! But I can help you. Here are a few important tips to make losing more bearable, not fun, but bearable.
1) There will be other contests. The world is full of photo contests, and if you enter enough, surely you can win something at some time. Kepp trying! I assume losing on a regular basis has to numb you at some point. I haven’t found that point, but it exists right? Worse case scenario, find several of your friends or family members who are terrible photographers and invent a contest you know you can win! “HA HA I’ve won the Fox Court Photography contest!! I am a superior photographer to both of my neighbors, my roommate, and you can eat it Uncle Earl!! You are no match for my photography prowess!!!” Then you can make a trophy to put on your mantle, and add “Award winning photographer” to your resume. BAM!
2) Realize that in most cases the contest comes down to one person’s opinion, and that person may or may not have rational thought on their side. Hey, every photographer has things they like and don’t like, this affects their judgment. If the judge of your contest grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky, well, they just may be predisposed to liking (or disliking) horse photos. How are you to know? Plus most judges are elderly folk who still shoot FILM! How can their judgement be sound!!!? YOU ARE TOO OLD TO KNOW SIR how the digital world works, you can NOT be trusted to pick winning images!! I hope your fridge loser power and your stockpile of Kodachrome goes green! Not all judges are old, I may have exaggerated.
Here’s a personal example. I judged a contest once for a camera club, which was really odd for me to be on the OTHER side of the coin, but I digress, one of the shots was a very nicely composed, and technically sound image of a snail on a leaf. It was better than a large majority of the other images in their category, BUT, sad for the photographer, I happen to LOATHE shots of snails on leaves, or slugs, I don’t care. My hatred of the snail on leaf image is beyond discriminating between the two. Why?
I lost a competition once to a shot of a snail on a leaf, and it wasn’t even a GOOD shot of a snail on a leaf. That shot, in my opinion, is HACK, and not at all original. Not worthy of anything other than a happy snap in a photo album…or maybe on the cover of a childrens’ book about the letter S. In no way should a shot of a snail on a leaf beat one of my hard earned landscape masterpieces. Well it happened, and if you couldn’t tell, I’m still bitter about it. The result. This poor photographer LOST a competition because I was angry about pictures of snails on leaves. It’s ONE person’s opinion, and that opinion can be seriously clouded by life experiences. Knowing that it is ONLY one person’s opinion, and somehow taking comfort in it can help lessen the impact of losing. Also, if you know I am judging your photography competition, hide those slug on leaf shots…not gonna win.
3) Don’t enter competitions with very broad categories. Doing so will really increase the odds you lose to a shot that infuriates you. Contests with categories like “FINE ART” are a prime example. You know what kind of photography classifies as ‘Fine Art?’ pretty much ALL of it. Flowers, cute puppies, sunsets, and snails on leaves. All of these classify as Fine Art. DO you KNOW how hard it is to overcome cute puppies to win a contest? REALLY TOUGH! Turns out even the staunchest of critics are made putty by the overwhelming cuteness of puppies. If there are human babies WITH the puppies, son, your chances of winning are GONE. Nobody will give two craps about your epic sunset over the desert when puppies are playing with children. LOOK HOW CUTE THEIR EXPRESSIONS ARE!!! THOSE KIDS LOOOOOVE THOSE PUPPIES!!! If you focus your entries into contests with narrower categories, you’ll be competing against like-minded photographers with similar content, and the chances of you winning are multiplied…cute puppies CAN NOT win a landscape contest!!! Unless one were to bring cute puppies to…wait, never mind IT’S MY IDEA!
4) Once you win a contest, don’t ever enter it AGAIN. EVER! You only set yourself up for failure and sadness. Several years ago I entered a local photography show, and won NOTHING. I was SO PISSED. I vowed to work harder, make better photos and try again the next year. The following year I won first place AND Best of Show…VINDICATION! You know how many times I’ve entered that contest after that? ZERO! The chances of me pulling THAT off again, are next to nothing. That’s like winning the championship AND MVP at the same time. I can’t repeat that, might as well quit at the top.
There’s another more local contest I’m DYING to win. I lost out completely the first year…not even a participation ribbon! I was SO, so, so, angry, and so so so drunk afterward. A friend of mine won the best of show trophy, and while he was very deserving, I still kind of wanted to choke him out. I don’t handle losing well. I WAS SO SURE I WAS GOING TO WIN!!! The next year I entered and won first place in my category, but was that enough? NO! Why?! Well, I wanted to win best of show, not for the cash prize it brought with it, but for the GIANT glass trophy that accompanied it. THAT THING WAS LIKE A PHOTOGRAPHY OSCAR!!! Although I won a heavy gold plated medal for my first place efforts, I can’t let it go at that…I’m STUCK entering this damn competition until I win that trophy. Last year I didn’t even get IN the show, which was so infuriating.
If you’re wondering, I’m convinced I’m winning this year. I know it! There is the small issue of the category being ‘Fine Art’, which lets you know I’m setting myself up to lose to a shot of a basket full of puppies and kids in overalls…
5) If you can, look at the gallery of the other submissions. This will let you know ahead of time what you’re competing against. Granted, there’s no guarantee the judge doesn’t have some sick aversion to you or your style of photography, but it will let you know before you lose what your up against, and whether or not you take the opportunity. It gives you a chance to evaluate your own work against the others and make a judgment call if you really think you can win. If you find yourself going, “OH WHOA…” more than four times when looking at the competition, then you are probably going to have a tougher time winning. Judges will probably do that too.
6) Try a daily photo contest, those usually have fewer prizes, and are easier to win. You won’t win cash, or prizes…but your name and photo might appear on the interwebs and then you can brag to your homies that you won something. Who has best photo of the day? THIS GUY! BEST. PHOTO. OF. THE. DAY!
Feel free to assume that it is the best photo in the PLANET for that day as well…this will make you feel like a KING!
The last piece of advice with competitions is find something you can always win at. I’m not sure what that is for you, hopscotch, H-O-R-S-E, Pictionary, timed math tests against 5-year olds…whatever that is for you, FIND IT. When you lose your next photography competition (and you will) find that go-to win, and take it. Find your eight year old son, take them to the court, and drop fifty points on them, if possible dunk right on their tiny head, and then pound your chest in triumph, because THAT my friend is a victory that nobody can take away from you!
NEWS UPDATE NOVEMBER 2012November 13, 2012
I’m in the process of putting up some changes to the website. That all seems fine and dandy, but the real test will be to see if I ACTUALLY DO. I need to update my gallery, badly. I need to update the intro-slide show, badly. I need to update the ordering procedure as well, badly. Thankfully that last part is not something I have the knowledge to actually do, so it will probably get done. I’m going to really work on getting the other things done as well. Really, I am.
One of the major changes I’m going to put on to this site is a regular blog/news feature. Hopefully, I’ll find the time to update this regularly, and add new and interesting stories. One thing I have discovered over the past few months is that I haven’t written nearly enough. I need to get back to more regular posts of my adventures with my camera. I know people enjoyed reading them, and I enjoyed writing them. It’s time to make that happen on a more regular basis.
So what else is new?
First off, the Iceland book has been written. I know you probably don’t believe it, as it took FOREVER, but it’s TRUE. I’ve written it, and shipped it off to an editor to proof-read. Granted, it’s probably riddled with errors, so it’ll come back in need of some tune-ups, but it’s DONE. Let me tell you, writing a book is NOT as easy as I thought. This one is 317 pages long. It was a chore to write it, MUCH longer than I anticipated. Once it comes back to me and I’m happy with its ‘readability’ and feel good about it, I’ll set to putting it together and getting it ready for everyone else to read. Here’s how that hopefully will work.
I thought long and hard about it, and while I would LOVE to have it in a nice printed format that can sit proudly on a bookshelf, coffee table, or in someone’s box in a garage, it’s really expensive to do things that way. I will try to put it out to see if any publishers would like to pick it up, but as of now I’m kind of an unknown commodity, so that seems a bit difficult, but I will try. The thing that makes the most sense is to publish it as an e-book. Most people have some kind of device they can read it on, and it will allow me to put it out there with lower cost to myself, and make it available to people who wish to buy it and read it. Those people who donated gear, or in the $100 and up category to the cause of the trip, will of course, get a copy of this e-book to read as SOON as I can figure out how to do that. I’m also trying to figure out how many photos to add, where to add them, or if I should just make a second book of images of Iceland. That keeps me up at night too. Making a book is NOT easy, but I’m learning as I go, so hopefully the future books will be easier and this process will ultimately be less painful.
Speaking of Iceland, I’m headed back there this June for my fourth year in a row. I’ll be conducting my Fire and Ice Photo tour there this June 6-17. If you’re at all interested in heading to this wonderful country, not to too my own horn, but really there’s not a lot of people who know it as well as I do that weren’t born there. It’s my absolute favorite place in the world. The cost of the tour is $4995. This price includes in country transportation, rooms, and breakfast at the hotels (which are quite nice)
I know what you’re thinking THAT’S EXPENSIVE!!!
Yes, it is. Here’s some justification to help you feel better. Two years ago, I went with a friend to Iceland and JUST our car rental for 10 days was over $2300. Our fuel was another $1200. That’s over half the cost right there, and no room, and no breakfast. Iceland is not a cheap country. To see it alone or with another person is expensive, unless you live like a hobo, like I did on my first trip. If you come to a course like this, you’ll be in a nice hotel every night, and have me to drive you around all over to take amazing photographs of some amazing places. My class last year, I drove over 2000 miles. I’m a machine.
One thing that makes my tour a bit different than some of the others is that we visit the north of the country. A lot of tours I’ve seen stick primarily to the southern part of the country, which is great, and we see that area too, but the north has some of the best waterfalls and geothermal areas around, and to not visit there is a real shame. We do drive more than other classes, which is a bit taxing I’ll admit, but the photos and opportunities are so worth it in my opinion.
I also know a lot of great resources within the country so if you’re planning on staying longer past the tour, I can help to arrange lodging, and anything else you need to help make sure your stay continues to be amazing. If you have any special questions on a tour like this, please email me, I’d be happy to help answer them. If you’ve seen the new Outdoor Photographer magazine, there’s a FULL page ad for this class, which looks quite nice, and is a bit scary to see my face and pictures in that magazine.
ANYTHING ELSE NEW, RUEB?
Yes, after I’ve finished my time in Iceland this summer, I’ll be flying to Ireland to spend almost a month scouting Ireland and Scotland. We’re running ads in the British photography magazines, so it makes sense we would begin to offer some courses over in the UK. To do this properly, we need the experience IN the UK in order to best provide quality instruction. This means I’ll be loading up my rain gear and wandering the back roads and coastlines of Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, and the Isle of Skye in order to make some new images, and find quality routes to use for upcoming Aperture Academy workshops. I’ll also be writing about the experience as well. I’m not sure if it’s worth an entire book, but I will document it. It’s sure to be entertaining.
Other than planning for Ireland and Scotland, I’ve been quite busy teaching a variety of workshops with the Aperture Academy all over the Western U.S; Yosemite in October, Zion in November, and the San Francisco Bay Area in December and January. Some of these classes still have spots available, and if you’re interested in a fun day or weekend getaway with the camera they might be right for you.
In the days and weeks to come, I’ll expand more on some of the things I’ve been up to in recent weeks, as well as wax poetic on some photography issues and topics that interest me, but until then welcome back aboard, and enjoy the ride.
A Quick UpdateNovember 8, 2012
We’re making some changes on the site. If you see anything that looks a bit off, we’re probably already working on it.
Lots more news to come soon!