Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Evening magic in Bangladesh

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Bay of Bengal

The above might be one of my personal favorite photos, taken at twilight on the southern coast of Bangladesh, on the beach of a small village called Kuakata. It was well after sunset, and I was shooting my D700 handheld at ISO 6400, f/2.8, and 1/8 second shutter speed. What makes the photo for me is the warm colors of the woman in the photo (a Bangladeshi living in Dhaka; it was her first time seeing the ocean). She should, of course, be a completely black silhouette devoid of detail – but I was lucky enough that another person was taking a picture of her, and his autofocus assist lamp shed a tiny bit of light on her. Since I was shooting at such high sensitivity, that extremely dim lamp was enough to light her up perfectly.

Since the last time I updated this blog, I have moved back to Washington DC, gone back to shooting for the Washington City Paper, started a new day job, flown across the country to shoot a major Ultimate tournament, visited four different countries, bought a Nikon D4, broken multiple bones in my face, and taken lots of photos. Needless to say, it’s been a while. In the next few days, I’ll update the blog with some highlights from the last few months. Then next weekend I’ll shoot this year’s USA Ultimate Club Championships, which will eat up all my photo-editing time for like a month. Never a dull moment!

Two months in Colombia

Friday, August 12th, 2011


I recently returned from spending two months doing academic research in Colombia. (If you’re interested in what that research was all about, check out my guest post at my friend Dave Algoso’s development blog.) Most of my time was spent in Bogotá, the capital city, conducting interviews and doing book research of primary sources not available in English, in the United States, or online. Bogotá is a pretty nice city in which I generally felt safe, with one exception: whenever I was carrying my camera. So I took very few photos over the past two months. Here are some of the shots I did manage to take. Above is the view of Bogotá from Monserrate, part of the mountain range that forms the eastern limit of the city. (Here’s a panoramic view.)

Rock al Parque



Above: first, a vendor hard at work cooking food at Rock al Parque, South America’s largest outdoor music festival that takes place every year in Bogotá’s Parque Simón Bolivar. Second, a typical street vendor in downtown Bogotá, selling all sorts of random things including cell phone service. Third, a pair of street performers dancing downtown on the date of a major tango competition.

I did make it out of Bogotá for one five or six-day jaunt into the jungle of Urabá, the region of Colombia that borders Panama. This is not exactly a touristy area, as it’s hot and wet and lacks much of any transportation infrastructure (the entire Pacific coast province of Chocó is almost entirely devoid of major roads; instead, residents use rivers for transportation). I was there on a human rights delegation visiting “humanitarian zones” – civilian communities resisting forced displacement at the hands of illegal armed actors and economic developers – and took a bunch of photos in the process. Unfortunately, for reasons of safety and consent I can’t post any photos that depict community members. So here are a few totally random shots I like:


Jungle Hike

African Palm

Time to Walk

Predawn in Apartadó

First: a house for guests and accompaniers in the humanitarian zone of Camelias. Second, the “trail” we hiked between two of the zones we visited, after a night of hard rain. Third, remnants of an African palm plantation, which used to proliferate in this area as an export industry, but in recent years have been reclaimed by residents after massive negative PR for palm oil companies. Fourth, our means of transportation on one of the few available roads breaks down, forcing us to walk past a huge military encampment to the nearest town. And lastly, predawn in the town of Apartadó, which has the nearest airport.

A few more shots at this set on Flickr.

Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Laguna Toreadora

Going to do a few long-overdue posts – in this case, from over a year ago. (This one’s kind of a long one.) In December 2009, I did a great one-night backpacking trip with two friends, Vicki and Amy, through El Cajas National Park in the southern part of the country (yes, El Cajas – the name is actually derived from Quichua, not the Spanish word “caja”). Cajas sits at 12,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level, home to hundreds of alpine lakes, imposing mountains, and unpredictable weather. As we found, days in Cajas often start off beautifully, but in the mid-afternoon, dense fog sets in – we were warned several times before our trip to be careful, because unprepared hikers often get lost in the fog – and heavy rains may follow shortly after.

Details of the trip and tons of photos after the jump.


Iceland Part 3: Jökulsárgljúfur National Park

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Overlooking the Jökulsá

Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is a long, narrow park in northeastern Iceland. It shares some superficial characteristics with Shenandoah National Park in the United States, except rather than running along the ridge of a mountain, it follows the path of the massive Jökulsá River, which flows south-to-north, starting at the massive Vatnajökull glacier in the southeastern part of the country. We hiked the park from its northern end to the southern tip, a modest trip totaling about 21 or 22 miles.

Photography-wise, this was not the best two days of the trip. It was fortunate for us as backpackers that we were presented with two brilliantly clear, sunny days, perfect weather for being outside. However, the constant sun for nearly 20 hours a day meant that basically all of my photos were taken in harsh, direct sunlight, hardly a recipe for great work. So while the scenery on this hike was pretty great, the photos are not – sorry about that. (My photos from our second hike are far, far better; we’ll get to those eventually.)

Bus at Ásbyrgi

We started by hopping on a bus from Akureyri at 8:15am, which took us through the fishing village of Húsavík and then to Ásbyrgi – a bizarre geological feature at the northern end of the park. Ásbyrgi is basically an enormous horseshoe-shaped canyon, supposedly carved out in a matter of days by a massive tide of water flooding from the south after a volcanic eruption somewhere in Vatnajökull. Sheer cliffs of up to 100 meters in height were created in an otherwise featureless, flat landscape. Most day-trippers explore the canyon itself, but our hike led us up the side of the cliff to a beautiful view atop the canyon. From this vantage point I shot a fairly artless photo that I’ll post here just because it shows the scale of things (note the mass of people near the bottom of the photo):

Ásbyrgi cliff

After admiring this scenery for a while, we began the hike in earnest, heading south through a landscape that was almost completely flat, covered in low brush, grass and moss and very little other vegetation. In most of our hikes in Iceland we felt a bit like we were on the top of the world because the views were so expansive in every direction. This first day of our Jökulsárgljúfur hike was notable in that respect but not too many others, as aside from the beginning (Ásbyrgi) and end (Hljóðarklettar), the scenery was beautiful but hardly unique or mind-boggling.

But then we came to Hljóðarklettar, and we happened upon things like this:


Scale is difficult here, but this large area of the park was filled with enormous hills made up of columnar basalt formations like these: strangely geometric shapes of rather large size, resulting from the quick cooling of lava flows. I found these rather beautiful in a slightly odd way, something I could say of much of what we ended up seeing in this country. In any case, we explored Hljóðarklettar a bit but were mostly eager to make it to our first campsite, Vesturdalur, which was a developed campsite complete with running water and toilets. We paid a small fee to camp, pitched our tent in the only rainfall of the day, and fell asleep sometime during the long dusk.

The next day, our hike took us right along the edge of the cliff overlooking the Jökulsá River (see the headline shot or below). We hadn’t seen much of the river during the first day, but it became a constant companion on the second day. Weirdly, the river wasn’t so much picturesque as it was kind of disgusting – the water was an opaque milky-gray as a result of all the volcanic ash collected by the river on its way from Vatnajökull far to the south. We certainly wouldn’t be able to rely on it for drinkable water, which became an issue later in the day.

Jökulsá River

As the day wore on, the hike became more and more featureless, particularly when the trail moved away from the river into open land. We hiked for hours on one particular section in which all we could see in any direction was rock, dust, sky, and literally nothing else, with a strong wind blowing directly into our faces. When at last we came to our campsite at the southern end of the park, we were low on water and energy, and the campsite offered little comfort: shelter from the incessantly blowing wind was minimal at best, and there was no water available. The park supposedly keeps two large canisters filled for campers, but these were almost empty when we arrived, with barely half a liter of water left:

No water

There was no water source nearby that we could tell, and with only about a liter of water left for the night and the next morning, we began contemplating double-filtering and then purifying the filthy water from the Jökulsá. We pitched our tent and I went in search of water; luckily, on the trail to Dettifoss, the waterfall at the southern tip of the park, I discovered what appeared to be a rainwater pond – literally the only fresh water we’d seen in the previous 5-6 hours of hiking. The pond, though it was standing water, looked clear enough, and with our water problem solved we were finally able to relax and go check out Dettifoss…


…which was, in a word, awesome. The largest waterfall in Europe by volume, Dettifoss let off an incomprehensible roar of sound, kicked up spray that was visible a mile away, and generally dwarfed the senses when approached. We stood in awe for some time and I tried to figure out some way to capture it on camera that would do some justice to simply standing in the presence of that kind of natural power. I failed, of course, but hopefully the above photo and the others the gallery give some idea. This was far from the prettiest waterfall we saw on our trip, but it was definitely the most impressive.

And then we settled in for a miserable night’s sleep: miserable because our tent was pitched on volcanic ash that blew into the tent all night, giving our respiratory systems fits. Luckily, the next day we were just catching a bus to a nearby town, Mývatn, and so could afford a terrible night of little rest. Mývatn ended up being one of our favorite places in Iceland, and the subject of the next entry.

In the meantime, check out more photos at the updated Flickr set!

Iceland Part 2: Akureyri

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Falling Fence

This will be a bit of a short one, as we only spent a single afternoon in Akureyri, the “capital of the north” (check out this map for some geography help). Akureyri is an eclectic mix of things including a quaint, pedestrian-friendly downtown; a huge mall surrounded by a big parking lot and wide streets; and some outskirts that seem to consist in large part of weirdly pre-fab looking cookie-cutter housing. As we only had an afternoon (we arrived in the early afternoon and left early the next morning for Jökulsárgljúfur National Park), we spent most of our time in the pedestrian-friendly downtownish area, aside from a trip to the mall to buy some stove fuel for our upcoming backpacking trips.


Akureyri, like Reykjavik, has an imposing church overlooking the center of town, although this one has nothing on Hallgrímskirkja. Those steps lead straight down to the downtown area and the pedestrian-friendly Hafnarstræti, with a huge number of restaurants and cafes, of which our favorite by far was a tiny Indian Curry Hut staffed by a single very dark-skinned Indian man and a very blond, tall, and slightly clumsy Icelandic woman. The entire restaurant, kitchen aside, included a counter for taking orders, two barstools in front of a shelf that served as a table, and room to stand for perhaps two people. And it was tasty!

The one sightseeing activity we indulged in was a trip to the Akureyri Botanical Gardens, which happened to be right behind our hotel. This was a pretty awesome botanical garden, featuring all kinds of flora neither of us had ever seen before. I came armed with a macro lens and got a few shots I like:

Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Aside from going to the botanical gardens, eating, and running a few errands for the backpacking trips, we pretty much relaxed in the same way we did in Reykjavik, by sitting in cafes and watching people. Most of the activities in the Akureyri area seemed to require a full day, and as we only had part of an afternoon, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do other than wander around. So that’s what we did.

Wireless Akureyri

Cozy Cafe

Finally, after nightfall – which of course wasn’t until 11pm or so – we retired back to our hotel, which was really more of an expensive hostel, and prepared for the next morning, when we would hop on a bus to Jökulsárgljúfur. Backpacking photos coming next!

Iceland Part 1: Reykjavik

Friday, August 27th, 2010


Mary and I kicked off our two-week Iceland honeymoon with three days in Reykjavik, giving us a chance to have a relatively relaxed start to our vacation before we started traipsing all across the country. Reykjavik is a very modern, very European, very fashionable, very expensive, very safe, and very small city. It’s also very photogenic, although I quickly realized that a severe downside to summer days with 20 hours of sun is that, well, that’s a whole lot of direct sunlight and not too many opportunities for good outdoor light except on cloudy days.

We did a number of the classic touristy things that one does while in Iceland’s capital city; visiting the immense, imposing Hallgrímskirkja church was one of the first, although it wasn’t until the second time we went that I got the above headline shot (the light was just terrible the first time). We also spent quite some time hanging out in cafes – Reykjavik is well-known for an abundance of coffee shops, most of which serve excellent coffee and have a lot of character. Our favorites were Cafe Hljómskálinn, a two-story octagonal building right on Lake Tjörnin downtown, and Babalú, a ridiculously cute and friendly cafe just down the street from Hallgrímskirkja. We spent some time there browsing the Reykjavik Grapevine, the local alt-weekly English-language paper that turned out to be absolutely hilarious:


Probably the most touristy thing we did was spend an afternoon at the Blue Lagoon, the most famous of the country’s countless hot springs, which has become developed into a massive tourist attraction thanks to its location halfway between Reykjavik and the international airport at Keflavik. Just outside the main hot springs, one can wander around the creepily opaque-white water and peer at the geothermal power plant in the distance:

The Blue Lagoon

Inside the facility, it looked more like this…

The Blue Lagoon

Our hotel was about a 20-minute walk from downtown, walkable either through the main downtown drag or along the waterfront. We walked back along the water one evening and were treated with dramatic dark skies while the sun was still fully out: a really neat combination that tends to happen in mid-Atlantic North America only right before or after big thunderstorms. It turned out to be a pretty common occurrence in Iceland, which both of us thought was rather awesome.

Late afternoon, II

The morning of our final day in Reykjavik, before we boarded a noonish flight to Akureyri (Iceland’s second largest city at a whopping 17,000 people), I wandered down to the harbor in the hopes of catching a few photos of the harbor at work. I underestimated the time it took to get there, though, and ended up just shooting some photos at what seemed to be a near-abandoned pier. Although it wasn’t what I set out to do, I ended up with some shots I’m very happy with, like this macro of a rope tied to the pier:

Reykjavik Harbor

And this semi-closeup of a building under construction on the waterfront, east of the harbor:

Under construction

Walking back from the harbor, I stumbled across the city’s main Catholic church, which while not nearly as visually striking as Hallgrímskirkja, definitely had something of its own charm, especially in the crisp morning air with no one around. I spent some time walking around the church and looking for different angles; I’m happiest with this shot, using one of the statues in the front lawn as a foreground subject.

Catholic Church

And then later that morning it was off to Akureyri – and the beginning of our trip around the far less-traveled parts of Iceland, including a couple of multi-day backpacking trips through some astounding scenery. Photos to come, of course! In the meantime, check out all my posted photos of our first three days in Reykjavik, over at Flickr.

(Also: the people of Reykjavik made for fantastic photo subjects, but I didn’t really get around to taking a ton of people pictures until we returned to the city for the last couple days of our trip. So those are coming later.)

Honeymoon in Iceland (sans photos)

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Why no posts for so long?  I’ve been traveling in Iceland for two weeks for my honeymoon, and am writing this from a cafe in Reykjavík.  Unfortunately, I idiotically left my camera cable at home and have no way of processing or uploading the 32+ gigabytes of photos I’ve taken so far.  We’ve had a fantastic trip so far, which has included several days here in Reykjavík, a few days exploring other towns like Akureyri and Lake Mývatn, and two long backpacking trips, one through Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and the other on the Laugavegurinn, a trail that our guidebook calls “one of the world’s great hikes,” an assessment which may only be a minor exaggeration.

Things we’ve seen so far: tons of beautiful landscapes, lots of eerily bubbling hot springs and steam vents, wacky local fashions (wildly patterned tights are a big thing here), lots of blonde people, crazy buses capable of fording large glacial rivers, some very interesting foods, the most delicious butter we’ve ever had, endless sheep, cows and horses, plenty of European tourists, very few Americans, a man we took to calling Beowulf, and more. Of course, there will be photos to come (I’ve tried not to let my photography totally dominate our honeymoon, but it’s up to my wife to decide whether or not I actually succeeded).  Sorry for the hiatus and the photo-less post, hopefully it’ll be worth it.

From the jungle to a 14,000-foot alpine lake

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Exiting Cajas National Park

I tried and utterly failed to do a post-facto travelogue for my two-week trip to Beijing in August 2008, but here I am failing to learn any lessons and trying again with my recently completely two-week trip to Ecuador. As with the Beijing trip, I traveled heavy on cameras and have a ton of photos to share, and figured I might as well string them together with some prose that may or may not be interesting to friends or helpful to random Internet surfers looking to plan a trip.

The trip was split into several different phases, as follows:

  • Phase 1: The Northern Amazon (Orellana and Sucumbíos provinces): working with the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía
  • Phase 2: The Middle Amazon (Napo province): interlude in Misahualli and Tena
  • Phase 3: Among the Kichwa (Pastaza province): guinea pigs for a new ecotourism operation
  • Phase 4: Tourists in the Northern Sierra (Pichincha province): lazy days in Quito with stops in Papallacta and Mindo
  • Phase 5: The Southern Sierra (Azuay province): exploring Cuenca
  • Phase 6: Cajas National Park (Azuay province): backpacking at 14,000 feet
  • Phase 7: Back to Quito (Pichincha province): half-days in Cuenca and Quito before heading back to the States

I’ll try to write up each of these in turn to accompany my photos (above: one of the last photos I took on the trip – the road out of Cajas National Park). Stay tuned.

Two from Ecuador

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Quito por la noche

A couple largely unprocessed shots from Ecuador thus far. My photos from the oil waste pits will have to wait, but here’s just a brief update. Above, Quito at night, taken from the inside of a school bus that one of our party managed to hire as a taxi. Below, riding through the jungle in the back of a pickup truck – near the oil production station of Atacapi, in the Succumbios province near Lago Agrio.

Camioneta a través de la selva ecuatoriana

Much more to come, just wanted to upload a couple quick ones before embarking on Part 2 of the trip (Cuenca and the southern Sierras).

Off to Ecuador

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Gear for Ecuador

As mentioned in my last post, I’ll be in Ecuador for the next two weeks. My exact plans are yet to be nailed down, but roughly speaking, for the first week I will be in the rainforest, doing some pro bono photography work with the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía. We may follow that up with a visit to the remote Cuyabeno National Wildlife Reserve, or I also have an opportunity to do more photography work, this time with an indigenous fair-trade tea cooperative that is just starting up. For the second week, I’ll be doing some backpacking around the Cuenca area, perhaps in Cajas National Park, with a group of friends.

I last went to Ecuador for a brief visit in 2006. I didn’t even bring my D70 because I was traveling super light – one small backpack for 10 days – and didn’t want to have to be worried about carrying such an expensive piece of gear around. This time, I’m bringing my D700 with grip, D300, 14-24/2.8, 50/1.4, 90/2.8 macro, a borrowed 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR (decided the 80-200/2.8 would be too much to lug around), and an SB-800. It’s all insured so at least I have that peace of mind. I really prefer traveling light, but camera gear pretty much precludes that possibility. The bag pictured above with my gear weighs an appalling 33 pounds, 6 ounces.

Speaking of that bag, I’m violating the cardinal rule of never using unfamiliar equipment for the first time on a trip. That thing is a LowePro CompuPrimus AW backpack (pictured above with my gear stowed away in it). I wanted one pack I could travel to the rainforest with that held all my gear as well as all my laptop, clothes and other necessities. The CompuPrimus is one of the few photo packs I found that is big enough to do that. Unfortunately, it is an extremely idiosyncratic pack and I’m sure I’ll be getting used to it throughout the trip.

Also new to me is the 70-300, but I’m not really worried about that – seems like I can figure it out pretty easily, although it is the first lens I’ve ever used with VR (!).

More on this trip coming later, obviously!