And the Winner Is?

August 23, 2014

Well I guess it is that time of year again.  Here are the photographs that I will be entering into the Fresno County Fair this year.  Which one do you like best?  Is that the same picture that you think will do the best at the fair?

What’s Old is New Again

May 18, 2014

Every once in a while you need to stay away to get real perspective. This is true in most aspects of our life, but for me it is especially important in photography. This morning I went through some old files from my trip to Palau. Those pictures are now over two years old. Of course the first thing I did when I got home was to sort through the 1,400+ pictures and work on the ones that I liked the most. Some pictures turned out, others did not. Then, I eventually stopped working on those pictures, satisfied that I had achieved everything that I could out of those shots. Then I went shooting somewhere else and the Palau pictures disappeared from my workflow.

Yesterday, a friend told me he was interested in buying one of the pictures from my Palau gallery. He told me which one he wanted and I went back and took a look at the file. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. It was a fine shot, but it was one of those situations where I asked myself “why did he chose that shot” and I couldn’t figure it out. So I went back and started with the picture from scratch, working only with the RAW files. Since I last worked on that picture, my skill has grown and I have learned some new tricks. Needless to say the new version of the picture was a marked improvement over the earlier version. Now I see why my friend wanted to buy the picture; it really is quite striking and taken in a location unlike anywhere else on earth I have ever been or imagined.

This, of course, helped me waste most of my morning because I went back and worked on a few other old favorites from Palau. Some of them I started from scratch again with and really liked the result, others I only made minor changes or crops to. Then I came across a picture that I had always liked, but never put any work into. The picture presented challenges that I did not know how to overcome two years ago. This particular picture was taken on a small Rock Island beach where they had filmed a few of the many iterations of the “reality” show “Survivor.” We were taking a lunch break in between dives and our captain beached the boat and we all hopped overboard onto a completely unoccupied and seemingly untouched beach. It was the kind of place where if I had to be marooned, I would choose this location. It also could not be considered “roughing it” since the show producers had build some picnic tables, outdoor grills, covered canopies, and outhouses for the survivor contestants and staff (they never show that part on the island I’m sure).

I really like how the resulting picture turned out. But more than how the picture turned out, I am most grateful for how working on the picture made me feel. I was transported back to that place. I can remember standing in that exact location. I remember exactly where the boat was in relation to where I was standing and how it was tied off. I remember how warm and humid it was. I remember the small thermocline in the water which was like a bathtub until a small wave would bring cooler water up over my feet. My trip to Palau has easily been my favorite vacation. I don’t know when or even if I will ever be able to take another vacation like it again. That trip was over two years ago, and every once in a while I have that little moment where old is new again, and I am transported back to that place. I guess that is one of the biggest reasons I got into photography to begin with. I may live in a standard suburban neighborhood in Fresno, but in just a few minutes I can be standing in Yosemite where the landscape is so diverse it is overwhelming, my lungs can pretend to take in the cool marine air of Big Sur, I can smell the rain while the sun is setting in Hanalei Bay, I can taste the brackish water of jellyfish lake, I can see the sharks circling while being hooked into the reef 50 feet down at blue corner, and I can feel the soft sand and changing water of Survivor Island. But eventually I have to return to reality and realize... here I am in Fresno. Until my next escape, temporary as it may be.

Survivor Island Panoramic


May 16, 2014

I don't normally do people. Get your mind out of the gutter. I recently took some very nice pictures of one of my friend's children with some family portraits as well. The day went very smoothly. I captured some great smiles and action shots. During the day, the parents would often tell their two year old daughter "say cheese" when I was taking pictures. I didn't think anything of it and just kept snapping away. I don't know why, but I never told her to "say cheese" at any point all day. Perhaps that makes me a bad child photographer since that really is one of the oldest tricks of the trade. As I left I said goodbye to the family and the little two year old girl. She said goodbye and I walked out the door. Apparently as soon as the door closed she gave me a second goodbye, stating "goodbye cheese." And a new nickname was born. Apparently I will always be connected with a camera to this little girl. Either that or she thinks of me as separated curds and way. But I'm still a touch honored to receive yet another nickname. It is better than some of the ones that I've had ("muffin", "TBMF") but not as cool as other ones ("Big Smooth" was my favorite). However, this new nickname got me thinking... Why do we tell children to "say cheese" when we are taking their pictures?

I understand that if a child speaks it opens their mouth making for a more natural looking smile. But why "cheese?" Does the thought of cheese make children smile because they have fond word associations with cheese? Does the word evoke happy thoughts of pizza or sandwiches? Then why not just have then say "pizza" or whatever their favorite food is? Is there something inherent about the word "cheese" that makes it easy for small children to say? I've never heard of a child saying "cheese" as their first word, although I'm sure it has been a child's first word. In fact I would bet it was John Pinette's first word. But I've never heard of it being a common first word. So seriously, why cheese? If I don't figure this out soon it will cheese me.

Negative Nelly

May 10, 2014

My biggest complaint about photographers is that they are the most kind and wonderful people in person, but are some of the most mean spirited writers; the internet is full of them. They have bad attitudes...  “My camera is better than yours, your picture sucks, my picture shows that I am so much smarter than you are” etc. I hate the negativity. And that makes me a hypocrite with my last post which has now been removed. I don’t want to be the guy who trashes a photographer I’ve never met, especially because his employee said two things that unnecessarily cheesed me. We should aspire to let the small negative things go and focus on things that we enjoy. For me, I am at my happiest whenever I can enjoy being outside experiencing nature, and trying to capture the moment. I will let that be my focus.

Firewater Full

Take the Road Less Traveled, and Stop to Walk in the Rain

May 8, 2014

Enough cliches? Sometimes they are true. A few weeks ago I was leaving a conference in Monterey to head home back to Fresno. Not surprisingly, neither Nicole nor I were in any hurry to return to Fresno so we took the long route home. Instead of the usual three hour drive, we took the seven hour scenic route through the rain down Highway 1 from Monterey all the way to Cambria and then back east to Fresno. As we were driving along we stopped at McWay falls in Big Sur. There was nobody parked along the side of the road since it was pouring. Nicole wanted to get out and see the falls so we went for a walk not caring that we would have wet clothes for the next six hours of the drive. I left the camera gear in the car since there was no way I was going to set up in such heavy rain. We walked out to the lookout and spent some time looking at the falls and surrounding scenery before sauntering back to the car. When we got to the car I took a look out and saw a break in the storm heading our way. I asked Nicole if we could hang out for a few minutes to see if the clearing would track our way. As luck turned out it did and I grabbed my camera bag and Nicole and I headed back out. I was able to set up at about three spots along the path before I had to pack up and head back since it started raining again. Some of the shots still need some work, but I’m pretty pleased with how this one came out. Most classic shots of this often photographed waterfall show nice blue skies, but I like clouds.

As it turns out, it rained for the rest of the short roadtrip, and I wasn’t able to set up anywhere else. However I saw some great new locations that I will have to revisit on a later day. Too often, I find myself rushing out to spots to take pictures either at sunset and sunrise and then I am disappointed if I miss the good light. This trip reminded me of a valuable lesson. Sometimes you just need to be patient and take photo opportunities as they arise. I will still plan photography trips with locations, weather, and light in mind... but sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

Photography Bucket List

November 14, 2013

Short of winning the lottery, I doubt I will every be able to cross all of these off my list. But anyone who knows me knows that I dream big, so here it is... my ever changing photography bucket list in no particular order.


1) Rock Islands in Palau from the air: I came so close to crossing this one off the list on my trip to Palau in May 2012. I had booked a flight on a small airplane to take an aerial tour of the rock islands, Peleliu, and Palau. The company that owned the plane was even going to take the doors off the plane so that I wouldn't have reflections in my shots. Sadly my plane crashed 3 weeks before my arrival in Palau, killing all three passengers including 2 police officers who were providing support stopping poachers in Palau waters. At the time, that company and that singular plane was the only way to see Palau from the air. Since I've left, another company is flying helicopters with the doors off for tours in Palau. I guess I just have to go back.

2) Kauai "Tunnels" Hike through the second tunnel: Back when I was 21 I went on this long day hike by myself through the interior of Kauai which leads to two tunnels and then to the base of Mt. Wai'ale'ale. I made it through the first tunnel without problem, but finding the second tunnel in such dense jungle became a bit of a struggle. Even though it was less than 100 yards from the end of the first tunnel, it took me almost 2 hours to find. By that point I had lost my map, consumed over half of my water, and the day was getting late. I pulled the plug on going through the second tunnel. It didn't help that although the second tunnel is shorter than the first (7/10 of a mile as opposed to just over a mile), the second tunnel is only 5 feet high for the entire stretch. Being 6'2" I was not looking forward to any more head strikes after traversing the first tunnel which was about 6 feet tall. Part of me really regrets not going through that second tunnel, but it gives me motivation to go back and do it again.

3) Night Star Trails around Hanalei Bay Pier: I need clear skies and a new moon. I'll have to plan my next trip accordingly.

4) Flowing Lava from Kilauea: I've been to the national park on the Big Island and I have done some hiking around the park, but I did not come upon flowing lava. I just like the thought of standing on and witnessing part of the world that is minutes old.  

5) The Maldives: Any tropical paradise literally half away around the world which might disappear in my lifetime due to global warming has to make this list.


1) Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights): I've done a lot of reading about photographing Aurora Borealis, and I really want to give it a try. It seems like one of those experiences where you can stand there looking at the sky and understand why ancient religions believed that this phenomenon was caused by gods.

2) Alaska National Parks: I've spend a very limited amount of time in Alaska and almost all of that was fishing. Even that short experience made me realize how beautiful that landscape was. I want to experience more of it.

3) The Poles: The South Pole in summer isn't exactly warm, but from what I've seen in other people's work, the environment looks like there are so many prime photographic opportunities both landscape and wildlife. The North Pole has so many interesting looking icebergs that I would love to see them for myself. I hate to give Kubota's favorite photographer credit, but his "world famous" shot is pretty spectacular.


1) My Point Reyes Trawler lit from the inside: I hope to scratch this one off the list in the next few months. I've tried before and failed (read "Failure is Always an Option" below), but I'm sure I can make it happen next time.  

2) Bristlecone Pines: As the bird flies, these are not far from my current location. However to get to them is about an 8 hour drive. Since I want to do sunrise, sunset, and night pictures at an elevation in excess of 10,000 feet it should be quite cool.

3) Far Northern California Coast: Another pretty easily doable mark on my list. As a kid growing up, "vacation" was packing up the pop tent trailer and heading for the Southern Oregon or Northern California Coast. I have some vivid memories of a few places along the way that I want to see if I can accurately capture what my child's mind remembers.

4) Big Sur: I want it all. I want to spend a lot more time there. I've done a couple of quick trips to take location specific shots (see "Firewater"), but I want to hike and explore that entire coastline.

Rest of the Country

1) 911 Memorial: The history nerd in me knows the historical importance of this location. It is the only real human disaster I have lived through. I've never been to New York, but to stand and see how large the foundations of those buildings were which correlates with the scale and severity of what happened there is very inspiring to me. To be able to stand there I think would also give me a greater appreciation for those brave men and women who had to endure that day.

2) Twisters: No you don't have to thank a horrible Hellen Hunt and Bill Paxton movie for this one... although I would have every intention of blaring Van Halen's "Human's Being" in the vehicle that I am driving to track one down. I love the thought of getting close to and capturing this type of extreme weather. Also with extreme weather comes extreme colors. 

3) Washington D.C.:  I've been to DC once while in college. I want to go back, spend some time and capture the history. Being in DC fills just about everyone with a different sense of patriotism, and I'd like to capture that feeling and bring it back to my home. I'm especially interested in the Vietnam War Memorial. I studied that war extensively in college so I feel a real connection to that memorial. I suppose Kennedy's eternal flame at Arlington would also be a major highlight.

4) The Northern Midwest: A place that has always captivated my imagination, yet I've never been even close to it. I'd love to explore Montana, the Dakotas, and the national parks in the middle of the country. The "Badlands" look like they are a photographers paradise along with the prairies in Utah.


1) Africa Generally: I guess it's a pretty easy choice to see large animals and predators. I don't know much about the continent and which areas are the best to visit, but from what I've read, seen, and heard, it is something I certainly want to experience.

2) South Africa, False Bay, Seal Island: Air Jaws. What would be a better wildlife shot then capturing great white sharks breaching out of the water to catch prey? This location has been made famous by "Shark Week" and I'd love to go from the couch to the boat to witness and capture it with my own eyes and camera. I have this crazy idea to be on the infamous "seal sled" and capture a half below/half above breach of a great white shark with the head and mouth above water, the rear and tail beneath water during a breach, with my camera lens split between top and bottom. This of course will require special equipment, risk, and extremely good luck... but I want to make it happen.

3) Bears: I have one good shot of a brown bear from Yosemite, but I want to see more. If I get my wish to go explore the national parks in Alaska as mentioned above, this one will easily be fulfilled. I especially want to see grizzly bears hunting for salmon at streams with small waterfalls.   Also I would like to see and photograph polar bears as part of the "Cold Weather" trips. Another incredible species that is in trouble for survival.


1) Sharks: I have had the good fortune to swim with and photograph lemon sharks and silver sharks. To those curious, I swam with them without being in a cage. Sharks are massively misunderstood and most of them are not dangerous to swim with. That perceived and sometimes possible real danger is another thing that makes swimming with them and photographing them a great experience. I want the photographic equipment to let me take pictures of lemon sharks and silver reef sharks again with better results. I also very badly want to get pictures of hammerheads, tiger sharks, whale sharks, bull sharks, and great white sharks in the wild. For a few of those, I may opt for the cage (great white shark, maybe tiger, maybe bull). As soon as Nicole lets me, I'm ready to check all of these sharks off the list. Isla Guadalupe and Isla Socorro, here I come.

2) Manta Rays: I have dove with manta rays three times. I have captured them with my camera, just not well. Mantas do not like to get close to humans and generally swim in water full of plankton (their food). Plankton means murky. Murky means not great visibility. I would love to see them again in Bora Bora or Palau, or go looking for them in Socorro or the Maldives.

3) Humpback Whales: I can try for Hawaii, but it is a real luck of the draw to dive with humpbacks in Hawaii. I think my best bet at fulfilling this dream is to visit a place that I want to explore anyway: Tonga.

4) Rainbow Reef, Taveuni, Fiji: When I go diving, I'm usually more interested in looking for big critters such as sharks, turtles, whales, etc. My friend Dennis, who I hate, has been to Rainbow Reef and has filled my head with ideas of what it looks like. Why do I hate Dennis? He makes me spend a lot of money. Moorea, Bora Bora, Palau. Don't get me wrong, he hasn't steered me wrong, and I have loved every trip that I have gone on based on his recommendation, and that is the reason this makes my list... but following his trips lightens my wallet. So I hate him.

... to be continued

Tour Bus Photography

November 13, 2013

The title is a bit misleading. I've never taken a picture from a moving car or bus. I have taken plenty from moving boats and helicopters, but that's not the purpose of this post. I was looking around my office at my "real job" and I realized that most of the pictures I have up on the walls were in locations that are relatively easy to get to. My sunrise at the Gates to the Valley is literally steps from where large tourist buses pull off the side of the road in Yosemite and let people out to take pictures. Sure it's not very usual that people go to Palau, but if you were there and you were staying at the Palau Pacific Resort, everything there is a pretty easy walk minus the heat and humidity which makes you uncomfortable, but it is not physically exerting. Some of my shots in the Sierras are not far from my favorite campground. The only tricky part is hopping on rocks to cross a small stream. All of the underwater pictures require a certain degree of skill or difficulty since they were all taken while scuba diving. But as I sat here I couldn't think of a physically taxing place to get to. When I was younger and much more in shape, I took a number of long and physically taxing hikes where I saw some incredible sights that I no longer have. The three most notable of these were Kalalau Trail and the Tunnels Hike in Kauai, and the Pololu Valley Hike on the Big Island. So I went through my website looking for a high degree of difficulty location and I couldn't find one... until I got to the picture of Ngarmandu Falls. The hike there was all downhill. However, the opposite was true on the way back. It was hot. The temperature was in the low 90s with an equally high humidity. Most of the hike was completely exposed in the sun with almost no shade, an ALL uphill. I nearly died carrying the camera gear.

This realization about the locations where most of my pictures has me simultaneously encouraged and discouraged. On the one hand, I need to get out more and do more actual hiking. This is both beneficial to my physical and mental health so there are really no drawbacks to this plan. Also, the easier a place is to get to directly correlates with how many people, and therefore photographers have been there. However, I am encouraged by the fact I now know that when I get older and even more out of shape, I will still have wonderful and beautiful places that I can access. Even Ngarmandu Falls has a "monorail" type device that transports people down and back to the falls for a fun little fee. However, this realization will hopefully inspire me to get out and see new things and explore new places. Hopefully I will find more places where no serious photographer has attempted to capture images before.

Ngardmau Falls

Where is "Right Side Up?"

November 10, 2013

Last weekend I had the good fortune to head up to Yosemite and do some shooting in the early morning. I drove up with my good friend Jim who has taken on a photography mentor role for me... the Yoda to my Luke... and I was lucky enough for him to show me this spot. We had gone to this spot a year earlier and I got some great shots, which are in my Yosemite gallery, but I really love this shot. The reflection is awesome. I had fun flipping the picture upside down to see if I could tell which was the reflection and which was the right side up. Having stood in that exact spot, I obviously know which is right side up. The question is, can you tell? There are little clues that tell which picture is placed right side up and which one is upside down. Can you see them? Look at the color of the sky in each. One is darker right? The dome is slightly darker in one too right? Look at the reflections of the trees and the trunks of those trees. Can you tell yet? Take a look at the Yosemite gallery or “Tim’s Favorites” to know which picture is “right side up.”

As an aside, to those who have commented on this picture in my galleries, thank you very much for your kind words. It’s always nice to know that you work is enjoyed, especially among your photography peers in addition to family and friends.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

November 10, 2013

Hanalei Bay holds a very special place in my heart. I truly believe that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is also the scene of an infamous crime. On May 21, 2009 I was lucky enough to secure a windfall when my wife accepted my wedding proposal during sunset at the end of the pier. This was my second trip back since that wonderful day. I had my heart and mind set on capturing an image worthy of being framed in our house to remind us both of that special place and day. The resulting shot is pretty good, not great, but pretty good. As the sun was setting that evening, it was reflecting light off of different portions of clouds at different times. The orangish reds were incredible in real life. I did my best to capture all of the best parts of those moments with over 100 captures from a single spot. I wound up choosing this moment in time, a picture composed of nine captures to best reflect what my mind remembers seeing while sitting in the sand that evening. I guess the thing that I like the most about this picture is that I can look at it, and it transports me back to that spot on the beach in a way that my previous pictures were not able to do.

Proposal Pier

Photography Moment

September 7, 2013
I was thinking about what I wrote yesterday, about putting yourself consistently in good photography situations and being disappointed with the results before buying a new camera. I started thinking about when I had that moment. It was late September/early October 2010. I was carrying a very nice Kodak point and shoot camera. I was on my honeymoon (get your mind out of the gutter) in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Every morning I woke up before or at sunrise and I stayed out for almost every sunset in Moorea and Bora Bora. I was in some prime locations for photography, places I would absolutely love to get back to. I came back and loaded the pictures into my computer. I was envisioning making prints to fill my entire house. I was massively disappointed. Something was wrong and I didn't know what it was. My sunset pictures were dark or my skies were blown out. The pictures were full of grain when enlarged. The pictures just did not match what my mind remembered of what I saw standing in those spots.

One picture in particular (at right) was one that I was certain would turn out to be awesome. When I pulled it up on my computer it needed a LOT of work, work that I didn't know how to do yet. It was all shadow, no color contrast, and a huge sun flare. I didn't know what I did wrong, but I know now. I shot the picture in a preset "landscape" mode. My camera exposed for mostly the sky, leaving the foreground in all shadows. The white balance the camera chose had too much cyan (blue) in it, the focus point was a bit off, and I am sure I would have chosen a different aperture, shutter speed, and ISO if I were taking that shot today. Determined not to let this happen again, I decided to learn as much as I could about photography. Now just under three years later, I've come a long way. I'm still learning every time I go shooting, but I'm better. What I wouldn't give to go back to that spot with my current knowledge and equipment. I've gone back and worked on that same pictures for countless hours and I've come up with the bottom image. It's not bad, but it's still not what I wanted. I guess, one day, I'll just have to go back.

The Camera You Should Buy

September 6, 2013
I get asked the question all the time: "which camera should I buy?" I guess my answer depends on two questions of my own: what kind of pictures do you want to take and how much money are you willing to spend? I guess the better question would be, what don't you like about the pictures you are taking now... and how much money are you willing to spend? If you want the pictures of your kids to be less blurry because they are always running around, you want to shoot at a higher shutter speed probably coupled with better high ISO performance. If you want your vacation photos or landscapes to look better, you probably want more megapixels or higher dynamic range.

The next question becomes, how much do you want to learn about photography? If you want to put a camera on a "preset" mode (meaning you turn the dial to "landscapes" for a landscape shot, or "sports" for an action shot), chances are you do not need a DSLR, so save your money. I bought a DSLR because I wanted control. I wanted to be able to control everything about the camera. I think when you learn what goes into making the shot you want, then you will know what kind of camera you want.

If you want to spend less money but you want to test the waters on improving your photography, go to Costco or Best Buy and buy any Nikon or Canon DSLR that they have which has options that you like (A bundle with camera, two lenses, bag and accessories costs a little less than $1000). Don't worry about megapixels, ISO, or anything technical. No matter what you buy, it will be better than your iPhone. If you really get into photography, it will be a great camera to learn on, but you will quickly want to replace it.

If you want to spend more money now because you are pretty confident you are going to get serious about photography, skip the trip to Costco, save your money, and buy a "prosumer" DSLR. This camera should cost you around $1200 without a lens, and a decent entry level lens will probably push you just north of $2000. Before you buy, do your research and window shop online at Adorama or B&H and learn about what matters in terms of pixels, ISO, and frames per second.

If you have unlimited funds and want to immediately buy "pro" gear, then there is a $10,000 fee for reading this post and you must make a check out to me immediately.

Most people ask me, "Nikon or Canon?" It's no secret, I shoot Nikon and I love Nikon. The people I go shooting with most often shoot Canon. The bad news is that once you buy gear for one, it is REALLY difficult to switch brands. Nikon lenses and accessories do not work on Canon cameras and vice versa. Which one is better? What day is it? My answer will change tomorrow.

My only other piece of non-advice... ask yourself if you really need a new camera. Most photographers are arrogant enough to say "it's not the camera, it's the person behind it" thereby implying that the photographer is great and you're not. There may be some truth to that, but I think photography is mostly about putting yourself in the right spot to take a great picture. Some of my all time favorite pictures (such as the one at right) were taken on old point and shoot cameras using those preset modes. Wait until you really get to that moment where you consistently put yourself in a good position and fail to get the results you want before investing in a new camera. Then realize that getting "great results" will require more than a camera. It takes a LOT of time and frustration, coupled with a larger computer with more memory and storage, photo-editing software, a good tripod and tripod head, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Photography, by and large is not a cheap hobby. But I love it.
Holoholo Sunset

Failure is Always an Option

September 2, 2013
As I learned while attempting to take a picture of the Point Reyes fishing boat, failure is always an option. Lessons to be learned: 1) Check the tides... it won't be the same after sundown as it was at noon. 2) When attempting to jump across a large stream (which hours ago was a trickle) do NOT attempt to do this while holding a $1000 tripod while carrying a $3000 camera and a $2000 lens... no good will come from it. 3) If you should lose your shoes because they have been sucked off your feet in the mud and you have to put your socks down into the mud, there is no harm putting the muddy sock into the shoe... trust me you won't be wearing them again. 4) On a related note, once your shoes have been sucked off your feet multiple times, it will not get easier the further you trek into the mud... failure will repeat itself OVER AND OVER. 5) Wear good hiking boots when you go shooting. Slip on shoes will make it for some locations, but as I learned, not all locations. 6) Always have extra shoes and socks. 7) Sometimes you must decide enough is enough. Discretion can be the better part of valor. Do not over-commit yourself to a shot only to put yourself in a worse or more dangerous situation. 8) Learn to laugh at your failures and tell your friends and family... better than trying to hide why you came home with different pants, no shoes, no socks, and mud around your eyeballs. 9) Learn from your mistakes. The picture at right was taken the next time I went back.
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