A FEW DAYS IN PORTO

A FEW DAYS IN PORTO

Despite having lived in Portugal for around 17 years I've spent almost no time in Porto, and as one of my plans for this year is to spend more time shooting different parts of my Portugal Teresa and I decided to spend a few days between Christmas and New Year in the second city.  

I wanted to pack as light as possible, and this meant taking a minimal amount of photography kit.  Fortunately with the X Series it's really possible to travel light as with my old dSLR system just a camera body and two zooms (a wide angle and telephoto) along with a tripod would already start to take up a lot of space and add a fair bit of weight.  I took the X-T1 body instead of the X-T10 because of its weather resistance as I expected rain and also planned to do a sunset on a local beach.

PHOTOGRAPHING LELLO BOOKSTORE IN PORTO

PHOTOGRAPHING LELLO BOOKSTORE IN PORTO

Lello & Irmão bookshop in Porto was voted the third most beautiful bookshop in the world and the beautifully elegant gothic staircase and carved ceilings make it easy to see why.  It's also become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Porto, thanks in part to the story that JK Rowling conceived the idea for Harry Potter whilst passing time in the café there. It's a tiny place and is constantly full of people, indeed you actually have to queue to get in, which makes photographing it quite problematic. 

TRAVELLING WITH THE FUJI X SERIES TO INDONESIA

TRAVELLING WITH THE FUJI X SERIES TO INDONESIA

I've just returned from 25 days in Indonesia, my first trip with Fuji cameras and my first trip without a large dSLR.  We traveled the entire length of Java and Bali overland so it was important to me to have a camera that wouldn't feel heavy and cumbersome to carry around, but also one I could completely rely on to produce excellent image quality.

The experience of traveling with Fuji cameras has been a revelation! Not only in how much lighter, smaller and easier to carry around it all is, but how I've not once missed my old Nikon in terms of image quality or autofocus in any of the many situations I've encountered, from fast moving street scenes to dynamically lit landscapes.  They've been brilliant, reliable and a consistent pleasure to use.

LOWEPRO PHOTOSPORT 200 REVIEW

LOWEPRO PHOTOSPORT 200 REVIEW

The search for the perfect camera bag is one that lasts many photographers years and can cost a fair amount of money.  For a long while I was pretty happy with my Lowopro Primus, which could happily fit my old Nikon D3 along with a wide angle zoom and the 80-400mm.
When I upgraded to a D800 though, I also switched to using a 70-200 f2.8 as my telephoto lens, and all of a sudden my kit wouldn't fit in my bag. It's also a pretty heavy bag so I started looking around for alternatives.

There were quite a few frustrating "this would be perfect if only..." and "this is great, but why didn't they..." moments, but over the last couple of years I've owned a couple of bags that  pretty much ticked all the boxes, the F stop Kenti and the Lowepro Photosport 200, and after using both bags extensively on trips I thinks it's time I got around to reviewing them.  I've also now switched to the considerably smaller Fuji X system so I'll try and write these reviews from the perceptive of a full frame dSLR system and also a smaller mirrorless system.

INDONESIA PART 6: UBUD

INDONESIA PART 6: UBUD

Ubud is the cultural capital of Bali, an artist's town set amongst the rice fields and hills of central Bali. It's a place we planned to unwind and catch some culture like Balinese dancing, and although I had a couple of locations researched I wasn't really planning on much photography here.

One of the things that Ubud has is a wide range of incredibly stylish, sophisticated, but affordable accommodation. We'd booked 5 nights in a place called Alam Indah, on the outskirts of Ubud next to the famous monkey forest. It didn't disappoint, the room was beautiful with great views out over the forest and proved to be a fantastic place to relax (and write this blog). 

INDONESIA PART 5: MUNDUK

INDONESIA PART 5: MUNDUK

We were sad to leave Pemuteran. It had been a relaxing four days, but it was time to move on to our next location, Munduk, high in the central mountains of Bali. It's a tiny village surrounded by clove and coffee plantations with rice terraces cut into the side of the hills.  The journey from Pemuteran took a little less than an hour and a half, and after we left the town of Seririt we seemed to be constantly rising in twisting roads.  The landscape is so green and there is so much water. It's incredibly fertile land and so much grows here.

INDONESIA PART 4: PEMUTERAN

INDONESIA PART 4: PEMUTERAN

The train journey from Probolinggo to Banuwango takes about four and a half hours through verdant green fields of rice, then it's a few hundred meters to the ferry port and about a dollar to make the crossing to Bali. 

The island sits there in the blue of the sea with volcanic peaks covered in green vegetation reaching high into the sky. It's a very short crossing, and in no time we were there and being picked up at the exit. It's a short drive to the hotel but we were fascinated by the small villages we past through. Unlike Java, which is mostly Muslim, Bali is predominantly Hindu and right away we could see subtle differences in the architecture. We could feel ourselves starting to unwind and the stress of the busy last 5 days leaving our bodies, which had been the plan when we'd organized this part of the trip months earlier. There was nothing in particular I wanted to photograph in Pemuteran, it was just 4 days in a beautiful place where we could snorkel and recharge our batteries. 

INDONESIA PART 3: BROMO

INDONESIA PART 3: BROMO

We were up at 4am the next day again, but this time it was to get us to the early train in to Surabaya from Yogyakarta. Where the journey to Borobudur had taken almost 2 hours with the holiday traffic, the journey back to the station only took 45 minutes and we were there in plenty of time to get some breakfast and find our seats.

The journey took 5 hours and despite dozing a little on the train, I saw lots of the countryside through the window. Lush rice fields with people wearing conical hats, it was a typical rural south East Asian scene that made me wish, as ever, that we'd had more time to explore the area. At Surabaya station we met the driver we'd arranged with the Bromo hotel a few weeks previously. After about 2 hours we turned off the main road and started to head up into the mountains, the air got cooler and our ears started to pop.

INDONESIA PART 2: BOROBUDOR

INDONESIA PART 2: BOROBUDOR

Leaving behind Yogyakarta we headed towards nearby Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument on the world.  It's the kind of place like Angkor Wat or Bagan, when you first see photos of it, it seems like it's the set for some movie about a lost world. It's a vast stone mandala-like structure built around the hill in a jungle over a thousand years ago. 

By now though it's firmly established on the tourist trail and thousands of Indonesians travel from all over the country to visit it. I wanted to photograph it at sunrise, which I knew would mean a very early morning and difficulties in getting a clean shot as I expected the place to be very busy for first light in the way that Shwedagon Pagoda in Bagan was. Indeed both of these things were firmly on my mind as we arrived at Borobudur as I knew that it marked the beginning of four mornings where we would get up at 4am or earlier in both Borobudur and then Mount Bromo, and that both places would be incredibly busy with tourists making photography with a tripod sometimes a little challenging.  When we'd planned the trip I'd tried to ensure that we visited Bromo away from the weekend hoping that would mean slightly smaller crowds, but also because we also wanted our time in Ubud, Bali, to coincide with a full moon festival.  However, we hadn't realised that this would mean this part of the trip taking place in a week that began with a bank holiday to celebrate Indonesia's independence. The traffic as we left Yogyakarta to get to the temple was incredible and I started to realize how busy Borobudur was actually going to be.

INDONESIA PART 1: JAKARTA & YOGYAKARTA

INDONESIA PART 1: JAKARTA & YOGYAKARTA

Java, Bali, Indonesia, Jakarta are all magical names that conjure images of far away exotic lands to me.   After loving our trip to Burma we really wanted to return to Asia and spent a while looking at different possibilities.  Indonesia was the place we kept coming back to and about a year ago we decided that that's where we'd go.

Planning the trip proved a nightmare as it's a vast country spread out over thousands of islands with so much to see. At first we had quite an adventurous plan to see about 4 islands, but with this trip we thought it would be nice to have a smaller focus and spend more time in different places. For me, the huge Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the amazing volcano at Bromo, both on Java, were the big draws.  For Teresa it was the cultural city of Yogyakarta, also on Java, as well as Bali that she really wanted to see.  So after poring through guide books, GoogleEarth and various sites on the web, we decided to focus on Java and Bali and limit the locations we stayed in so weren't constantly on the move.

HEADING TO INDONESIA

HEADING TO INDONESIA

After months of research and planning, Teresa and I are finally heading off to Indonesia for a around a month on Monday.  It's a trip we've wanted to make for a long time and we'll be taking in a really wide range of places and locations, so it should provide lots of opportunities for photography.

We'll fly to Jakarta, before heading by train to Yogyakarta, the cultural centre, for a couple of days.  Then we'll spend a couple of days at the huge Buddhist temple of Borobudur, before heading by train again to Surabaya and then on to Mount Bromo, the iconic volcano in the Tengger Semeru National Park.  After that we head over to Bali for a few days diving and snorkelling in Permuteran on the north coast, then up to the mountains and rice fields in Munduk, before relaxing at the end of the trip in Ubud.

FIRST LANDSCAPES WITH THE FUJI X SYSTEM

FIRST LANDSCAPES WITH THE FUJI X SYSTEM

It's been about a month now since I picked up a Fuji X-T10, but due to a combination of being busy preparing for a month in Indonesia next week, and how cloudless and uninteresting the skies are in Portugal right now, I haven't had much chance to go out and shoot landscapes with the camera.  It was important to me to try and get the chance though, as I really wanted to be familiar with what the camera can do before I go away.

If you read my last blog you'll know that I'd made my mind up to switch completely over from shooting Nikon to Fuji gear for a whole host of reasons that I wrote about there.  Even so, my plan in getting the X-T10 (rather than the X-T1) was for it to replace my backup camera and to shoot with it alongside my Nikon while in Indonesia, before switching completely when I returned.

PHOTOGRAPHING BURMA EBOOK

PHOTOGRAPHING BURMA EBOOK

I'm proud to announce that my book on Photographing Burma is now available for download at the iBooks store.  If you’re wondering which temples in Bagan are the best for sunrise and sunset, if you want to know what’s the best way to shoot sunrise and sunset at Golden Rock, or if you just want to be inspired by beautiful images of Burma then you’ll find plenty in this book to help you plan your trip to Burma.

Alongside over 120 images I’ve tried to pass on as much of what I learned while photographing this breathtaking country as possible with advice on photogenic places to visit and tips on some of the practicalities like when the locations are best photographed and how to get there.  With every image I’ve provided a description of where and how and, where possible, why the image was taken and what I was hoping to achieve when photographing the scene.  
While by no means a definitive guide to every location in Burma, the book nevertheless is a great starting point for any trip to Burma, and with that in mind I hope that both the images and information here will provide inspiration and some solid advice about visiting and photographing this truly wonderful country.  

SWITCHING TO FUJI - FIRST IMPRESSIONS

SWITCHING TO FUJI - FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Over recent months I’ve read so many blog posts about photographers ditching their Nikon or Canon gear to switch to Fuji, and now here I am, writing my own as I undergo my own conversion.

There have already been so many “why I switched to Fuji” articles written (I know because I’ve read most of them) so I’m really not sure what I can add to what’s already out there on the web.  But while reading these articles, I find myself always wondering if the writer's photographic style/process/needs/whatever are the same as mine, and so whether my experience with changing systems will be as effortless as theirs.  I found myself thinking “but will I be able to do this or that like I can with my D800 with a Fuji” and occasionally, I wasn’t able to find an answer in existing blogs that completely satisfied me.  I guess I was just looking for reassurance that I really could switch over from a full frame Nikon to a smaller lighter Fuji camera and have no regrets.  

ALTIPLANO PART 4: LAKE TITICACA AND LA PAZ

ALTIPLANO PART 4: LAKE TITICACA AND LA PAZ

Flying into La Paz must be one of the most dramatic introductions to a city anywhere! On the short flight from Sucre we looked out of the window at large dusty plain of the Altiplano below us and slowly the outskirts of El Alto, the La Paz suburb which has become a city in it's own right, began to appear.  Then the massive peak of Illumani, the highest mountain in Bolivia, the top of which seemed to reach to the same altitude as our plane, loomed into view.  Then, below us, the streets and buildings of El Alto seemed to disappear over the edge of a cliff beneath the peaks of the mountains and a valley which resembled a crater or a bowl appeared.  Lining the sides of the crater and tumbling all the way to the bottom is the city of La Paz, or Cidade da Nuestra Señora La Paz (City of Our Lady of Peace) to give it it's full name.

ALTIPLANO PART 3: SALAR DE UYUNI TO SUCRE

ALTIPLANO PART 3: SALAR DE UYUNI TO SUCRE

Salar de Uyuni seemed to appear around us almost unexpectedly.  One moment we were driving through a valley, and then the peaks to either side of us seemed to start receding into the distance at the same time as the sand and mud below the wheels gradually gave way to salt.  All of a sudden we realised we were crossing the Salar, an ocean of flat whiteness that disappeared into the distance on all sides.

At first the salt plain felt and looked dirty and grubby, but as we got further and further into it, it became more and more pristine in it's whiteness, the sun reflecting brilliantly from the salt crystals.

ALTIPLANO PART 2: BOLIVIA AND THE SOUTHERN ALTIPLANO

ALTIPLANO PART 2: BOLIVIA AND THE SOUTHERN ALTIPLANO

We woke up early and dropped off the jeep off at the car rental in San Pedro before meeting a driver who would take us across the border to meet our guide in Bolivia.  Chilean guides aren't allowed to operate in Boliva and vice versa, so there's always this system of being picked up in a van or minibus, taken though Chilean border control (just outside San Pedro) and then into Bolivia through their border control at the foot of Licancabur Volcano.  Here, people meet their guides and continue the rest of the way in very sturdy 4x4s.

We'd gone through an agency called Ruta Verde to organise a private trip.  Usually the jeeps are crammed with 4 to 6 people, but I knew that would make it much more difficult for me to stop where I wanted for how long I wanted to take photos, so we'd managed to arrange a tour and pretty much specified where we wanted to go and for how long (for example, I wanted to spend 2 nights at Salar de Uyuni).  Our guide was Raul, a native of Uyuni, who'd been guiding people around this part of Bolivia for 10 years.

ALTIPLANO PART 1: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

ALTIPLANO PART 1: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

It's been about two months now since we returned from South America, and our trip across the Altiplano from San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.  As I wrote in my previous blog about the trip, it's a place I've wanted to see for about as long as I've been interested in photography.  It's a genuinely remote and extreme part of the planet with landscapes that look like they belong on Mars rather than our own green and blue planet.

We flew to Santiago de Chile via Madrid, one of the longest single flights I've ever done.  Not only do you cross the Atlantic Ocean, but also the whole of the south American continent and move from the northern hemisphere to the south.  We flew overnight, arriving in Santiago early in the morning and caught the bus to the centre of the city.  It's always said that Santiago is South America's most European city, and although I can see why people say that, to us it really didn't feel particularly European.  It's incredibly wide streets have all the signs of a city that was built for cars like most of the cities I've seen in both North and South America.  Still, we'd decided to stay for a night, and soon found our room in the Lastarria district.  We spent the afternoon wandering around the city, trying the food and enjoying the atmosphere before having a great meal in the evening.  

HEADING TO THE ALTIPLANO

HEADING TO THE ALTIPLANO

On Sunday we're going to the airport to head off on another adventure.  This time we'll be flying to Santiago do Chile, before heading to Calama in northern Chile and then on to San Pedro de Atacama, our base for the beginning of a trip across the Altiplano which will take us all the way to Lake Titicaka

This trip has been on the agenda for a long time now, I can well remember sitting in a bookshop in Brazil after we'd just left the Amazon about 7 years ago, reading the Footprint Guide to Bolivia and trying to find out information on crossing the Altiplano from San Pedro de Atacama to the Salar de Uyuni.  Since then, I've kept returning to the document on my computer with an outline of a dream itinerary for this trip and researched the area a little more, and then finally last summer we took the plunge and decided to make serious plans to actually do it.

BURMA PART 7: NGAPALI

BURMA PART 7: NGAPALI

Ngapali, in Burma's Rhakine state on the west coast of the country, was our last stop on our trip around Burma.  We'd chosen it because we thought that after 2 weeks of traveling around Burma (as well as Bangkok) it would be great to just unwind on a beach next to the ocean for a few days.  

It wasn't just about doing nothing though.  We'd chosen accommodation at the very southern end of the long beach right next to a local village, giving me the opportunity to photograph the fishermen and villagers bringing the fish in at sunrise and sunset.

The flight in, on perhaps the smallest plane we went on throughout the trip, took us over huge swathes of the forest of Rhakine state.  It's a fascinating, but troubled part of the country which has seen conflicts between the state army and local separatists who've disputed this area for years.  The area is also home to one of the largest undisturbed forests in south east Asia, which runs for almost a thousand kilometers to the border with Bangladesh in the north.