Archive for February, 2009

h1

Our final two ports of call – Cozumel, Mexico and Key West, Florida

February 26, 2009

Thursday, January 29th – Cozumel, Mexico

Ahhh, Cozumel!  No crazy excursion at this port, just a relaxing day on a catamaran snorkeling and enjoying the sun.  Raising the sail (and starting the engine), the cat scooted across the crystal clear water taking us to our snorkeling location.

Cruising

Unfortunately, I’ve never taken up underwater photography, although I’ve thought about it many times.  As a former avid scuba diver, I hope I can one day take my love of photography and combine it with my love of the oceans and diving.  We’ll see.  Underwater housings and lights are not cheap!

After snorkeling, we spent the rest of the day at the beach, enjoying the sun.  I’ll keep this text short and just show some of the photos I took that day.

Horses by the Beach

XX

Palm

It was a beautiful day to hang out on the beach and relax…

Saturday, January 31st – Key West, Florida

Early in the morning of Friday the 30th, we got a nice little surprise.  Due to a cold weather front cutting across the United States and part of the Caribbean cutting temperatures dramatically, our captain decided to change our last port of call.  Previously, we were scheduled to spend the day on the cruise line’s private island on the beach.  Since cold and beach don’t go well together, the captain changed our itinerary and turned towards Key West, Florida.  I think the whole ship was happy!

I’ve had the opportunity to spend a number of vacations in Key West.  The keys and especially Key West are some of my favorite places in the country.  Cold or not, I was looking forward to spending the day in Key West.

Duval

We arrived early on Saturday and, after clearing customs, went looking for a sweatshirt.  It was chilly!  Jen and I spent the day roaming around the town looking to capture some images.  There are some odd and interesting things to photograph as you walk down Duval Street.

Butler

If you’re ever in Key West stop by The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.  This was one of the nicest butterfly display and conservatory I’ve ever been to.  You’ll be covered with butterflies and it’s a great place to photograph them.

Butterfly

The day was fantastic and a great way to spend our last full day of the cruise.  I’ll close with a few more of the images I took that day.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my journey!

Stork

Tropical House

h1

The next two ports of call – Roatán, Honduras and Belize City, Belize…

February 24, 2009

Tuesday, January 27th – Roatán, Honduras

Our first port of call was Roatán, Honduras.  Roatán is a less widely traveled destination for cruise ships, but one that is becoming more and more popular.  Roatán is a small island that is part of a chain of five islands known as the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Approaching Roatan

My previous visit to this island was in 2005 and a great deal of new infrastructure was apparent, including a complete renovation of the Port of Roatán.  Actually, the day after our visit, the Honduran President was coming to officially dedicate the new port.

Port of Roatan

Unfortunately, this was still the rainy season and the skies were overcast (okay, the picture above is from later in the day!).  Our shore excursion was a trip to Gumbalimba Park and the Tabayana Beach Party.  Gumbalimba is a small park where you can see various parrots including the military and red macaws and interact with monkeys.  Of course, upon arrival we were greeted with a downpour.  This was the first time I’d used the belt system from ThinkTank (I’ll do a mini review in the next few days) and they have built-in rain cover for their pouches.  A nice feature that was very useful this morning!

When the rain stopped we had a short walk to see the macaws.  I’ve always been a fan of parrots.  Their intelligence and beauty are fascinating.  When looking in the eyes of these birds, you can sense their intelligence.  After a couple quick shots, it was off to see the monkeys.

Milatary Macaw

In this area, there were a number of monkeys freely jumping from tree to tree, but also a few “naughty” ones on leashes.  Peter, a capuchin monkey and the baby of the group, was also on a leash.  Some guests were given hyacinths to feed the monkeys.   Peter, not shy at all, ran from guest to guest, pausing only long enough to eat the flowers.

I’d never been close to monkeys before and this was a neat experience.  The little hands were very soft and gentle, not what I expected.  Photographing these little fellows wasn’t easy as they constantly ran around grabbing treats from people.  Yes, I could have a number of shots with a monkey on someone’s shoulder, but I wanted pictures of just the monkeys, not the guests.  I was able to grab a few.  This one was my favorite.

Peter

The rest of this park was a short history of the island and walk through the grounds before boarding a bus for the beach party.  To my surprise, the sun was shining with bright blue skies and white puffy clouds.

Tabayana Beach is a private beach attraction where most of the private tours end up.  Hundreds of folks were at the beach, but it never appeared crowed or difficult to get food, drink or rent any of the equipment available.  It was a nice day to swim, soak up the sun and relax.

Tabayana Beach

I did take a short walk down the beach and found a few marine iguanas.  These small, black iguanas live in the old coral walls that are now part of the landscape.  When it’s sunny, you can almost always find them basking in the sun.

Marine Iguana

Of course, I couldn’t just end this section without a quick mention about my good friend Tim.  Tim decided he wanted to sing with the reggae band and they were more than willing to have him!  Great job, Tim!

Tim and the band

It was back to the ship and a slow trip to our next port.

Wednesday, January 28th – Belize City, Belize

In Belize, our ship needed to anchor a good way out and we had to tender into the port.  You’d think this would take a lot longer than walking off, but you’d be amazed at the number of boats coming to take passengers into the city.  Once arriving in port, I thought about stocking up on various pharmaceuticals before our excursion.  It’s amazing what you can buy!

Need anything?

In Belize we signed up for a cave exploration, a Land Rover tour through the jungle and a boat ride down the Sabun River.  What sounded like a fun day turned out to be a most excellent adventure!

An hour school bus ride through Belize City and into the surrounding jungle was narrated by our guide giving us a history of the island and overusing the phrase “Seeing is Belize-In!”.  Nevertheless, it was informative and entertaining.  When my butt had just about had enough of the bouncing down dirt roads, we came to a stop in the jungle camp.

Strapping back on the ThinkTank belt system, we showered in bug spray before heading off to the caves.  Fortunately, we weren’t lite on the spray as we were quickly covered in mosquito’s.  Hundreds if not thousands.  It was nasty.

Now I’ve been in caves before.  In fact my gallery contains a nice picture of an underground lake from Indian Echo Caverns in Pennsylvania.  I’ve been to at least two other PA attractions with caves.  This was nothing like I’ve ever seen and something that would never have been allowed in the states.  Pictures aren’t going to do this justice.

Suffice it to say, I’m not a small guy.  At 6’1″ and… well, a couple pounds more than the most liberal weight charts, this was going to be a test of my ability to fit into tight places.  Entering the caves meant squeezing though a narrow entrance and through small crevices.  At one point, I removed the ThinkTank and camera, slid them through to Jen and, on my hands and knees, crawled through to the next section of the cave.  It was very cool!  Here’s a shot of Jen entering the cave.

Entering the cave

The Land Rover tour was even more of an adventure.  The previous few days had spilled a lot of rain on Belize.  After boarding the Rover with another couple and heading into the jungle we realized this wasn’t the best day to be on these trails.  With mud over the front bumpers of the vehicles we bounced, bopped, jumped and nearly flipped our way through the jungle.  In this shot, you can see one of the Rovers stuck in the mud.  Definitely, an extreme trip!

Stuck in the mud

At this point I think we were running a little behind on the schedule as we were supposed to break for lunch hours previous.  I finally got one of the guides to admit (with a laugh) that it was probably a good day to have canceled the Rover part of the trip.  They didn’t know how bad the trails were until it was too late.  Hey, it was a blast!

After a short respite with a traditional lunch of chicken, beans and rice (and a few glasses of rum punch) we got ready to board the boat for our trip down the river.

Down the river

I love boats so I was looking forward to this cruise down the river looking for wildlife.  While we were traveling too fast and furious for shooting the egrets and other birds taking off from the riverbanks, we did stop to see some of the larger iguanas living in the trees.  The large male iguanas were orange in color and fairly easy to spot in the green treetops.  The green females took a little longer to spot.

Male iguana

A few minutes later, we stopped to check out another denizen of the river – a crocodile.

Crocodile

The rest of the trip was pretty quick.  In fact, we were so behind schedule that we were almost too late to board the ship.  So, our guides decided it was easiest to run straight back to the ship instead of to the port for a tender.  So out of the river and straight into the ocean we shot making a beeline for the Pearl.  It was the perfect end to a blast of a day…

Wait for us!

h1

A relaxing day at sea…

February 19, 2009

This is the second part (of how many, I don’t know) of my posts catching you up on the last few, very busy, weeks.  I intend to continue with the posts each day until I catch up.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 26th

The first full day had us steaming (can I still use steaming if it’s a diesel-electric engine?) through the Caribbean Ocean, past the West coast of Cuba and down to Roatan, Honduras.  The only official duty I had that day was to shoot a small reception in the evening for all the wedding guests.  For this gathering, I selected the 17-55 f2.8.  I believe this to be too wide for this type of work, but without a 24 – 70 (a future purchase) my only other options were a 60mm and/or 95mm primes.  I’d just have to get a little closer to the subjects.  Ultimately, this worked out because there wasn’t a whole lot of working room in the little club where the reception was held.

The SB-900 is my primary strobe and it works like a champ.  The secret (okay, maybe not a secret to most, but it took me a long time to figure this one out) is to shoot in manual mode not aperture priority that I normally use.  Set the camera to an ISO allowing you to get some background exposure using ambient light and not the strobe.  In this case I was using ISO 400.  This gives some exposure to the environment, but not nearly enough to be a distraction to the subject.  Then, set your aperture and use a shutter speed that’s complimentary to the chosen ISO for background exposure.  The flash then varies it’s output to properly expose the subject and foreground while the ISO and shutter speed expose the background.  Chimp like crazy here (that means check your LCD screen) and check your histogram to make sure you have a decent image.

Also, I try to keep my shutter speed high while using  ISO changes to fine tune the exposure.  Make sure you’re working within the capabilities of your camera’s sensor (you don’t want noisy images), but ISO is an easy boost to the background exposure.  I like a higher shutter speed (the flash will have to work a little harder) to combat camera shake (hand shake, boat shake, whatever) giving you a clear image.

The images captured the mood of the evening – relaxed and ready to enjoy the upcoming week.

Sonny and Alex

Maria

Eileen

h1

The wedding and boarding the ship…

February 19, 2009

My apologies to all my readers!  It’s been too long since updating this blog and I’ve a lot to catch you up on.  Tonight, I’ll start the journey of bringing you up to speed on the many events that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of in the last few weeks.  Thanks for understanding!

Saturday, January 24th

After a 4-hour delay (and a number of Bloody Mary’s) where the airline had to fly in a filter for one of the plane’s engines, the trip to Miami was easy.  Clear, turbulent free skies allowed Jen and I to catch up on some much needed sleep.  I remember something about turning off the seat belt sign then Jen hitting my arm as we were preparing to land.  It was the perfect flight if you ask me as I’m not a fan of flying.

A short taxi ride took us to Doral, Florida, a suburb of Miami, and the stunning Marriott Golf Resort and Spa – home of the Green Monster.  If you’re a golf fan, this is the place for you.  Simply stunning!  After checking in and exploring the grounds, we met up with the crew for a quick bite to eat.  It was nice to catch up with some old friends and to make some new ones.  This night was an early night.  We had to be up early to get ready for the wedding shoot.

That evening I didn’t sleep very much.  I wanted to wake before sunrise to see if the light during the golden hour (the time when the light from sunrise or sunset produces a golden light) would strike the grounds of the wedding.  That led to me getting up every hour or so to check on the time.  Truly frustrating!

Sunday, January 25th

Unfortunately, the sun came up in the east that morning (always check how the sunrise will affect your images before staying up all night!) which meant behind the buildings I was hoping to shoot as they caught the first light of day.  Nevertheless, I photographed some of the grounds and got my bearings for the wedding.  A friend and mentor told me, when on assignment, you have to get the shot.  So I photographed the buildings knowing it wasn’t perfect, but realizing I needed some of the grounds to tell the story.  Maybe a background image or two for a wedding book.

Some of the grounds

Around 9:00 we headed to the spa to take some shots of the bride, Janella, getting ready.  Janella has beautiful, bronze skin and a smile that radiated the excitement of the day.  With her sister helping, we were able to get a few very nice shots of the preparation.

The sister-of-the-bride

The groom, Kris, was wearing a traditional Filipino shirt and appeared ready to get the party started!  A good friend for many years, I spent a few minutes with him before the wedding started.

Groom

Just before the wedding started, the bride arrived.

The Bride

Show time!

The wedding took place outside in the beautiful morning sun.  I shot mostly with my D300 and 70-200 f2.8 VR allowing me to zoom in tight for my shots, yet staying out of the action.  For a more expansive shot of the wedding, I used a D200 with 17-55 f2.8.  Having two bodies with two very different focal length lenses worked really well.

Posing some group shots after the wedding was slightly challenging as the light was very bright and shade a minimum.  Fill-flash was a huge help in this lighting condition as was using a large reflector to block some of the sun, but some shadows and highlights were visible in some of the images. Overall, though, they looked really nice.

The bride and her brother and sister

The following reception/brunch was in a glass-walled building providing excellent lighting.  Again, I chose the 70-200 to capture the expressions of the day without being noticed.  This type of “hunter”-style photography (aka Photojournalism) is very fun for me allowing me to capture the emotion of the day without the “fake” smiles all too common when asking to take a picture.

A quick shot

This was a great assignment and a fun day.  You couldn’t ask for a better day or location and I enjoyed the experience very much.  I think the couple will be very pleased with the results.  I know I was.

Happily ever after

Time to Relax

As our bellies filled and the excitement ebbed, it was time to run back to our rooms, change into something more comfortable and head over to the cruise ship.  The trip to the cruise ship was quick and easy as was the process to board.  Actually, I’m really amazed at how easy the boarding process was.  Maybe it was because we arrived towards the end of the boarding time, but there was no wait and no lines.  It was a fantastic experience that could have started the trip off on the wrong foot.  Fortunately, this was not the case and the experience was perfect.

Our trip was aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl.  The Pearl is three years old and a beautiful ship holding over 3,500 passengers and crew.  Our outside room had a nice little balcony to take in the sites and enjoy the sounds of the water.  I was ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the week.

Fortunately the first and second days (Sunday and Monday) are at sea and I was looking forward to relaxing, getting some much-needed rest, and laying low.  The days with shore excursions would be busy shooting stock images for my online portfolio.  After making multiple copies of the wedding photos, a great wave of relief hit me, knowing that it was time to enjoy my trip.

h1

Trip update coming…

February 4, 2009

Ahhh, the mad rush of getting back to reality.  The trip was fantastic, the wedding beautiful and I’m completely swamped!  With another trip and photo shoot coming up this weekend, a hard drive failure on my Drobo (everything is working fine again! Damn, I love this Drobo thing!) and a full business plate, I hope to start posting the trip update this evening.  I’m already getting told I need to post pictures!  They’re coming.

Stay tuned!