Our documentary crew and talent literally drove straight from the village in Namwera (where there were a few sore muscles no doubt from learning to farm) to Liwonde National Park where we settled in for the afternoon and evening at the basic but comfortable Liwonde Safari Camp. After all, what good is a family trip to Africa without the opportunity to see some wildlife? In filming a documentary about foreign cultures it is not only important to meet the people of a region, but also get a taste for the natural beauty of the land and wildlife.

Liwonde is a place I go to rather frequently but usually when we have visiting tourists who want a taste of National Geographic. But you can’t always guarantee spotting elephants. (I have yet to see a lion or rhino in Liwonde in more than ten years.)

In our case of mid November we managed quite nicely between an early morning game drive and later morning boat cruise. That time of year is hot and not yet raining, meaning the elephants know they have to come down to the river to hang out in the water and spend their days. (But just two weeks later we had no such luck as the rains had started in enough to give elephants a few mud puddles in areas unknown to tourists and their obtrusive vehicles.)

Here are a few favorite shots from Liwonde, thus officially ending our documentary filming time in Malawi.

Coming up next, something completely different…

MW Liwonde-1-2

Videographer Mario enjoying some enchanting moments with a herd of Cape Buffalo

MW Liwonde-1

Observation deck at sunset, Liwonde Safari Camp

MW Liwonde-2-2

Fishermen on the Shire River

MW Liwonde-2

Land Cruiser

MW Liwonde-3 MW Liwonde-5 MW Liwonde-6 MW Liwonde-8 MW Liwonde-11


Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

This year our family traveled cross-country and saw some amazing spots around the country. Over the next few posts I want to showcase a few of those scenic locations with a few favorite photos.

The following come from Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon, a place that Naomi and I visited first back in 1995 on our honeymoon. It was great to be back at the same spot again but this time with 4 kids in tow. The scenery is still just as spectacular now as it was no doubt thousands of years ago.
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon


Thor’s Well

Our family has been traveling these vast American states since May and in August our highly anticipated northwest visit finally arrived. We would be spending two months mainly in the northwestern parts of Oregon and Washington states. Photographically speaking for me that means rocky beaches, impressive waterfalls and gloriously snowy mountains.

Before heading out of Oregon we managed to make one visit to the coast, spending our time in the small seaside village of Yachats (considered by some to be among the most beautiful of any destinations on the Oregon coast).

A few weeks before our visit I was following a Facebook repost by a landscape photographer friend of mine from high school in which another photographer was bemoaning the less-than-courteous nature of some photographers who happen to be set up in the exact same location but act as if they are the sole photographer clambering for space. That post then led to this fun Youtube clip with the same theme.

This specific incident took place at Thor’s Well on Cape Perpetua. It’s a round hole in the floor of the ocean that goes down about 20 feet that makes for a pretty awesome shot if you can get it just right (usually at sunset). I had never heard of it before but with the potential for an image like this, I couldn’t wait to pay it a visit seeing as how it would be just a few miles south of Yachats.

To find Thor’s Well required a little bit of sleuthing. I stopped in at the visitor’s center and was given a map with the area highlighted. On my first pass I missed the parking lot but on my return trip found a parking lot for Cook’s Chasm (literally just a few hundred yards, if that, south of the entrance to the visitor’s center). From the lookout point you should see The Spouting Horn to your left and Thor’s Well, if visible, directly in front. Devil’s Churn is to your right. Walk down the paved switchbacks and, depending on the tide, you should be able to walk nearly to the edge of the well.

Photography is one of those things that can often lead to disappointment. Especially so when you’ve built something up in your head. When so much potential is there but then there’s the reality of the situation. Like maybe too much fog to get that perfect shot. (That happens a lot along the coast, though it can also be a big bonus too depending on what you’re going for). Or when the oft-photographed picturesque lighthouse just north of the Sea Lion Caves looks like it happens to have a gigantic sheet hanging over it as it undergoes renovation. Oh well. Or the time back in high school when I was happily shooting away at a football match in Portugal only to realize I had not properly loaded my film and it had not been advancing the whole time. (Maybe that’s a bad example… I could have prevented that mistake).

I love shooting moving water. I feel like I’m slowly improving at it and one thing I’ve definitely learned in any long exposure setting is that a tripod is a must. So in preparation for our trip to Thor’s Well I ordered an inexpensive but highly rated Dolica. It did not show up in time. Strike 1.

Once I discovered the location of Thor’s Well, the kids and I all clambered out to see it up close. We were able to get very close as the tide was just right. But we were nowhere near sunset and I wasn’t about to return as thick fog set in just after our visit. I would not be getting a sunset shot and I would not be producing a long-exposure shot without my tripod.

My next challenge would be keeping my lens free of water. I was literally shooting directly at the pounding ocean where surf spray was everywhere. It didn’t take long before my lens was cloudy and spotted. But being the genius I am, I didn’t even notice what was happening until too late. You can especially see this problem on images 5 and 6 below.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in here somewhere. Don’t freak out when things don’t turn out how you hoped. Enjoy the experience as much as possible. Sometimes that means NOT shooting it with a camera and just taking it all in. I was in awe of what I was watching whether or not I could shoot it properly.

In progression from empty to full and overflowing, here is what Thor’s Well looked like on my visit.


Playing with HDR

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is one of those promising and creative new fields that comes with the advent of digital SLRs and software that can merge multiple photos into one. The basic idea is that you “bracket” your images by getting different exposures and merging them together to recreate more or less what the human eye would see. It was something I loved learning about a few years back just a bit through the stunning work of Trey Ratcliff of “Stuck in Customs“. I read through Trey’s tutorials on using Photomatix HDR and got a copy for myself to try out later.

Later came and went and when I finally took my camera to some flowing water on the edge of Lake Malawi while camping in the hamlet of Meponda a month ago, I promised I would play around with Photomatix just a bit. Turns out my copy was several versions outdated, so after getting the much-improved latest version here is what came out of my painless time of processing last night.

On most images I will include the output version as well as what the original, unprocessed JPG images looked like before running them through Photomatix. You will need to experiment a bit with the settings to come out with what you think will look best for each image.

The more I learn about HDR, the more I become a fan and will start looking for further opportunities to get better.

What did I learn from this shoot and post-production?

1. Best to have a tripod handy. I was amazed at how steady I was able to keep without a tripod, but wished I had one along though it would have made for difficult movement up the waterflow.

2. I need to brush up on my camera’s options for bracketing. I wished I could have gotten 5 images instead of 3 to really give more information to the program to work with. I wonder how much better my images could have ended up?


I was playing around with some settings to see about some other options for a more dramatic look. With both of these outcomes I’m not entirely happy. The first is just too dark and the second looks a bit fake to me.


Top 11 pics of 2011 (post 7 of 9: Hiking Mulanje, Malawi)

A month after ski camp (September), Mika joined me on a pretty tough 3-day hike up Mulanje Mountain in southern Malawi. I’ve been itching to truly climb this mountain ever since I first heard of it back in 2001 on my first visit to the area. Finally, we made it happen and a truly amazing experience it was.