Hi gang—-I’m back, rested and ready to jump back in the saddle (kicking things off with the premiere of our 2nd season of “The Grid” today at 12:00 noon EDT with our special in-studio guest, Joe McNally), but I thought first I’d share a few of the pages from my photo book from my trip this past week (click on them for much larger views). Also, here’s a quick video I did on the blog about how to create photo books like these.

Recharging the Batteries
This trip was strictly vacation for my wife and I, and my mother and father-in-law (really awesome folks and fun to travel with), came along, as did my crazy brother Jeff. I really just kicked back and relaxed, which I needed after wrapping up my next book, “Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It” the day before we left, so I could totally relax and just be a tourist and hang with the family. Perfect!

The challenge of shooting on vacation
Nearly all of the travel photography I’ve done happens during my own family vacation, not during a dedicated photo travel tour, so you kind of have to make the best shooting generally in mid-day harsh direct sunlight. A few years ago, when I went to Dubai with my brother and my buddy Jeff Revell, we went there to take photos. That was our goal, and reason for going, so we would get up at dusk, get in position early, be set-up with our tripods at dusk, and so on, but on a family vacation, the vacation part comes first (which is as it should be. I’m just particularly lucky that my wife is so cool about me having my camera with me at all times).

On this cruise, the photography part was particularly tough because by the time our ship docked and got cleared by the local customs officials for us to go into town, the good morning light was long gone. Worse yet, we usually had to be back on the ship by 6:00 pm at the latest, so we missed every sunset (and any chance of good late afternoon light) in every city but Dubrovnik, Croatia, (which is just an amazingly beautiful city, so I shouldn’t complain). Sunset was around 9:00 pm, so we usually saw it from the back of the ship while already out to sea (I know, “boo hoo,” but you know what I mean).

When I’m on a family vacation, that means lots of organized bus tours (and shooting out of bus windows), and 10 minute photo stops here and there. Luckily, my wife is always looking out for opportunities for me to go shooting, so we also usually grab a cab for a couple of hours so I can get to some good areas to shoot. It doesn’t help with the lighting situation, but at least I’m not shooting out a bus window, and the drivers are more than happy to let me shoot at a location for pretty much as long as I want, and my wife and family are very, very patient with all this, which is awesome.

So, while it’s a challenge photographically, it’s a ball family vacation-wise, and once we leave our organized tour and just walk around, then it’s just kind of like a photo walk, but with more walking, lots of laughing and less shooting, but I always have my camera nearby.

Four Countries in 7 Days
Cruise vacations are great for giving you a taste of different places, so you can find ones you really like and go back for an extended visit. We started our trip as we landed in Venice, Italy and then immediately boarded the ship in Venice harbor. It kind of broke my heart not to have a chance to shoot in the beautiful city of Venice (we had been there three years ago), but the darn ship left port so early, and we had to get checked in, and blah, blah, blah—long story short, all I got to shoot of Venice was from the top deck of our ship as we went down through the Grand Canal and out to sea late in the day.

Our first main stop was in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Just an amazing city, with wonderful people, great food, and fantastic architecture (That’s one of only three HDR shots I took on the left page above). I tried to make sure I didn’t keep my face buried behind my camera, and that I took the time to enjoy my family and the wonderful sights all around me, and I surely did both. I took just over 1,600 shots for the entire week (less than I do for a football game), so I had lots of time to relax and just take it all in.

After Dubrovnik, we went to the country of Montenegro, which really surprised us with its charm (loved the old town of Budva and the island resort of Sveti Stefan—shown above left, and that’s also the island I showed in yesterday’s post). Totally charming country and people.

The Main Reason for this trip
My wife gave me this trip as my Christmas Present last year, and she especially wanted to do this for me because it included a stop in Corfu, Greece, which was where I celebrated my 20th birthday playing in a disco band back in the 1980s (the exact year isn’t really that applicable now, is it?). I had always wanted to return to Corfu, and visit the hotel our band “Loose Change” spent the summer that year playing at their rooftop lounge, and I also wanted to visit the nearby fishing village of Benitses, where we spent our days hanging out (and our late, late nights after the gig partying at “Spiros on the beach”).

We hooked up with two taxi drivers that took us to the Regency hotel where our band played. I walked in the front door of the hotel, and I was amazed at how little had changed in all these years. Everything was in the exact same place (except of course  the furniture had been updated, and they removed the gift shop), but outside of that, it was like walking through a time-warp. The hotel clerk went and found the one staff member who had been working there since the 1980s, and he came out to meet me. He saw me and said “I remember you—you used to play the keyboards!” We talked for while, shot some video, took some photos, and it was off the Benitses for the best meal of the trip. Our taxi drivers (Sam and Niko) were just so much fun, and it was really a day I’ll never forget. Thanks to my sweetie for putting this all together for me.

Magical Santorini
We wrapped up our cruise in what was hands-down the highlight of our trip—a day in Santorini, with bright blue near-cloudless skies with the winding white-washed building and bright blue domed churches (the first set of shots at the top are from there). We took a mini-bus tour to the nearby village of Oai, and I was just blown away. It was photography paradise. It was so beautiful, that even in harsh mid-day light I had one of the most fun shooting days ever. My brother Jeff, quite a good photographer in his own right, was shooting alongside me and we just couldn’t believe the charm, the architecture, the colors, and the wonderful backdrop of the Mediterranean.

Besides being even better than I had imagined Santorini to be, the one thing that surprised me was that it’s located on the top of a mountain, and that you have to take a cable car ride up to the top to visit the city. I had always just assumed it was a seaside village—not a mountain top one, but that made it even more special (and more scary, because I don’t particularly like cable cars. It’s that whole “fear of heights” thing, but it was absolutely worth it and then some).

Camera Stuff
I stayed with my “less is more for travel” camera rig, and I used my 28-300mm f/3.5 – f/5.6 lens the entire time. Never changed lenses one. Actually brought my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, and never took it out of my camera bag. Took my travel tripod, too and it never left my cabin (even though it should have, especially in Dubrovnik since we were there until dark), but I usually had so much light (too much light actually), that I got by without lugging it around (they were having VERY warm weather—usually around 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so we were sweatin’ like things that really sweat a lot). My camera body was my Nikon D3s, and I did wind up having to crank the ISO a few times because I didn’t bring my tripod (there’s always a tradeoff, right!).

Settings
I shot in Aperture Priority the entire time, usually at around f/8 so everything was in focus. Occasionally for a family photo, I’d switch to f/3.5 to get a soft background (I always make a second photo book with all the family and vacation-y type photos, but my wife prefers I don’t share those personal shots here, and I’m cool with that). No filters or anything fancy. Just one body, one lens, and I left the camera bag in my cabin.

Post Production
Please promise me you won’t be disappointed when I tell you what I did for the post processing, because it’s very unglamorous and boring. I basically did three things in Camera Raw (Well, actually Lightroom’s Develop Module, but it’s the same thing):

(1) I went to the Camera Calibration panel and changed the Camera Profile from Adobe Standard to Camera Landscape (as seen below)

(2) I went to the Basic panel and (don’t hate me) clicked the “Auto Tone” button. Hey, it worked pretty darn well in most cases (see below). If the colors started looking too punchy, I would undo this step, but most of the time it worked surprisingly well, especially since I didn’t have a bunch of time to mess around with each image.

(3) The other thing I would do here and there is to use the Adjustment Brush to brighten an area. Let’s say a part of a window was in shadows; I would get the brush, increase just the Brightness amount (never the Exposure amount) and paint over that area to open it up a bit (as seen in 3 below).

There are two tweaks I only did in certain cases. For example, if the harsh daylight looked just too harsh and bright—I would go to the Basic panel and lower the Brightness (midtones) slider a bit by dragging it to the left until things didn’t look so bad. So, basically I would underexpose the photos a little bit, and they looked much less harsh. If the photo had an important part that wound up in the shadows, I would increase the Fill Light a bit. Not a bunch, but just enough to open it up a bit.

I also added some contrast to three of the photos. Then I would turn on the Matte Paper Sharpening set to High when I exported the Raw images as JPEGs. That’s pretty much it. I know, you were probably hoping for some cool tricks, but that’s pretty much it (aside from using the Healing brush to remove sensor dust, or an annoying power line or nosy tourist’s foot). ;-)

One more HDR for the road
I had to do one mega HDR in honor of our friend Barb Cochran (whose work was featured in RC’s new book), and that appears on the right side of the page above. I walked in this tiny restaurant, and it was so dark inside, and so bright outside, I knew it was born for HDR. However, I had to give it the “full juice” and so I slapped all sorts of HDR-lovin’ on it.

It’s always great to go; it’s always great to come home

Of course, we missed the kids like crazy, so we’re actually very happy to be home. Now, it’s back to work, and getting ready for my first Canadian Tour (we already have over 450 photographers signed up for my Toronto stop on July 6th), but first I gotta keep that McNally guy from cussing like Maisel when he’s on “The Grid” later today. Hope you guys will tune in to the new season, kicking off today at 12:00 noon EDT. Here’s the link.

Thanks to the warm wonderful people of Greece and Croatia, and thanks once again to Brad for covering for me while I was gone. It’s great to be back. Now, it’s off to get ready for the show! :)