New Year

Sam and I spent Christmas in Dallas this year with my family and a majority of our time was focused on the most recent addition to the family, Myles. Looking back on 2016, it was an odd year to say the least but there were some pretty great moments throughout the year as well. That said, I can't think of a better way to spend the last few days of the year than to enjoy a few good meals, movies and quality time with family.

2017 will no doubt be a big year for photography, and for travel. Our plans include traveling to New Zealand, Australia, Spain and Portugal. In addition to travel, I plan to print my second, and most significant, photography project which includes select photographs made during the past five years of traveling the world. From North America to Europe to Africa and Asia. My previous project, A Life in Paris, focuses on the time we spent living in Paris, France in 2015.

All photographs were created with the Sony a7R Mark ii, the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA and the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8

Thanksgiving

Sam and I spent Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh this year and it was filled with quality family time and holiday festivities. For me, the holidays are often some of the hardest times for me to consistently shoot. I often fail to balance making time to shoot with focusing my energy on family time. More specifically, I'm very cognizant of how much time I spend with a camera in my hand when visiting with people I only get to see a handful of times a year. That said, I know there's a balance and it's something I've been working towards over the past few years with this Thanksgiving being a success.

For starters, Carl, my father-in-law, recently had his BMW Z3 repainted and I had the opportunity to create a few photographs of both the car and a few portraits of him the day he got it back from the shop. To say he was nervous about seeing the car for the first time after it was painted would be an understatement. If there's one thing I know about my farther-in-law, it's how much this man loves his sports car. This was incredibly special moment for me because I had the opportunity to both document the newly painted car and create a few portraits of Carl, which is a rare treat. I few of the select photographs are below and I plan to create a few large format prints for Carl to keep.

In addition to documenting the restored BMW Z3, we spent some time outside of Pittsburgh searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Having grown up in the south, I'm never fully prepared for how beautiful the northeast can be, especially outside of major cities - the rolling hills, colorful foliage and sleepy morning fog represent the ideal environment for me. And, now matter how many times I've seen these views, I'm never fully prepared to experience them each year during the holidays. The entire family spent all morning searching the farmland for our perfect tree and we found two - one for Sam's parents and the other for my sister-in-law and her boyfriend.

All photographers were created with the Leica M6 and Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

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Film Workflow

I've been working with Richard Photo Lab for a little over a year at this point and I've started to dial in the final look I've been envisioning this past year. While I'm incredibly excited that all of the time, effort, learnings, failed photos and conversations with my lab have led me to a desirable outcome and more enjoyable in-the-moment shooting experience, in retrospect it's pretty simple.

One of the strange aspects of the photography community is how secretive everyone is about how they shoot and achieve their final results. Instagram, blogs, YouTube videos, and meets up are filled with questions along the line of: "What camera do you use?", "What were your settings for that shot?", "What's your post workflow look like?", "What presets do you use?", etc. These questions are rarely, if ever, truthfully answered. I've always found that to be strange in a community that is inherently collaborative and social, especially all of these Instagram photographs who aren't shooting major commercial contracts.

Of course, there are exceptions, my personal favorite being Johnny Patience, who has blogged in detail about everything from how he shoots film, works with his lab, and even allows you to use his color settings. Matt Day is another photographer who has recently provided a brief albeit insightful video to his film workflow. So, I've decided to share a detailed view of my film workflow in order to help those who may be looking for that one insightful idea that helps them refine their creative vision. In a way, I wouldn't be where I am today from a creative perspective without the help of people like Johnny Patience.

When I first decided to take photography more seriously, one of the biggest mistakes I made was the idea that I could do most of the work after I took the photo - in Lightroom, Photoshop, name your tool. The web is flooded with the benefits of shooting RAW, the power of new mirrorless cameras, digital sensor technology and creative presets. And, they're right. Modern cameras and post processing tools are incredibly powerful but they don't help me achieve the final look I'm after. If you're shooting HDR, panoramas, or more conceptual work - go for it. That said, focusing on the how rather than the why you're taking the photo was my first big mistake. Secondly, spending time after you take the photograph is time intensive and unfulfilling. In retrospect, it took me years and 1,000s of failed photographs to learn how to see light as well as learn that you need to strive for the best possible results, preferably 95% of your desired look, in camera and not rely on the technology.

With those to principles in mind, let's break them down one at a time. First, being able to see light is critical and, unfortunately, can't really be taught. I'm convinced this is a life long pursuit as I'm always learning, failing and uncovering new approaches to each situation. There are amazing tutorials, books, and videos on all the types of light and how to approach them but you ultimately need to experience them, see them, and fail to truly understand how to approach each shot. For the purposes of this post, I'll sum up an impossible lesson in a few key scenarios that I often seek out: window light indoors (no artificial lights on), shade during a intense/bright sunny day, backlit subjects, cloudy/overcast days, morning and evening golden hours.

When shooting in these situations, I always intentionally overexpose with film (rate Kodak Portra 400 at 200) or expose to the right with digital photography (usually +0.75 to +1.25, depending on the amount of available light). There are endless debates about "Film: expose for the shadows", "Digital: expose for the highlights", however my aesthetic tends to be bright, pastel-like photographs, so I always expose for the shadows, even at the cost of lightly blown highlights in digital. That's it - I take the time to view the light in the situation, typically shoot wide open with prime lenses at f/1.8f/2.0, or f/2.8, compose the photograph in Manual or Aperture Priority, make sure I'm slightly overexposed but not losing too much detail, and take the photograph.

Once I receive my film scans or digital files, I spend about thirty seconds to a few minutes on each photograph. Those few minutes are mostly spent brightening whites, darkening blacks for both aesthetic and contrast preferences. In addition to whites and blacks, I may slightly adjust the temperature to be slightly cooler as Kodak Portra 400 can tend to create yellowish tones or make the photograph warmer than I'd like. If any additional edits are required, it's typically bringing up the shadows and adjusting the exposure to ensure I'm achieving my bright, pastel-like look. My aesthetic is very much in alignment with Kodak Portra 400 when shooting film and I do my best to achieve similar results in my digital photography. That said, even with the technology we have today, film still provides a depth and aesthetic that can't be achieved with digital. I'm hopeful that concepts like Fuji's Classic Chrome will be the answer, but I'm not convinced.

Below are examples of my workflow in practice from my recent trip to Avalon. I've provided both the original film scan (ie. straight out of the camera) on the left and the final edit on the right. In addition to before and after, each image includes the histogram and basic Lightroom edits required to achieve the final look. Since focusing on the best possible in-camera results, I've never used features outside of the Basic tab in Lightroom which allows me to spend less time behind a computer and more time enjoying photography. If you have specific questions, leave a comment.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 or the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.  

I enjoy bright photographs and I tend to over-expose / expose to the right in both digital & film 

I enjoy bright photographs and I tend to over-expose / expose to the right in both digital & film 

Leica M6, Summicron-M 50mm f/2, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200

Leica M6, Summicron-M 50mm f/2, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Leica M6, Summicron-M 50mm f/2, Kodak Tri-X 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Avalon

Sam and I recently took a trip to Avalon, a small East Coast beach town just north of Cape May. I was incredibly excited to visit this particular beach given that Sam grew up vacationing here as a child and I’ve heard about it and their family stories ever since we first met. Avalon offered a relaxing small town experience with beautiful views and long days filled with reading, napping and lounging at the beach.

Avalon was the first trip where I left my Sony A7 Mark ii at home and only shot film. It was an amazing experience to leave behind the chargers, memory cards, and all the other tedious albeit amazing technology that photographers have access to today. That said, brining two fully mechanical film cameras allowed me to be present and experience more during my trip with my wife and our family.

Leaving digital behind for a week was far easier than I imagined it would be and I find that to be a little unsettling. To make things more complicated, the results I got from both my Leica and Hasselblad are outstanding and require only a few minor edits straight out of the camera. I’ll be working with Richard Photo Lab next week to try and have these minor edits handled during scanning so my workflow evolves to just shooting. No edits. My hope is to find a digital workflow that allows me to find similar tones and depth that I find when shooting Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400 and while I’ve found an approach that I really enjoy, it’s nowhere near the look of film.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 or the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

NYCWLK 2.0

After our trip to Avalon, Sam and I took the train from Philly to New York for the second annual NYCWLK in Brooklyn with Johnny Patience and his wife, Rebecca. It was an amazing experience and I’m truly grateful I had the opportunity to meet, learn from and shoot alongside someone I find incredibly inspiring in one of the best street photography cities in the world.

In addition to meeting Johnny and Rebecca, Sam and I had the opportunity to meet other film, digital and hybrid photographers from around the world. This truly was a special weekend for me given my decision to pick film back up last year. And, aside from the creative refinements I was looking for, Johnny was a big motivating factor to making the addition of film to my workflow.

It had been awhile since I was last in New York and I found myself amazed with how large the city is and how little one could actually know about a city they’ve visited numerous times throughout their life. The NYCWLK also happened to be during the September 11th fifteen year anniversary weekend and it was a weird mix of emotion, both for myself and the city. I’ve never experienced such a quiet and somber weekend in New York.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 or the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Winter Is Coming

With Fall in full swing, I've started to shift from constantly shooting to reviewing, refining and reflecting on where I am with my photography work. While Fall is still one of my favorite times of year, Winter requires a bit of preparation - especially those months where there's not much to do other than trying to stay warm. I've grown to enjoy winter because it allows me to focus on aspects of photography that don't necessarily require a camera but are equally as important.

Since returning from Paris a year ago, I've continued the overall goal of refining my vision by exploring 135 and 120 film formats as well as printing my work in various formats with the help of Richard Photo Lab. These areas of focus have resulted in significant growth with regard to creative exposure, understanding the nuances between digital and film photography, and understanding the complexities of fine art prints. In addition to learning a great deal, I've finally reached a point where I'm sending portfolio pieces to print as large format fine art prints. The image below is a rough contact sheet of my original selects and final decisions.

Looking ahead, Sam and I will be traveling to Australia and New Zealand in February. That said, one of my goals this winter will be to learn more about the creative process behind Astrophotography (with the help of Ian Norman over at Lonely Speck) given that we'll be spending a majority of our trip exploring the Southern Island. In addition to Astrophotography, I plan on learning more about the technical aspects of digital camera sensors. More specifically - after shooting 135 and 120 film and achieving stunning results out of the camera, I'm interested in better understanding why digital photography images are initially flat out of the camera and how I might be able to achieve more film-like color profiles when shooting digital. 

All photographs were created with the Sony A7 Mark ii and Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8ZA, the Leica M6 and Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2, and the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Beginner's Mind

I love traveling and I love creating photographs, but one of the hardest components of photography is when I'm not traveling - when I'm forced to photograph my neighborhood. Don't get me wrong, Sam and I live in a beautiful city and right on Lake Michigan. That said, most of us fall in to the trap of getting too comfortable or taking for granted what you see day in and day out which leads to feeling less inspired or compelled to create photographs on a daily basis.

There's a really interesting concept in Zen Buddhism called Soshin or "beginner's mind" which forces us to be present, completely open and accepting of everything around us. I find this concept to be particularly relevant to both photography and travel, especially when what you're shooting or exploring is something you've grown accustomed to. There are many people out there that believe great photographs can only be created during once and lifetime trips or events. Below are a few photographs created over the course of several weekends, all within walking distance from my home and practicing the concept of beginner's mind.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 or Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Photo Essay: My Livable City

When I first started working at my current design studio, I gave a brief presentation on travel photography and some basic guiding principles for creating more compelling photographs. After my presentation, I was approached by a coworker about an opportunity to write a photo essay for My Livable City around the theme of resiliency.

I immediately thought of both Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, South Africa and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico as two great examples of communities that have been resilient in the face of global economic change, tourism and rampant consumerism. Below is digital copy of my first published photo essay. Thanks again to Amrita for the opportunity to contribute.

The Print

Around December 2013, I decided to travel the world and pick a camera back up. 

Prior to that decision, I hadn't really photographed much since 2008 and while I've consistently traveled my whole life, I wasn't making it a priority nor was I traveling to the bucket list locations that I had dreamt of while growing up. Since December 2013, I've traveled to some of the most amazing places and have created a few thousand photographs along the way. From Europe to Africa to Asia, I've experienced some of the most amazing cultures and its people and while I've extensively documented it, I have yet to make an actual print.

I first started thinking about the print process while living in Paris, France in September 2015. At that point, I felt really great about where I was with my craft and vision but made a list of the areas I felt were holding me back. The three topics that I felt I needed to focus on were: 1) shooting manual, 2) learning to shoot film and 3) printing my work and I've dedicated the past eight months on those three topics and have made great progress. Being interested in technology and working in digital product design, I always felt that viewing the photograph on the screen and storing my photographs on hard drives and associated back ups would be sufficient. But after reading a few inspirational books (including Ansel Adams' The Print) and speaking with professional photographers who can no longer access digital backups from years ago due to evolving technology, I realized that I was holding myself back in both creative expression and technical understanding of the craft.

While shooting manual film cameras has been my main focus this year, I've started to lean in to printing some of my work. At its core, printing is a whole new world including vocabulary, color profile considerations and a bit of an art when it comes to translating digital files on a screen to a fine art print in your hand. It's been frustrating, time consuming but ultimately incredibly rewarding and I feel as though I've grown more in the past few weeks than I have since I moved back from Paris. I've been working closely with my film lab, Richard Photo Lab, on determining the best paper stock, file sizes, print formats and archiving methods and I'm finally at a place where I can create my first ten to twelve fine art pieces for my portfolio.

Printing, along with anything photography related, will be a life long process but I'm very excited to be moving forward with the prints below and grateful to have decided to expand my understanding of the craft beyond the camera and computer screen. 

All photographs were created with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony A7, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA and Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OSS.  

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Nice, France

Nice, France

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Six Months with the Hasselblad 500CM

It's been roughly six months since I started shooting with a Hasselblad 500C/M and experimenting with medium format film photography. I'm grateful to have found both Johnny Patience's blog and Jonathan Canlas' Film is Not Dead as primary inspirations for pursuing this aspect of photography and I believe that I've grown more in the past six months than I have in the past three years. Learning to slow down, envision the end result, manually meter and shoot with fully mechanical manual cameras has been a crucial part in my growth as a maker. And, it's been a lot of fun. 

With a Hasselblad, I've learned that you really have to work to create quality photographs and while it's a much slower process, it elevates your craft across all of your other cameras including digital. Below are three photographs straight out of the camera, the first being my first photograph with the Hasselblad, the second from my first roll shot on my Hasselblad in November '15 and the third being a similar photograph from my most recent roll in May '16. I'm incredibly pleased with my most recent results and have slowly learned every detail of this camera and Kodak Portra 400. 

All photographs were created with the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss 80mm Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

First photograph taken with the Hasselblad

First photograph taken with the Hasselblad

First roll shot on my Hasselblad in November

First roll shot on my Hasselblad in November

Latest roll shot on Hasselblad in May

Latest roll shot on Hasselblad in May

Leica 135 Explorations

Since returning from Paris, I've mainly been exploring medium format film photography. So much so that I found myself shooting more and more with my Hasselblad and less with my Sony A7ii while Sam and I were in Africa. This experiment has continued to help me grow as a photographer and has since evolved in to an exploration of 135 film with the purchase of a Leica M6 and a Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2.0. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter in tracking down a near mint condition Leica M6 from the original Leitz Factory. I decided to invest in a new Summircon-M 50mm f/2.0 given that both the M6 and the Sony A7ii mounts will support the lens and it's a piece of glass that I plan to have the rest of my life. Needless to say, this was not a typical purchase for me and it was part of my #30before30 that my dear friend Jimmy Watson often reminds me of.

There are many things that I've learned in a short period of time about shooting film that help me better understand the craftsmanship behind creating a photograph - especially when you're shooting with a Hasselblad 500 c/m or Leica M. That said, I'm not sure I see a use case where I walk away from shooting digital altogether, rather I find myself shooting more of a mix of both formats which manifests in carrying a Sony A7ii and either the Hasselblad or Leica when I'm out creating photographs. One of the most important aspects of shooting film beyond the craftsmanship is the ability to truly focus on the scene resulting in more intimate photographs. Focus in the sense that both the Hasselblad and Leica cameras are so incredibly simple to use and provide only the basic elements required - aperture, shutter speeds and focal distance. Compare these minimalist designs to a camera like the Sony A7ii that have every possible bell and whistle you can image which can be critical in certain low light moments but more often than not provide an overwhelming amount choices and second guessing when in the field. Furthermore, while these cameras are dead simple they're also some of the most beautiful cameras I've used in my life.

Craftsmanship in having to work for my image, focus and simplicity all lead to a more present experience and more intimate photographs which is why I continue to find shooting film more and more rewarding. I've decided to take some time away from my sole remaining social network in Instagram to continue this focus on creating stronger photographs rather than releasing photographs for likes, comments and shares. I'll be releasing a few selects from time to time on my blog, but plan to share a larger body of work in the new year. In the meantime, here are a few of my first photographs with the Leica.

All photographs were created with the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2.0 on Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.  

South Africa

One night over drinks, Sam and I decided that we wanted to travel the world. And, over the past two years, we've found ourselves exploring nearly every continent including a temporary living arrangement in Paris. While visiting Japan was the number one country on my bucket list, South Africa was the number one on Sam's so we decided to plan a big trip away from the brutal Chicago winter and spend several weeks in South Africa. Needless to say, Africa is a massive continent and even though we spent several weeks in South Africa, we left feeling like we had hardly scratched the surface of a country let alone a continent.

We began our trip in the Northeast corner of South Africa, just south of the Mozambique border in Kruger National Park. We stayed on a beautiful game reserve for four nights and spent nearly every waking moment on safari game drives and photographing African wildlife. It's hard to describe the feelings you experience when driving through the African bush in an open-air off road vehicle and pulling up next to a Lion - it's a mix of awe and absolute understanding and respect for who is in charge at the moment. In addition to amazing wildlife photography and observation, we had a run in with a few aggressive African Elephants. As we quickly learned, you're powerless in those situations resulting in us having to sit in complete silence and wait to see if the Elephants wanted to provoke us or move on about their day. Luckily, they chose the latter.

After spending a good amount of time in the African bush, we flew to Cape Town where we spent the rest of our trip. Cape Town has a little bit of everything - from gorgeous wine country to Cape Point views and amazing food and culture. One of my absolute favorite parts of Cape Town is the small community of Bo-Kaap. Everything about Bo-Kaap is worth visiting - the colors, community, architecture and historical significance within a country like South Africa. Beyond Bo-Kaap, the stunning views at Cape Point were worth the trip alone and at the time of this writing, the furthest south we've ever been however this will change with our upcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia. While we felt we only scratched the surface of this country during our stay, South Africa seems like it has a little something for everyone. 

For additional photographs, refer to my South Africa on Film post.

All photographs were created with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS and Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G OSS. 

South Africa on Film

Sam and I spent the last few weeks exploring South Africa and escaping the winter weather in Chicago. South Africa was the first large trip with the Hasselblad 500CM and it did not disappoint. While a majority of the photographs created on our trip were with the Sony A7 Mark ii, I wanted to take a moment to post some of my select photographs from the Hasselblad before writing a more in-depth post covering South Africa as a whole. 

Throughout our trip, I carried both the Sony A7 Mark ii and the Hasselblad in an Ona Bowery and I found myself reaching for the Hasselblad more and more. Shooting with a Hasselblad feels like the ultimate user experience when it comes to creating photographs and I find myself becoming more and more invested in film. I've talked about this at length before, however the experience of shooting with this camera coupled with the colors and depth of the scans are forcing me to consider if digital should take a back seat to my film cameras - especially with a Leica M6 and Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on the way. The Leica will hopefully resolve some of the issues with the Hasselblad, specifically when wanting to shoot outside of a 1:1 ratio and being able to bring the camera up to my eye rather than composing at waist level. In addition to the experience, colors and depth - film, including the shots below, are nearly straight out of the camera requiring very little time sitting at a computer. While the Sony A7 Mark ii creates stunning end results, it requires a bit more time reviewing and making minor adjustments to such large RAW files.

Needless to say, South Africa was an amazing experience with gorgeous views making it a trip for any photography enthusiast. I've just started to review and write a post covering our adventures, but with the amazing turn around time at Richard Photo Lab, I had to take a moment to share some of South Africa on film.

All photographs were created with the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss 80mm Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Life in Paris: A Personal Project

Sam and I temporarily relocated to Paris late last year. During that time, I decided to take a sabbatical and focus on photography and exploring the city. Needless to say, it was one of the better decisions in my life. I spent every waking moment with a camera in my hand which resulted in a feeling of peak creativity, a better understanding of how my photography is evolving as well as some of my strongest photographs to date.

When we returned to the States, I spent several months and countless hours reviewing and selecting photographs and journal entries in order to create a coffee table book titled A Life in Paris highlighting my Parisian observations and experiences. I sent the first copy off to print while we were in Africa last month and I received a copy a few days ago. The quality and final product completely blew me away and the more I print my photographs, the more I realize that it's part of the creative process - especially in a world of pure digital photography where photographs end up on a web portfolio and the RAW negatives die on some hard drive.

Below are a few photographs of the final product and A Life in Paris will not only be an incredible reminder of the time we spent living in Pairs but a reminder of how important it is to shoot personal work and explore larger passion projects. For select photographs from the book, please reference my previous Paris posts.

All photographs were created with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, and Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS.

London Layover

Every once and awhile, we must travel to remind ourselves of what the monotony of life makes us forget. That there's so much more to life beyond your digital screens, job title and daily to do lists. The past few months have been especially hectic with holiday travels and work and I find it incredibly terrifying how fast we can get caught up in the rat race (even after taking some time off to live in Paris with Sam). Regardless of a hectic schedule and polar vortex-like weather, I've managed to continue to make progress with my explorations in medium format film photography as well as continue to refine my creative vision. I look forward to building on that progress as Sam and I are off to Africa today for two weeks.

In addition to African travel explorations and photography, I'm beyond excited to be writing again and it just so happens that I'm typing away with a warm cup of tea in the London Heathrow United Club. London has, and continues to be, a great mystery for me. I've traveled a great deal but have never experienced London in the truest sense. I've only experienced what its like to fly through London. For whatever reason, London always seems to be a connection rather than a destination and I'm beginning to think that should change especially given my BBC-like TV viewing habits, love for Lewis Hamilton and the quick non-stop routes offered by every major airline.

While we're only here for a few hours, I'm excited to see where our African adventure takes us in the next few weeks. And, hopefully have a few photographs to remind us of the experience. 

Photograph taken with an Apple iPhone 6.

2015 Year in Review

The end of 2015 leaves me with a strong mix of emotions as well as the challenge or grappling with the realization that another year has come to an end so quickly. I'm overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude as I look back on all of our travels this year, but at the same time, I carry a sense of sadness knowing that this will most likely be the best year of travel in our lives. To put it simply, we've had one hell of a year... And, I may finally understand what Mark Vanhoenacker meant about constantly finding yourself in new environments. 

"Place lag, unlike jet lag, may get worse with the passage of time. A huge proportion of our memories relates to the most recent minutes, days, or weeks of our lives. So the first days in a foreign city, even as our bodies begin to adjust to the new time zone, fill our minds with the accumulating incongruities of a new place, displacing the presence and immediacy of our now distant homes. The world gets stranger by the hour." - Skyfaring

For starters, we travelled south to San Miguel de Allende and learned what it truly is like to live in Mexico, away from all the spring-breakers and tourists of Cancun or a Playa del Carmen. A few weeks after returning from Mexico, we headed to the Fart East with our first stop in Tokyo where we enjoyed some of the most amazing food and hospitality from the Japanese people while checking off the number one item on my bucket list. From Tokyo, we took a bullet train to Kyoto where we experienced the amazing bamboo forests and Buddhist temples. From Kyoto, we travelled back to Tokyo via bullet train and flew directly to Beijing where we learned to live without the internet for a week and leaned in to our adventurous side when it came to food and navigating the massive city. 

A few months back in Chicago, we traveled to Napa Valley and Sonoma for our one year wedding anniversary. Northern California holds a special place in my heart and this trip further solidified that feeling when we spent an afternoon tasting some of our favorite wines on the Matthiasson family farm. We traveled back from Northern California and packed our bags for Paris. As I write this, I still find it hard to believe that we ended this year with a temporarily living arrangement in Paris, France (not to mention taking a sabbatical). I couldn't think of a better way to end the year of international travel by taking time away from work and living life in Paris with my best friend. 

And, I should note that up until this point I haven't even counted the number of weddings, graduations, funerals, baptisms and family or friend commitments in between each of these trips. Like I said in the opening, I'm filled with excitement and gratitude as I recount our experiences from this past year. While I feel it may be the most traveled year of our lives, we have a strong foundation for the years to come. 

Up next, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. Then on to Australia and New Zealand.

All photographs were taken with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, and Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS.

Paris

My wife and I recently returned from living abroad in Paris, France. We were fortunate enough to return a few weeks before the recent terrorist attacks that occurred last month. And, as I write this post, I find myself overwhelmed with happiness as I reflect on our experience and deeply saddened as it's still hard to imagine what happened in a city where I lived a few weeks prior.

As for living in Paris, we ended up moving to France this fall for Sam's career. She was selected as a top candidate for her talent exchange program. As for me, I decided to take time away from work and focus solely on exploring the city with my wife and my camera. Our flat was located in Batignolles which is part of the Seventeenth arrondissement just northwest of the center of Paris. We ended up in the Seventeenth because we wanted to live away from major tourists areas and really gain a deeper understanding of what it's like to live in Paris. We also wanted to live with the Bobo's (also known as Hipsters) of Paris.

For starters, I can't explain how beautiful and inspiring Paris is as a city. It's architecture, history, food, wine, art and its people are truly unique and, despite all stereotypes, friendly. While living in Paris, I made it a point to capture enough moments and journal entries to create a coffee table book for our home. I wrote every morning while enjoying a cup of coffee at Café Kitsuné and then headed off to explore a new arrondissement and create photographs. The coffee table book is a work in progress at the moment and this post is the first step towards scanning and processing both my journal entries and photographs. I hope to have it complete later this winter and will share a few images when its complete.

Our time in Paris was definitely a highlight in our lives and I can say without a doubt that we were able to see the city in a way that can't be done if you're simply visiting for a few weeks. Our trip was my first and I know for certain that it won't be our last.

All photographs were taken with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, and Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS.

Napa Valley

Sam and I spent some time in Napa Valley and Sonoma this summer celebrating our wedding anniversary. We had never been before however it's always been high on Sam's list of places she's wanted to visit and it's a location that doesn't required a lot of convincing for anyone.

We stayed in a small guest home on a beautiful vineyard which we found through Airbnb. The owner was an older woman who lived there with her dog and leased the vineyards to local companies. I can't imagine living in such a remote and beautiful part of the country. It's hard to imagine waking up and looking outside your window to the hills and vineyards that make up Northern California.

While visiting, we spent an equal amount of time in both Napa Valley and Sonoma, with the latter being where we started our explorations. Sonoma, in my opinion, was the better of the two locations. We met Holly at The Shed on our first day for a private lunch and tasting from one of our favorite producers, Lioco. From there, we visited several of the vineyards along the main routes to and from Sonoma. I still remember the Lioco experience incredibly well. The wine, the fresh produce and the amazing food served by the friendly waitstaff at The Shed. I should mention that we're by no means wine connoisseurs, just huge fans of the "The New California", or minimal intervention, crowd of wine producers including Lioco, Matthiasson, Massican, etc. These wines generally are much lower in alcohol, have a more subtle flavor profile and are meant to be paired with food. That's about all we know!

While we really enjoyed the Lioco experience, it could not compare to our time at the Matthiasson's home and vineyard. A few months before traveling to wine country, I contacted our favorite wine producer, Matthiasson, and offered to do some pro bono consulting. Instead, they invited us to their home during our trip and Jill Matthiasson hosted a wine tasting from her and her husband's personal collection. It absolutely made our trip - we enjoyed some fantastic wine and made some new friends.

We ended out trip with a large meal at The Fremont Diner before driving back to San Francisco. I was a bit concerned about the diner being somewhat of a tourist trap, but the food ended up being great and I'm really glad we took the time to visit. Once back in San Francisco, we waited to board our flight back to Chicago. And it was only a few weeks later, while waiting at SFO again, that Sam told me that we would be temporarily relocating to Paris, France in the fall.

But more on that in a future post.

All photographs below were taken with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.8 ZA, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 OSS, and Fuji Neo Classic Instax Mini 90

Fuji Instax: Friday Morning overlooking the San Francisco Bay

Fuji Instax: Saturday morning view from our small guest house

Kodak Portra 400

Most weekends I find myself waking up early, enjoying a cup of coffee with my wife and spending time with my photography. This time can span editing, photography or reflecting on things I've learned recently. That said, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of my most recent learning with Kodak Portra 400.

I've spent the past few months exploring medium format film photography in addition to refining my creative style in photography. While the former has yielded significant learning and growth in a short period of time, the former has been a work in progress for the past five or six years with the most significant growth being the last two to three years.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I expect my creative style to continue to evolve as I gain a deeper and more advanced understanding of the craft. That said, I believe photography will be a life long learning process and I don't expect to ever experience a moment where I feel I've stopped learning or growing as a photographer.

Kodak Portra has been an amazing discovery for me and has helped me grow quite a bit these past few years, but it wasn't until I really began exploring the depths of Portra 400 over the past few months that I truly started to grow. More specifically, I've started to analyze the slight nuances of various Kodak Portra 400 stock variations including Kodak Portra 400, Portra 400 NC (Natural Colors), Portra 400 VC (Vivid Colors) and Portra 400 UC (Ultra Color). Kodak has a great overview if you're interested reading a more technical specification of each film stock.

While some of these variations are no longer produced as film stock, I've had to rely on digital color profiles. My preferred option at the time of this writing is VSCO Film Pack 02. When shooting film, I've been using Kodak Portra 400, but when shooting digital I'll work within the color profiles provided in the VSCO film pack. One of my goals as a photographer is to continue to refine my exposures and significantly limit my post-processing (both in time and effort) by capturing the best image straight out of the camera. SOOC is one of my favorite aspects of shooting Portra Film on my Hasselblad. The images that camera produces are so beautiful and require zero post-processing. As for the Sony A7 Mark ii, I've found it best to focus on capturing the best image SOOC and then applying the VSCO profile and adjusting only the Exposure and White Balance as necessary.

While Portra is positioned as Portraiture and Wedding film stock, I've found it to be an amazing film for everything from Portraiture to Street and even Landscape. As with any film, there are certain scenarios where it truly shines and others where it struggles a bit, but I've found Portra 400 to be the best all around film both in latitude of exposure and look and feel. When I first started shooting film I really wanted to love Fujicolor Pro 400H, however it hasn't resonated with me as much as Portra. Maybe that will change over time, but the whites and natural tones I capture with Portra 400 and Portra 400 UC are hard to beat. When comparing Portra 400 and Fuji 400H using the same photo, I tend to find truer whites with Portra where Fuji 400H casts a more creamy, even magenta-like, tone to the overall image. There are some insanely beautiful images captured with Fuji 400H which leads me to think I either have not found the best way to expose with this film or simply put it doesn't align with how I create images. 

I took a photograph this morning and applied the various VSCO color profiles of Portra 400 to help visualize some of the nuances mentioned above. In my opinion, Fuji 400H would align much closer to the cream and magenta tones found in Portra 400 VC. I've been very pleased with the Portra 400 and Portra 400 UC images below and believe they align closer to my creative style while maintaining the reality of the scene. The big difference between the Portra 400 and Portra 400 UC images is the warmth. Portra 400 has a much stronger classic blue Kodak tint to it, while Portra 400 UC has a bit of warm, but not to the extent of creating strong cream or magenta tones found in Portra 400 VC or an equivalent Fuji 400H.

I'll continue to experiment with Fujifilm Pro 400H but in the meantime will be spending a great deal of time shooting with Portra 400, both with my Hasselblad and Sony A7 Mark ii.

All photographs below were taking with the Sony A7 Mark ii and Sony Sonnar  T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA. All images were processed using Adobe Lightroom and VSCO Film Kodak Portra 400 color profiles.

Kodak Portra 400 Color Profile, SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Kodak Portra 400 UC (Ultra Color), SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Kodak Portra 400 NC (Natural Colors), SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Kodak Portra 400 VC (Vivid Colors), SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Beijing

The first and most significant observation when stepping off our flight from Tokyo was how close in proximity yet how incredibly different in culture China and Japan are from one another. It's truly something you have to experience. No photos, documentary, or even blog post can describe the feeling of culture shock you experience, especially as an American.

For starters, China seemed to be a much larger group influenced culture where Japan was very individualistic albeit grounded in some form of "for the greater good" mentality. From the swarms of old men and women practicing Tai Chi in the local parks to the military or government-sponsored demonstrations throughout the city, Beijing gave off a vibe of community-driven activity and more subtle, and at times not so subtle, themes of government's role in the people's lives and China in general. The Chinese people were also more expressive and vocal in public when compared to our experience in Japan.

Of all the countries Sam and I have travelled to, China was the most difficult for us in terms of language barrier. That said, the people of China were very welcoming and helpful. We encountered a few Chinese locals who requested photos with us which was an interesting albeit fun experience. In addition to curious locals, we were able to find a few unbelievable meals off the beaten path including a local dumpling shop (Sam's favorite) and a peking duck meal (my favorite).

The most inspiring part of China was visiting The Great Wall of China. Similar to culture shock, there is no way to describe, or even capture in photographs, the beauty and all awe-inspiring feelings you experience when hiking, and at times climbing, The Great Wall. To this day, I struggle to wrap my head around how something so large could be that detailed and consistently designed - especially at the time that it was built.

Overall, China was an excellent addition to what originally was planned to be a Japan-focused visit. I'm very glad we made the decision to extend our trip and grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time in both countries.

All images below were taken with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.8 ZA, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE  16-35mm f/4.0 OSS, and Leica  24mm f/1.4 Summilux.