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ISLAND SPEED

Don’t you wish you were on that boat speeding across the brilliant sapphire water and heading to a remote tropical island with your special someone? That sure is possible if you were in the Caribbean and have lots of dough but for humble commoners like a majority of us, a cruise ship is a cheaper alternative to enjoy the high seas and to explore these exotic islands. I have been cruising regularly for the past 5 years and I enjoy visiting multiple places minus the inconvenience of dragging around my luggages. The only thing I like to drag around is my camera, which then allows me to capture so many interesting places. The photograph above was taken from my stateroom balcony a few hours after we docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, the island and the boats didn’t really provide much for my composition until the speedboat came slicing across the water. I like how the speeding boat added a sense of excitement and adventure to my composition. It makes me want to book and hop on another cruise.

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ORANGE BEAUTY

I found myself standing in front of an orange flamingo with a dilemna on how to photograph such a lofty animal. I didn’t want to photograph the entire bird from head to foot and look like the poor bird’s yearbook photo so I tried squeezing my creative juices to capture the beautiful bird in a different way. My first few shots failed to give justice to the majestic animal before me until the flamingo started twisting its neck to pluck on its feathers at times burying it’s head out of my view. I immediately focused my lens to the flamingo’s body capturing more details from the symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns of the feathers, the elegant curves of the neck to the fading colors from rich orange to ivory white. These close-ups allowed me to capture the flamingo’s private moment without intruding into it’s personal space.

PASTEL PARADISE

I was on a cruise to the Western Caribbean last week and our first port of call was the southernmost point of continental USA…Key West, Florida. I’ve been to this island multiple times and for me the best part about visiting Key West is the scenic drive through multiple keys (islands) and seeing the beautiful blue waters on both sides of the highway. Since I only had a few hours to enjoy Key West before we set sail to our next destination, I decided to limit my walk around town to a few of my favorite stores. Unfortunately, my favorite soap store, Fantasea, along Duval Street closed business a few months ago. I also planned to eat lunch in Blue Heaven but the wait time for a table was more than an hour so I ended up eating somewhere else. The only itinerary that I actually got to experience was the Key West Butterfly Museum where I was able to take a lot of photos that were featured on this page a few posts ago. I decided to return to the ship earlier than planned and found myself on my stateroom balcony staring out at this resort island across from the ship. I also noticed a pinkish haze in the atmosphere, which contrasted well to the blue waters of the sea, reminding me of the pastel colored soaps I used to buy at Fantasea. Key West is magical when seen on land but I was amazed how magical this island looks as well from the air.

STARRY STARRY NIGHT

One of these days I’d like to gather enough courage to drive somewhere far from the city and photograph the Milky Way in the darkness. In my case, the Florida Everglades would be the best place to escape the city lights. I am currently on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean Sea and last night I attempted to capture some heavenly bodies from my stateroom balcony. My tripod was unavailable so I rested my camera on the balcony ledge and held it firmly to keep it from moving. Unfortunately, the ship was rocking so I wasn’t able to keep my lens open for longer than 15 seconds otherwise the stars would have looked like tiny lines instead of dots. I included the bridge of the cruise ship as my foreground subject and the sky as background to emphasize that the photo was taken out at sea. In the distance you can see the glow of the city lights of Cozumel, Mexico adding an interesting touch to my composition. I also opted not to adjust the brightness in order to prevent the photo from looking too grainy. Below are my attempts to photograph the Milky Way from the aft of the ship. It’s a little grainy but I think good enough for a first attempt.

BORDERLINE

I was going through my old photographs when I came across this one I took during my very first cruise back in 2013. We just sailed out of Miami and the sun had just set creating a majestic glow in the horizon. Up in the sky was this expansive cloud creating a border above the horizon while sandwiching the fiery sky in the middle. As I focused my gaze out to sea, I got captivated by the poetic silhouette of a cruise ship created by the glowing sky. Thankfully I brought my DSLR with me so I was able to photograph the magnificent view before me. I can also still remember the slow rocking of the ship and the smell of the salty ocean breeze as we sailed steadily towards our destination. It was a totally new experience for me and I’m glad I did it because after that trip I became a cruise fanatic having been on 9 cruises since and looking forward to my 10th in the next few days. I have cruised the Caribbean a number of times, the Mediterranean, Alaska and across the Atlantic Ocean and I’m looking forward to more cruises in the future. My goal is to keep cruising until I can eventually claim to have cruised around the world.

HEAVEN ON EARTH

While planning my vacation to Barcelona, Spain, a friend recommended that I take a day trip to Montserrat, which is a mountain range about an hour drive from Barcelona. On top of the mountain is a Benedictine Abbey and a basilica (Santa Maria de Montserrat), which was founded in the 10th century and continue to operate to this day with less than a hundred monks. The place has become a major tourist attraction as well as a pilgimage site for young Barcelonians who hike overnight to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. On the day of my visit, it started raining in Barcelona and our tour guide warned us that it may get foggy in the mountains so visibility may not be good. I was feeling disappointed during the drive as I was looking forward to photographing the rock formations around the monastery and throughout the range. When we arrived at the abbey there was fog all over the place, however, I was still able to partially see the rock formations and realized that the fog made the whole place look like we were in heaven…it was a breathtakingly beautiful sight. As the day went by, the fog started lifting exposing more gorgeous rock formations driving me wild with my iPhone’s camera. My biggest regret that day was leaving behind my DSLR in the hotel and using my iPhone instead. Photos would have been more gorgeous had I used my DSLR. Anyway, here are a few photos I took during my trip to Montserrat, which in literal translation means “saw mountain” as it looks like a handsaw from a distance.

CASA MILÀ

A trip to Barcelona, Spain isn’t complete without visiting Casa Mila, which was the last residential building designed by the legendary architect, Antoni Gaudí. This modernist architectural wonder was built between 1906 and 1912 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. The building is also known as La Pedrera, which means “The Stone Quarry” due to its unique rough-hewn appearance. Fortunately, this famous landmark is just a block away from The Majestic Hotel where I was staying making the visit very convenient. The building’s design is very unconventional due to it’s undulating facade and spectacular rooftop covered with skylights, chimneys and staircases that look like sculptures using materials such as glass, broken marble and lime. The photos above and below were taken at the roof terrace of the building featuring the unique sculpture-like structures that are truly out of this world. I decided to zoom into the structures to emphasize the curves, angles, shapes and surfaces in order to make it look less familiar. Just so you know, people still live in this building to this day.

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SCARY HEAVENS

When people think of Miami, Florida the first thing that comes to mind is sunshine…and lots of it. Unfortunately during my cruise last month, Miami was covered with dark clouds and rain was pouring like crazy all over the place. The sail away was probably disappointing for a lot of out-of-towners who were all looking forward to a breathtaking sunset as we sail out to sea. I stood by my stateroom balcony ready with my camera but didn’t know where to point its lens. As we sailed farther out to sea I suddenly noticed these really ominous and black clouds with streaks of sunshine filtering through them. It looked both scary and beautiful and I thought it might come out nicely in a photograph. I started working on my framing and captured more of the clouds to emphasize its ominosity and to create a looming effect. I very much liked how the photographs turned out with the one above being my personal favorite as it effectively exudes a sense of dread in a beautiful way.

MONOCHROMATIC PARIS

Paris is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world and to capture in a photograph the very essence of this city is quite a challenge. I have an extensive collection of photographs from my last trip to the City of Lights but I’ve been struggling how to present them in a cohesive manner. I did notice a lot of street scene photos in my collection so I decided to group together a few of my favorites and present them all in black and white. The monochromatic effect creates a timeless and romantic feel to the photographs as if they were all taken in a different era. From the magazine kiosks and roadside cafes to the charming neighborhood shops and magnificent tree lined boulevards, it is definitely very difficult not to fall in love with this city.

THE VIEW

This is probably every billionaire’s dream view for an apartment in New York City, although unfortunately for them this view is already taken by the viewing deck of the 30 Rockefeller Center or more famously known as the Top of the Rock. The viewing deck provides visitors with stunning views of Manhattan covering every angle of the city and every major New York City landmark from the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and the Freedom Tower to the Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. The deck is always packed with tourists so this photo I took is a very rare moment as if I had the entire floor to myself. I also consider myself very fortunate to have been situated perfectly at the right spot as it allowed me to capture the Empire State Building right through the middle window. New York City is my ultimate favorite city and I try to visit it at least every year and whenever I’m in the Big Apple, the Top of the Rock is always part of the itinerary for my photography. I decided to process this photo in black and white in order to create a timeless and romantic mood to the photo. Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

VENICE…CITY OF CANALS

When I visited Venice, Italy I prayed so hard for my trip not to end that I would wake up really early in the morning and stay up late at night just to stretch each day. The city was just magical…from the architecture, to the rich history and culture and of course the canals, which are uniquely Venice, making this city one of the most visited in the world. During my stay, I went to watch a Vivaldi concert at a theater right beside St. Mark’s Square, hopped on a gondola that cruised around the city and took long walks along narrow alleyways and across bridges connecting the multitude of islands that make up this remarkable city. I also joined a tour of the St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace and visited the former home of American socialite Peggy Guggenheim, which is now a museum showcasing her extensive art collection. Harry’s Bar, which was right beside my hotel, was also visited to try their signature Bellini and to check out the favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock to name a few. The icing on the cake to my vacation was my suite at the luxurious Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia where my room had a view of the lagoon and my bathroom a view of the St. Mark’s bell tower. The hotel lived up to it’s five star reputation providing me with the famous Baglioni luxury and first class service. The photo above was taken in the front of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum while below are photos taken at Harry’s Bar, Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia.

Harry’s Bar

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Dining Room at Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia

Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia

View from my hotel suite

Living area of my hotel suite

The luxurious bed in my hotel suite

TEMPLE OF KUKULKÁN

I just got back from a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico and during this trip I visited Chichén Itzá, an archeological site in the Yucatan State of Mexico, which was once one of the largest and most powerful cities of the Maya civilization. This ancient city is now one of the most visited sites in Mexico and is famous for its 79-foot pyramid called the Temple of Kukulkán. Kukulkán is the name of a Maya deity, which is a feathered serpent whose head is carved at the base of the pyramid in the bottom right of my photo. During this trip, I also learned that a smaller pyramid is actually standing right inside this very pyramid because the Mayas just like other Mesoamerican cultures tend to superimpose larger structures over their older ones. While I was there, the place was packed with tourists that I immediately settled on the thought that my photos will have to include the throngs of tourists scattered all over the complex. I even stopped worrying about people blocking my view or walking in front of me while taking photos. Imagine my surprise when one of my photos turned out with barely a single soul on it…except for one holding an umbrella at the left side of the photo. I know having people in a photo adds perspective to the composition but a beautiful architectural wonder such as the Temple of Kukulkán deserves to be featured on its own. By the way, the Spanish colonizers renamed the temple to El Castillo (the castle) because of its size and intricate design. Chichén Itzá is now a UNESCO Heritage Site and was recently voted as one of the New7Wonders of the World.

BEYOND THE MIST

As we traverse this journey we call life, let us all remember that nothing is definite and as always surprises awaits us in every turn. Just like this new year we are about to ring in, all we can hope for are wonderful things to come our way although road bumps are quite inevitable. These bumps are there to remind us to slow down but never to stop driving. The photo above, which was taken during my cruise in Alaska a few months ago, seems to remind me of what it’s like looking forward to the new year. It’s misty all around making everything less visible and uncertain, however, as we move closer to where we are headed the view becomes clearer allowing us to appreciate what lies ahead. We were headed to Glacier Bay that day and I thought I will never see anything due to the thick mist. To my amazement, a few hours into the cruise the mist lifted and we glided into Glacier Bay with an unobstructed view of the most magnificent sceneries one could ever imagine. Life is full of surprises so don’t fret too much because beautiful experiences await us beyond the mists of life. Happy New Year everyone!!!

PITCHFORK FALLS

I always wondered how cotton candy effect on moving water is captured so thanks to Google I learned how to program my camera settings correctly. It is highly recommended to use a tripod when attempting this style of photography but in this case, I broke the rule and captured this handheld. I was on a rush to capture the Pitchfork Falls in Skagway, Alaska as I was on a tour plus it was starting to rain so I had to rush back to the bus before me and my camera got soaked. One technique I read somewhere is to exhale while capturing a photo to further limit the shake. I have a few more photos taken using this technique and will post them soon.

RAYS OF LIGHT

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we were sailing out of Vancouver, Canada towards Ketchikan, Alaska for a week of cruising in “America’s Last Frontier” when suddenly the skies transformed from bright blue to gloomy gray. We were aware of the weather forecast expecting rain throughout the cruise but didn’t expect the change to happen two hours after we left the port. So I headed for the Crow’s Nest of Holland America’s Noordam ship where I thought I would find the best remedy to a gloomy weather…alcohol! As I quietly enjoyed my White Russian while staring out at sea, I noticed the rays of light filtering through the clouds reminding me of those curtain lights they use in the theater.  It suddenly dawned on me that nature’s spectacle was occuring before me so I pulled out my ever reliable iPhone 7Plus and took multiple shots. Had it been a regular sunny day, the scene would have been a plain and simple view of the sky, islands and sea but thanks to bad weather, I captured a hauntingly beautiful photo of the ominous clouds filtering the sunlight and casting dark shadows on the water. On that day I learned how bad weather surprisingly turned out to be the best thing to happen with my photography.

EAGLE POINT

This photograph will be the last feature of my Grand Canyon photo series unless I find something in my photo bank worth featuring later. The Eagle Point in the west rim of the Grand Canyon is aptly named after a natural rock formation that looks like an eagle.  This majestic geological wonder is one of the highlights when visiting the west rim of the Grand Canyon. If you focus your attention to the top of the left wing on the photo, you will notice a line of red rocks that looks like a sleeping dog. The natives call it the “Sleeping Dog” rock formation for obvious reasons. When visiting the west rim of the Grand Canyon for photography, I think it is best to see it in the late afternoon when the sunlight is at its most golden further enhancing the redness of these natural wonders.

GONDOLAS AND THE GRAND CANAL

The Grand Canal in Venice is rarely this deserted so when I noticed the absence of motorized boats with only two gondolas on the water, I immediately grabbed my phone and snapped this photo. This majestic waterway, seen here from the Rialto bridge, is usually busy with motorboats sailing in all directions while transporting locals and tourists to different sections of the city. On the other hand, majority of the gondolas sail along the narrower canals for tourists to explore the unwalkable sections of Venice. The gondola and the canal are both emblematic of Venice so I am very pleased to highlight them both in this photograph.

PARIS IN PINK

The elegant and sophisticated city of Paris was my home for a week in the summer of 2015. It was my first trip to the French capital and I made sure to visit every major Parisian landmark during my stay.  On my first few hours in the city, I visited the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower as both monuments were just a few blocks away from my hotel along Avenue Kléber. The Arc de Triomphe was quite majestic in the middle of this roundabout providing a gateway to the world famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This monument, which is a museum with access to the rooftop, was built in honor of those who fought during the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. When I took this photo, I forgot to remove a filter on my lens thus looking a little pink-orange…and so did every other photo I took that day. 😬😜

LA ISLA BONITA

img_4362-1The island of Boracay in the Philippines is famous for its white sugary and powdery sand and has been awarded by multiple international travel magazines as one of the best beaches in the world. The movie Too Late The Hero starring Michael Caine and Henry Fonda was shot on this island in the 1970’s just as tourism was slowly coming in.  I visited this island 3 times and this photo was taken during my second visit around February of 2009 using a Samsung point and shoot camera, which I bought at Walmart for just $75. This photo was taken near my hotel at the rocky Diniwid Beach in the northwest part of the island where it’s mostly private resorts and is therefore less crowded and more peaceful. The main beach of the island is the White Beach, which can be accessed by a foot path from Diniwid, and is about 2.5 miles (4 kms) long and lined with hotels, restaurants and shops.

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