Around the World and Back

Where to even begin? When I was 23 I had yet to even step foot into an airport let alone a plane. That was only 2 years ago. This story should entitled, "Liftoff: From 0 to United Platinum." In all seriousness though this past year has been the wildest and most fulfilling year of my entire life. I took a job after college graduation that was going to allow me to travel and experience the world while working. I signed into a two year program, this job is now nearing it's end. During my time I was able to visit 21 countries in just under a year. I wanted to write a bit of a memoir of the last year of my life and how it was possible and what I was all able to see and experience. 

California

My first stop on my journey was Southern California. I was living in the heart of Orange County. You know the place where you see all the reality TV shows and everyone spends all day on the beach? Yeah, there. This was my first experience really living away from home. I probably spent my first three weeks there on the beach every single night after work just soaking in the experience of having the ocean so close, especially since it was the heart of summer when I arrived. After a few weeks we started to really venture out and try to see as much of California as we could with only a car at our disposal. With weekend trips to Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, San Diego, San Francisco, Lake Mono, Lake Tahoe, Joshua Tree National Park, Hollywood, Oceanside, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Alabama Hills, Big Sur, and Monterrey you could really say I made the most of my time in California. Car camping was the only way that this was possible on the budget we had, but it was well worth it for the experience even if it meant A LOT of rough nights of sleep. I was able to experience some of the best food I had ever had in my life, arguably the best Mexican food in the USA as well. The weather was beautiful year round, I remember on my birthday for the first time having the windows down and it being 80 on December 30th! I never dreamed of things like this living in Wisconsin my whole life. This was also where I truly felt my passion for photography kicked off. I wasn't the best but I sure did put a lot of effort into learning during my time in California. Unfortunately my time in California was only a short six months and I was to move back to the Chicagoland area for my next assignment...

 

Chicago

Moving back home felt like the end of the world at the time. After living in Southern California you feel kind of spoiled (especially returning in the heart of winter). I tried to make the most of my time in Chicago. I was able to befriend some local photographers who took me under their wings and really pushed me to be the best photographer I could be at the time. Every Saturday morning you could find us at North Ave beach shooting sunrise regardless of the conditions. I took a break from traveling the country for a few months. Come May though I figured it was time to venture out. I ended up exploring all over Washington and Oregon and was able to see the only parts of the West Coast I really had not seen yet. After this right when I was informed I would be spending the next six months in Europe, I decided to head to the most American place on earth, New York City. Since I lived at home during this period it was easy to save up a little money to travel. I also decided to upgrade my camera while I was home and moved over to Sony which is what I shoot to this day. I ended up really valuing my time spent back home as it let me recharge and spend time with friends and develop my photography skills a bit more before heading over to Europe. 

Chicago Theater - Chi.jpg

Europe

My first time out of the country, and it only took 24.5 years. I was moving to Germany, where some of my family's heritage was. Upon landing I felt like I was in a whole new world, no one spoke English, my cell phone didn't work, the signs were in German. It was all so overwhelming. The first few weeks were some of the roughest I have had in my days. Feeling uncomfortable and trying to adjust to day to day life in a place where I struggled to communicate and didn't know anyone. This would become such a commonplace thing in my life that I look back and laugh upon those times. I lived in a town not too far from Frankfurt, Germany which was perfect for traveling all around Europe with it being so central. I probably traveled almost every single weekend that I lived in Europe, there might be 2-3 exceptions, but I wanted to make the most of my time in Europe. In my first month I visited Venice, Italy, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Madrid, Spain, Prague, Czech Republic, and London, England. Needless to say my world changed in what felt like overnight. I had never dreamed of seeing Big Ben, El Clasico, a "coffee shop", and a city on water ALL WITHIN A MONTH. This was just the beginning too! After these trips I went to Paris, France, Vienna, Austria, London, England (again), and Munich, Germany for the famous Oktoberfest. It's hard to believe that this was reality at a certain point. Drinking a few steins with friends at Oktoberfest was something I only dreamed of from watching movies. Seeing the Eiffel Tower light show at night and the Louvre exhibits in person are experiences I truly believe everyone should have. 

So that has to be it right? He couldn't possibly have traveled so much. Although I was burnt out, constantly traveling, trying new foods, immersing myself in new cultures, this was just the beginning. I ventured to a place that I wasn't even sure was on Earth, Iceland. My friend flew over to meet me and we lived out of a SUV for 9 days and boy what a 9 days it was. Seeing everything from black sand beaches to the northern lights (a spiritual experience trust me) my mind was sufficiently blown by this other worldly place. After this I returned to meet my parents in Germany before traveling over to Zermatt, Switzerland where the world famous Toblerone logo, i mean Matterhorn is. We enjoyed a few days of hiking and site seeing together before heading to Geneve and then back to Germany. I had never been on a vacation with my parents so this is a trip that really stood out to me and I will cherish forever. The following week I headed to Italy where I would explore Cinque Terre, the famous 5 colorful towns on the Italian coast. Arguably the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen which such cool architecture to boot. After this I finally took a well deserved two week break and slept my life away. This wasn't the end though, as after this we headed to Hallstatt, Austria in the Alps. A serene mountain town known for its picturesque views and salt mines. We learned an important lesson here with my drone, Bobby (didn't we Michelle?). Following this trip I flew home to spend a few days with my family to recharge from the work stress that had been adding up (don't forget I was working full time through all of this). After returning to Europe I went to Copenhagen, Denmark and had some exquisite food while taking in the beautiful colorful Nyhavn harbor. Next stop was Stockholm, Sweden where I explored the world's longest Art Exhibition in the Stockholm metro. Things were coming to a close now and I had to make the most of my last few weeks. For Christmas a coworker had convinced me to take the biggest leap that I had so far, Dubai. Really if you had told me I would be in Dubai on January 1, 2017 I would've laughed and said "but why?" Dubai brought me some of the most breath taking views and cultural experiences of the year. From the slow fog that covered the city to the beautiful Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque (and my hilarious cab driver for the day 'Pablo Escobar'). I met some awesome photographers on my hotel's roof in Dubai whom I still talk to and hope to visit again. My last trip would be to Brussels and Brugges, Belgium. Both places had EXCELLENT food and beer. I would be lying if I said I didn't indulge in these things during my time. 

So that was a fun SIX MONTHS?!? It's hard to believe after typing this all out that all of that occurred in 6 months of my life. I am confident I will look back on this 6 months of my life and wonder how I did it all. I really hope everyone gets an experience like this once in their life. Next stop, Singapore!

Asia

Singapore was my next destination that I would call home. After sleeping for 16 hours straight I woke up and hopped off the plane only to be welcomed by the warmest air I had ever felt in my life. That's when I knew I was home. I settled into Singapore and explored the country for my first 8-10 weeks really trying to take in the culture and photography as much of Singapore as I could. Singapore really opened me up to a variety of foods that I would've never had in the Western world. I met some of the best photographers and people here as well and hope these people remain close friends throughout my life. 

My first trip took me to Japan. I decided to head to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka for my first trip outside of Singapore. This trip I took solo and quickly got out of my comfort zone while in Tokyo. Having some of the most amazing dishes in the local Japanese Ramen and Yakitori whilst trying to communicate via mostly hand gestures and broken English. Tokyo was the city I imagined I would've dreamed about as a kid. Full of video game and technological influence and bright neon night life. This was contrasted by Kyoto being the more traditional city with lots of historical and cultural things to do and see. Walking through the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Inari were bucket list items I am so glad to have checked off. I even managed a day trip to Osaka to check out the shopping and Dotonbori area that is packed with neon goodness. All while getting to try the Japanese bullet train and be accompanied by the amazing people of Japan.

About a month later I was finally able to experience the wondrous world of Hong Kong. My close buddy Jethro (@jethoon) and I traveled to Hong Kong together so that he could show me around since he had been numerous times before. Hong Kong was nothing short of amazing. We had dim sum almost on a daily basis while experiencing some of the coolest rooftop views the city had to offer. We hiked up to Suicide Cliff and to Lion's Rock as well which were two cool experiences that had epic views to offer at the end to reward our hard work. We met an insane amount of locals during our time in Hong Kong whom are all both kind and hilarious individuals that I still talk to. Hong Kong was definitely one of if not my favorite place I have been to so far in my life. We even managed a day trip to Macau which was a unique experience I may never get again. I highly recommend this trip if you have a spare day in Hong Kong. It's a formerly Portuguese controlled territory that is located about an hour boat ride from Hong Kong. 

For my last final ride we made a trip to Shanghai, China. Not without its speed bumps as we were delayed almost 24 hours... We eventually made it though and our journey began. We started off by hitting some classic spots after having an amazing breakfast at Mr. Pancake (Shanghai has really good Western food). We met with locals and conquered some rooftops we some epic views of the city. Shanghai has one of my favorite sets of buildings in the world. We had some close calls but in the end it was a lot of fun and worth it. Between all the shooting and food, Shanghai was a heck of a time and I wish I had more time to spend there. I will definitely be back to experience more.  China is an epic place that will surely push you outside your comfort zone.

Conclusion

After returning home for a few weeks, I have had some time to reflect on the past couple of years. Now that I have written this all down I realize just truly how surreal this experience has been. Twenty-one countries in just shy of a year and almost half of the states in the US. I was able to do this because of my job, which relocated me to various parts of the world for two years moving every six months. Lots of budgeting and roughing it had to be done to make it all happen but I would do it again 10x over. It changed how I see the world and who I am as a person tremendously. I think it's time for a short break from traveling. Closing this chapter in my life hasn't been easy.

Top 5 Cities: Jordan's List

Asia, Europe, US, you name it. I have been to 20 countries in the last 11 months and I wanted to take some time to give you guys a list of my 5 favorites from the last year. Obviously this will include my own personal bias so take the list with a grain of salt. I will try to keep the list diversified so it's not too centered on a single type of city. Without further adieu lets get right into it.

#5 Dubai/Abu Dhabi

To kick this list off I'll start with a place that really made me step outside my comfort zone. Dubai was my first time truly in Asia. My time in there was spent 50/50 of being upset the weather was quite crap and I was unable to shoot and the other part being in pure awe of the scenes and culture. Dubai is known for its Utopian like building and rich culture. Being a super city located in what seems like the middle of the desert is very unique. Home to the Burj Khalifa (currently the tallest building in the world) and the Dubai Mall (biggest mall in the world), Dubai is home to doing it the biggest and best where they can. Dubai is absolutely massive and the Metro is not too well established yet, so I found it easier to get around using Taxi. The Metro is really affordable, just not convenient for a few days stay. I would love to go back and maybe rent a car or have a personal cab driver handy with the knowledge I do now. I also did a day trip to Abu Dhabi which I hired a private limo for. The trip is about an hour by car. I went to Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. One of the coolest experiences of my life was spending the day here and watching the sun set with my cab driver. Seeing the details of the mosque and how their religion and culture functions was really interesting to me. I recommend doing this if you have a free day in your itinerary. Food in both places can be as expensive as you want, Dubai is known for having extremely good food, however it will cost you a pretty penny. 

Moody Daytime - Dubai.jpg

#4 Paris

Coming in at #4 is Paris, France. I had heard that Paris was a hit or miss city. Some folks told me they absolutely loved it, while others told me they hated every second of it. I found that I really enjoyed my time here but didn't get to see enough in my short stay. I stayed about 2 blocks from the Trocadero Gardens, the most famous view of the Eiffel Tower. This made it easy to go to the iconic spot for Sunrise on my first morning which turned out to be a beautiful scene. Paris also has a really solid metro system which I had no issues navigating (use GoogleMaps for Metro Routes). I was able to go to a few museums, including the Lourve which was my favorite museum I have been to around the world. The food was quite good as well, I wish I would've been more adventurous with food back then, but unfortunately I cannot time travel. I am hoping to get back to Paris in the next few years and explore a lot more than I did my first time around!

Lourve Sunrise Landscape - Paris.jpg

#3 New York City

Now I couldn't create a list of the best cities I have been to without including any North American cities, so I decided to include my favorite in New York City, New York. The city has so much history and culture packed into such a small area. I have been to NYC a total of 3 times so far, each time I go I end up discovering new and enjoying it even more than the last. The food in New York is really some of the best I have had around the world. You can get any type of cuisine you desire all in one city. The subway system is quite convenient as well once you learn it (again I recommend using GoogleMaps to navigate it). You can use Uber/Lyft/Taxi, but expect to pay handsomely for these services. New York is absolutely massive as well so thinking you can walk from Time Square to the Brooklyn Bridge is not such a good idea (yes I did it, no I don't recommend it). One trip to New York is never enough, each borough requires a couple of days to itself and since there is 5, it's no easy feat. I highly recommend New York to anyone who has never been to the US as a great starting point to understand what it's really like to be an American. 

Tudor City Taxis - NYC (4x5) SS.jpg

#2 Tokyo

Now I fully expect some of this to be recency bias, but I stand by my rankings. Tokyo comes in at #2 for me. I made a trip here by myself for 6 days and had an absolute blast front to back. The food was absolutely phenomenal from the ramen to yakitori. The shopping was fantastic as well, I spent an entire day in Harajuku checking out stuff and the scene was really cool. The city carries a very cool aesthetic that is driven by one of the best cultures I have ever experienced. The people were so friendly and helpful doing everything they could to make my stay more pleasant. Also being that I grew up on lots of Japanese anime and video games, I hit a big wave of nostalgia when I was here. Even though the weather didn't really cooperate it was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. The metro, although appearing to be very confusing, is super easy to understand and convenient. The Neo-Tokyo aesthetic is very real come night time as well. This is a place I plan to return to in the next few years because of how pleasant my experience was. Tons of places to shoot amazing images as well, including the best street photography in the world (that I have experienced). 

Electric Ave - Tokyo SS.jpg

#1 Hong Kong  

The best city in the world for me thus far, Hong Kong. I think this boils down to experience. Getting to explore the city with one of my best friends and eating some of my favorite dishes for 8 straight days is something I almost never get to do. Hong Kong is super friendly to English speakers. The metro system is insanely easy to understand and very convenient.  I was able to cover so much ground in Hong Kong in my 8 days there. From the tourist spots all the way to hidden gems and hikes many people don't do when they go to Hong Kong. I think I ate dimsum on a daily basis (no regrets). We spent a lot of time rooftopping here and enjoying unique views of the city and this provided a thrill as well. I met some of the nicest people and life long friends here too which is something I will never forget. Hong Kong was a place I thought I could find myself spending a few months in finding some new to do everyday. I definitely plan to come back here and spend more time and highly recommend this to anyone reading.

Central Light Trails Classic - HK SS.jpg

Conclusion

I have been to so many other cities that didn't make the list that probably deserve recognition too (Venice, London, Shanghai, Kyoto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago etc). I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my favorite places on earth. I'd love to hear what yours is and why. Drop a comment below.

Stay true to you.

Jordan

ISO

The least known and experimented with portion of the exposure triangle is what we call ISO, or the sensitivity of your camera's sensor. The more you increase this ISO number, the more sensitive your camera is to light, thus allowing more light in. However this comes with a trade off, the higher the ISO the more noise that appears in a photo. Now you ask what is noise?

Noise is what you would call "visual distortion" in a photograph, this resembles a grain like texture. Noise is usually experienced when shooting in low-light conditions (indoors/nighttime). Although there are some instances when it is necessary to increase your ISO in order to achieve an acceptable photograph. Your camera sensor will determine how well low light performance is. Sensors that are larger and more recent will perform better in low light. Hence why you will see full frame cameras being advertised for their excellent low light performance. Noise will remain the same for any given body at each ISO value too, which will allow you to do ISO testing to see at what ISO noise becomes unacceptable.

ISO is linear. Therefore when you double it, the amount of light you allow in also doubles. This makes it easier to determine what ISO value you will want to shoot at. 

Now noise can be removed from photos fairly easily, there are multiple softwares that can accomplish this. Even Lightroom can accomplish this fairly well, but this doesn't come without consequences. When you remove noise you are also removing fine details from an image and essentially "smoothing" it out. 

All cameras have what is referred to as base ISO, which is the optimal ISO for best image quality. This number is usually 100 but can be even lower given the body. Some cameras can go below base ISO down to 50 (if base ISO is 100) which can be used if you are trying to slow down your shutter speed for a longer exposure.

Here are some cases where increasing ISO makes sense: shooting the milky way, nighttime street photography, portraits at night or indoors (without proper lighting equipment), and indoor architecture photography where using a tripod isn't viable. Now there are many more cases but these are just a few examples. 

Remember that ISO needs to be balanced with both shutter speed and aperture. Shooting at the lowest ISO you can should usually be the goal. This will end our series on the exposure triangle. Now that have knowledge on the elements you should try to shoot in manual mode and practice, this is the best way to learn. Practice makes perfect (ok not really but you'll definitely improve).

Stay true to you.

Jordan

Shutter Speed

Zooooooooooooooooooooooom! A car flies by and you take a quick picture of it. Your camera freezes that moment in time and you have a picture of car that is seemingly going no where. It's flat, nothing seems to be happening in your image. How could you improve this? One answer could be taking full control of your shutter speed. 

Shutter speed is the length of time that your camera's shutter stays open allowing light in to hit the sensor. The longer your shutter stays open, the more light you are allowing in. Conversely, the faster your shutter speed, the less light you allow in. Remember this fits into the exposure triangle and needs to be balanced with aperture and ISO as well. Shutter speed is most often expressed in fractions of a second such as 1/200 or 1/4 but can also be expressed in seconds like 1" or 30". One thing to keep in mind is the longer you keep you shutter open, the more stable you need to be to account for body movement (or else use a tripod). If you are not stable this will result in a blurry image that appears out of focus. Depending on what type of photography you are doing (or what you are trying to convey) will depend on what is the proper shutter speed to use. 

Let's say you are shooting your kid's sports match. Whats the best way to approach this? You need a shutter speed that is fast enough to freeze time but also slow enough to let enough light in for a proper exposure. Personally I try not to go under 1/200 when I am shooting anything in motion and even that can be considered "too slow." For sports even quicker may be needed at around 1/500. Another important piece of info to note is what focal length you are shooting at will effect what is the slowest shutter speed you can use. In photos taken with a wide angle or wider angle focal length, details are less important therefore you can get away with using a slower shutter speed. However if you are using a zoom lens details are more important and this will cause you to need to use a much faster shutter speed. 

Note that when shooting images handheld you should never go below 1/focal length with your shutter speed. For example if I am shooting at 200mm I should never be shooting anything slower than 1/200 of a second (please account for crop on focal length which I will explain in a following article). 

However lets say you're not shooting sports and you want to convey a different message, maybe some motion blur in a car in a city shot to show how busy the city is. How do you achieve this? Slow down your shutter speed. Personally when I am trying to convey motion blur I aim in the 1/10 to 1" range when its comes to shooting waterfalls or car blur. In waterfalls it gives you that creamy look while still holding texture. For cars it allows you to really stretch the length and convey motion. Now if you slow down your shutter speed, this needs to balance, since you're allowing more light in you would need to make your aperture hole smaller (a bigger f number). Motion blur shots during the day are hard since you will end up overexposing most of the time. You can manipulate the amount of light your camera uses by using what are called filters which we will discuss another time. 

Night time landscape photos in order to be sharp will need to be taken on tripods with a long exposure of somewhere between 5" - 30" in order to allow enough light in. I will write a post on night photography in the near future. 

Below are some images that I will list settings of to help you understand how shutter speed can be conveyed. 

16mm f14 0.8" ISO 50 (7 images blended with 3 stop filter, tripod used)

16mm f14 0.8" ISO 50 (7 images blended with 3 stop filter, tripod used)

20mm f8 1/200 ISO 100

20mm f8 1/200 ISO 100

18mm f14 8" ISO 100 (tripod used)

18mm f14 8" ISO 100 (tripod used)

102mm f13 0.5" ISO 50 (3 stop filter, used tripod)

102mm f13 0.5" ISO 50 (3 stop filter, used tripod)

18mm f4 1/200 ISO 1600

18mm f4 1/200 ISO 1600

I hope these examples at least helped you understand how shutter speed functions. If there is any confusion feel free to leave a comment below so I can address anything I missed. Again remember to use a tripod for anything slower than 1/focal length of your lens!

Stay true to you.

Jordan