Gweilo in Hong Kong (Part I)

I only selected a few places to visit for longer periods of time during my stay in Asia, Hong Kong happened to be one of them. Boy did I not regret taking a week of my vacation to visit here. Not only did I get to travel with one of my best friends, but I also met so many awesome people during my time there. From eating dim sum for almost every meal to be chased off some of the coolest rooftops I have ever been on there wasn't a dull moment.

Day 1

We landed in Hong Kong around 4 P.M. in the afternoon, since Jethro flew in a few days prior I was on my own to navigate through the airport where Cantonese reigned supreme. Fortunately when I got to immigration a kind bilingual man helped me out with my landing card and I was able to get through. I was informed to grab an Octopus Card for the Metro and numerous other things, so I did this while I was at the airport before heading to the heart of the island. The train ride in was never what I would have expected, mountain after mountain for a while and then out of no where we came into the urban density of Hong Kong that you hear so much about.

'After arriving in Central Station we went to our AirBnB and then were on our merry way. We headed to Mong Kok to meet up with some of the locals that he knew. We grabbed some dinner and then shot the famous neon signs with the colorful minibuses. A relaxed first night but a good way to introduce myself to the area. 

Mong Kong - HK SS.jpg

Day 2

Being the lazy bastards we are, Jethro and I slept in a bit and took our sweet time getting ready for the day since it wasn't the best weather out. We headed to a spot in the Central District where the famous yellow crossing lines were. After a bunch of failures to get solo taxis going by, we were finally successful and then wandered about aimlessly in the area. The thing that really stood out to me during my first daylight walk about Hong Kong was just how colorful all the buildings were. As a person who loves to have color in his photos it was like a paradise for me. Another thing I noticed was how some of their elementary schools looked like penitentiaries with fences surrounding them and very few windows. 

Quarry Bay Close Up SS.jpg

After a casual stroll around we figured we would start to knock off some of the classics, so we headed over to Quarry Bay (one of the more famous Instagram spots, seen above). One of our buddies lived in the building itself so we met up with him and hung out for a while. Afterwards we headed to North Point where the super old gritty buildings (I know very descriptive when talking about Hong Kong) where the trams run through making for some great photo opportunities. While we were here it started to rain rather hard, so we decided to check out this portrait spot in the area. Little did we know we were in for the time of our lives. This man who draws portraits of people happens to have some very beautiful art of Chinese characters. We wanted to take some photos in front of them. This man appeared to be infatuated with me or something was incredibly off with him. He kept asking to take photos with me and wanting to see them afterwards and asking us to buy his drawings to the point it was very uncomfortable. This went on for 10-15 minutes. Being that I don't speak Cantonese I would often use this as my way out in awkward situations, so I walked away and never returned and my friends came running out after me a few moments later. A rather odd experience but one we laugh at looking back.

Central Light Trails Classic - HK SS.jpg

To end the night we went to a rooftop over in Central that overlooked the water that separates old and new Hong Kong. Some stunning views from this roof and was able to hit a few classic spots while in the area as well. Afterwards we shot some neon signs and the classic look up in Central to top off a productive day of shooting. Oh and how could I forget, we had dim sum too.

Day 3

The morning of the third day was similar to the morning of the second, we slept in and took our sweet time getting ready. After finally pulling ourselves together we headed over to Hong Kong University to shoot some spots. Which involved us taking the wrong exit a few times from the HK Uni metro stop. Shortly after we decided to try the Ferry system and took a ferry across from one side of the water to the other. We were in pursuit of another popular Instagram spot in Choi Hong Estate (the colorful basketball courts). This place is over populated with tourists and honestly a nightmare to shoot and edit. We didn't take any images while here but I thought it was cool to see what a place looks like in person vs through photos. We briefly stopped here on our way to the first hike we had planned for the trip, Suicide Cliff (aptly named). We took a minibus up the mountain until we couldn't any higher, from here we walked what felt like an eternity. This was all before the actual hike even began. The hike wasn't too brutal but it was straight uphill for 30 minutes straight which made for a challenge whilst carrying 15 lbs of camera gear. Once we got to the top it was all fun and games as the guys and myself played American music and just enjoyed the scenes and danced while waiting for nightfall. Upon nightfall we were greeted by two Westerners who had what looked to be about $20k in camera gear alone which consisted of only one lens and camera. The lens was the size of what seemed like a RPG. No idea how this woman carried it up the mountain!

Jordan Neon Signs Colorful - HK SS.jpg

Afterwards we head into the city for dim sum (what else?) before going out to shoot some of the dying neon signs in Jordan. Due to how old they are and recent typhoons causing many to fall they have been rapidly switching to LED signs. The signs are a huge part of the Hong Kong photography community. While in the area we hit Temple Street, a famous market that is known for the banners that stretch across the entire road which makes for an excellent photograph. We shot one of the two ways during this evening since you can shoot from both sides. This capped off an absolutely exhausting day of shooting where we ended up getting home around 1 A.M.

Day 4

You guessed it, I slept in and took my sweet time getting ready. We headed down to Causeway Bay to grab some breakfast with a local friend. Afterwards we were going to take a stab with some rooftops for some super unique views of the city. Our first rooftop provided some epic views of the city, I decided to drone from here to try and get some cool perspectives. If you didn’t know, Hong Kong has lots of signal interference so this creates for a rough time droning. I lost signal on multiple occasions but my friend helped me navigate my way to safety after much failure. I was still able to get a few shots like the one I will attach below.

Drone over Central Color - HK.jpg

After this we went to an elevator that had an open window that went to the 54th floor and shot through the window the whole way up and down. We also didn’t know at the time but when we were at the top we were next to some world famous rooftoppers who boasted followings of 300k+. They were live on Instagram and later found ourselves in their video which was kind of crazy. This lead us to our next stop which was at one of the cooler neon signs in Hong Kong. A dragon sign that is full of colors. First we shot it from one of the local apartment complex rooftops. After this we went to another rooftop nearby to shoot sunset or lack thereof. After another failed sunset mission we went to get some food before heading back to shoot the neon dragon sign while lit up. I think we spent an hour here trying to get the right shot (find mine below).

Dragon Sign - HK ss.jpg

Finally we headed to the colorful building in HK and went to the rooftop. A really unique view of Hong Kong, after a long day of shooting though we couldn’t end the night without some antics. On the roof were some bars next to all of the electric wires. My friends decided to have a pull competition on them and hilarity ensued. If i recall correctly Jethro bested Tim by one. One of the more hilarious things that occurred during my time in Hong Kong!

Note that during all of this my friends are mainly speaking Mandarin and Cantonese so I have my friend translating for me which makes most of this even funnier for me. Next week I will cover the final 5 days in Hong Kong. The adventure has only just begun…

Stay true to you,

Jordan

How Do You Edit?

The most common question I get is, "How do you edit your photos?" So today I am going to address that question. Each type of photo I take will require a different edit, so today we will focus on my cityscape images. Let's start from the top. (DISCLAIMER: Editing RAW files from different camera companies will yield different results.).

Before_After.PNG

Here is a before and after of one of my most recent Chicago images. As you can see the difference is quite dramatic. The first thing you'll notice is how dark my RAW files are. I tend to underexpose then bring the detail back in post processing. Note it is much easier to under expose and bring detail back than to over expose and try the same. Let's look at the basic adjustments first.

Basic Settings.PNG

From the top, I tend to leave a cooler temp in my moody images as I prefer the blue look. Otherwise I tend to stay as neutral as I can with my images. Lots of folks like to over warm their photos, but I am not a fan. I move the tint more to the magenta side as well due to my tone curve creating a more green look (this can be solved in other ways, I just choose to fix it this way). Exposure is brought up usually due to the dark RAW and preferring the blacks in my image to remain dark. I add a little bit of contrast as well just to make things pop since you'll see I tend to flatten the image with highlights and shadows. This is to bring all of the detail back in the photo. Whites are brought up to achieve a more natural look and then blacks are dropped to keep that dark black look.

Clarity is brought up a bit again to bring out some detail but this will all depend on the image, some images I will soften. Lastly you'll see I crank the saturation a bit globally. This is offset in the HSL though later.

Next is the RGB Tone Curve. You'll notice I bring my black point WAY up and then drop my white point a tiny bit. Mid-tones tend to stay neutral with not much contrast. I also use the individual RGB curves but they are more complex and I would struggle to explain so I will leave those out.

The HSL is the next step. This stands for Hue, Saturation, Luminance. This panel is purely photo dependent. Certain images have certain colors that I am trying to make stand out, so I use this panel to cater to these needs. Every photo is unique after all. You'll notice my favorite color is cranked to 83 saturation. The Hues affect the actual color itself, so you can change blue to aqua for example as you see in the photo. Saturation refers to the intensity of the actual color itself. Luminance refers to how bright or dark the color is. I often tell my friends that color luminance is one of the most important tools for editing.

Split Toning is adding color to the highlights and shadows of an image. Often I add a lot of blues to my shadows which is a look I rather enjoy. Occasionally I will also add orange to the highlights for sunset or sunrise shots.

Camera calibration is another way to play with the individual primary (I know Green isn't a primary color) colors that can make them pop in interesting ways.

This is really it for my LR editing process. Cropping can be important as well, most of my images are cropped to 4x5 as this is what Instagram uses. Make sure you are leveling your horizon as well. One thing that I didn't include in this is the touching up I do in Photoshop. For this image I de-saturated the color on the overhangs of the train station so that the color cast didn't distract the viewer from the rest of the image. It's important to think of yourself as the viewer of the image when editing it, figure out what pleases you and what displeases you. Everyone has a unique style, so don't think that you have to follow this. I just wanted to provide some insight to my curious followers.

Stay true to you,

Jordan

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

Full Frame vs Crop Sensor: What's best for you?

When it comes to buying your first camera or even upgrading, one of the first questions you have to ask yourself is do I want a full frame camera or a crop sensor camera. Some of you might already be saying to yourself, "But Jordan I don't even know what that means." That's why I am here. This decision will come down to a variety of factors: budget, style of photography you plan to shoot, will you need to print images, etc. Let's dive into it.

Full Frame

The term full frame is derived from the fact the sensor size is the same as traditional 35mm film which is as old as time itself. Full frame sensors are larger sensors than crop sensors. A crop sensor is actually what we refer to anything smaller than a full frame sensor. Full frames are able to capture a greater amount of dynamic range in images. They also offer better low light/higher ISO performance in comparison to their counterparts. One important thing to note is that lenses are also sold based on what sensor they are intended to be shot on with. If you buy a FF 16-35 it will produce images just as the focal length indicates. However when using a crop sensor with the same lens you will have to multiply the focal length by the crop factor (usually around 1.5 ish in today's models). Normally crop sensor lenses will have shorter focal lengths so that when multiplied by the crop factor they are close to the equivalent full frame lens focal lengths.

sensor size.jpg

Crop Sensor

A crop sensor as I previously stated is any sensor that is smaller than a 35mm sensor. As you can see in the image above the size comparison in a crop sensor vs a full frame sensor. Now although with a crop sensor you will have lower image quality, they are still the most popular cameras on the market. This is mainly due to cost. Crop sensor cameras are far and away cheaper than their full frame counterparts. Now cost isn't the only area where you can find advantages with the crop sensor, for certain types of photography having the extended focal length can be incredibly beneficial. If you are shooting wildlife photography I find it essential to be using a crop sensor camera (if you are not a millionaire of course). Professional wildlife and sports photographers always use the high end full frames paired with lenses that run well over $10,000 a piece. There are high end crop sensor cameras on the market than can produce stunning results as well.

What should I choose?

This will all come down to the things I listed above, budget, what you plan to shoot, will you be printing your images? If budget isn't a deciding factor here then I would recommend going all out and getting a intro full frame camera and dive right into things. If you are cautious and are not sure how into photography you will be, I HIGHLY recommend the crop sensor variation (for example my first camera was the Nikon D3300 crop sensor body).

If you plan to shoot landscape, architecture, or events then I would recommend going with a full frame in the long run as well. The dynamic range will be very important. Coupled with wanting to have the widest field of view which is achieved with a larger sensor. If you plan to shoot wildlife or sports photography then I would recommend the crop sensor variation again here as the added focal range will be incredibly beneficial for these images. 

If you plan to print your images in a very large format then it could be beneficial to have a larger sensor resolution which is often put on new full frame cameras. Most crop sensor cameras are equivalent on resolution now a days though so this isn't a necessity

 

I hope this was helpful and if you have any questions, please let me know.

Stay true to you.

Jordan

Tokyo Trials & Tribulations

You ever dream of a place for years of your life, but you could never imagine actually being there? To me that place was Japan. I always saw photos and videos of what appeared to be a wonderland to me (Cherry Blossoms, Rich Autumn Colors, contrast of old & new architecture). I think back to what I have told myself over the past few years, "Life is weird." I have found myself in places I didn't even know existed just five years ago. This month I was lucky enough to land in Japan and spend 9 days in the most beautiful country I have been (recency bias aside). 

I spent my first 5 1/2 days in Tokyo. I landed in Narita Airport on Saturday, filled with excitement I exited the plane in search of the Narita Express to begin my journey to Tokyo. After redeeming my Japan Rail Pass (a must if you plan to travel within Japan) I boarded and began my journey. After about 45 min we arrived in Shinjuku. I grabbed my suitcase and bag and headed toward my hotel. Upon arriving I was greeted by arguably the smallest room I have ever slept in in my entire life. My room consisted of a bed, about one foot of space on the left side and end along with a desk and a bathroom I barely fit in. Not that I needed anymore I was just surprised at how small the rooms truly were. 

Naturally, I set down my bags and gathered my camera and went out to explore. Being that I was staying in Shinjuku I chose to stay in the area and explore. I headed down to Kabukicho Arch to shoot the famous arch. I actually met a fellow American here and shot together the rest of the night. My favorite part of traveling is the people I meet and stories I gather along the way. I explored a bit more of the neon district and even was able to hit some rooftops along the way. Japan was exactly how I imagined it in my mind, covered in neon signs and dripping in color. I even tried my hand at street photography in the famous 'Piss Alley.' Everything in Japan is so photogenic that I was able to get some really incredible images.

The following day I made my way over to Ginza area to shoot Ginza Crossing. The crossings in Japan are insane. I have never seen so many people walk across an intersection in my life. Getting the higher vantage points made for some insane photos. Ginza is home to many other cool spots as well including a golden cinema, a crazy staircase inside an A&F (seriously), and a wicked view of the Ginza neon from a wedding boutique (wtf I know). Wandering around and getting lost trying to find spots was one of my favorite things to do in Tokyo (averaging about 30,000 steps per day during my stay). 

During the nighttime I tried to get some aerial views of Shibuya crossing but luck wasn't on my side as I was kicked out of a few hotels for shooting... Can't win them all! I did manage to grab a few later in the trip though thanks to some very generous locals. I did not bring my drone to Japan as I wanted to respect their laws and culture, so I was unable to get an overhead view of the crossing.

Navigating the MRT was a challenge I didn't think I would be able to handle (seriously look at the metro map below....). However it was super easy and convenient and I highly recommend it when you go along with getting the JR pass if you plan to leave Tokyo. The city is massive and can take 30-45 min to get from one district to another, so make sure to plan your days out in advance. 

Tokyo MRT.gif

The next day I decided to try my hand at the shopping district, Harajuku. Some of the most amazing shopping in the world. I checked out stores from all around the world. Ended up buying two shirts from Undefeated and taking some photos along the way. Shocked I didn't buy any shoes with my addiction. Their is a shop for everyone in this district, seriously. Next I headed into the Roppongi district when the night fell to take some images of Tokyo Tower. A pretty cool scene that resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Despite the constant rain everyday I was in Tokyo (and even a rare snow appearance) I was able to have an incredible time. The rain and snow really adds a lot of character to an already beautiful city.  Afterwards I needed to try my hand at the local cuisine. My friend Jethro (@jethoon on IG) recommended I try Yakitori. One of the best things I have ever had in my entire life. Basically they are meat skewers, super simple but so good (I tried the restaurant Torikizoku, cheap but good). 

I was able to meet up with a few locals as well while in Tokyo (@leoeatworld & @yako_flpr3 on ig). Two of the most kind people I have met through the platform. We shot in the classic Senso-ji area both on the ground and some of the cool overlooks. We even went up to a hotel roof where they offered us tea and pastries while shooting (Japanese people are so incredibly respectful and kind.) Following our shoot we went down to have some ramen at Ichiran. I know this is a sin, but I had never had ramen prior to this. Let's just say Japanese ramen lived up to its hype and now I'm hooked. Afterwards we head down to shoot Shibuya area during the rain which was absolutely breathtaking. We didn't finish shooting until about 11PM and the guys were feeling like having a late night meal. They took me to this spot that had a bunch of different deep fries items that you dipped in this delicious sauce, my favorite had to be the deep fried onion and my least favorite being the brussels sprout style food.

Sesnoji Overlook - SS.jpg

A trip to Japan isn't complete without hitting the Pokemon Center either, so naturally I found myself indulging in my childhood and spending a fair amount of time here and even purchased a few gifts. While in Odaiba, I wanted to check out some of the amazing architecture that it had to offer. Little did I know finding these complexes would take me 5 hours. Mostly because my friends couldn't remember the name of the complex, they were off by one letter. This led to my tour of the seven Family Mart's located all across Odaiba. A pilgrimage I will never forget and highly recommend to anyone who is batshit insane. Anything for the shot though. Afterwards I went to get some more Yakitori & a beer for my hard earned efforts.

This man deserves a paragraph for himself. He became famous on Instagram. He is hidden in a slew of shops in a small place in Tokyo. Upon finding him after my 45 minute journey, I shook his hand and he smiled and was more than happy to let me take his photo. This man is what I wish more of humanity was like. I wish I could speak Japanese to really let this man know how much I appreciate his positivity in life. 

The Homie - SS.jpg

Tokyo was just part one of my Japan journey though. Although it was a large chunk of the trip I have much more to share on Kyoto/Osaka. I hope you found my experiences cool to read about and even maybe helpful for planning your journey to Japan. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about traveling to Tokyo in the comments. Onward to Kyoto!

Stay true to you.

Jordan

Focal Length & How It Affects Your Image

Photos comes in many shapes and sizes. Some photos are wide and expansive while others appears tight and compressed. The way a photo is conveyed is heavy reliant on the 'focal length' used for the photo. Focal length is often referred to as how zoomed in you are. This can also be referred to as angle of view. Although focal length is an actual length that is expressed in millimeters (the distance between the optical center of the lens and the film plane). The smaller this number is, the wider your angle of view will be. This works the other way as well where the larger the number, the narrower your angle of view will be. 

An important thing to understand is there is two ways to 'zoom.' Using a longer focal length lens is one way, you can also use your feet to zoom though. Moving closer to your subject has the same effect as zooming in (though not identical). Conversely you can walk backwards to zoom out. Now these won't have identical effects. Zooming with focal length will create compression in images where as simply walking will just change perspective. Same with walking backwards to zoom out, this will simply change perspective vs exaggerating your perspective with a wider angle focal length. 

Focal length also largely has to do with what type of camera you are shooting on. Crop factor is what I am referring to. This deals directly with your sensor size. The larger your sensor, the larger your angle of view will be. To get the equivalent focal length you multiply the focal length by the crop factor. Most focal lengths are stated in terms of their full frame or 35mm equivalent lengths. 'Crop' Sensor camera usually have a 1.5x crop factor. Meaning if you shot with a 24mm lens on a crop sensor camera it would result in a 24 x 1.5 = 36mm focal length. 

When you are discussing focal lengths used, you should be using the number after the crop factor has been applied. So if you shot at 24mm on a crop sensor, you should refer to the image being shot at 36mm. Whereas if you used the same on a full frame it would be 24mm.

Common focal lengths

12mm-24mm: Ultra Wide Angles used to shoot architecture and landscapes, used to emphasize perspective (I shoot most of my images on this focal length range)

24mm-40mm: Wide angle used to shoot things wide, but make them still look natural. A lot of shots are taken in this focal range for day to day shooting.

40mm-70mm: This is a normal range that is pretty similar to what you see with the human eye, a very flexible range. My most common lens I keep on my camera is my 24-70 for how versatile it is.

70mm-150mm: Telephoto lens used for portraits and longer landscape or street shots. 

150mm-600mm: Typically used for shooting sports and wildlife

Hope this helped you understand the focal length of your lens and camera. Please let me know if there is anything I didn't address.

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

Aperture

You see a photo that you love, it has that trademark beautiful soft background you've been yearning to get in your own images. Problem is, you have no idea how to achieve this look. This can be achieved by understanding your camera's aperture. As we previously talked about, aperture is part of the exposure triangle as one of the key elements which controls what your end product will look like. Let's dive in and fully understand just what aperture is.

Aperture is that hole in your lens that allows light into your camera's body, ultimately hitting the sensor where your image is recorded. All lenses will have an aperture value assigned to them. This number can either vary or stay constant. When you see a lens listed it will say for example, "24-70mm f2.8." The f2.8 corresponds to the aperture value. Since this number is constant this means that this is the maximum aperture value from 24mm all the way to 70mm. However some lenses will be listed with values such as, "18-135mm f3.5-5.6."This means that at 18mm this lens' maximum aperture is f3.5, but when you zoom further in this number increases and eventually will have a maximum aperture of f5.6 at 135mm. This is due to lens quality/build. A lot of optics physics could be used to explain this, in short just know that the lens is much lighter and cheaper to make this way. The lower the maximum aperture value, the more light the lens can allow in and therefore will be heavier and higher quality (typically). Now it is not necessary to always have the highest quality lens. This will come down to what you are shooting and what you are trying to portray.

The most important aspect to understand is that the smaller the f value the more light that is allowed in and in turn less depth of field. This also means the higher than f value the less light that is allowed in and more depth of field is achieved. The more depth of field, the more of the image that is in focus. Let's look at some practical examples. 

 70mm f2.8 1/10s ISO 100

70mm f2.8 1/10s ISO 100

 

Take example the image above. I shot this image at f2.8, or "wide open."You'll notice the small depth of field in the image which is what we perceive as that soft background look known as bokeh. This is also partially due to how far the subject is separated from the objects behind it. When an object has a lot of distance behind it before another object appears, this effect also becomes prevalent. Most common uses of wide open aperture are: portraits, macro photography, sports photography, & astro photography.

 70mm f8 1 sec ISO 100

70mm f8 1 sec ISO 100

 

Above is an image I shot at what is considered 'the sweet spot' on most lenses, f8. This is often the sharpest aperture value on most lenses. This offers adequate depth of field while avoiding what we call diffraction (will talk about in the next paragraph). As you can see more of the image is in focus and it is much sharper than the image shot at f2.8. There is a saying in photography, "f8 and be there." This relates to event photography and how as long as you shoot at f8 and are there, your images will turn out just fine. Best uses of aperture range f5.6-11: events, landscapes, lifestyle, architecture.

 70mm f22 13 sec ISO 100

70mm f22 13 sec ISO 100

 

Lastly we have an image I shot at f22, the highest f value my lens offers. You'll notice that the depth of field seemingly lasts the entirety of the image. However this comes with back draws as well. As mentioned above after about f11 you will experience what is known as diffraction. Diffraction causes images to be less sharp as light is forced to go through a smaller aperture opening. Shooting at f22 for maximum depth of field isn't exactly the best idea (I made this mistake for months when I first started photography... oops!).

 16mm f16 1/160s ISO 100

16mm f16 1/160s ISO 100

 

I wanted to touch on one last aperture value as it's the one I get questioned on the most. The image I shot above was taken at f16, this is the aperture value when you have aperture blades overlapping that creates the star effect when you are taking pictures of lights or the sun. Just wanted to touch on this in case anyone was wondering how to achieve this look (Note: the star look will vary based on the lens you use!).

That's all for this week's lesson. I recommend taking a subject and shooting it at each aperture value your lens offers and looking at the results to help you understand what I tried to explain above. This will help you best understand what is going on as you change your aperture.

Stay true to you.

Jordan

The Exposure Triangle

You just bought a new DSLR camera and you're really excited to use it. You want to take high quality images that really wow your friends and family, but you're not sure how so you shoot your camera in automatic mode. While taking the camera controls into your hands can be very intimidating at first, it's actually really easy with a little practice.

The exposure triangle consists of three parts (hence triangle): Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO. Each of this has its own unique effect on how your final image will look. To keep this short I am going to write a brief summary on each before writing longer articles on each individual item itself. 

The A mode on your camera stands for 'Aperture Priority' but what does this mean? Aperture is how 'open' your lens is. The smaller the 'f' number the more open your lens is and therefore the more light that will be allowed into your lens. Usually this is how lens are represented when they are sold (f2.8 24-70mm would mean a constant maximum aperture of 2.8). Often your camera will allow you to use anywhere from your maximum aperture on your lens all the way to f22. As you make this number larger, you are limiting the amount of light that is allowed into the lens. The trade off is that the higher the f number, the more depth of field that your image will have. Images with the soft background or 'bokeh' look are often taken at apertures of f2.8 or lower. For reference most of my landscape images are taken at f8 as this is usually around where the lens is sharpest but still provides adequate depth of field. If you shoot in A mode you will have control over the aperture you want to portray in your image. Your camera will then use this to determine what other settings (ISO & Shutter Speed) are needed to properly expose the image.

The S mode on your camera stands for 'Shutter Priority' mode. This gives you full control over your camera's shutter speed. Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter of your camera stays open. Pending on your camera body the fastest shutter speed you can shoot at is 1/5000 of a second. Using a shutter speed this fast would only be used for truly freezing and instant moment in your image (let's say if you were shooting sports). However this is achievable all the way down to about 1/200 of a second. Shooting portraits is very similar as I would recommend shooting them around 1/200 but no slower with image stabilization. The other main use for this mode is for long exposures (say you want to add motion blur to a shot or shoot car trails at night time). For these sort of shots you need a tripod to ensure you camera is stable and doesn't move during the exposure. Most cameras can shoot up to 30" in a single image (most also have bulb mode which gives you complete control and let's you shoot even longer). At night when there is no light available this is how people often take landscape images (think of the famous car trails shots). Allowing the cameras shutter to maintain open for longer allows it to gather more light in order to properly expose an image. Remember an image sensor is all about how much light is able to get to it in order to properly expose for an image. 

Although there is no ISO priority mode on most cameras, ISO is very important to how our images turn out. ISO is how sensitive our sensor is to light. The standard is ISO 100 which is also referred to as base ISO. Doubling this number to 200 would make our image sensor twice as sensitive to light as before. Normally you are not going to touch ISO unless shooting in manual but it is still important to understand. The lower the ISO the less sensitive your sensor is to light. Some cameras will let you shooting below base ISO which allows you to shoot longer exposure images during the day if you wanted to (for example my Sony can go down to ISO 50). However let's say you wanted to shoot a portrait image at night, you could increase the ISO to 800 to account for the lack of light and exposure a faster shutter speed. Raising ISO doesn't come without consequences though. The higher the ISO the more 'noise' you are introducing into an image. Noise is very visible at a certain extent. Noise often looks like what people would call grain. 

That's all for our brief introduction on the exposure triangle. Once you have mastered understanding each individual concept you can move into shooting in manual mode (we will talk about this later). This gives you full control over all three concepts in order to portray exactly what you want in your image. If you have any questions or comments about the article or if anything is not clear please feel free to comment below.

Stay true to you.

Jordan