2018: A Year in Photography

2018: A Year in Photography

2018 was a pretty busy year for me. I set foot in 24 countries, visited a whopping 42 new UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and over 20 National Park Service Sites in the US.

On the photography front, I was named Photographer of the Year for a fourth time by the Central States chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers, won seven NATJA Awards, and was named Best Travel Photography Blog at the TBCAsia Awards in Sri Lanka.

You can also check out my year-end photo essays for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

As always, I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them!

Image at the top of the page is of the Jungfrau Express, Switzerland.
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11 Thoughts on Traveling Around the World for 11 Years

11 Thoughts on Traveling Around the World for 11 Years

March 13 marks the anniversary of the date in 2007 when I turned over the keys to my house to travel around the world. It is the date I use to mark what I call my Travelversary.

The last 11 years have totally changed my life in every way imaginable. I have been to more places, and have done more things, and met more people than I have in the rest of my life combined.

I never ever imagined that I’d still be at this 11 years later. When I left I told everyone I’d be gone for a year, but I secretly thought I’d be gone for 2. I couldn’t conceive of 11 and I really had no idea what I’d do when the trip was over.

Things have changed since I started, but for me and for the world. Two years ago I stopped traveling full-time and got an apartment in Minneapolis, which has provided me a bit more stability and a place to put my stuff between trips. Nonetheless, travel is still my raison d’être and is now my business too.

I can think of no better celebrate my Travelversary than with a good ol’ list post, using 11 arbitrary points which happens to match the number of years I’ve been traveling.
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Necropolis of Bet She’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal

Necropolis of Bet She’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal

From the World Heritage inscription:

Hewed into the limestone slopes of hills bordering the Vale of Jezre’el, a series of man-made catacombs was developed from the 2nd century AD as the necropolis of Bet She’arim. It became the primary Jewish burial place outside Jerusalem following the failure of the second Jewish revolt against Roman rule and the catacombs are a treasury of eclectic artworks and inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Palmyrene. Bet She’arim is associated with Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, the spiritual and political leader of the Jewish people who composed the Mishna and is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 AD.

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Back to Blogging

Back to Blogging

I have a confession to make…..

I’ve been slacking. I’ve been slacking for several years now.

When I first began traveling back in March 2007, this website was literally a weblog (aka a blog). I’d write almost daily about whatever was on my mind. Things I experiences, stories I had to share, and thoughts about the places I visited.

Over time I focused more on photography and I started posting more photos and writing less. For over eight years I posted a photo every day on my website. Once a photo is edited and uploaded, they are pretty easy to work with. You can post an image in just a few minutes and it doesn’t require much thought.

Posting a photo every day also immensely helped me as a photographer. Making my work public forced me to get better, which is exactly what happened.
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Announcing My New Amazon Travel Gear Store

I get asked all the time what sort of gear I use when I travel. The questions range from the type of bags I use to my camera equipment. Even though all of my things can be stored in just two bags when I travel, if you include all of the little items like memory cards, adapters, and wires, it can add up to a lot of stuff.

I’ve been working with the folks at Amazon to create a one stop shop for travel gear.

Everything which is listed in the store fits into one of the following categories:

  • Gear which I have personally used and tested. This covers most of the items which are listed. A few of the items like the Drobo and Razer mouse/keyboard are obviously not travel items, but I use them at home for photo editing.
  • Gear which is a close approximation to what I use, but can’t be found in the Amazon store. For example, my tripod was made my Really Right Stuff, and that isn’t listed on Amazon. Gitzo is, however, and they are a very reputable brand as well.
  • Gear which I really want but haven’t purchased yet. There isn’t a lot of this, but there are a few items I’ve been chomping to get. This store will also serve as my personal wishlist.
  • Gear recommended by my readers. I asked the question on my Facebook group asking people what their favorite travel gear was. I had several great suggestions, including some items that I had never heard of before. Several of them have made the list.

My goal is to curate the store to be a “best of” for travel and photography gear which can be found on Amazon.

If you have any suggestions for gear you love, feel free to leave a comment here or in the Facebook group.

Announcing the Travel Photography Academy

Travel Photography Academy

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Travel Photography Academy!

The Travel Photography Academy is an online course I’ve been working on for the last 2 years.

When I started traveling in 2007, I knew absolutely nothing about photography. I did what many people did and purchased an expensive camera on the assumption that it would take better photos.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

Just two weeks into my trip I was in Hawaii and I could tell that the photos I was taking were terrible. My fancy camera wasn’t taking good photos. Recognizing the fact that I was taking bad photos was the start of a process which has taken me to where I am today. I slowly and incrementally taught myself about photography and how to become a better photographer. It took many years and 100,000’s of photos around the world.

As I traveled, I noticed that most people I encountered really had no idea how to use their cameras, and would often buy expensive camera gear on the assumption that it would take good photos….and it didn’t.

Photos are some of the most valuable things you bring back from a trip. They allow you to relive memories in a way which few other things can. If I was to be robbed, I’d probably give up my gear to keep the photos I took on the trip because I can always get new gear, but I can never get back the photos I took.

The Travel Photography Academy is a video-based course, much of which was shot on location in France and Spain, while I was out in the field shooting.

It covers the basics of photography including things like exposure and photo editing. However, unlike most courses I go into things which are specific to travel photography, This includes shooting on the road, how to shoot in museums and sacred places, dealing with photo backups while traveling, and a host of other topics.

We are also going to be adding content on a monthly basis. This will include new training modules, monthly webinars with the world’s greatest travel photographers, and recorded sessions where I edit photos from members and go through the thought process and technical aspects of processing images.

We’ve also lined up discounts for members with several travel and photography companies, and we have more we will be announcing over the next few months.

I’m offering everything for one, lifetime price of $495.

I’m very excited to be offing this course and am looking forward to helping you improve your travel photography!

Moving from Nikon to Sony: One Year Later

The Decision

Early in 2016, I made the decision to switch from Nikon, which I had been shooting with for 9 years, to Sony.

It wasn’t an easy decision. When you buy into a camera system it isn’t just a matter of getting all your lenses and gear to be compatible. You become accustomed to where all the knobs, dials, switches and buttons are. It is similar to playing an instrument and then being asked to play something else, even if that something else is similar, like moving from playing the clarinet to a saxophone.

Moving from Nikon to Sony
My new camera: the Sony A7rii
I had originally purchased a Nikon D200 back in 2007, which was their top of the line crop sensor camera. In 2011 I upgraded to the D300s, which was the successor to the D200, and which originally came out in 2009.

Since 2011 I had been waiting for the successor to the D300s to come out…..and nothing ever happened. I would occasionally read the Nikon rumor sites and a few times every year there would be rumors about how the D400 would be released at the next big photo/technology event.

…and nothing happened.

I then started thinking about just getting a full frame Nikon camera like the D810, which I almost did. Moving to a full-frame camera would have been close to switching to a brand new system because I would have to have purchased new lenses along with the new body. If I was going to do that, then I figured I should just consider changing everything.

I ended up just doing nothing for a very long time, using my D300s even as it literally started to fall apart (and I’m quite serious when I say it was falling apart. Most of the rubber surfaces on the body are now falling off.)

As I waited, and as Nikon kept not releasing the D400, I began hearing more rumors that they were simply abandoning the professional crop-sensor market. They weren’t releasing anything or saying anything, so it seemed a reasonable proposition which matched the facts.

Moving from Nikon to Sony
My backup camera body: the Sony a6000

In 2015 the Sony a7rii came out and I started reading all of the reviews. Almost all of the reviews were gushing in its praise, and a several went on to say it was the best camera in the world currently in production. Several photographer friends of mine also switched to Sony and they were very pleased with the switch.

In early 2016 I made the decision that I was going to get a Sony a7rii and lenses which would replicate the current set of lenses I was using.

About one week after I set my mind to moving to Sony, Nikon finally released a successor to the D300s….the D500. However, by this time it was too little too late. Nikon’s seven-year wait was way too long, whereas Sony had been releasing a steady stream of new products, showing more innovation than Nikon or Canon.

So in one fell swoop, I not only changed manufacturers, but I moved from crop sensor to full frame, and from SLR to mirrorless.

Adjusting To A New System

Moving to a new camera system is a subtle thing. I think most photographers could pick up a camera they have never used before and quickly figure out how to adjust their aperture and ISO settings.

Really becoming comfortable with a camera, however, requires a lot of practice. It is knowing where the knobs and dials are so you can make setting changes without looking. It is having an intuitive feel for what you can get away with in terms of ISO. It is knowing where everything you need is located in the menu.

For example, I learned that I really didn’t want to go above ISO 800 on my D200, or above 1600 on my D300s. I could go a bit higher if I really had to, and maybe do some noise reduction in Lightroom, but that was pretty much my limit.

It took me a while to figure out what that level was on my a7rii. In Ethiopia, I took some photos inside of a cave which were absolutely unusable because I didn’t have the correct ISO settings. 9 months later I was again inside a cave in Great Basin National Park and I was able to take some pretty nice handheld shots because I had a much better feel for the camera and what it could do. I prefer to use tripod in caves for obvious reasons, but I was unable to get a permit in time from the park service.

Moving from Nikon to Sony
This photo was taken at ISO 25,600. It is a hand held photo taken inside of a Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park, Nevada.

Next time I change cameras or a camera system, I think I’m going to spend several days a home just working on learning the settings of the camera. I didn’t spend enough time learning with this switch.

I also purchased a second body to have in my bag. I purchased a Sony a6000 prior to my trip to Ethiopia. Honestly, I really just purchased it as a spare body in case something happened to my a7rii, but I found myself using it as my primary body when I was off shooting polar bears in Manitoba.

Benefits of Moving to Sony

Overall I’m pleased with my move to Sony.

As I noted above, in addition to switching manufacturers I also moved from a crop sensor camera to a full frame, an SLR to a mirrorless camera, as well as to a camera with a much higher resolution. Many people will point out that I could have gotten similar benefits of just moving to a Nikon D5 or a similar body, and they would be correct. Just keep in mind that many of my observations might not just attributable just to moving to Sony.

Low Light Capabilities

I have to start with this because it was the primary reason I moved to Sony and to the a7rii in particular. The low light capabilities are amazing. I felt shackled with my older, crop sensor body when it came to low light photos. There were many photos I wasn’t able to capture simply because of the poor low light performance of my D300s. As a travel photographer, this is probably the most important attribute for any camera body because I am often in places like churches or temples which have little light and a flash is not an option.

There were several photos I’ve taken over the last year which simply would have been impossible with my old gear. This photo of an Ethiopian priest was taken at ISO 12,800, several stops above what I could have done before.

Moving from Nikon to Sony
Taken at ISO 12,800, this photo wouldn’t have been possible with my previous gear.

From the reviews I’ve read, The a7rii is about one full stop better than the top end Canon and Nikon bodies right now. That is debatable I know, but I’m very happy with where I’m at for low light performance right now.

Size and Weight

It is true that, in general, mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than SLR. My current kit does take up less space in my bag than my previous gear. However, the difference isn’t as great as some people think. Much of the weight is just squeezed into a smaller package. It is lighter, but not so much that I think it would be worth making a change on this basis alone. Nonetheless, it is a nice side benefit when you have to carry your gear around all day long.

The size difference is enough that when I put my current gear in my camera bag, which is pretty analogous with what I before in terms of lenses, there is definitely more space. This makes it much easier to carry a second body, which brings me to…

Smaller Crop Sensor Cameras

The Sony a6XXX line of cameras is very affordable and come in a small package. They basically look like point and shoot cameras, except they can use the same e-mount lenses that you can use on other Sony mirrorless cameras. Whereas the size and weight benefits to the a7rii over an SLR are marginal, the benefits to the a6000, a6300, and a6500 are substantial.

It is very nice to be able to carry a backup body with me which is so light, small, and cheap. They also perform quite well. I used my tiny a6000 with a huge Sigma 150-600mm lens while in Manitoba and was able to take respectable photos with it.

Taken with my Sony a6000. ISO 600 / f6.3 / 1/2000 sec
Taken with my Sony a6000. ISO 600 / f6.3 / 1/2000 sec

Higher Resolution

I went from a 12.3-megapixel camera in the D300s to a 42-megapixel camera in the a7rii. That is an enormous jump in resolution….and file size (see below).

Because most of what I do is displayed online, I really don’t need 42-megapixels, but having the extra resolution is handy for a host of things.

The higher resolution gives me more options when it comes to cropping is post-processing, as well as the freedom to do other things with my images down the road if I so wish.

Downside of Moving to Sony

While I’m overall satisfied with Sony, everything isn’t perfect. Here are some of the downsides to the system.

Battery Life

I usually could go several days or longer on one battery in my SLR’s. Now, I have change batteries at least once a day and quite often I go through multiple batteries a day. I pretty much have to recharge my batteries every evening or I risk being without power the next day. Several times I’ve forgotten to charge the night before and I got by on the skin of my teeth the next day.

The battery drain primarily comes from the fact that because there is no mirror, at least one LCD is usually running whenever the camera is on, even if it is the tiny one in the eyepiece.

I’m sure there will be improvements to battery life in future models, but I don’t think that mirrorless cameras will ever be as good as SLR’s in this department.

Write Speeds

The size of RAW files in the D300s are approximately 15mb each. The Sony a7rii produces RAW files which are about 80mb. That is a substantial difference is size.

It takes an abnormally long time to write the images to the memory card. The decision to use such a slow bus, and to not use the Sony proprietary XQD format memory cards, is one of the most baffling things about the a7rii.

I’m often waiting for the camera to finish writing to the card and there were a few times when I’ve missed a shot because of the buffering.

Thankfully, the rumors are that the next Sony flagship camera will solve this problem with a vengeance, allowing continuous RAW shooting. That means you will be able to hold the shutter down and it will shoot and save continuously until the battery is dead. That’s impressive.

Body Sealing

Even if I never change lenses or open the battery door, the sensor on the a7rii gets really dirty. Whereas I didn’t flinch in taking my SLR out in a light rain, I wouldn’t think of doing that with my Sony cameras.

Because there is no mirror to protect the sensor, they need to do a much better job of sealing the camera to keep dust out.


Despite its flaws, I’m overall pleased with the images I’m getting from my a7rii and my a6000. I don’t forsee myself changing systems for quite a while.

Sony has been innovating at a much faster pace than Nikon or Canon, releasing new cameras and features every year. Moving to Sony wasn’t just a play to take better photos today (which it did) but also a bet on the future.

Year End Reminder – Renew Your Travel Insurance

This is a reminder that if you are even a semi-frequent traveler, be it for business or leisure, you should considering getting an annual travel insurance policy. The start of the new year is a great time to do it.

Relatively speaking, travel insurance is cheap. Even a top-tier annual policy will run you a bit over $1 per day. The great thing about getting an annual policy (which is what I do) is that you don’t have to worry about insurance on a per trip basis, and you save money over getting a different short term policy every time you travel.

Travel insurance covers many basic and extreme things which travelers may encounter. This includes:

  • Canceled flights
  • Delayed flights
  • Lost luggage
  • Emergency medical coverage
  • Medical evacuation

If you even make one of those claims in a given year, it can cover the cost of the insurance, especially for major medical emergencies.

I get my annual policy through Allianz, who has offices in over 30 countries around the world to provide assistance to travelers (disclosure: I have a business relationship with them).

Take care of your insurance this week and be covered for all of 2017!

Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation.

We Have A Winner of the $400 GoBag From Allianz!

The good folks at Allianz Global Assistance have just been selected as the supplier of travel insurance on Priceline.com and the Priceline Partner Network. Allianz products are available to consumers booking flights, hotels and rental cars on all these platforms.

To celebrate we ran a contest giving away a bag full of amazing travel gear valued at $400. The bag includes:

  • GoPro Hero Session w/SD card ($200 value)
  • Camleback Unbottle ($50 value)
  • iLive Wireless Earbud Headphones ($60 value)
  • Smart Travel First Aid Kit ($50 value)
  • Allianz Portable B200 Power Pack ($20 value)
  • Allianz Passport Holder with RFID protection ($20 value)

The winner of the GoBag is Lili Armstrong, who would love to take the gear on a trip to Jordan.


Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation.