Las Vegas – So Much to See (and Photograph!)

By Megan P Galope

Most people I talk to either love or hate Las Vegas. Many dread having to go there on business, with all of the people and noise. But Vegas is a great place for photography, with so many different options for subjects. Do you like to take photos of people? There’s no better people watching than Vegas. Is night photography your thing? You can’t beat all the lights on the strip. If you’re lucky and have a good view from your hotel room, you can even take photos from there.

Photo from my hotel room

If you like to photograph flowers, the Bellagio flower garden is a must. It changes periodically, so you never know what you’ll find.

Peacocks made from flowers in the Bellagio flower garden

The flower garden is a perfect place if you enjoy macro photography.

Flowers in the Bellagio flower garden

The Bellagio is also great for the massive water display out front and the Chihuly ceiling in the lobby.

The lobby of the Bellagio with the Chihuly glass ceiling

Once you’ve had enough of all the lights and noise, Red Rock Canyon is just a short drive away. It’s a beautiful area with many hiking trails, or you can just drive through and look around.

Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas

So the next time you go to Vegas, be sure to bring along a camera. You’ll be surprised with all of the photographic opportunities!

Megan Galope is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Twitter = @megangalope                                                                                                                    mapphotography.smugmug.com

Traveling and Photographing in Japan

By Meng Tay

Photographers are always looking for new subjects or scenes.  If you are tired of the same old, same old, why not consider traveling to Japan?  First, let me give you the reasons why you want to travel to Japan.  Next, I will give you some ideas on what to photograph.

  1. It’s very safe – guns are illegal here and the crime rate is very low.  Never once was I threatened or scolded in any way, even when I accidentally bump someone.  Such a contrast to the US when anything can cause a confrontation.  As a matter of fact, most Asian countries are very safe, contrary to what most Americans think.
  2. It’s very clean – the Japanese are fastidious about their cleanliness.  Every restroom I went to was clean (and free).  This includes public restrooms in busy tourist areas, shopping centers, etc.  The streets, parks, buildings are all clean.  I even had a hard time finding trash cans.
  3. Japanese are helpful and polite – I’ve heard stories of Japanese actually walking a tourist to his or her destination instead of just pointing and giving directions on how to get to a place.  Most of the signs have an English version but Japan’s twisty streets are sometimes hard to navigate.  Unless you ask someone local, sometimes it’s almost impossible to find it on your own, but ask.
  4. At today’s exchange rate (US$1 = ¥112) it’s a bargain to travel in Japan.  Yes, hotels and certain things are still expensive but it’s less expensive than some of the European countries like Norway, Iceland or Switzerland.
  5. Public transportation is very convenient and easily accessible.  Ironically, one of the biggest car manufacturing countries also has one of the best train networks.  Learn how the train system works and you will love riding the shinkansens (bullet trains).  If you have a big group, perhaps 4 or more, maybe it’s better for you to rent a car but trains can get you almost anywhere in Japan.
  6. Japan has a long history.  If you want to understand how it went from a sheltered country to an international economic powerhouse, an Oriental culture to an International culture, this is the place to learn.  The blending of east and west is everywhere.
  7. Food – you will love the food.  Be open-minded about sushi.  The Japanese eat a lot of things raw.  They have been doing this for centuries.  It’s healthy and after you’ve acquired a taste for it, you will love it.  You will never want to eat sushi or sashimi anywhere else.

What would discourage you from traveling to Japan?  Language may be the biggest challenge.  Very few Japanese speak English.  But this is no different than some European countries.  With today’s travel aids like Phrase Books, Google Translate, etc, this should not be a big hurdle.  I find that most Japanese studied English in school but because they are shy, they don’t get to practice it a lot.  Speak slowly and with a little bit of gesture, you should have no trouble getting around.

If you don’t feel comfortable traveling on your own, why not join a tour?  Tours will get you to many places where you have excellent photo opportunities but may not offer you the freedom of going where you want to go and for longer than you want.

What are some subjects that you may want to photograph in Japan?

Temples:  Because of its long history with Buddhism, temples are everywhere.  You find them in villages or big cities.  They are intriguing because their architecture is so different from churches or cathedrals in Europe.  The predominantly red color of Japanese temples make them stand out.  Here are some examples:

Food:  Food is the essence of a culture.  If you look at what they eat and how they eat, you can tell a lot about a culture.  That’s why I love going to markets when I am in a foreign country.  Japanese food is a contrast to American food.  That’s why it’s always an interesting subject matter for photography.

Landscape:  There is more to Japan than Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or other big cities.  What is not known to most tourists is that Japan has a beautiful countryside.  Hokkaido is arguably, most beautiful of all rural areas..  Go there in the fall, when the leaves are changing color.  If you are lucky enough to go during the cherry blossom season (sakura in Japanese), they will be everywhere.  They start in late March to the middle of April, depending on which part of Japan you go to.

Other topics of interest may be people, traditional buildings, castles, etc.  Japanese ladies in kimonos is a good topic.  If you happen on a geisha (very rare nowadays), that’d be the ultimate photo shoot.  Towering castles that were built during the shogun days are also good subjects.

If you want to read more about my travels in Japan, here is my blog:

http://mengineurope.blogspot.com

It’s in reverse chronological order.  Click on the year 2017 on the right.  It will drop down a menu of months.  Click on March, April or May.  You will see my posts on different places in Japan that I traveled to.

You can find out more about travel in Japan at the following sites:

https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

http://www.japanvisitor.com

Meng Tay is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

How the West Was Won

By Nathaniel Smalley

The American Southwest, a land of raw elements and rugged terrain, a place where only the hardiest wildlife and plants survive. This corner of the world has captivated the imaginations of people for centuries. Once known as the great frontier, it drew settlers from all corners of the world seeking to make it their home. Today we read in history books about ‘How the West was won’, but my recent travels throughout Arizona and Utah would indicate that the wild west is anything but tamed. While crowds of tourists surely pour down its main highways in the summer months, just over the distant hills remains a land of unexplored beauty and silence. There the sun rises and sets over a stunning landscape, painting shadows in the corners that act as a supporting cast to the elaborate sandstone formations.
This was the first year since moving to Arizona in 2007 that I have not been in some remote corner of the world for the season of Spring. I took full advantage of this opportunity and spent the past three months chasing the light throughout the American Southwest. I was recently asked by Arizona Highways to lead a Best Of The West Photo Workshop for them in April of 2018, this was the perfect opportunity to scout for that upcoming itinerary and fill out my portfolio in those areas of the State.

My adventures of the season took me to countless iconic destinations across the gorgeous Arizona landscape. Monument Valley has long been known as the back yard playground of some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, most notably John Wayne. Standing there overlooking the vista dominated by towering rock buttes that are illuminated by the setting sun one quickly realizes why many have been so easily drawn to this magical place.

The beauty of this region extends below the earth’s surface as well, deep into narrow slot canyons that have been forged by flood waters rushing over the sandstone for centuries. These powerful torrents carry rocks, logs and other debris with such force that they carve out fantastic underworld realms that are incredible places to explore and even better to photograph! During the Spring and Summer months sunbeams occasionally make it down through the top of the canyon walls painting the walls with light and revealing their amazing textures and patterns. Walking through the chasm one can often hear the call of a Raven perched by the top echoing through through the passage, or that of a Great Horned Owl if you’re lucky!

The plant life in the Southwest is unlike anywhere else in the United States. Gigantic Saguaros and other varieties of cactus decorate certain sections of the landscape while other parts support species that dominate a specific region as is the case in Joshua Tree National Park. I happened to be there during the season when these ancient trees bloom and found some wonderful subjects. This image of one bowing down to the earth burdened by the weight of time was one of my favorites due to its unique shape.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of the wonderful shots I captured of the Grand Canyon during this adventure. Here is a place that is impossible to put into words or offer an image that dose justice to the majesty and glory of gazing out at one of the seven wonders of the world. When the sun cuts across the ridge line at sunset and casts beams across the vast opening it is truly breathtaking.

Another location that I photographed during this whirlwind tour was the beautiful Canyon de Chelly. Here a towering sandstone spire rises up 750 feet from the canyon floor reaching to the sky. The Navajo Nation has a fantastic legend about Spider Woman surrounding this formation that would impress even the most dedicated comic book enthusiast. Sunset overlooking this valley is unforgettable.

No trip in the American Southwest would be complete without walking around under the cover of darkness in the shadow of ancient rock formations, so I returned to do just that last weekend. My travels took me north where there is limited light pollution in order to photograph the Milky Way. Here in the wee hours of the morning the galaxy explodes above and leaves one feeling incredibly small. It is therapeutic, it puts life in context and heals your tattered soul. The adrenaline that courses through you standing there can not be duplicated. What a wonderful world.

The simple reality I discovered is that the West will never be won, it is a wild and free land for those who are willing to go out and seek its raw dimensions. If you would like more information on my upcoming Best Of The West Photo Workshop you can find complete details at this link. Three spots filled the day it was announced and space is limited. I can’t wait to return to these exceptional destinations next year with my group and look forward to sharing our images with you at that time. I am now off to lead my Ultimate African Adventure Safari, I’ll put together an in depth trip report from our experiences once we return. Thanks for reading!

Nathaniel Smalley is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

 

5 Steps to Overcoming Your Fears in the Wild

by Michael Greene  – Wild Moments 

Let’s face it – taking pictures in the wild can be an intimidating experience. Whether you have a fear of heights, tight spaces, wild animals, lightening, or even the dark there are many natural hazards that one has to consider before venturing out into the wild. Whether you are on a photo workshop or planning a more autonomous photographic excursion overcoming your fears can play a big role in improving your photography.

1.    Embrace Your Fear – As human beings, we are hard wired for fear. It’s part of our genetic DNA.  It’s a physiological safety mechanism our body uses to tell us of potential danger or uncertainty in an important situation.  Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s our mental approach of how we deal with it that usually needs to change. Learn to embrace your fear by working alongside of it is the first step in overcoming your obstacles.

Working in tight spots in Lower Antelope

Working in tight spots in Lower Antelope

 2.    Respect Mother Nature – Make no mistake, there is healthy fear and unhealthy fear. Mother nature deserves respect. She can be dangerous and full of uncertainty. Even in a controlled group situation unexpected things can happen.  However, that doesn’t mean we make mountains out of mole hills. It does mean that we approach each trip with a healthy respect for the environment. For instance, we don’t haphazardly wander down a trail into the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer without bringing enough water.

IMG_9027-Grandview-Clouds

Open up your photo possibilities by overcoming your fears

3.    Put It In Proper Perspective – Realistically assessing the situation helps remove the uncertainty. What are the chances it’s going to happen?  If you are dealing with a fear of heights, maybe you know for sure that you are going to experience your fear like walking on a narrow section of trail at the Grand Canyon. The next question should be…how long of a section? Is it a ¼ mile or 20 feet? How many people travel on this trail. Is it realistically safe? If you are dealing with a fear of snakes… think candidly regarding the chances that you will see a snake much less step on one.

the-forgotten-sojourn

Stepped on an ant hill making this image.

4.    Educate Yourself – Education and awareness is a useful tool in overcoming fear. Other people have already experienced and overcome whatever it is that is driving your fear. There is a plethora of information online or even at your local library. Read about other peoples’ experiences. Whether they are survival stories, recounts of animal attacks, or even trip reports the information is available to help you prepare yourself for whatever it is you are facing. For instance, know the time of day and seasons where snakes are more active. Learn about the topography they live and how to safely travel over it. Learn about the different species of snakes, which ones are venomous and more aggressive.

An isolated steep climb down near Winslow, AZ

An isolated steep climb down near Winslow, AZ

5.    Know That It Gets Better – You’ve embraced your fear to work alongside of it. You have a healthy respect for your environment. You’ve put your fear in proper perspective and realistically assessed your potential future situation. You’ve educated yourself on possible solutions to the problem. Now you can confidently approach your work in the field knowing you’ve prepared for the problem and each time you experience and overcome it; it will be that much easier the next time! 

Following these simple steps should help you overcome your fears and thus improve your photography. You’ll be more mentally focused, relaxed and be able to travel to places that before you could only dream of. Happy shooting!

 Michael Greene is a nature photographer based in Arizona.  He has been a member of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops trip leading staff since 2008.  To view Michael’s work visit WildMoments.net