Waikiki Sunset

Waikiki Sunset

Settings: Nikon D3300 – 18mm – f/10 – 1/2500s – ISO 200

Hey, folks. If you’re into photography, you’ve probably heard of the golden hour. It’s those fleeting moments just after sunrise or before sunset in which light is seemingly redder, casting everything in a wonderful, warm glow. This effect is a combination of how human eyes perceive the visible light spectrum, and how sunlight is filtered through Earth’s atmosphere based on its location relative to a given latitude. It’s pretty awesome when you take a step back and think about it. So many aspects of our world come together just long enough to produce something so brilliant every day. As a science, astronomy, and geography geek, I understand and appreciate this phenomenon in terms of the sheer mechanics involved.

As a world traveler, however…

One of my longstanding travel habits is photographing sunsets. Beaches, bridges, piers, etc. Whatever it takes, I will capture at least one before I leave. I could wax poetic about the virtues of enjoying a sunset: basking in the dying warmth, the slight breeze on your neck, the hum of a street lamp turning on, everything seemingly slows and quiets down, and that unspoken understanding that you’re one day older. But I’m sure you already get it. Sunsets are among those few, great experiences that transcend language and culture. That’s not just some cheesy sentiment, by the way. If you don’t believe me, try visiting a major tourist destination or beach during the golden hour.

I did exactly that during my recent trip to Oahu. Waikiki is one of the most famous beaches in the world, and for good reason; it’s got excellent water, sand, and skyline, all just across the street from the amenities of a major city. On the other hand, it’s horrendously crowded and noisy. It’s not the kind of place I’d normally stay. But I found myself there on what would be the most beautiful evening of the entire week. I and about a couple dozen other photographers crowded onto Waikiki’s iconic Kapahulu Groin, then eagerly waited for the inevitable.

I crouched on part of the ledge, wary of the waves thundering just a few feet below. I browsed through my camera’s options and set them to capture more reds at a higher speed. If I timed it perfectly, I’d be able to get both the sunset and a wave just as it would crash into the wall. Silently, I regretted leaving my tripod back at the hotel. I hadn’t planned to be in Waikiki when I had left that morning. Looking back, I now wish I’d known about Light, a new company that have designed a new compact camera that excels in low-light conditions, has adjustable field depth, and built-in editing features. As much as I love my DSLR, crouching precariously over a sea wall while holding a huge camera to your face isn’t easy.

It was worth the effort, of course.The images I captured were gorgeous, though they came at a cost; just after the last glimmer of sun vanished over the horizon, an especially large wave swept up to the pier and drenched several of us. We all exchanged a few sheepish glances and a laugh. For that brief stretch of time, we left the rest of the world and its problems behind. There were only us and that pier. When it was over, we looked over each others’ shots, did a little networking, and parted ways. One by one, our shared experience ended, each person walking off into the night. Yes, it felt a little tragic. But thanks to my camera, the memory of that golden hour will never be forgotten.

On Rocky Shores

On Rocky Shores

This was taken at the beach below the Eagle’s Point Labyrinth, about three miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is at the bottom of the Land’s End trail, far from the more populated and touristy areas. I had planned to keep walking along the coastline, but the rising tide make it too risky. Larger version is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: At Land’s End, San Francisco

At Land's End

This was taken at the beach below the Eagle’s Point Labyrinth, about three miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a brief – but strenuous and quite vertical – hike away from the Legion of Honor. This isn’t the kind of beach you visit to relax. Be sure to bring a good pair of shoes and even better balance; falling off the cliffs here is deadly. Also, come early; I only had about half an hour before the rising tides came close to sweeping me out to sea! Larger version can be viewed here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lily Pond Reflection

Lily Pond Reflection

One of the cooler features at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers is a lily pond inside the building. If it’s not to crowded, you can walk right up to it and enjoy the view. Considering how many tourists see it every day, it’s amazing how clean and serene it is. Larger version viewable here.

Lap Pool

Lap Pool

Most of the pools at Paradise Village are noisy and crowded in the afternoon. But if you want some peace, quiet, and relief from the searing summer heat, this little lap pool hidden near the hotel’s center is worth checking out.

Weekly Photo Challenge: San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall

This week’s challenge calls for a symbol, and no symbol is more prevalent these days than the rainbow flag. I actually skipped the huge celebration that happened after the historic ruling was announced; huge crowds and parades are definitely not my kind of thing. I waited a week and visited when things quieted down. As for what it means to me, I already wrote about it.

Los Arcos Coconuts

Los Arcos Coconuts

When people go to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, there’s a good chance they’ll take a boat tour out to Los Arcos de Mismaloya. It’s a gorgeous place to visit. If you’d rather stay on land, however, you can take a road trip along the coastline and admire Los Arcos from a distance…and enjoy some fresh coconuts at the lookout! Large version available here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Just After Sunset

Just After Sunset

When I was taking sunset photos in Nuevo Vallarta, I had to share a pier with several other sightseers. Once the sun vanished behind the hills in the distances, most people left. However, I stayed an extra half an hour to see how the weather would develop. I was rewarded by one of the most vivid and colorful night skies in recent memory. Large version available here.

A Week In Nuevo Vallarta

Hey, folks! I’m baaaack!

*Crickets chirp*

…Ahem. Unlike my last couple of adventures, my trip to Nuevo Vallarta was planned for about six months before my departure. I went as part of a group of six family members, all in a two bedroom/bath timeshare at Paradise Village. Also unlike my previous adventures, it was made abundantly clear that this was going to be a relaxing, “traditional” vacation; going with family meant less opportunity to go exploring on my own, thus focusing more on the resort, beaches, and various tourist activities.

I was both relieved and disappointed; as much I love wandering around, Mexico is not the place to do it. In the weeks leading up to the trip, the US state department issued travel advisories for various areas of the country. In my apprehension, I took the time to look up the locations and contact information of the consulates, hoping that I’d never have to use them. This wasn’t my first rodeo in Mexico, though. In fact, I’ve been there more times than I have any other foreign country; I’ve been to Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Chichen Itza, as well as Puerto/Nuevo Vallarta twice prior to this trip. I also narrowly missed a trip to Acapulco, but that’s a story for another day. However, these all happened back in the 90s; Mexico has changed, and this was my first time going there as an adult. In the end, I resolved to enjoy the trip as much as I could within its limited scope.

To achieve that, I packed only the bare essentials: enough clothes, my DSLR, and a few books. I left my handheld gaming device behind for the first time; while it’s great for killing time on flights, I’ve come to realize how much of a distraction it can be. Same goes with smart phones; while nearly everyone else in my group was glued to their Internet and Skype, I purposely turned off my roaming and arranged for only texts to be available in case of emergencies. I’m not much of a phone person, so it’s not like I was missing anything. Without its temptation, I had to find a way to make a week revolve around little more than sunny weather and gorgeous beaches. I spent whole afternoons walking up and down Nuevo Vallarta’s shoreline, going barefoot on its flawless white sand and getting drenched knee-high in the surf. It’s something that everyone needs to do at least once in their lives; the seemingly endless horizon, the sound of the waves crashing, the cool sea breeze on your skin…that’s real living.

Paradise Village’s beach terminates with a long, rocky pier with a lookout on its tip. I made a daily habit of visiting it twice: once in the mornings to do some reading and watch the passing boats, and in the evening to photograph the sunsets. I took several great photos on that pier (you’re going to see some in the near future), and I wasn’t the only one. I was asked by at least a dozen other sightseers and/or families to take their pictures amidst the spectacular night skies and splashing waves. It’s remarkable how nature’s beauty transcends language barriers; everyone loves seeing a great sunset, no matter what country you’re from.

The same goes with wildlife; the beach had numerous gulls wandering around, waiting patiently for visitors to leave their food unattended. The hotel has about half a dozen parrots and a small group of Bengal tigers on display in its central hub. Every time I passed by, there would always be a small crowd of people trying to get some decent photos. The tigers were usually lazy and unresponsive, but I managed to catch one bathing one evening. The birds were far more friendly; I happened to find out when their cages were being cleaned, and got some nice, iron bar-free macro shots. During the hotel’s bird show (think of Letterman’s stupid pet tricks), I decided to embrace my inner tourist and had my picture taken with a scarlet macaw on my arm.

Speaking of touristy stuff, I took a city tour of Puerto Vallarta. It was a day’s run-through of the city’s marina, romantic zone, souvenir stands, the coastline near Mismaloya, and a tequila tour. The latter was rather uncomfortable for me; I don’t drink – the strongest thing I have is occasional root beer- so I was totally out of my element. I took a shot of mandarin tequila and struggled to swallow it down. It tasted like tangy cough syrup; seriously, what’s the appeal?! I also went zip-lining again (just over a year since Maui!) but that deserves its own entry/review. While most of my companions stuck to the hotel’s services – Paradise Village has its own shopping mall, complete with McDonald’s, Subway, Domino’s, and Starbucks within 3 minute’s walking distance – my mother and I took a bus out to the local Walmart, stocked up on groceries, and cooked in the hotel room. Any place that makes it affordable to eat three mangoes a day is a paradise indeed.

There’s more to write about, but I’ll stop here for now. It was a fun, relaxing week, and I’ve got tons of photos for you all to see. Stay tuned.

Where Do Birds Go In Winter?

You probably already know, but it’s more complicated than you might think. Joe at  It’s Okay To Be Smart breaks it down.