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Photographing Washington DC

Posted on Jul 4, 2017 |

Continuing on my series of posts from major sites to photograph …

I arrived in Falls Church (just outside DC) last night.  Falls Church is where I could find a reasonable hotel room but be on the DC Metro for easy access.  Finding parking in DC is obviously an issue.

Lessons learned about photographing Washington D.C..

1.  The distance between the key attractions is actually much larger than you first expect.  This means that you need more time than you think if you are going to maximize light conditions.  You really can only do one monument properly at the magic hour.

2. Tripods.  A problem.  They are prohibited in any of the memorials or near the Capitol/White House. So for example, when you photograph the Vietnam Memorial, you may not a tripod in the walkway.  You may not use a tripod above the line of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.   Some websites say that you can get a permit from the National Parks Service to be able to use a tripod.  Even the official who stopped me at the Vietnam Memorial said I needed a permit. The NPS permit only permits commercial shots in the park area, but officially these shots cannot use tripods in the restricted areas anyway.  It would appear that not all the officials on the ground understand that.  A commercial permit costs $50 a day and takes several days to obtain. Go here for more info http://www.nps.gov/nama/planyourvisit/permits.htm.  Around the Capitol and other key buildings, the police will stop you.  You can get permits from the Capitol Police (Permits for the Capitol) 202-224-8891.

3. You may want to do research before you go on to see if repairs are being done on any of the memorials. For example, in 2012/13 the Washington Monument was being repaired after the earthquake a while back.

4. I suggest you give at least half day to recon the area before you begin.

Here is the photo I squeezed off on the tripod of the Vietnam Memorial before I got stopped.

Sunrise through the reflection of the Vietnam Mem.

 

 

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 |

The Sheik Zayed Mosque Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

For a long time I have wanted to take this shot at the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The mosque is typically referred to as the Grand Mosque. I have been to the UAE many times and have been to the Grand Mosque several times, but always with other people. Photography (of this sort) and groups don’t really mix. Earlier this year I was back in the UAE and managed to sneak away on the night I was leaving to take this image. Planes tend to leave at strange hours from Dubai, which meant I had the whole evening to do this.

Sheik Zayed’s full name or title is Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He was the architect of the UAE. His father was the ruler of Abu Dhabi until he was assassinated in 1926. Together with one of his brothers, he led the people of the region, firstly in opposition to Saudi (who wanted to influence, if not control the region) and then in forming a federation of trucial rulers, that ultimately formed the State known as the UAE. Oil was discovered in 1958. (The Trucial States were those on the coastal region of the southeastern Persian Gulf).

The architect of the Grand Mosque is a Syrian called Yousef Abdelky. It is the biggest and most important mosque in the UAE. More than 3000 workers and 38 contractors were employed in the building of the mosque. The principal contractor was an Italian company.

The mosque is beautiful in a simple way. The extensive use of white (lot’s of marble) makes for an elegant appearance, somewhat reminiscent of the Taj Mahal in India.

This photo was a challenge because there were constant crowds and the variation of light made post-processing difficult. In particular, I was most irritated with a group of Chinese visitors who insisted in standing in the same position for about 25 minutes. How inconsiderate! :)

Kayaking in Knoxville

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 |

Kayaking on the Tennessee River in Knoxville
Photo by Amy van der Merwe

Last Sunday we rented kayaks and spent a pleasant hour kayaking. We rented from Billy Lush Boards which operates from Volunteer Landing in Downtown Knoxville.

At $30 per hour for a double kayak they aren’t cheap. (Check the rates for single kayaks and longer time periods.) But it was very easy to book ahead of time using their online system. You are provided with links for the waivers too so you can send those to all in your party and they are also completed online.

**Tip: They do Half Off Hump Days – so visit on a Wednesday if you want half off AND grab a punch card as your 5th rental is free!

Parking was no problem and we were quickly checked in and sent down to the river. All the staff were very friendly. We got straight into kayaks and were off up the Tennessee River. It was very peaceful on the water and we saw very few boats.

Kayaking in Downtown Knoxville

Billy Lush also rents canoes, SUPs (Stand up paddleboards), Hydro-bikes and Beach Cruiser Bikes. They are open Wednesday to Sunday.

You can also rent kayaks, canoes and SUPs at Mead’s Quarry in Ijams. They are cheaper (only $12 per boat). Our daughter has done this a few times and has enjoyed it – but paddling around a small lake isn’t quite the same as paddling on the Tennessee River. You can download and print the waiver from their website and they are open 7 days a week.

Kayaking on Mead's Quarry

Photo Credit: Liz Jones

Another option is to rent kakaks, SUPs and canoes at the Cove on Northshore Drive. Once again you will be on the Tennessee River but the drawback here is you have to rent for either a 1/2 day ($40) or a full day ($50).

You can’t book either of the last two options online – so you just have to go to the locations and take your chances. Both are operated by River Sports Outfitters.

So if you enjoy kayaking and live in Knoxville or are visiting the area, these are three options you have to enjoy the sport.

Kayaking in Knoxville

5 Days in Cape Town: Day 3 Canopy Walk, Coffee and Colored Houses

Posted on Jun 24, 2017 |

Day 3 in Cape Town itinerary

If you missed my earlier posts, be sure to read about Day 1 and Day 2.

Our third day was a Sunday. We got moving fairly early so that the photographers could take advantage of the early morning light at Kirstenbosch and so we could miss the crowds. (If you go in the afternoon the sun goes down behind the mountain).

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch is one of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world. The 36-hectare garden contains over 7000 species of plants from southern Africa. It costs R60 for adults and R15 for children (under 6 are free). You can buy tickets at the gate or online.

We parked on the street near the Rycroft Gate (Gate3) which is the gate closest to the Canopy walk. If you plan to spend a few hours in Kirstenbosch then you can park at the main entrance (be sure to go to the restaurant too – it’s great!). But if you want to go specifically for the Canopy walk as we did, then it would be a really long walk.
Canopy Walk Kirstenbosch Gardens

The Canopy Walk is not long but it is really cool to be walking in the tree tops. The photographers in our group (ie everyone but me) all got spectacular shots. I just enjoyed the feeling of nature all around me.

Truth Coffee Shop

Truth Cafe is a cool steampunk style coffee shop

Next stop was a coffee shop our younger son recommended. Truth Cafe is done in Steampunk style – not just the decor, but the waiters too! And their coffee is great so this is a stop you want to make. It isn’t a shop you will just walk past – you have to make a specific trip there, but it isn’t far from the Waterfront and the main part of Downtown, so jump in your car or call an Uber and visit!

The Bo-Kaap

Bokaap colored houses
The Bo-Kaap (previously known as the Malay quarter) is one of the oldest residential areas of Cape Town. It is known for its beautiful colored house. We parked on Wale Street and wandered around the area for about half an hour. This area became home to many freed slaves and Muslims. I would have loved to have visited the Bo-Kaap Museum but it is closed on a Sunday. It costs R20 for adults and R10 for children.

If you are there around lunch or supper, stop by Biesmiellah Restaurant. I have fond memories of their great food from when I worked Downtown in Cape Town many many years ago.

Lunch and the Rest of the Day

Back to the Waterfront for lunch at Balducci’s with old family friends, James and Kathy. This was the view from the restaurant. The food was excellent too.

View of the Waterfront in Cape Town from Balducci's restaurant

Before walking back to our apartment for an afternoon siesta, the girls took a detour to H & M for a quick shopping expedition.

Sunday evening we spent with my brother and his family again. Find out what we did on Day 4 here.

Day 3 in Cape Town: Canopy Walk, Coffee and Bo-Kaap

5 Days in Cape Town: Day 2 Driving Round the Peninsula

Posted on Jun 19, 2017 |

Day 2 in Cape Town

If you missed, Day 1 of our trip, you can catch up here.

Breakfast

Day 2 was a Saturday and we started the day with breakfast at the Oranjezicht City Farmers Market just 5 minutes from our apartment.

My sister-in-law and the fitter members of her family joined us as they had just done the nearby 5k Greenpoint Park Run which starts at 8 am each Saturday. (This is free to enter and if you enjoy running, you should do it!)Breakfast at the Granger Bay Farmer's Market

There is a large variety of breakfast foods and drinks to choose from. Wander around and select your favorite and it will be cooked while you watch. We opted for crepes and coffee and freshly-squeezed juice. Afterward, we browsed the food stalls and the girls bought themselves macaroons.Food stalls at Granger Bay Farmer's Market

Hout Bay

From there we drove around the coast to Hout Bay. Be sure to look out for the houses with funicular lifts on the left side of the road. There are quite a few you can spot easily. The houses are built right into the side of the mountain and the stairs up to them are very steep, which is why many have electronic means to get up!

Beverley, a longtime friend, met us at Hout Bay Harborto join us for the day. She found us shopping at the outdoor stalls. Don’t accept the price given. They will always drop if you haggle. And if you feel they aren’t coming down enough in price, start walking away! The girls bought a number of gifts to take home.Stalls at Hout Bay Harbor

While we were shopping, Piers was playing with his drone.

Just before we left we were very fortunate to be entertained by Cape Minstrels, known locally as Kaapse Klopse. Their colorful clothing and lively music are always a crowd pleaser.Cape Minstrels at Hout Bay Harbor

Chapman’s Peak Drive

Chapmen’s Peak Drive is possibly one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The 9km of coastline you travel along is stunning! It is a toll road but well worth the money (R42 for a car).

We stopped for lunch at Thorfynns Restaurant at the Monkey Valley Resort in Noordhoek. It was a little too chilly to sit outside so we missed out on the sea view, but the interior was cozy and the food was good.

Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach

Visiting the African penguin colony was one of my favorite things to do when we lived in Cape Town. And it didn’t disappoint again. It costs R35 for adults and R10 for children under the age of 12. From the entrance you walk down a path to the beach. You will see penguins in the bushes as you walk, and possibly dassies (rock hyraxes) too. (We had one sit on a branch right next to the path – and one of the girls didn’t notice until she was a few feet away – the poor dassie was subjected to an earsplitting shriek and it scampered across the path away from us)

You can’t get on to the beach – you watch the penguins from a raised boardwalk overlooking the beach. They are so comical and it is great seeing them in their natural habitat and not in an aquarium.Penguin Colony at Boulder Beach

From there we made our way back through Simonstown and stopped at Fish Hoek for ice creams bought at a store just off the beach. Then we drove to Constantia Village for coffee at Tasha’s Coffee Shop

Route Day 2 Cape Town

Our driving route for the day

Supper

We finished the day with supper at my brother’s house. He “braaied” (barbequed) chicken kebabs and ostrich steaks. Do be sure to try ostrich!. Similar to beef – but better! And healthier. Dessert was Malva Pudding. So good!! It’s a baked cake-type dessert with a syrup poured over it. You will find it on many menus. Be sure to try that too.

Continue reading about our trip with Day 3.

Day 2 in Cape Town: Good food and penguins!

Peak Design Everyday Backpack: Review (part 2)

Posted on Jun 18, 2017 |

Everyday Backpack

This is the follow-on report I promised when I wrote the original blog post some months back. I have now lived with the Everyday Backpack on multiple continents and taken several trips with it. So I feel I have given it enough time to give a fairly accurate report. I have taken it to Europe (several times), to Indonesia and Singapore, to Dubai, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa. As I write this, I am waiting for a return plane in Johannesburg. This African trip took us to Cape Town, Windhoek, Etosha Game Park and Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. So the bag has seen a bit of action!

Before I bore you, (if you are not an avid photographer you are already bored) let me simply tell you what I like and don’t like about the bag, in no particular order.

What I Like

The bag does not look like a photography bag. I really like that. I often get compliments about the bag. It looks good and seems to wear well. It got a lot of desert sand and dust in Namibia. I cleaned it off easily with a damp cloth.

The multiple carry handles are really a nice feature.

It has lots of “nifty” pockets. The two I like the best are the one on the inside flap of the front, accessed from the top of the bag. It’s great for passports and things like that. It is held closed by a magnet. Everyday Backpack Passport Holder

Next, the one in the back sleeve (where the laptop goes). This one holds things like pens, my memory card wallet (the other pockets don’t hold memory cards very well) and my trusted Kindle that goes everywhere with me. Easy to get to and simple to drop little items in. (I love the Kindle holder in the Peak Design Messenger Bag even more).

Everyday Backpack Pocket




The pockets on the inside of the side flaps are very useful. I like the fact that they can be closed by a zipped cover to further secure your items. As I said above, I am a little surprised that there is not a better memory card holder but perhaps the reason for the that is that cards come in different sizes.

Everyday Backpack Side Pockets

The laptop sleeve on my 30L pack is great. Easy to deposit a MacBook Pro 13”. This is the huge weakness of my F-Stop bag that used to be my go-to travel bag.

The divider system for the gear works reasonably well. It is not a versatile as the guys at Peak Design make out. I think the dividers may work better in time as they loosen up. However, it took me a while to configure the bag to my liking. But the problem is that I use different kit on different trips.  I have two or three big concerns. First, the compartments are often insufficient in their depth. So your lens perches very precariously in its compartment and can easily fall out if the flap is open and the bag is picked up or moved (see photo below). I have taken the elastic strips from my other bags (yes, like most of you I have a collection) and used them to help prevent possible falls, but they don’t grip sufficiently well for my liking. Second, when you have multiple cameras or lenses, the weight of the cameras or lenses puts pressure on the bottom sections, making it more difficult to insert or withdraw cameras. Not a major issue but something to factor in. Third, I find I have some unused space, particularly when you have lenses attached to the cameras.

Everyday Backpack Dividers

Overall, the bag carries a fair amount of gear. On this trip, I carried a Sony A7RII with the G Master 24-70 attached most of the time. Plus the 16-35mm F4 lens. I also carried a Nikon D750 with the 28-300mm lens, the Nikon 20mm 1.8 prime. I also carried the Metabones adapter for Nikon to Sony, some ND filters. There was room in the top compartment for odds and ends including a lightweight sweater. On earlier trips, instead of a second body, I carried the DJI Mavic Pro drone.

I do like the front latch system for the main flap (top photo). One of the major advantages of this bag is how quickly you can get to things. It really is the best bag I have used for travel, not just as a camera bag but as a travel bag. I spend far too much time on planes and in airports. This bag really works for me. However, the front latch system is not perfect and I have found occasions where I thought it was latched but discovered later that is was not. This happens less often now that I am aware of the potential for it. On the plus side, it makes access easy.

What I don’t Like

The biggest issue for me is the potential for gear to fall out if you don’t zip up the side flaps (above photo). I ditched one camera bag that I loved because I found this happened too often. While it hasn’t occurred in a serious way with the Peak Design Everyday Backpack, I am concerned that it is eminently possible. Referring back to my earlier comments, some of the compartments can be quite shallow, particular for lenses. If you forget to close the side flap properly and lift the bag up, lenses will fall out. If this happens to a $1000 lens, it is a serious problem. I really believe Peak Design should have put a simple, lightweight net system with elastic attachments that would catch/prevent the lenses and other things falling out. For the storage systems on the side flaps, they have the great zip shut covers. But the really expensive stuff is sitting in the main compartment with nothing to stop them falling out if you pick up the bag the wrong way.

Second, the ergonomics of the bag as a backpack are not quite right. If you go to my earlier post on the issue, I found the shoulder straps slipping off when I was wearing a down jacket. It is better when your clothing is not made of slippery material but it is still not 100% right.

The third issue, and this is a common mistake of bags, is that there is nothing to stop the stuff you place in the top compartment above your camera gear from falling down, either out the bag when the sides are open or into the area where your camera gear is stored. I have got around this (for my f-stop bag initially) by using a drawstring bag into which I place my loose items. But they really need to provide a moveable/removable “tray” divider that separates the top section from the bottom section.

Another issue is that I wish there was more padding protection at the bottom of the bag. That’s the spot that I place my heavy cameras. I have taken a divider from another camera bag and placed it at the bottom to increase the padding. 

The bottom line ….

Unequivocally, the Everyday Backpack is the most suitable camera bag I have owned. It is really easy to travel with, particularly in and out of airports. I love the fact that it does not look like a camera bag, although some folk recognizes it as the Trey Ratcliffe Peak Design creation. There are a number of ways the bag can be made better, the most important of which, to my mind, is the addition of a “safety net” to prevent kit falling out. I also think the ergonomics of the bag while carrying it could be improved.

Would love to hear comments from other people on their experience.

For more about the Everyday Backpack go to Peak Design

A review of Peak Design's Everyday Backpack

This post contains affiliate links.