Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Dancer's Senior Portraits

I am back in Houston preparing to travel to South America, so I squeezed some portrait shoots into my schedule. I had a great time photographing Sandy's headshots a while back, so I was thrilled when she contacted me about shooting her senior portraits. Graduation is a great time to get creative and indulge in a photoshoot that goes beyond your every day portrait session. Sandy's many talents made this shoot a breeze.

Sandy was a gorgeous homecoming queen, so we had to get some classic portraits of her with her crown and letterman jacket. Afterwards, we busted out some dance outfits and good music and got inventive. Sandy is the first person I have ever seen dance salsa on pointe!

Sandy also wanted photos in a more natural setting, so we also shot outdoors.

For our final concept, Sandy played in the rain.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Paris was my last city to visit before coming home to the USA. I reconnected with Justin Black, one of the photographers I met in Iceland, so we could explore Paris together. We mapped out all of the major sights, and then hit the streets. The weather was pretty rainy and gray, but we made the most of it. We had an absolute blast.

Paris being a symbol of romance, I wasn't surprised to find more locks of love.

Outside of the famous Notre Dame cathedral, a man was selling bits of special bread that the birds enjoyed eating. He taught us how to get the birds to eat right out of our hands, which made for a great photo opportunity.

Inside of the cathedral:

We climbed the 387 steps to the top of Notre Dame to photograph the incredible view.

Of course, we couldn't miss the Louvre. The museum is enormous, and could easily take weeks to really appreciate everything on display there. We only had a couple of hours, barely allowing us to scratch the surface of the museum's contents. It was an enjoyable visit, nonetheless.

Since Justin and I both love going to the tops of things, we climbed the Arc de Triomphe to see the view from there.

My entire trip to Europe I bought most of my food from grocery stores. This saved me a ton of money. Paris was my last city before going home, so I wanted to splurge and get some really great food there. I wasn't disappointed! My favorite dessert was this apple tart.

After seeing countless images of the Eiffel Tower, I didn't think I would be that thrilled to see it in person. My feelings changed dramatically once I actually saw it for myself. It is breathtakingly huge. The lighting at night is stunning, and I had a blast being the zillionth photographer to catch images of tower.

We wanted to go to the top of the tower, but the weather limited us to visiting the first and second levels. I am glad they didn't allow us to go any higher because the wind was fierce!

Thanks so much to everyone who followed my trip to Europe. I am now back in the states preparing for my next trip: South America!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Doctor Who?!

Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction series in the world, and is produced by BBC. I have been a fan for a long time, so I knew that the recent seasons of the show filmed in Cardiff, Wales. Since I am a total nerd, Cardiff had to be on my list of cities to visit. Cardiff is also the home base of Torchwood, one of Doctor Who's spin-offs. I browsed the Doctor Who website to find out if any events were coming up. Sure enough, the cast of the current season of Doctor Who was going to be a part of the Christmas Lights Switch-On in Cardiff, so I made sure my visit to the city coincided with the date of the event.

Upon arrival in Cardiff, I got a map and the hostel receptionist circled all of the Doctor Who and Torchwood sights. First stop was the Doctor Who museum. They had some neat costumes and props on display. I expected it to be larger, but I still left completely giddy!

That night, I arrived at the Christmas Lights Switch-On event over an hour early. The place was already crowded with people, but I eventually squished my way to the front of the crowd. At the very end of the event, Matt Smith (the new Doctor), Karen Gillan (his companion, Amy Pond), and Arthur Darvill (Amy Pond's husband Rory) came on stage. Jason Mohammad talked to the cast, and once it was time to turn on the lights, Matt Smith pulled out a sonic screwdriver (the Doctor's favorite tool.)

 Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who Cast

 Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who Cast

 Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who Cast

 Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who Cast

For an exciting finale, Matt Smith pointed the screwdriver into the air, it lit up, and fireworks went off as the christmas lights turned on.

 Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who Cast

 Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who Cast

Island Castle

I altered my itinerary so that I could meet my dad in Aberdeen, Scotland. He got called there last minute for a job, so I thought it would be a nice detour. My favorite part of the trip was our visit to Dunnottar Castle, an island fortress near Stonehaven.

Visiting castles is always a hundred times more interesting when I am with my dad. He is an engineer, so we see things in completely different ways. His intense curiosity is not only amusing, it helps me truly appreciate the incredible history behind these ruins. We had an absolute blast.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Grass is Greener in Scotland

I went straight from London to Inverness, the capitol of the Highlands of Scotland. The train trip took an entire day, putting me in Inverness after dark. The hostel welcomed me with free tea and hot chocolate and I got settled in. In the morning, I went downstairs to get a map from reception and figure out my day. I knew I wanted to rent a bike, so reception referred a bike shop to me and suggested that I bike to Dores, a little village at the south of Loch Ness.

Even though the weather was damp and chilly, none of it could compare with the level of cold I experienced in Iceland. I felt very comfortable wearing jeans with long underwear and my good coat. Scotland was bursting at the seams with the colors of autumn. Being from Houston, I had never seen reds and oranges this bright in nature. Ironically, the cold had not had much effect on the grass yet. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I know, but the grass literally is a brighter green in Scotland.

As I biked along the road to Dores, I noticed a field with some cows in the distance. A dramatic sky completed a nice looking landscape, so I stopped to take a couple of pictures. As I removed my backpack, I noticed some of the cows looking my way. Thinking nothing of it, I took out the camera and started adjusting my settings. I looked up to see cows walking towards me. It added more depth to the composition, so I started snapping photos. Soon, more and more cows came in my direction. I wasn't calling them, and I didn't have food. Before I knew it, every cow in the field was lined up right in front of me. They quietly stared at me, waiting for me to feed them or something. I couldn't stop laughing. I wish I had a bunch of oats to give them, but I have no idea how I would have fed a group of cows that big.

My first glimpse of Dores and the shore of Loch Ness left me floored. I've heard dozens of stories about the Loch Ness Monster, but somehow they all left out the part about Loch Ness being GORGEOUS!

The hilly nine mile ride to Dores left me windswept and very cold. I stopped at the Dores Inn to eat a late lunch, and ended up staying quite a while. After enjoying my hot chocolate and ham sandwich, my feet still felt chilly. The woman running the place noticed I was still cold, and invited me into a side room with a real fireplace burning real wood! (That's something you don't see very often in Houston.) She pulled up a chair, just for me, and brought me tea. I couldn't believe the level of hospitality I was extended.

On my way out, I talked to a local woman who noticed my american accent and asked what I was doing there. When I mentioned I had ridden a bike from Inverness, she expressed concern about the visibility on the road. Dressed in a black coat and dark jeans, I would be impossible to see at night. I planned on being home before dark, but she volunteered to let me know if she had a hard time seeing me as she drove home. I set off down the road back to Inverness. Sure enough, ten minutes later she passed in a car and waved to me, signaling that the visibility was good and that I was safe.

I fell completely in love with Inverness. As soon as I got back to my hostel, I asked reception to extend my stay another day. I got a great nights rest, and grabbed a bus to Foyers in the morning. The Village of Foyers is at the north end of Loch Ness. Not only was I interested in seeing the loch from the other side, I wanted to walk a hiking trail and explore the waterfalls in that area. A misty rain fell the entire day, reminding me of my time in Assisi. No one was out, it felt as if I had the entire forest to myself. The only sounds were the rustling of my poncho and the sound of water running. I wandered about in this sanctuary, enjoying the stunning colors and fresh air. In four hours I did not see single human being, only quaint houses and a cute puppy.

I took the same bus back to Inverness and made plans for my final day. The next morning, I took a different bus to Urquhart Castle. The area was busier with more tourists, but it was still a neat place to explore.

I didn't want to leave Inverness, but I was afraid if I stayed that I would never leave! That night I packed up and took a train to Edinburgh.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

London and Brighton

By the time I caught my morning flight to London, I was completely and totally exhausted. Staying with some friends allowed me a couple of days to just rest and edit photos. I also went to see Les Miserables and Billy Elliot. Both shows were stunning, but Billy Elliot was particularly refreshing. The show included so much powerful acting that it didn't feel like watching a typical musical. I haven't seen the version playing on Broadway, but apparently it's pretty different from the version playing on the West End. After seeing the version in London, I am very interested in seeing the one on Broadway so I can compare the two. It felt great to have some theater back in my life and to be inspired.

My friend showed me the main sights around London, including Big Ben and the London Bridge. I didn't take a ton of pictures, I chose to just enjoy the sights instead. Still, I couldn't resist a colorful carousel.

I intended to just take a snapshot of Big Ben, but I ended up taking the editing a bit further and liking the result.

I took a day trip out of London to Brighton. I didn't do any research beforehand, didn't have a map, list of things to see, anything. My friends told me it was beautiful and that it would be a great place to go and relax. I'm glad I took their word for it. I arrived at the train station with one goal, find the beach. I didn't ask anyone how to get there, I just went downhill. The city reminded me of the classic British tv shows my dad loves to watch on PBS. Lots of people were out walking, so I felt very safe and at home there. Eventually, I made it to the beach. Instead of sand, the beach is made of tons of tiny pebbles. I found a comfortable place to sit and people watch. The beach was scattered with pairs of people, friends, parents with children, couples. I saw an older man dressed in a suit and hat. His daughter and granddaughter played with toys in the rocks. He left them to wander closer to the waves, looking out at the ruins of a structure in the water.

Before leaving for Europe, I planned every bit of my first four weeks. Those four weeks passed, leaving me with two weeks in Europe, and no plan. I began taking suggestions from everyone who had ideas, and finally decided my next destination would be Scotland!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Last Day: Gullfoss and the Blue Lagoon

After driving for three days straight, I wanted my last day in Iceland to be more relaxing. Gullfoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall, is also the most famous waterfall in Iceland. Even though it is considered a more touristy place to go, I wanted to see it. On the way, I photographed some geothermal activity near a geothermal plant and at Geysir.

I am not sure what I was expecting, but I was overwhelmed by how enormous Gullfoss is. It's scale dwarfed all the other falls I photographed on my road trip.

I heard rumors that rainbows appear on a regular basis in Iceland, especially around waterfalls. It took 6 days, but I finally caught a really bright one as I was leaving Gullfoss. I had another encounter with Icelandic horses at the same time!

The second half of my day was dedicated to relaxation. I spent a couple of hours at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa near Reykjavik. Even though the air was freezing, literally, it felt like getting into an enormous hot tub. Silica mud was available to use as a cleansing face mask, so I had to partake. I took a couple of minutes to take a photo of the lagoon and areas surrounding it, but I focused more on unwinding during my stay.

After I left the Blue Lagoon, I met up with Lárus Sigurðarson to try and catch the northern lights one more time. They were so bright I could see them from his porch! Unfortunately, by the time we got out on location they died down, but I managed to catch them in a few shots. I also enjoyed taking more night shots as well.

Overall, it was an awe inspiring journey. This country is a hidden gem, and I hope that I can inspire others to also visit Iceland. You don't have to be a photographer to appreciate it's beauty. I woke up at 4am to catch my flight to my next destination, London!