One of my favorite annual traditions is to organize a seasonal drive, either Spring or Fall (Summer is too hot for convertibles, and winter does not cater to summer tires). The drives have always been a short 2 hour drive at most, take some photos, grab a meal, and head home. We took a gamble this past Fall with a 6 hour drive to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, along with our puppies! The Mount Washington Auto Road is famous for its beautiful drive up 4,600 feet in elevation. Our group planned for the best foliage time, booked a beautiful cabin from Airbnb, and planned to bring some of our own food for sandwiches, among planning to eat some lobsters. This was the first time our group made a weekend trip together and it was nice to know that we could hang out all weekend and not want to kill each other. The advantage of going on a road trip in our group is the amount of time we cut from our trip with our spirited, maybe competitive driving. Our initial planned day to drive up the mountain was met with ice cold rain and overcast, so the tour was closed. We had one day left and we got really lucky with clear blue skies. As you ascend up the mountain the climate changes into a winter frost, and eventually snow. I had a fear that my summer tires would slide us off the cliff, but we made it to the top to a breathtaking view. This was my favorite group drive ever, I’m not sure how we’re going to top it this year!
If you travel as often or more like me, and always rent a car abroad, you’ll know how invaluable a GPS and music is. Luckily you have both of those and more in one device, your smartphone. As I’m sure you have a phone holder in your vehicle at home for safety, and more so convenience reasons, why wouldn’t you have the same for a rental car if it’s more than a day? Back in the day when suction cup phone mounts were the only option, it was a cumbersome solution. The suction cup would get dirty or dusty while packed in your travel bag, the universal mount was also large and bulky.
Magnetic mount are here to rescue all of us! The solution is very simple but very effective, a small device that fits in your pocket. The magnetic vent mount clips to almost all car vents, I’ve had pretty good luck from Chevys, to Hyundais, to Mercedes (although Mercedes’ circular vents are really annoying). It doesn’t block your view with extra arms or brackets, it’s just a few strong neodymium magnets under a soft touch surface. With a metal plate hidden inside your phone case, the phone snaps easily and securely to the mount. It easily rotates to any orientation you want and holds in place even while driving aggressively.
I don’t think there are any better solutions to how you place your phone on and off the mount. It’s just a simple grab and go. The only disadvantage to the vent mount is, you do block half of a vent and lose the ability to direct where the air goes. On the plus side, the vent can cool off your phone when you have the AC on. A small price to pay for ultra convenience especially when renting a car.
The prices of these mounts range from $10 at Walmart, to $35+ for the name brands. I’ve owned both and both work well. I would recommend the $10 version for travel, in case you lose it.
It was that time of year again when the foliage fills my eyes with beautiful fiery reds, oranges, and yellows, the cold crisp air wakes me up early in the morning, and all I want to do is grab the steering wheel and whip my car around mountain roads, climb some hills, and kick up some fallen leaves behind me. Of course it wouldn’t be as fun to do a cruise by myself, which is why I always organize a small drive with my buddies, old and new faces, so we can chase each other around, get some good rolling shots of their rides, and enjoy good food.
This year I took out my 2016 Mazda6 as the chase/camera car, and our group line up included a 2016 BMW 328i XDrive, Subaru BRZ, BMW Z3M, BMW E46 M3, BMW E36 M3, Infinity Q50, and BMW Z4M Coupe. Our first stop was at Croton Point Park in New York, with plenty of parking space, and we found a gorgeous RV park with a rows of trees that were glowing orange and red. It was a perfect photo op for everyone’s car. Can you say Facebook cover photo? Our food stops were Billy Joe’s Ribworks, and Pie Lady & Son for the best pie I’ve ever had.
All photos were captured with my new favorite gadget, the Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II and OMD E-M1.
One of the best days this summer was going on a top-down spirited drive on windy mountain roads in perfect weather with your buddies, enjoying multiple scenic and food stops along the way. Imagine your own Top Gear challenge not without the close calls with police that usually comes with a car chase as you can see in the video screenshot below. The photos taken are one of my favorites with just the right lighting, ND filters on an Olympus OMD E-M1 camera at low shutter speeds and a steady hand.
Our destination was Perkins Memorial Observatory in Bear Mountain, followed by a hearty brunch at Billy Joe’s Ribworks. Our mid-day dessert for some extra driving boost was amazing pie from my favorite place, Pie Lady & Son. That was only our first half of the day, as we later carpooled to Brooklyn for the evening to enjoy the amazing weather.
Nothing puts a smile on my face like the freedom of being on the road with good music, good company, and speed! Like I always said, who else can buy bliss at $2.22 per gallon?
It was a beautiful Saturday morning driving in various formations with Greg in a Ferrari 458 with my BMW Z4 M Roadster as the chase camera car. Maintained speed, a steady hand, and low shutter speed makes for some great car photography that helps make the car pop, but a little extra filter and editing makes it polished. I just wish we could close down the entire highway for my own photo projects.
The unusual east coast weather this summer has caused some amazing skies lately. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos with my Olympus OMD E-M1 with ND filters, and did some post processing through Lightroom 5, then Photoshop CS6. Shooting in RAW helped enhance the shadow details from the car, and highlight details from the sky. It’s always safer to shoot a slightly darker exposure since you can always retrieve more shadow detail than you can from blown highlights.
It’s normal to get all kinds of ambient color reflections from the environment onto the car, so I desaturated the car and pavement to a neutral gray (don’t forget to keep the turn signal colors intact), but left the windows slightly tinted from the sky. The final steps included sharpening, more Shadow/Highlights to bring out some more details, and final highlight dodging of the car to make it pop.
Most of us love the 3D pop effect of a shallow depth of field photo. It’s practically impossible to get these effects with a phone camera, so it’s crucial to use a DSLR or a higher end compact camera to achieve these effects. Even with a prime lens at the widest for the best bokeh, it means you may not get the entire subject from front to back in focus either. Focus stacking technique lets you keep the beautiful bokeh background while having full control of what objects to keep in focus.
Just over two weeks and 1,700 miles with my new ride, I couldn’t be happier with my new investment. Here is a personal review of what I love about waiting a decade to upgrade a daily driver.
I am proud to show off one of my pride and joys in life, my 2005 BMW 330xi that has just hit 200,000 miles this weekend. This was my first purchased car when I was 23, a proud moment in my life – a new premium luxury car with my own hard earned money only a year after graduating from college. It was a status symbol, but by no means the main reason why I have such passion and pleasure for driving, it’s just in my soul. I admit I wasn’t nearly as knowledgeable about cars back then as I am now, thanks to the fact that German performance cars are high maintenance, I almost feel like a mechanic.
My best vacations require a long scenic drive, whether my own car or a rental car (manual preferred), with lots of random side stops along the undetermined route to explore deeper and get a more authentic experience of the town, state, or country. It’s important to try the local roads over the highways, because you’ll just miss all the architecture, local shops, food and people. The trick is not to have a set itinerary, be flexible with your time and what activities you want to do, this will open up plenty of options when you discover them on the road, with no time restrictions.
What makes a great drive? I am always looking for well paved roads that have a lot of twists and bends with elevation changes, either along the coast line, a cliff, or a mountain side. Being able to scale a mountain and look down 3,000 feet is awe inspiring, while driving along a cliff knowing if you don’t pay attention, you could easily be at the bottom of the cliff in a mangled wreckage, will keep your heart at a high pace. The speed of the drive is relative to the contours of the landscape. It’s more fun to take a slower car and pushing it to the limit, than having to take a fast sports car and idling around a bend. If you really want to experience full control, either drive your own manual car or rent a manual car outside the States.
I will try my best to describe my top favorite drives around the world in order starting from the best. I will be available for hire as an international driver if anyone is interested!
El Bob thinks Germany looks just like Switzerland.
This past weekend was supposed to be a great night for a meteor shower, so I took a late night drive up Palisades Parkway to 9W through Black Rock Forest in New York and stopped at a lookout. It was nearly pitch black with a hint of city lights in the distance. Unfortunately while I was busy setting up the camera and taking photos, I missed the few shooting stars that my friend witnessed.
The photos are all single exposures, taken with a Canon 16-35mm 2.8L on a full-frame body, 30 second exposures with a remote. The foreground was lit by the iPhone flash and the lens was manually focused. It’s a good idea to take multiple photos with slightly different focusing distances in case you misfocus the first photo.
We all have certain movies we fantasize about playing the same role as the hero, for guys it would be a wide variety in an action movie from special forces to martial artists to professional drivers. The hero usually has an amazing ability to never die, can kill anyone with their bare fists, and of course, drive any car and perform stunts without beading a drop of sweat. While you watch the movie, some of the times you really want to believe you can do those things too, and the majority of the times you realize how ridiculous and blown out Hollywood makes it all. Then there’s Drive.
Drive might be the complete opposite of over blown Hollywood stunts, CGI, and sexy heroes. The nameless Driver in the movie is anything but charming. Awkward introverted personality with a deep dark secret. The movie is mostly slow paced with chunks of action scenes that kicks your heart rate into 0-60 in a split second. What I love about the movie is how it romanticizes pure driving. You typically associate cars with guns and women in movies – and yes, Drive has guns and girls too – but it really emphasizes on just the drive.
You watch the Driver cruise down the city streets alone, slow, with just radio chatter – not unrealistic for an evening drive. The simple visual stimulus of street lamps and street lines zooming past your windshield is enough for me to escape the world. This is probably how the Driver escapes his world.
When he meets the girl, his idea of a date is to ask her out for a drive. Inside the car, he is able to share his world with her by transforming what average people consider a hassle of driving, into an adventure, all without a single word being spoken. She is charmed by this. Here is a guy sharing his best moment with someone special and she is intuitive enough to understand and appreciate every moment of it. They proceed to go on dates, each time sharing a moment inside the car.
This movie best portrays my love of pure driving. Not necessarily being a gear head, nor a professional driver, but enjoying the road on a set of four wheels, and what better way to enjoy it than with someone else in the passenger seat? Unfortunately it is not a popular romantic idea, just like this movie isn’t a popular Hollywood action flick. I think it’s hard to convince a woman that all you want to do is to take her out on the road and just enjoy the drive, but for the right woman that says yes, I have found my bliss. I hope you can watch this movie too and feel what I feel.
El Bob tests out the tire barrier for the Grand Prix. Safety’s number one!
Below you will see a composite from the evening photos. The main shot is the ambient light from the street. Other shots of Mila and the smoke were taken with a Canon Speedlite on a Quantum battery, triggered remotely by an Aputure Trigmaster (more reviews on the device in a future post). The camera is on a tripod while I hand held the flash at different angles pointing at Mila, and my assistant Tiffany would press the camera shutter on my command.
My favorite model, Mila is lit with two Canon 580 exII, triggered remotely, shot with a Canon 16-35mm and a 70-200mm. I metered the camera to expose the sky/clouds, and adjusted the flash power settings to lighten up the foreground. The image was desaturated using Hue/Saturation, while individually desaturating each color channel except for red and a little bit of yellow. A few Curves layers were added to create the mood.
Hover over the flash at the bottom to see the process.
I realized I never posted these two driving videos, both were recorded last year. The first drive was through Bear Mountain in my Z4 M Roadster. Unfortunately only one GoPro was in HD, and the one viewing my car was low-res. The second was a rental car driving down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I can’t wait till the weather warms up and I can make more polished videos with my new GoPro Hero HD.