I recently took a strictly vacation only trip to my timeshare in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. No weddings, no clients, just Olivia and I. Being on vacation is a very different experience compared to shooting on location no matter what most people might think. There is significantly less stress, no itinerary, and no post production work deadline. The only thing missing is the fact that the travel is paid for.
What do you do when you’re stuck on an island resort full of Americans? You rent a buggy and explore the island with a big appetite and your camera gear. Olivia and I found great secluded spots to just run around and take photos. I had my wedding gear, Canon 5D Mark III and an assortment of lens from 16-35mm to 70-200mm, and the nifty 50 with ND filters. I strapped my camera bag to the back trunk of the scooter and crossed my fingers that it didn’t fly off. All photos processed through Lightroom 5.
Day two of our shoot in Puerto Rico with Joli Robinson, we trek into the rain forest to find a waterfall. Quantum battery in my back pocket attached to my Speedlite, legs into the water up to my knees, I prayed that I didn’t trip into the water and shock myself. It was absolutely worth it watching the water soak through the white shirt. After surviving the hike, we made it across the entire island to one of the most amazing hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in, the Horned Dorset Primavera.
I even traveled with both my Alien Bees, which I had setup in the suite. The evening shoots were lit with the modeling lamps, which I usually prefer over a strong flash. When I book a hotel, I will make the most of it, from shooting in the evening for dark intimate lighting, to using the beautiful morning light. Our last shoot ended in the infinity pool, making sure it was in the shade for a beautiful surreal look.
I was always inspired by Sports Illustrated style of modeling photography. There is something simple and clean about their work with models in exotic or beach locations. The model really shows her personality, her chemistry with the photographer, and the lighting just always looked natural. With my opportunity to work with such a talented and beautiful model, Joli Robinson, how could I not take the chance to travel to an exotic location to get the best photos I can, inspired by SI? While Puerto Rico isn’t exactly exotic, the beach and seclusion was just as good as the next island.
You may be wondering what equipment is best to bring to an island model shoot. Telephotos are always the top choice, as it creates the best bokeh effects and the least distortion for the model. The king of all lens for outdoor is still the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. I’ve had this lens for nearly a decade and it’s still one of the sharpest lens I have. The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L is good if you have to be closer and want some purposefully wide shots of the model and landscape. If you want extremely shallow depth of field, then go with fast prime lens with ND filters, I have a few NDX8 filters. A handheld wireless flash is useful to for fill flash in dark places, and a light duty light stand if you don’t have an assistant.
I hope these photos inspire you to go out on an adventure and shoot! What publication inspires you?
I met up with the super cute Joliesa in Los Cabos, Mexico for some fun shoots under the hot desert sun, and under a cool moon lit beach. Shooting on-location during a weekday low season is the best time to avoid any tourists, and renting a car allows you to have the beach all to yourself. All but one of the photos were 100% natural light, as I usually hate light modifiers. I want you to feel like you’re there, not on set of a studio.
Sabrina and I have been traveling around the world separately for a while, always tailing behind each other until this trip where for once we could go to the same destination on the same plane, at the same time. She loves fashion, and I love taking pictures, so it was easy for her to pick the outfits while I picked the locations and snapped away. There’s nothing like renting your own car and exploring a new country, finding secluded spots and making the world your studio.
I was flattered when another wedding photographer Lawrence Ha from the West coast wanted to hire me to shoot his wedding down in Cancun, Mexico. It was a great to meet him and his wife for the first time, especially knowing him through Facebook over the years. It’s natural to feel pressure to shoot for another fellow photographer, but all the photographers who I’ve worked for understand the stresses of wedding photography, which make them more easy going as a client. If I ever hire someone for my unlikely wedding, I would give him or her plenty of slack and try to not make it feel like work. For your information, working at a destination wedding is way more difficult than a local wedding, so you can all stop telling us how lucky we are to work on a non-equipment-friendly environment!
What can I say about this awesome couple? I met Tingting years ago when she was a bridesmaid since she recommended me as the photographer. I soon reached out to her for modeling shoots since she has a lot of experience in it, and we’ve had many amazing sessions since then. We built a great professional relationship and she didn’t want anyone else but me to be her photographer, and I was excited to hear that she wanted photos in Germany! I had the pleasure of meeting Elmar who is simply chill, smart and funny. We booked our trip to Munich during Oktoberfest to celebrate with the entire city, and boy was it an experience. We were also able to get out of town and see some beautiful scenery including the Nymphenburg Palace. When you have a good looking couple, your job doesn’t feel like a job – and when you’re flown to a beautiful location, now you’re just enjoying your hobby on a expense paid trip!
Puerto Rico truly felt like paradise being far away from everyone we know, no plans, no agenda, just exploring together with a tote full of new outfits, few camera lens, and a rental car with no destination. I planned for weeks on outfits and matching accessories and couldn’t wait to put them on the model and photograph her somewhere exotic! Our adventures started at the amazing bed and breakfast in San Juan by the ocean. It was a mini paradise by itself, with open arches and gates, foliage, plenty of natural light, and two adorable golden retrievers. The decor of the bedroom also lent itself to some very sexy photos. We ended the day with an evening shoot at Luquillo beach. What an exciting feeling to be alone in the quiet and calm bay as the sun sets, like a giant bathtub for the model and I to play in.
The next morning would start before the sun came back up as we walked down to the beach waiting for the sky to wake up right behind us. Later in the day while driving to Fajardo for our ferry ride to Vieques, we spotted a pony ranch on the side of the road. I always love random detours that give us unexpected photo opportunities. The owner of the ranch was extremely helpful, making sure we got the ponies to do the poses we want and standing where we want. When we were done, he gave us a phone number for a friend of his in Vieques, just in case we needed anything – this would practically save us later in the day.
Upon taking the last ferry from Fajardo to Vieques, it was already evening when we arrived at the island, and due to low tourist season, there wasn’t a taxi in sight. I had no choice but to call the phone number given to me and see what he could do for us. Amazingly, this friend, Luis, is a driver for tourists and just happened to be a few minutes away and saved our evening by taking us to our B&B. We enjoyed his company and knowledge of the island so much we decided to cancel our rental car and hire him as our driver for the next day on the island while we shoot. He took us to all the best locations we might have never been able to find on our own, so I credit the Vieques photos to Luis. We visited the island’s four hundred year old tree, complete with vicious fire ants, secluded beaches, and access to a fort museum. Our last spot was a black sand beach. It would be a grueling hike to reach this secluded cove. I would have loved to spend more than just the quick forty five minutes we had there. Our amazing three day shoot would end here, as we packed up and took our redeye flight home the next morning. It was a trip I will never forget, and the photos will always remind me of these moments.
El Bob’s first official meal in Puerto Rico was a delicious empanada.
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!
South Africa is definitely a beautiful country with all seasons to experience, from hot summers to cold winters. I was able to feel it all in one trip, the hot sun beating down on us in the village, to the cold winter frost on top of the mountains in Drakensberg. The most unforgettable sight was the stars and Milky Way galaxy at night. The night sky was so bright it felt unreal.
This has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves, and bothers me every time I travel. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this is more efficient.
Dear ladies and germs, this will be my very first international volunteer trip! I am heading to South Africa to tell the story the women and children of Kwazulu Natal. The core purpose of Zimele is to teach them skills that will help self sustain their community, instead of relying on outsiders to fund and provide for them. As one woman said, “I’d rather you teach me to fish, than to give me fish.” Just as critical is allowing the women to build confidence and respect.
My first goal is to teach the community how to use their computers for education and business, as well as teaching them basic photography skills with the digital cameras that have been donated to them. They will be tasked with telling their own story with the cameras. This is a significant step in empowering women.
My second goal is to tell my own story through my photography. I am most excited to share the beauty and hardships of life in poverty of South Africa. You will not see endless sad photos from me, instead, I will tell stories of success, joy, and a bright future for this community.
Along with your monetary support, you will be providing me with encouragement to know what you support what I do. I am providing the funds for my own trip. 100% of your donations go straight to Zimele.
I will set a deadline for the fundraiser to be May 12th, the date I fly out to South Africa!
Show some love! El Bob thanks you for every donation made!
Imagine you’re on a vacation of a life time, you spend a large amount of time researching what camera and lens you need only to find out it’ll cost you more than you imagined just to snap some mediocre photos on your trip because you don’t even have time to learn how to use it. Not to mention, you will have to carry a few pounds of equipment every where you go. Or perhaps the only photos you will take during your vacation are a few mobile phone snapshots, which is not worth looking at again. So how do you solve this dilemma? Hire a vacation photographer!
I was hired by my friend Jennie for a snowboarding vacation to Zermatt, Switzerland early this year, and my job was to document the trip and scenery. I flew to Zurich, rented an eco-car Ford Ka, and proceeded to setup my iPad navigation to route to Zermatt. I found out the hard way that the Wi-Fi only iPad can only activate GPS when it’s connected to Wi-Fi, what a waste of a GPS feature! My iPhone had GPS signal but no data service, so I could only use a cached map of Switzerland on Google Maps to guide me through the major highways. The rest of the local roads and all German signs I had to learn on the way. What would’ve taken 3 hours on the major highways ended up taking me 7+ hours on local scenic routes. Every minute of it was exhilarating and beautiful, I would’ve missed all the sights had I used the highways. I was able to experience endless tunnels through mountains, windy dangerous roads, and car trains.
I explored the resort in Zermatt, and took a lift all the way up the mountain to 9,000 feet where they built a restaurant complete with free Wi-Fi. You can see the famous Matterhorn mountain which is the logo used for Toblerone chocolates. From there, I took another lift higher up the mountain followed by a short elevator ride and two flights of stairs to finally reach 12,736 feet on top of the Swiss Alps, “Europe’s highest mountain lift” so the sign says. Those crazy Swiss had also decided to build another full restaurant/gift shop on top!
I had once seen a travel show on Lake Como, labeled as one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Star Wars and James Bond were both filmed there, and Clooney, Versace, and Madonna have all had homes on the lake. After watching the show I knew I wanted to visit there someday. While looking at the map, I noticed Lake Como was only a short drive away, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit. Jennie and I were so excited we planned a one day trip to Lake Como, and we can now say “Yeah, we drove to Lake Como, Italy just for lunch and gelato.”
I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. My ideal vacation is to be spontaneous and adventurous. Rent a car, and explore local sights and good-eats, with an occasional tourist stop. I have enough driving experience in different countries to get me around without much issue, and getting lost is half the fun. Jennie was able to enjoy her vacation fully without having to buy and learn a new camera, carry the equipment, stop to take photos, learn how to drive stick, navigate alone in a different country, come home and download/edit/upload tons of photos. All the things I take care of as a hired vacation photographer.
Where do you want to take me next?