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!
The next morning would start before the sun came back up as we walked down to the beach waiting for the sky 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 gives 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!
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?