A year-end five-by-five... by Josh Trudell

Five things I’m looking forward to in 2015:

1) The Trip. Instead of a focused photography trip this year, I’m putting all my time off from the Day Job into one massive journey with the Fabulous SuperWife: Three weeks in Australia – with a soupcon of Hong Kong at the end before we fly home.

This is a trip we’ve been looking forward to for several years – mostly by hoarding our frequent-flyer miles like Scrooge McDuck’s gold vault. But we will officially NOT be flying cattle class on any leg of the trip (he says, knock wood).

The highlights will include most of a week on a scuba cruise at the Great Barrier Reef, a week exploring Sydney and some time in Daintree National Forest.  I can’t wait to see it and shoot it all.

2) Do more model photography. I’m hoping to branch out this year and experiment with some model photography. I’m still ironing out what shape that is going to take, but I’ve got some ideas kicking around. I’m hoping to flesh them out in the first half of 2015.

3) Seeing the new exhibit of my photography (and all the other photographers) at San Antonio City Hall. This will be the first time that I haven’t been hands-on involved with putting up pieces, which is both a relief and makes me slightly anxious about how it will turn out. I should find out in the next week or two.

4) Seeing the Red Sox reboot and rebound next season. I’d still like to see an ace at the top of the rotation – paging Mr. Zimmermann, paging Mr. Jordan Zimmermann, you’re wanted at 4 Yawkey Way – but I always enjoy watching a good offense, and this one looks pretty promising on paper.

5) Watching the Marvel Universe continue to grow and evolve. More Avengers?!? The return/reboot of Daredevil?!? ANT-MAN!?! The golden age of comic-book based media continues to grow and evolve, and it seems to be only getting better.

And there’s the little matter of a certain lightsaber-swinging sequel coming to theaters next December…


Five things I liked about 2014:

1) My week in Glacier National Park was fantastic. Seeing and shooting the mountains, rivers and lakes was a great experience with some wonderful people. I can’t recommend James Kay Photography enough for their guidance and help with everything on the trip  - like when my tripod broke on the first afternoon shooting.

I’m already looking forward to going back to Glacier – hopefully this time with better weather.

2) Spending an excellent 40th birthday with my wife and mom at Disney World. Disney wasn’t my first choice – I had some dreams of an African safari, I admit. But being able to spend a week with family – and introducing Mom to the wonders of the Magic Kingdom  - was worth a lot more.

3) Being from New England and now living in Texas, it occasionally strikes me how few of New England’s highlights I saw while growing up there. We checked one of those off the list this past year, though, with a few days at Acadia National Park. I hope it’s not the only time we visit – it’s a place with a lot to offer.

4) Speaking of Maine – meeting Stephen King was a big checkmark on ye olde bucket list. This Constant Reader remains, as ever, a big fan.

5) My circle of connections continued to grow. Thanks to everyone who supported my work this past year, by sharing a story, by liking my Facebook page, by suggesting an idea, or by joining me on Twitter. It was a fun year – here’s to a great 2015.

Emptying out the Glacier notebook by Josh Trudell

Goat Some leftovers from this trip.

Sell my soul for cell service: AT&T was worthless in the park, getting zero data or cell service. The only hotel with decent wifi strength was the St. Mary Lodge and Resort, which is just outside the edge of the park. The hotels actually in park have pathetic wifi – if you were up for sunrise or up past 10:30 p.m., you could hope to get online, but it was virtually impossible otherwise.

(Yes, I know – in one of the great outdoor playgrounds, shouldn’t I be outside enjoying it? I completely agree – but it would be nice to e-mail my wife or see how the Sox did that day.)

Beer me: Highly recommend the local beers, especially the Going to the Sun IPA. That’s a fine beverage.

Bear me: There are bears (and moose, and other possibly-violent-when-provoked critters). Go hiking in a group. Don't bother with bear bells - ding, ding, dinnertime! - but bear mace is a good idea.

(Not) Bare me: Temperatures change quickly – I noticed a drop of 10 degrees just driving from Columbia Falls to Lake McDonald. Layers are key. (and good socks with liners for your feet.)

Winnah, winnah: Be kind to your servers – they may well have more advanced degrees than you.

For example, our charming waitress from Estonia at St. Mary’s Lodge, who had just finished her masters in etymology with a focus in folklore. And was two weeks from getting married. A word of advice to her new husband - good luck keeping up with her, but she's a keeper.

Class acts and great folks: We didn’t always get the best weather, but I can’t say enough about the group, which is really what makes these trips fun. Jim and Susie Kay kept the ship rolling, and the conversations and camaraderie from everyone were priceless. I can’t wait to do it again.

Glacier National Park, Days 6 and 7 by Josh Trudell

Glacier-National-Park-Day-7 Up long before the sun, we settled in to shoot the sun coming up behind us , which just happened to be lighting up Mount Grinnell and the lake. It’s a tough way to start the day, really.

The 50 mph wind gusts were chilly, but they also kept the mosquitoes away. (It was a little disconcerting later on to be editing photos from the trip and realize what I had thought was a spot on my lens was really a giant mosquito).

After doing our best to capture it, we moved onto a hearty breakfast and then the longest hike of the trip - 10 miles round trip to Iceberg Lake. My tender feet were complaining a bit, but I wasn't going to miss anything if I could help it.

Iceberg-Lake-TrailThe hills leading to the lake had many thick patches of beargrass - stalks with large white bulbs on the end - and colorful wildflowers.

Sadly, a driving rain forced us back not long after reaching the lake, which sits in a steep-walled bowl at the foot of Iceberg Mountain and Mount Wilbur. The aquamarine water and white ice made a dazzling combination, even in the rain.

After a quick lunch, we quick marched out of the rain squall and enjoyed the fresh air and open spaces on the way down to a celebratory Going To The Sun IPA. My feet celebrated in some comfortable shoes and a long hot shower.

On the last morning, we were again up for sunrise, but cloud banks denied us. With the wind having died down, we each got some memorial mosquito bites to mark our time there.

With the howling winds of the last couple of days, the smoke had finally blown away from the park, and I tried to take advantage of it while on my way back to Kalispell.

From Many Glacier, I headed around the western and southern edges of the park, photographing fields of wildflowers and enjoying the beautiful drive.

With my feet still a little tender, I stopped along the way and gingerly walked out to Running Eagle Falls. It was my last photo from the trip, but ended up being the lead photo in a story I wrote about it (which you can read).

It is a beautiful spot. Harsh direct sunlight on the foaming water made the whites tough to capture, but multiple filters helped.

Sitting in the Kalispell airport - which is remarkably comfortable for an airport this size - it was easy to decide to come back here someday soon. There's still so much to see.

Glacier National Park, Day 5 by Josh Trudell


Sometimes, when everything else fails, you just have to go over the fence. We started our next to last day with plans to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail. Unfortunately, we found that once up on the side of the mountain, our plans were thwarted: Photographically by haze from wildfires and physically by 80-mph gusts swirling around the mountain.

With the scenic lookout hazed out, we walked down the trail to Grinnell Lake, where we had some lunch as the ground squirrels tried to cute their way into some crumbs. (I cannot confirm or deny if they succeeded.)

Hiking back, we wandered up a small side trail to Hidden Falls, a tight little gorge. Sensing an opportunity, we slid a little closer to the falls than might have been prescribed by fences and captured several frames.

Camping out on the edge while we shot was a little interesting, but thankfully the ground wasn’t wet enough for us to slide.

After making our way back to the hotel, we walked outside again to the little creek joining Swiftcurrent Lake to Lake Sherburne, which has a dynamic waterfall rushing through several tiers.

One of the things I worked on this trip was my use of neutral density filters, and this was one place where I felt it really made a difference having one on my camera. The hot whites in the foam were calmed down, and being able to create a two or three second exposure created that silky look.

In the photo at the top, I'm experimenting with black and white conversions with that photo. I may end up making it available as a print, once I fine tune it some more - the dark area in the middle could use more detail.

After another evening enjoying our balcony view of the mountains, we hit the sack early – preparing for our longest hike of the trip.

Glacier National Park, Day 4 by Josh Trudell

Montana-Day-4 Up bright and very early, we were hoping for a sunrise over the waterway joining Lower Saint Mary Lake and Saint Mary Lake, just a short walk from our hotel.

It didn't blossom quite as much as we hoped, but seeing the sun rise over the mountains is a wonderful way to start any morning.

After breakfast we rolled into Many Glacier early – the last stop on our trip, and one of the most interesting places to visit in the park, with trails to three peaks radiating up from the bowl around Swiftcurrent Lake.

We could have taken the rest of the trip and just studied the lake and the backdrop of Mount Grinnell and the Lewis Range. Perched on our balconies overlooking the lake (bragging a little? Okay, maybe a little), we were able to watch the clouds and light shifting from moment to moment.

Some of the most dynamic images from the trip were made while sitting out there. It could be a retirement home for photographers.

Since it wasn’t quite time to retire for the evening, we got in a bonus walk to Swiftwater Falls – a nice combination of rushing water and wildflowers.

Glacier National Park, Day 3 by Josh Trudell

Montana-3 The time between blog entries lately has been roughly equivalent to the time between Red Sox wins this year. Is it time for spring training yet?

I did promise myself that I would wrap up the entries for this trip, so here we go.

After two days at Lake McDonald, we started our path toward the eastern side of the park, starting with a morning photographing Avalanche Creek.

Still plagued by smoky haze obscuring the skies, we focused on the waterfall, which the trail follows for about the first mile before veering away from water until it reaches Avalanche Lake.

Montana-4The lush landscape around the creek is full of tiny details – new leaves, tiny saplings, dripping moss – all with a background of rushing water. It makes for tons of elements to play with. I love those little details – photographically, I think they can make places seem more tangible than wider shots do.

We could have spent all day just puttering around this set of falls, but after a couple of hours we decided to mosey down the road a bit. We had hopped back and forth over the Continental Divide before, but today we crossed it for good, making our way to Virginia Falls.

If you like photographing moving water, this is a great hike – the two-mile-plus trail runs parallel to rushing water for most of the way, ranging from small drops to the more than 50-feet multi-tiered monster that is Virginia Falls. The wind kept showering our gear with spray from the falls, but we all climbed around the falls, getting our feet wet and trying to capture the beauty

We crashed that night at St. Mary Lodge and Resort, wiped out after a full day of hiking and shooting. A noticeable improvement: Wifi was only available in the main building, but it was much faster than anywhere else we stayed.

Glacier National Park, Day 2 by Josh Trudell

Trudell---Goats Work, work, work…let’s get back to talking about something fun – like hiking and photographing in Glacier National Park.

I try not to think of going on these trips in terms of goals – that implies work, and that takes a lot of the fun out of it. But, for lack of a better term, a goal for this trip was to get some good frames of one of the big three that are often seen in Glacier – bear, moose and elk.

Driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we were on a narrow stretch of road when two bear cubs tumbled across the road two cars in front of us as their mother trudged after them. The cubs then ran back to her before all three of them made their way across the road, over a nearly vertical edge, and out of sight.

No chance for photos, but it seemed like a good omen for the rest of our trip.Trudell---Marmots

Another good omen popped up when marmots – promptly dubbed minigrizz – were spotted near the trail. One adventurous type walked right up to the board-covered trail, peaking its head over the edge.

Our goal that day was Hidden Lake, near the top of Logan Pass. It was fun and a little strange to be slipping and sliding on slushy snow in July, but it made the walk entertaining. Getting up the trail early was a definite benefit – by the time we started heading back down, the slippery trail was full of people – some dressed more than questionably for hiking in Montana. Flip-flops were not the best idea.

When we reached the top of the pass, mountain goats ambled down from their perch on the sheer sides surrounding us and nibbled on the grass peeking through the snow.

The original plan was to hike over the pass down to the lake, but the trail to the lake was closed – ironically, because a bear was in the area feasting on the fish. We consoled ourselves with photographing the baby goats following their parents down the hillside to nap on the ledges and the teenage marmots wrestling just below us.

After sliding down the hill, we motored back to our roost at Lake McDonald Lodge. The location is gorgeous – if for some reason you aren’t enthralled with the scenery, you should know that Internet access is as slow as the stuffed animals on the walls.

After dinner, we went back out, photographing a rushing stream and ending with the pink glow of sunset over the lake.

Glacier National Park, Day 1 by Josh Trudell

Glacier-National-Park-Day-1 So, that plan of updating from the road while shooting in Montana? That didn’t quite pan out for a couple of reasons.

One is that AT&T has absolutely zero service in Glacier National Park. Couldn’t call, couldn’t e-mail – nothing. (Which was beneficial, in a way – while it’s fun to occasionally hit Facebook with the Good Morning sunrise photo, it helps to stay locked in).

Second was that I had forgotten how much work a trip like that can be. It’s more rewarding than any day in any office, but being up and focused pre-sunrise to post-sunset makes for a long day.

So here are some thoughts from the trip in the usual day-by-day breakdown format. (Most recently, that was used for the trip to Italy.)

Getting to Glacier National Park was pretty straightforward – one hop via United to Denver, then a second hop to Kalispell, MT. If you’re headed to Glacier, it’s easier to skip downtown Kalispell and fuel up on gas and food in Columbia Falls.

Driving into the park is an experience. From the flat area around Kalispell, the road snakes into a mountain pass before rising into some rolling foothills. The road rises gradually before diving to Lake McDonald, where we started the trip.

My workshop was led by James Kay Photography, and included some brilliant photographers: Carrie LaPow, Claudia O’Grady, Michael Blanchette and Lynda Holman. With Carrie’s daughter and Claudia’s significant other along, we had a varied and interesting group of people. Jim and Susie Kay are wonderful photographers in their own right, and did a great job keeping the troop organized and moving along.

After meeting at the Lake McDonald Lodge, where we spent our first two nights, we went out and photographed a nearby fast-moving creek that emptied into the lake. It was a good trial run for us to get a feel for each other, and for me to get a feel for the gear I rented.

The lenses – a 16-35 Zeiss 2.8 and a 70-400 zoom, both of which I’ve rented and used before – worked like a charm. One of the lessons I had taken away from my last trip was getting a more reliable, sturdier tripod than the $50 Sony I had been using. To that end, I rented an Induro tripod with a Kirk BH-3 ballhead.

The tripod immediately ran into problems, as a joint on one leg refused to completely go back together after being extended. Luckily, I was able to hobble along for the rest of the trip with only two joints that could extend. (Jim offered to lend me his tripod, but I didn’t want to damage anything else.) did issue me a partial refund for the tripod, too (not a full, since I was able to use it.)

So with a slightly red face – because really, who wants to be the kid whose toys break on the first day? – I took up shooting the stream with the others, and we captured some nice extended exposures.

Little did I know that this would become a week of photographing water practice…

Getting ready for Montana by Josh Trudell

That point when you realize you spend more time packing your camera gear than you do the rest of your stuff for a trip – I’m definitely feeling that today. I’m also feeling the procrastination bug – which might be why I’m typing instead of packing. Shhh…

The upcoming trip is going to be a good one, though – six days in Montana, exploring Glacier National Park. I’ve spent some time in the Rockies before – a gorgeous week in Banff and Canmore – but this will be my first time to Glacier. I can’t wait.

I'm renting a fair amount of gear for this trip - in addition to two lenses, I'm renting a tripod and ball head, which I'm hoping will be sturdier and more precise than the cheap tripods I've been using to date.

For lenses, I'm taking three - the Sony Zeiss 16-35 2.8, the 70-400 f4-5.6, and a 30mm macro. I expect the 16-35 lens will be my go-to lens for the trip - I really need to just break down and buy one soon - but I'm hoping the big zoom will come in useful for wildlife pictures. Who has two thumbs and wants to get a cool elk, moose or bear picture? This guy!

So far, this year has been a lot of editorial photography – magazine and newspaper work. This will be my first real chance in a while to get out into nature. It’s been too long, and I’m hoping not to go this long again.

I may try and update here while I’m there – we’ll see how it goes, though. The weather has some occasional showers in the forecast – hopefully those will make for some dramatic cloud cover.

Here’s to focus and clarity for the next week. Cheers!

Emptying the Italy notebook... by Josh Trudell

fountain Shooting: I had initially planned to rent two lenses for this trip – a big telephoto and a wide-angle. In an effort to keep the budget under control, however, I only rented one – a 16-35 2.8 Zeiss wide-angle. I’ve used this lens before and been very happy with it, and it proved its worth again.

Having a good wide angle for the narrow streets (and canals) of the old cities and for the vistas from the Pathway of the Gods trail made it the best choice. I don’t think I would have pulled out a big zoom more than once or twice if it had been in my bag.

No pictures, please: The guards are STRICT about pictures in the Sistine Chapel, constantly letting people have it (of course, these people are trying to be sneaky with their cell phones, too.)

That was the only place in the Apostolic Palace (or anywhere else) that I saw the photo guards come down hard, though – virtually everywhere else was very receptive. If you ask the waiters, you can often get some pictures of the cooks working in the kitchen, which can make for some fun shots.

Food in Venice: Small bar/cafés are popular, and it's easy to get a quick sandwich to go, put it in a backpack and have it later. Pizza by the slice is also a popular snack. Take advantage of the small to-go cafes - they are much cheaper than any restaurant.

The coolest single moment: Walking into St. Peter’s Basilica. Just a few steps in, you can stand where Charlemagne was crowned head of the Holy Roman Empire. Turn right, and there's Michelangelo's Pieta.

Italy: Day 12 by Josh Trudell

Coast-Towns-2 I had a mission on our trip to Italy.

For years I had been seeing beautiful images of the Amalfi coast lit up by the evening sun, and I was determined to get one of my own.

After our hike across the Pathway of the Gods, we were ready for a relatively quiet day, so we took the bus from our hotel (after another fabulous Luigi breakfast) to Ravello.

Ravello, nestled between the coast town of Amalfi and the mountains, has a road to it that makes the narrow and winding coast road look like the Autobahn. It winds up the side of the cliffs on hairpin turns, past gardens cut into the hillside, before reaching a brief flat shelf in the rock.

Walking from one side of town to the other meant crossing the shelf, from views of the Med on one side to views of the rising hills on the other.

The shops there are filled with red coral jewelry, made from the offshore coral beds. The necklaces, earrings and brooches were beautiful, but pricy. Wandering through town, we found the Villa Rufulo – a huge building/park with beautiful flower gardens overlooking the Mediterranean.

Hustling back down the hillside, we made it to the waterfront just as the sun began to edge downward, lighting up the hillside buildings. It’s a little touristy around the waterfront, but the views made it worthwhile.

Coast-Towns-1I ran out onto a pier stretching into the water, where I took a couple of panoramas – plus these gents – but wasn’t really capturing the look I wanted.

Back on the beach, however, the water, light and waves came together for one of my favorite photos from the trip.

It was a great capper as our last full day in Italy – the next day, we caught an early car and train for Rome in the pouring rain (the only day it rained), and began our journey home.

Italy, Days 9-10 by Josh Trudell

Pensione-Pellegrino Every stop on a trip could start like this.

After being welcomed to our hotel, our host pours us glasses of cool limoncello and offers us fresh, homemade, incredibly good midafternoon pastry/desserts.

After most of a day’s train and car ride, we made it to our final stop – the Amalfi coast. Specifically, Pensione Pellegrino in the town of Praiano.

Luigi Rispoli, our host, welcomed us warmly, to say the least, helping us with our bags, offering some limoncello and a midafternoon snack. From our ocean front balcony, we could see the water crashing into the rocks on the coastline.

This is a good example of the benefits of traveling during “shoulder season” – the prices were much more reasonable than they might be during high season.

Since it was so late in the season – Luigi told us we were the last customers of the year – the kitchen at the inn wasn’t fully operational for dinner. He drove us into town for a late dinner and picked us up when we were done –one of the many above-and-beyond services he offered while we were there.

As we had prepared for this trip, I had seen those click-friendly slideshows of the most beautiful abandoned places in the world – one of which is in the Valley of the Mills in Sorrento, an hour-long bus ride from where we were staying.

Down in the overgrown chasm, vines and branches wrapped around the stones of the old flour mill and sawmill, almost completely hiding them.

The Valley of the Mills in Sorrento.

I could have spent hours exploring this, but eventually lunch became a pressing issue, and we headed out to the waterfront for lunch.

Stone buttresses that have been holding up this part of the coast for centuries lined the shore from our vantage point on a floating restaurant.

Content to window-shop among Sorrento’s many shops and take it easy, we relaxed before our big plans for the next day – hiking the Pathway of the Gods.

Italy, Day 8 by Josh Trudell

Rome-Drive-by-1 Our British friends from Venice had recommended a tour guide to take us to some of the secret spots around Rome, so we got in touch with Fabrizzio and spent most of the morning being driven around the city.

One of the sites we found was a rather dull looking parking lot, sandwiched between several apartment buildings. It didn’t look like much, but it’s the site of one of the most famous murders in history.

This is where Pompey’s Theater was, Fabrizzio tells us. This is where Julius Caesar was killed.

With our minds a trifle blown, we continued on, finding spots that we probably wouldn’t have reached after four days of beating our feet against the slate sidewalks. We had stocked up on comfortable shoes and socks, but even with them, our feet were worn down.


I indulged in some guerrilla shooting as we rolled along in Fabrizzio's open air cart - perching the camera on my knee and taking pictures as we drove by. I've occasionally done this in the past - not in an attempt to embarrass anyone, but to try and capture people how they really are, without posing.

We ended at the church of St. Ignatius, a beautiful church somewhat off the usual tourist tracks. Having Fabrizio with us was a benefit much like our Colosseum guide – a Rome resident with their own perspective on the glories around them.

After a siesta, we went back to Castel Sant’Angelo and I started my usual trip ritual of night photography. Every time we visit a city, I try to carve out at least one evening for night photography, and Rome is a heavenly spot for it.

Despite the darkening skies, a boisterous game of soccer was taking place in what would have been a moat around the castle. The building, once the largest in Rome, is the tomb of Emperor Hadrian and his family, among other leaders.

After photographing the castle, we went back to the Colosseum. It is photographed by everyone who visits Rome, but I had to take a shot at it. We were lucky enough to be there on the night of the full moon, and my favorite shot of the trip is this one:


The Colosseum was under construction, but the moon peeking through the arches really got to me.

It is worth noting that the light vendors around the Pantheon repeatedly frigged up some shots, but that seems to happen near every major landmark in a city these days.

Italy: Day 6 by Josh Trudell

Pompeii Building roads. Arguing over lunch. Putting out laundry. Leading ordinary lives – before they were buried under hundreds of feet of ash.

From the ruins of Pompeii, it’s hard to miss the decapitated mountain that snuffed out all those lives – Vesuvius sprawls in the distance, looking more like a group of smaller mountains rather than one massive peak since its explosion.

Taking a brief respite from Rome, we hopped the train and headed out to the ruins.

It’s a relatively easy train ride from Rome to Pompeii, but it is three hours long, with a change in Naples. The journey was worth it, though.

Despite being buried under the ashes from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius for hundreds of years, restoration and preservation efforts showed what was once a busy, prosperous city. The narrow stone streets are grooved from chariot tracks — except where they stopped as a rebuilding project was halted by the explosion.

As we came to an intersection, open buildings on opposite corners held what appeared to be benches and counters with holes that once held hot food — they appeared to be competing chariot drive-through restaurants.

The narrow streets open into the main piazza, a wide grassy area that, with the open plateau the city rests on, gives Pompeii the feel of a park.

In comparison, Herculaneum – another town destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius - is wall-to-wall with the modern-day town of Ercolano on three sides. Laundry hanging from neighboring apartment buildings flutters over the edge of the ruins.

We initially were unsure about stopping in Herculaneum - by the time we left, Pompeii it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were hoping to stop in Naples for pizza on the way back to Rome.

But the stop for Ercolano is only a couple of stops from Pompeii, so we jumped off the train and enjoyed the short walk through the city streets. We were glad we did. The mosaics and paintings were better preserved than what we saw in Pompeii, with bright blues and reds still marking the tiles.

Far fewer people were touring the site, and more of the city was available for simple wandering.

Studies have suggested that Herculaneum's condition is better than Pompeii's because ash helped prevent buildings from collapsing, creating an airtight seal that lasted until major excavation began at the site in 1738.

As we ducked into and out of the narrow doorways, the difference between the two communities became clearer — Pompeii was more of a commercial hub, with wider streets and bigger buildings, while Herculaneum was a bedroom community.

pizza Stopping in Naples – where pizza was invented – was an adventure all by itself. With the city suffering ongoing garbage disposal issues, the piles of trash on the street corners were huge. Combined with a lack of streetlights – we walked six blocks from the train station and didn’t see a light – it was a challenge.

The pizza, however, was excellent. Da Pellone only serves pizza – huge slabs of fresh crust with cheese and sauce in true Neapolitan style, and it was fantastic.

The cooks were kind enough to let me shoot a few frames of them cooking, too, which was a real treat.

*Portions of this post appeared in a story I wrote about the trip to Pompeii for the San Antonio Express-News, titled “Under the Ash Lay a Prosperous Pompeii.”

Italy, Day 5 by Josh Trudell

St.-Peters Our second day in Rome opened with wandering through the Campo Dei Fiori – Rome’s oldest open-air marketplace. The market is fun to wander, with everything from clothes to spices available for purchase.

As a photographer, I found I preferred the hands-on activity of the fishermen at the Rialto Market in Venice to the relatively inactive sellers at the market in Rome, but there were plenty of fun shots to be had.

After walking through the various areas of clothes, food and flowers, we followed some small signs a couple of blocks toward the Pantheon, finally emerging in a large square where the ancient temple sat surrounded by modern apartment buildings.

Stepping inside the 1900-year-old building was a instant transport back to the days of ancient Rome, with the huge dome arcing overhead with one bright sunbeam coming through the center.

Nearby Piazza Navona was a sight to behold as well. The long, football-field shaped rectangle was once the home of chariot races. Now, artists tried to capture those scenes (possibly based on Ben-Hur), or the romantics walking by the huge fountains.

The biggest stops today, however, were the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

If there was one thing I wanted to see in Italy, it was the Sistine Chapel – I’ve been seeing that famous portion of the ceiling forever. But what you’re not prepared for is the sheer scope of Michaelangelo’s brilliance – the entire ceiling is a masterpiece.

There are photographs allowed everywhere except the chapel, and the guards are very vigilant about policing cameras.

After seeing the chapel, we made our way up to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, for one of the best views of the trip. It was very crowded, though – the narrow steps to the top plus the dozens of people packed in hoping to see sunset made it borderline unnerving.

Once the sun went down and we escaped the masses, we had dinner at Spirito de Vino, a well-reviewed place on TripAdvisor. The meal earned the restaurant’s notices, as did the ancient wine cellar, which is allegedly older than the Colosseum.

Italy: Day 1 by Josh Trudell

Venice-1 Starting a vacation with a headlong sprint isn’t my idea of a good time.

But there we were, ducking, bobbing and weaving through Heathrow Airport, trying to catch the last connection for a trip we had been planning since the flight back from our last trip to Europe, four years ago.

We were Italy-bound for the first time – if we could just make it to the gate on time.

I’m sad to say – this oxygen-deprivation exercise was my fault.

Our travels started smoothly, including a splurge on a first-class upgrade between Dallas and Boston on American Airlines. The second leg, on British Airways, was less comfortable – six hours in a tiny middle seat were not fun.

In the midst of trying to juggle Kindle, drinks, carry-on and other assorted travel paraphernalia, I put my passport in the seat pocket in front of me.

Two words: Rookie mistake.

After 18 hours of travel, we staggered out of the plane and up to the first security checkpoint, only to find that a certain sleep-deprived writer/photographer had left his passport on the plane.

While I can’t say much for the accommodations, the customer service from British Airways was excellent. Within 20 minutes, I had my passport in my hand. The next issue, however, was getting from our gate, which I’m convinced was on the far end of Scotland, to our connecting flight.

Twenty minutes of sprinting mixed with trying-desperately-to-be-patient-but-dear-god-can-this-security-line-move-faster patience, we charged into our gate area and down the ramp…

Where an airline worker held up a hand, begging for calm. “It’s okay, you made it,” she said, as we walked into the plane…and found it completely empty.

We had sprinted past first class check-in, business class check-in, soldiers, mothers…the whole lot. We made it to our seats and collapsed in laughter, as everyone else started filing on board and looking at us strangely.

Still chuckling three hours later, we landed in Venice. After checking into our hotel – Ca’Dogaressa, a very nice space that was convenient to local transportation and sights – we staggered around for a bit, but the very long travel day – including a nasty head cold for my traveling companion - landed on us hard and we passed out early.

Arizona & Utah, Day 5 by Josh Trudell

I ended the trip to Arizona and Utah with a beautiful morning at Dead Horse Point. In a pattern we’ve almost gotten used to, we’re up and out the door again before dawn.

(I say almost because one of our number – who shall again, remain nameless – was a little slow out of the blocks that morning and nearly missed the ride.)

We cannonballed out to Canyonlands, just making it to Dead Horse Point in time for sunrise. Similar to Horseshoe Bend, there was nothing protecting us from a long fall but our own good sense.

It was a beautiful sunrise, lighting up the red rocks as we tried to capture them for the people at home.

It was a short hike from the parking lot out to the point – just long enough on the way back to make me wish I could stay a bit longer, even though I knew it was time to go home.

Back at the hotel, our group went its separate ways – I had to get back to Texas, and Ian’s wife was kind enough to give me a ride to the Moab airport.

A bumpy puddle-jump to Denver and a hop to Dallas later, I was walking out of the airport with some of Arnie’s words ringing in my ears.

“This isn’t a photo trip – this is an adventure.”

Postscript: After I came home and started editing my images, I posted a few on Facebook. The event co-ordinator at the San Antonio Public Library saw them and asked if I would be interested in having a photo show in the library’s gallery.

It was the second time my photos were shown publicly – I had a small show at my wife’s library, but there wasn’t a reception. For this one, we decided to pull out all the stops. It was entered in FotoSeptiembre USA, an international photography festival.

We had a big reception (for which I lavishly overbought in food and booze - seriously, we've still got wine from this event), and it was a great time.

Postscript II: I’ve still got some Utah pictures to go through, but these are some of my favorite pictures. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tale – if you’ve got any questions or thoughts, feel free to drop me a line.

Arizona & Utah, Day 4 by Josh Trudell

  Heading into Arches National Park, we all craned our necks to look up at the huge red stone building blocks and the – yay! – blue sky beyond.

We start with Balanced Rock, and shoot steadily for an hour or so. That stop resulted in one of my favorite shots from the trip:


Those wisps of clouds started to thicken into the deadly flat white sky as we reached the Windows, big almost-matching arches.

There were a lot of tourists, but Chris and I avoided them by walking through the arch and doing our best Spider-Man impersonation on the ledges on the other side, reaching a small ledge where we perched to shoot back through the arch at land formations on the other side.

After making our way down, we headed over to Double Arch, two huge arches that had tourists climbing all over the base.

We set up near the trail nearby. With some advice from Ian, I pulled out the big zoom I rented for the trip and got some nice detail shots of the arches intersecting – thereby cropping out the myriad of tourists below.

This was one of the few instances on this trip where the big zoom lens - 70-400mm - I rented came i nuseful.

All this time, it’s getting darker…

After lunch, we took a siesta, and I wandered the streets. As rain began to patter down, I realized I had forgotten a raincoat, and picked one up, along with a new Otterbox for my phone.

I keep all my notes for stories on my phone – both written and in voice memos – and the black casing – the most reliable phone case I’ve ever had - had finally worn out. When I peeled it off, grains of red sand from our adventures pattered on the countertop in the store.

The rain continued, but we braved it, heading back into Canyonlands in a storm that swept through the canyons, slowing us down at times to a walking speed.

At one point, we see a storm sweeping across an open plain to our right. Braving the rain, Chris, Ian and I dashed out to the cliff’s edge, setting up and shooting while trying to keep our gear dry with middling success.

It was pouring all around us - but there was hope of one little beam of light sneaking through.

The rain broke again as we headed for Mesa Arch – one of the most photographed arches, and really a unique challenge compositionally. The rock detail is amazing, but the view through it – to the plains and mountains beyond  - requires a very high f-stop.

And oh, by the way – the arch is right on the edge of a thousand-foot drop. It’s been photographed a lot and by the best, but it’s still stunning.

After Mesa, we hauled back to the car and headed for the Green River Overlook again, hoping to get one shaft of sunlight to break through the morass of storm clouds.

We waited.

And waited.

While we were waiting, I turned around for a moment and looked behind us. This rainbow appeared, centered over the old, worn tree.


I shivered – but that might have been the rain and falling temperatures.

And….the waiting finally paid off.

At the last gasp, one beam of sunlight broke through and lit up the canyon walls on the far side of the overlook. We all shot furiously, trying to capture it in the few seconds before it was gone. Trudell-Breaking-Through

Day 5: Heading home

Arizona & Utah, Day Three by Josh Trudell

This is kind of a Dr. Seuss/JRR Tolkien photo - it's a dangerous thing going  out your front door... My photography bucket list took a beating the first two days of our trip – Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon had been on it from the first scrawl.

One shot that I’ve been wanting to get for a long time is a star trail show – those nifty pictures of stars swirling around the North Star.

Since I live in the light-polluted environs of San Antonio, I don’t often get out to areas where the skies are dark enough for such a shot.

Waking up at three a.m. on the top of a mesa, I thought I’d have the perfect chance. Groggily, I unzipped my tent and took a look outside.

It was dark, all right. Black. 100C, 100Y, 100M, 100K, for any print folks out there. Which meant that it was too dark for any chance of a starlight shot.

Foiled, I tried to get back to sleep, but ended up reading a new Harry Dresden novel until the rest of the crew rolled out. Sadly, no magic could make the sun burst through the filmy gray clouds.

Headed off the mesa, we stopped at Spider Arch, the first of the big arches we see. Chris and I carefully climbed up the rock face to a closer spot, while Bob and Arnold stayed closer (and probably safer) to the ground.

Chris and I climbed up to Spider Arch, but our photos were largely defeated by the flat gray sky. Bah.

Down the mesa we went in the truck, nearly nose first at times, but Ray pulled us through. We transferred our gear to Ian’s truck and headed north to Moab, a three-hour trek.

Arriving in town, our first stop was lunch. A bar and grill filled with the neon and carbon fiber of exuberant mountain sports yuppies was a jarring contrast to the poverty we saw in the Navajo town of Kayenta.

After lunch, we dropped off most of our gear at the hotel and headed out to Canyonlands National Park and the Green River Overlook. The clouds stayed and darkened through the afternoon – not giving us any dynamic frames, but gave us a chance to look at some of these viewpoints as people, and not just photographers. (Yes, there is a difference.)

Equipment-related digression: For this trip, I rented two lenses to go with my Sony A99 body – a Zeiss f2.8 16-35mm lens, and a Sony f4-5.6 70-400mm zoom. Since this was my first trip into the area, I wasn’t sure what I was going to need.

I was hoping for a rattlesnake sighting that would give me reason to pull out the big zoom, but it was close to a waste of money. I only took it out once or twice, instead relying heavily on the 16-35, which I was very happy with.

My Sony tripod was iffy for a lot of the trip – I had to spend too much time tweaking it and making sure it didn’t slide on me. The Gorillapod was useful, but I think next time I’ll invest in a Manfrotto tripod and ball head. The images were processed using Photoshop 6 and Nik software.

Day Four: Drip, drip, drip…

Arizona & Utah, Day 2 by Josh Trudell


We’re up with our friend O:DarkThirty again, heading out to Horseshoe Bend, one of the most recognizable canyons in the world.

It’s funny – in some areas, places like this would probably have ropes or fences keeping you from the edge.

There is nothing between you and the edge at Horseshoe Canyon. And it is a long way down – nearly 1000 feet - to the tiny boat landing on the inside of the curve where we saw people camping.

One of our tribe – I won’t embarrass him by calling him out by name – was more than a little nervous about being that close to the edge. I don’t blame him, either, but I had seen a shot like the one above of Horseshoe many times, and I wanted one of my own.

So I made an effort not to look to closely at the river at the bottom of the canyon, crept up to the edge, and shot.

I wasn’t the only one, either – thousands of dollars in camera gear was inches from hundreds of feet of flight as we lined the rim, photographer crows on our perches.

After the sun came up, we made our way back to town for breakfast. Page is a mid-sized town – Ian said there were 17 churches, but I didn’t get a chance to count them. As we drove through the center of town and past a high school, baseball players were dragging the field, red dust puffing up behind them.

Lower Antelope Canyon has some remarkable wind-carved rock formations.

After breakfast, we headed out to Lower Antelope Canyon. The parking lot is on the other side of the road from Upper Antelope Canyon.

In Upper Antelope, you walk straight into a cliff face cracked by the slot canyon. In Lower Antelope, you walk down some stone steps and small ladders to the canyon floor.

As our group waited for its turn to go down in the caves, we got a bit of a chuckle listening to the guide give people instructions on taking pictures in the canyon.

He repeatedly told people to use “Beach Mode” on their cameras, and it quickly became our catchphrase for the rest of the trip.

Explaining the wonder of "Beach Mode."

“Got that in focus?” “Yep – got it in Beach Mode. I’m good.”

Lower Antelope proved to be more narrow in spots than Upper Antelope – less than three feet wide in places, making for some bending and twisting.

The canyon walls were lighter and more colorful. Bracketing our exposures – shooting the same frame with multiple exposures - was important here to get the rich colors and shadows in detail.


Thanks to Ian, we hit the Keyhole – a hole in the rock façade that has a beam of light shine through it for about 15 minutes during the day – just in time to capture that. Ian played the part of Sandman, bringing the light into sharper focus.

As we progressed through the canyon, crowds were noticeably less than in Upper Antelope, but the narrow pathway made even a steady single-file stream seem busy.

Bob poses at the bottom of one of the ladders in Lower Antelope Canyon.

We came to a steep, nearly vertical metal stairway/ladder, and then a switchback metal stairway to climb out, with about a 15 minute walk across sand back to the parking lot.

Post lunch, we packed up and headed east to Hunts Mesa in Monument Valley.

As we rolled into the valley, it felt like we were entering the domain of giants. Huge red monsters loomed over the landscape.

After a pit stop, we met our guide, Ray, who took us around Monument Valley and through Kayenta, AZ. (You can’t get to the mesa from the park by road…in fact, unless you’re hiking or ready for some off-roading, you can’t get there at all.)

Bull-rushing across dunes, with sand kicking up as high as the windows, there were a few white knuckle moments as Ray whipsawed the truck to keep it moving.

Once past the dunes, we did a slow crawl up the narrow trail to the mesa’s peak, just in time to catch the last few minutes of daylight.

It was short-lived, though – a blanket of clouds descended and took the glowing hills away. Unfazed, we channeled our inner Ansel Adams (with the help of a flask or two) and went for black and white moments.

Ray and his assistants were excellent campfire books, and we crashed early, hoping the clouds would clear off in the night.

DAY THREE: Arch hunting