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Never let anyone tell you that the Faroe Islands are the same as Iceland, Norway or Scotland. They’re a unique destination with its own raw drama that is unlike anything I’ve had the delight of exploring previously.

The footage in this video was taken over 5 days in early August 2018 on a road trip a friend. We had wonderful weather and the opportunity to explore most of the Faroe Island’s main sights. We got lucky and were able to visit Mykines and to catch it during brilliant weather.

Faroe Islands: Born of the Mist (HD drone footage) - YouTube

Photos from the trip:

You can catch my full Faroe Islands color photo album here.

Rental car:
Unicar.fo

Locations:
– Mykines
– Trælanípan
– Bøsdalafossur waterfall
– Sørvágsvatn Lake
– Vagar
– Kalsoy (Kalsoy ferry)
– Vidareidi
– Gjogv
– Fossa Waterfall
– Duvugardar
– Saksunar Kirkja
– Gasadalur

Filmed and edited (w/ affiliate links):
Black Magic Davinci Resolve
DJI Mavic Air (fly more combo): https://amzn.to/2oBf4ah
Sony A7RII: https://amzn.to/2N7XNTW
Canon 17-40 F4: https://amzn.to/2PY9KtE
– with an old semi-functional Fotodiox adapter (not suggested)
Sony FE 70-300 G series: https://amzn.to/2otUwjJ
Sony FE 24-70 F4: https://amzn.to/2ouUQPp
Lee filters 4×6 ND kit: https://amzn.to/2ouUXuj
ICE ND1000 filter: https://amzn.to/2C6Lsea
iPhone 7
and a shitty Manfroto tripod which I obviously don’t recommend =)

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It’s only within the last couple of years that I’ve actively started renting cars. This was, in part, due to a general fear of driving in various foreign countries, my inability to drive manual, and a casual sense of befuddlement when it came to the tidal wave of fees and shady practices that seem to go hand in hand with rentals in many countries.

I’m freshly returned from Iceland where taking a number of steps and following some basic best practices ended up saving us over $300. Based on feedback from the other travels we met afterward, a number of small mistakes and oversights in the process that very nearly meant we missed out on compensation, and general feedback from friends I’m pulling together this basic overview. It’s not exhaustive, and your individual situation paired with the country you’re renting from should also always be considered. However, hopefully, I’m able to provide a baseline and a few simple steps to protect yourself.

The easier and number one way to protect yourself is to not only inspect the car carefully when you pick it up, but to document it thoroughly using your camera or smartphone using a mixture of still photos and videos.

Increasingly, when renting cars I’m finding that a basic overview of damage is marked in vague terms on a sheet of paper handed over at the desk (or in the case of my rental at the Faroe Islands, sitting in the dashboard). The desk agents are typically apathetic, rushed, and show little concern or desire to update or correct notes made.  Given how much time I find they typically spend trying to upsell me on added insurance, protection, GPS devices, and other random nonsense that typically costs as much, if not more, than the original rental they’re often actively disengaged when it comes to marking existing damage.  While I haven’t seen this correlate directly into dishonest attempts to charge me for pre-existing damage – it certainly transfers the majority of liability and risk to the renter and potentially pivots things into a you-said, they-said situation which you’ll likely lose.

I’ve also noticed with increasing frequency quite a bit of damage unmarked or unregistered to the vehicles. I’d estimate that around 40% of the rentals I’ve mad in the last few years have had poorly or overlooked damage at pickup. In Romania, it was previous accident damage that had been rebuilt and a missing windshield wiper. In the Faroe Islands (pictured above), it was a missing piece of paneling behind the front tire. In this most recent rental in Iceland it included body scratches, window pitting, and subtle but severe tire damage.

The story, and how it highlights exactly how and why you should thoroughly document the vehicle.

Upon arriving in Iceland and reaching the rental, we were greeted by strong winds, sunny skies, and an added paper slip informing us of a severe weather warning for much of the island and pushing us to pay the extra $150 or so for added insurance. To be perfectly frank, I actually thought it was just a clever marketing ruse to upsell drivers. But, in actuality, as it turned out the first major storm for the year was slated to hit later that day and it brought with it 14m/s winds and some pretty dramatic weather. While it ultimately wasn’t needed to add gravel, off road, and the various other protections which would have fully covered us for our 7 day rental – at the cost of an additional $30 a day – I might have reconsidered had I been fully updated on the nature of the storm rolling in. Instead, relying on the basic rental insurance and whatever added backup protection might be needed via my Visa Signature we proceeded with our rental.  Even if we caught a rock in the window – compared to the $210 in added fee premium insurances would have cost and any minimums they might have included – it seemed likely to, worst case, break even.

The rental we received had clearly seen some abuse. With over 40,000 km on it, the driver’s side door had been damaged/obviously overextended by wind previously, there was a long brush scrape down the right side, addition dents and pitting from a sandstorm visible in the body paint and micro-pitting in the windshield.  We started our inspection, we noted that about half the damage was noted on the damage summary form, and then despite the rest likely falling below the “threshold” for recording and getting charged, noted it and flagged it getting the form updated and signed off. At this point, it’s worth noting that not only did the rental folks not come out for the initial inspection, they also signed off on the updated damage form without coming out and further inspecting.  After having to sign the storm warning slip, I was actually quite happy with and relieved to see that our vehicle was in solid shape but also not a fresh-off-the-lot rental with 50km on it.

Despite being eager to get on the road, we still took the time to take around 30 photos of the vehicle. While the temptation is always to only photograph the immediate areas of damage, past experience had taught me to take a mixture of tight specific shots of damage, but to also take wider shots and to cover the entire car. Thrown off by previous oversights (the back windshield wiper in Romania, and the missing paneling in the Faroe Islands), I took what I thought were exhaustive shots. The car’s location in the parking spot did make photographing the front right side challenging and as it was the last part of the car, I rushed it a bit. But, as a second step I also kicked my iphone over to 4k video and did a slow up and down 360 video of the car as best I could. I also took a moment to photograph the front grill up close, and put the camera down at ground level shooting up to show that there were no shocks or undercarriage components / plastic road guards hanging down or damaged.

Just like that, we were off and away.

Fast forward 1,000 km in a remote fjord with very limited car traffic in Iceland’s eastern fjords.  My brother, David, notices a bulge/bubble in the tire as we’re preparing to get back in the car and head down to the nearby village. We look closely, do a bit of googling, and flag that not only is the bubble a sign of a tear in the tire that is likely gradually worsening, but that it’s only a matter of time until the tire blows. Concerned, we backtrack the 30 minutes or so to the one large city in the region, call the car rental, and find a garage who can do an emergency call at 2:30PM on a Saturday afternoon.

During our preliminary call, the rental company says what we expect – get it fixed, it’s probably not safe to drive on, no you didn’t buy tire protection so you’re accountable and responsible for covering the replacement costs.  Even driven to the repair shop, an after-hours call, maintenance, paired with the cost of the tire came to around $300.  While added coverage via various secondary insurances on the card etc. might have covered the cost, everything looked pretty grim and cued up to at best mean dozens of hours spent fighting in back and forth and intentional bureaucratic nonsense before there was a chance of compensation.

We’d inspected the tires, given them a quick glance, looked closely at the rims which didn’t show signs of damage, and so were left largely assuming that the damage must have resulted from old tire damage that was previously invisible but which we couldn’t prove, or an unlucky rock strike somewhere along the road. The nasty size of the bulge paired with the 1,000+ KM we’d driven also led us to initially assume that it had to be relatively recent damage and not something that pre-dated our rental.  Still, David pulled up the photos and video I took at the start of the rental and started to inspect.

The tire in question was the most difficult to photograph and also the last portion of the car I documented during my check. That also meant it was the one part of the car I had the fewest photos of. But, sure enough, in the bottom corner of the photos from that part of the vehicle you could clearly see a smaller, but still very obvious, bulge in the tire partially obscured by the text on the tire. My video footage similarly wrapped up with only the briefest in-view window showing the tire, but still captured it.

We got the tire replaced, saved the receipt, and then at turn in – receipt and photos in hand (I emailed them to myself as a second level of protection against phone damage/theft/bad luck) the rental company quickly reviewed the photo and refunded us the money for the repair within a day. Our up-close inspection at the tire repair shop also revealed a fingernail-sized nick out of one of the rearview lights we had missed on our initial inspection. A quick review of the photos revealed that, here again, though we’d missed it the camera had caught and documented it.

Conventional wisdom and the suggestion to only photograph or mark specific damage presupposes that in a relatively high pressure, time-constrained situation, with potentially inclimate weather (in our case it was wind, in past instances, it was poor light or raindrops) you’ll have perfect observational skills. The reality is that even in the best of conditions this is unlike, and when and where you can’t document it, the burden of proof is on you (and your wallet).

So, for every car rental upon pickup, regardless of which insurance you buy or how new or old the car looks at pickup I strongly suggest you take the time to do a quick photo and video combination of the car.

  • Take a slow moving 360 video of the car that pans up and down careful to get everything from the bottom of your tires and your tire tread, to the top of the car and the rooftop antenna or sun roof.

From there, you should take between 20-30 photos, potentially more, that combine detailed up-close photos and far away photos of:

  • The car hood, grill, and lights. Take shots looking down, straight on, and then get down at knee level and capture it straight on.
  • A shot from ground level down beneath the car to capture anything hanging down or any obvious undercarriage damage.
  • Photos that capture any seems where multiple door or body panels come together, such as the areas in-front of the tire where it meets the bumper and hood.
  • All four tires from at least two perspectives, including but not limited to a straight on shot that gets the wheel well, tire, and the rims – any of which might have damage.
  • A close inspection of all windows for scratch or damage marks, including small pits that might suddenly expand into visible cracks due to added stress, a bumpy road, or temperature changes.
  • Both front and back windshield wipers.
  • Potential key damage or scratches to the sideboards and door handle.
  • The back bumper from top, bottom and the sides. Also, open the read rood and capture any damage caused by suitcases, poles, or other items brought in or out of the car.
  • Four shots that capture the entire front, back, left, and right sides in single photos.

Just remind yourself when tempted to rush that an extra 15 mb in photos may save you hundreds of dollars down the road.

I’d also flag based on past experiences and researching general business practices, that you avoiding Payless Car Rentals (note this is NOT the company I mentioned in Iceland or the Faroe Islands) regardless of the country is advisable. Both for a consistent history of negative business practices across multiple markets and for appalling support. While Payless is owned by Avis Group, it seems to be one of the most consistently questionable international car rental companies in operation.

Have your own tips or suggestions?  Feel free to share them in a comment.

Note – that the above is in no way legal or exhaustive advice. Rather, just suggestions based on personal experience, observations, and a process that has worked well for me.

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It had been more than 20 years since the last time I’d been to Sicily. My expectations anticipated something entirely different than what the trip had in store for me.

In this combination of footage filmed on Mavic Air, Sony A7RII, and IPhone 7 I showcase some of the rich history, natural beauty, and cultural flavor that we experienced in our week-long road trip around Sicily.

Re-Discovering Sicily - The Island in Bloom - YouTube

Locations featured:
– Random Sicilian back roads
– Noto
– Erice
– Marsala
– Selinunte
– Segesta
– Near Agrigento
– Villa Romana del Casale

While most clips generally coincide to the voice over, due to a mixture of footage and clips, some pieces are spread throughout or sync up in multiple locations throughout.

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Every year I post 65 (expanded this year to 100) of my favorite photos from the year’s travels.  Ordinarily, this post comes around the New Year. This year, it and its color sibling (view it here) will land in the middle of April and June.  The reason for this? Fantastic travels and an expanded focus on travel photography combined with a fairly all-consuming works schedule. At the close of 2016 I spent 9 incredible days exploring Tanzania and Zanzibar. Those photos are included in this year’s 100 shots and part of the reason that I just couldn’t quite cut things at 65.

This year’s post includes photos from the United States, Mexico, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Iceland, Denmark, China, Romania, Slovenia, and Italy.  It was a spectacular year of travel and one which was complemented by a significant upgrade to my equipment in May 2017 when I gave up on Canon, sold my Canon 6D and pivoted to the Sony A7RII. On top of changing camera styles, I also significantly upgraded from one tier of camera to another. I’ve spent the last year learning the new camera and focusing heavily on how to enhance my photography.  The photos in this post are taken on a combination of the two cameras.  The Sony also brings with it added video capabilities which have led to added exploration with creating video content which you can explore here.

This post is part of an annual tradition.  For previous years, check out 201220132014, 2015, 2016 and of course, don’t miss the color post from 2017.

Questions about how I composed or took a specific photo? Feel free to ask in a comment. You’re also encouraged to check out my complete flickr albums here which include the many other shots from 2017 (and previous years) which didn’t make it in this post.

Canyon X, Arizona, USA

Slap Kozjak Waterfall, Slovenia

Ol Doinyo Lengai, Lake Natron, Tanzania

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Reynisdrangar, Iceland

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Beijing, China

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Nauthusagill Waterfalls, Iceland

Xi’an, China

Canyon X, Arizona, USA

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Canyon X, Arizona, USA

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Stone Town, Zanzibar

The Slovenian Alps, Slovenia

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Jökulsárlón Glacier Bay, Iceland

Beijing, China

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Prejmer Fortified Church, Romania

Stone Town, Zanzibar

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Iceland

Copenhagen, Denmark

Lago di Fusine, Italy

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Reynisdrangar, Iceland

Kamniska Bistrica, Slovenia

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Copenhagen, Denmark

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Canyon X, Arizona, USA

Serengeti, Tanzania

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Copenhagen, Denmark

Yuanmingyuan Park, Beijing, China

Gullfoss, Iceland

The Serengeti, Tanzania

The Transylvanian Countryside, Romania

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Xi’an, China

Tarangire, Tanzania

Kerið Volcanic Crater, Iceland

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Stone Town, Zanzibar

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Bremen, Germany

The Serengeti, Tanzania

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Thirty-three has rushed up on me.  This past year has been a mad-dash full of wonderful achievements, interesting challenges, some wonderful travel, and significant personal growth all paired with a number of areas where I had hoped to make headway but haven’t. As long-time readers know, every year I write a birthday post that contains general reflections, musings, and observations drawn from the previous year. I find myself significantly more centered than I was at 30, but also standing on the cusp, or perhaps already well into a new period of transition.  This year is slightly different, as it comes on the tail end of the publication of my new book, Practical Curiosity: The Guide to Life, Love & Travel with an extensive expansion of the topics and musings outlined in these annual posts.

For those who don’t have a copy of Practical Curiosity and are interested in picking one up. To celebrate my birthday I’m temporarily running a special on Amazon for the ebook version. It’ll be $.99 for the next 24 hours (or Euro etc. if you go to your local Amazon.de/.co.uk/.fr etc version). After that, it will increase by increments over the remainder of the week before returning to the normal $7.99 price on Thursday. If you’re in the US and want a US ebook the link is here.

I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughts and take them for what they are –  an attempt to share the world as I see it and how I relate to it. You can view my 32nd birthday post here, 31st birthday post here, my more detailed 30th birthday post here, my musings on turning 29 here, or 28 here. As well as a long-forgotten blog post written on my 23rd birthday (yeah, I’ve been blogging that long) which you can view here.

**This post is more than 7,000 words. Feel free to skip to the sub-titles that most interest you.

Success

Like many highly motivated and driven people, I’m painfully bad about cataloging my success. I inevitably end up aggressively chasing the next challenge or adventure, a bit like a child chasing new toys, past “must have” toys left scattered about the room, largely forgotten after a few hours of enjoyment. If left to my own devices, I’ll inevitably chase, achieve (hopefully), relish for a day or two, and then pivot to some new adventure or focus. All of which is decent enough and a core part of how I’m hardwired and what drives me. It’s the fuel in the tank and is healthy.  The problem arises, however, when I fail to properly step back and focus on the adverse, the underachieved, or where I could have done more. I explored this a bit in my imposter syndrome section last year, but have further expanded my understanding of how I’m hardwired; how I need to carefully navigate a strong balance – particularly in regard to my photography. Hand-in-hand with this is learning to be a fair judge while calling bullshit where and when I need to.

Practical Curiosity

As I sat writing last year’s birthday post, the early concept for my book started to take shape. For years I’ve been encouraged by readers, friends, and family to write a book.  For years I’ve held back for a variety of different reasons.  Watching my Dad go through the process of reaching out to publishers and eventually self-publishing a number of books, I was acutely aware of the headaches associated with the process and the bottlenecks.  I also know that I tend to cycle in 4-8 month periods of productivity for a project before interest wanes and I go from creator-mode to maintainer-mode. Further, I was torn on what to write. I toyed with the idea of funny adventures and reflections. I also briefly considered wandering down the ill-advised path toward a travel guide.

Ultimately, by around May and partially inspired by a number of podcast interviews with authors who reflected on their process, I dove into an intensive two and a half months of writing. I set a goal of 20,000 words that would convert to about 100 pages and started writing. I focused heavily on structuring the entire process in a way that eliminated bottlenecks, accelerated my ability to write the book, and reminded myself that 20,000 words is actually not a terribly huge volume of text to write. These blog posts in and of themselves often stretch into the 3 – 4,000-word range.

By writing a book divided into sections, modeled in part on these birthday posts and a number of my favorite or most impactful blog posts, the book came together rapidly and bypassed areas that cause significant bog-down and normally draw authors’ process out.  These often include the complexities of needing to maintain chronology, character development, and identical voice throughout the duration of a traditional non-fiction.

By structuring Practical Curiosity as I did, each section was written in the voice or tone most fitting to that particular narrative. First person narratives sit section- by-section alongside 3rd person or more academic reflections or thought exercises. Roughly 35% of the final book, which blew past my 20,000-word goal and ended up being over 50,000 words, is drawn from blog posts re-written, expanded, and elaborated upon. While several additional sections were added later, by mid-July my first proof copies went out to volunteers. The rest of the time between August and publication in October was spent editing, re-editing, and enlisting a professional book designer which made an incredible difference in the quality, look, and feel of the final product.

Taking it live was one of the more difficult things I’ve done recently and something I’m as proud of as I am the book itself.  On the one hand, I was excited and eager to share the final result. On the other,some elements are deeply personal, and that imposter syndrome – that fear of putting something out there with the belief it was good and meaningful and persuasive at the risk of finding it was none of those things – was terrifying. In launching it globally, via Amazon, in print and ebook form I was pushing it out to a wide audience outside of my immediate network.  I was also exposing it to people who, as with any piece of art or text or work, would dislike it and fail to have it speak to them. It took all my focus to not only launch it but then to invest effort and energy in promoting it. To be loud, to be proud, and to draw attention to the book vs. clicking ‘publish’, and then hiding as I looked on through spread fingers, passively waiting to see if someone picked it up.

The response has been fantastic. The book spent more than a day in the top 100 list of new non-fiction ebooks on Amazon and as a sub-category bestseller for nearly a week.  More than 500 people have purchased a copy of the book with gradual but organic growth that shows people are recommending it and that individuals outside my extended network are picking up the book and recommending it. All of which is, for me, incredible given I don’t have a publisher, have not heavily promoted it, am not doing tours, and don’t have a massive advertising campaign driving it. Multiple people have reached out directly to tell me a variation of, “This book came right at an important time for me, it really helped me with issues I was tackling and has had a deeply meaningful impact.” This in and of itself has been an incredible feeling and embodies the essence of why I wrote the book and what I hoped to accomplish with it.

If you enjoy these blog posts and haven’t yet, do consider picking up a copy as it’s essentially a 210-page in-depth version of many of the topics that go hand-in-hand with this post.  To those of you who have picked up a copy, recommended it to friends, left a review, or offered me feedback – THANK YOU! Truly. It has been incredible and the support I’ve received throughout the project has been inspiring and deeply motivating.

Podcasts / YouTube / Flickr

While my photography is my primary focus, I’ve also been dabbling and experimenting with new creative outlets; increasing youtube content, learning more about the editing process, and leveraging the my new camera’s ability to capture incredible 4k footage to create a new style of video for youtube. This has been enhanced by discovering and learning how to edit in Black Magic Design’s great (and free) video editor Davinci Resolve 14.

My Denmark 101 videos continue to be a significant draw and have led to several instances out and about Copenhagen where people have recognized me and stopped me to comment on the videos. The channel itself also surpassed 1.7 million lifetime views recently which, quite frankly, is staggering. In a given month my videos are averaging more than 25,000 views and 45,000+ minutes watched.

Meanwhile, I have edited the audio from my Denmark 101 series and published them as a podcast. This has also continued to grow and develop legs of its own. Earlier this month the podcast passed the 20,000 listen mark on Lybsn which excludes iOS devices where the bulk of my listens are likely taking place (tracked in iTunes but without comprehensive stats).

Flickr also continues to be a wonderful outlet for sharing my photography and has, on average, resulted in roughly 75,000 image views per month over the last year which puts total lifetime views at just over 4.7 million. This is something that also leaves me a bit bewildered and flabbergasted.

Each of these outlets is a casual hobby and sandbox where I’m experimenting, playing, and somewhat organically sharing with minimal promotion. The results and feedback are a wonderful secondary benefit from deciding to push myself to put my content out there and share it with the world in whatever state it may be. And to be fair, I also get told it’s absolute shit, or to go fuck myself on a semi-regular basis as well.  But that’s also healthy in its own right and has been a pivotal component in driving me to constantly put more out, to generate new content, and that there is value in what I’m creating.

You often get a lot of people overly focused on chasing the likes or views themselves which similarly has a tendency to generate negative behaviors or vulnerability.  The key, I’ve found, is to reverse how you look at it. I’m inspired to create because I want to share it, but the reception to that share isn’t the primary benefit. The primary benefit is that it inspires me to practice my craft, to sit down and edit/create/generate, and to refine the quality of what I put out there. That leads me to try new things, to explore, and to invest time and energy in the process which motivates travel, meeting new people, and keeping my mind curious/sharp. It also nudges me to go out, consume other creator’s content, and leads me to give them positive/direct feedback when their content inspires or resonates.  Of course, that process does come with some nuance and challenges, especially when perfectionistic tendencies kick in.

Chasing Nonsense

From day-to-day I pivot from being fantastically pleased with the improvements in my photography, to deeply critical and frustrated with its failings. Like any creative outlet or craft, it’s a natural part of the process. Dancing from spikes with perceived mastery that then meet with new levels of insight or awareness and that in turn translates into a crushing collapse of confidence and a sense of sophomoric embarrassment.

One of my goals last year was to spend money to submit my photos to more contests and competitions and to promote it and push it out there. I also upgraded to a new camera which proceeded two weeks later to take a swim in the only camera-related accident I’ve ever had. Luckily it survived mostly intact and I’ve been happily shooting on it since. I’ve also been binging on a number of fantastic landscape photography vlogs the likes of which include Thomas Heaton, Adam Gibbs, Nigel DansonMads Peter Iversen, and Sean Tucker.

For years I (and I think many aspiring photographers) have struggled with many of the too-perfect shots you see out there and a deep frustration with my inability to capture natural shots that matched. In recent years I’ve learned enough about the process and flow to be able to quickly identify when some sort of heavy edit has been done or something isn’t natural. What I’ve realized, in part through the great illustrations and insights into how they shoot and edit, and in part via my own experience, is that a lot of my frustration has stemmed from comparing apples and potatoes. While the vloggers above are all honest, clearly document their creative process, and don’t seek to mislead, a significant percentage of the photos featured in magazines, around the web, in highly prestigious photo competitions, and even by National Geographic are heavily modified images.  Typically shared by dishonest photographers passing them off as something they’re not, and presented to judging panels that seem to lack advanced technical awareness of the process (old film people? Not actually photographers themselves? I don’t know).

The end result is that a lot of the photos passed off as single-shot photos with basic edits to enrich the accuracy of the photo to better match the real scene, are actually something totally different. This often includes replacing the sky with a photo taken elsewhere/at an entirely different time, or even at roughly the same time but as a separate photo.  It includes ‘photoshop-ing’ in moons similarly taken elsewhere, or taking three different photos simultaneously with varying focus points and then manually combining the three into one photo for a single final photo that’s crisp from front to back.  This usually goes hand in hand with heavy edits removing cars, people, leaves, buildings, trees, you name it.

The output is often incredible photos and it’s a great niche within the photography segment. The problem is that when these are misrepresented, it results in two issues I find deeply frustrating. First, it trains the audience to assume that these heavily edited or manufactured composite shots are “real” photos capturing a moment in time and drawn from the camera. Second, for aspiring photographers looking for insights into how to create better photos, it creates an unreal photo aesthetic and presents shots that are unlikely, incredibly rare, and meaningful or impossible to achieve, as mundane, typical, or attainable and the status quo.

What’s my takeaway here? While I still struggle with frustrations stemming from being unable to achieve the drama, crispness, and compelling nature of many of the shots I see, I’m now much better about stepping back, looking critically, and ensuring that when I look at setting examples to aspire towards or draw inspiration from, that I’m comparing apples to apples. I’ve also been passionately diving into expanding my technical understanding of the capture and editing side of the process and absolutely love using photography as an active muse to get me out to incredible destinations, fully soaking in the moment. Similarly, the extensive process of editing thousands of photos per year gives me a creative outlet and meditative downtime after work that blends the soothing association with the places I visited/photographed with a simultaneously highly technical, but also semi-repetitive, act of editing.

This has also extended to the earlier goal of submitting to photo competitions. I find myself a bit torn. On the one hand, aspiring towards the caliber of photos ultimately selected and the exposure that goes with highly prestigious awards is a lofty goal and a great benchmark. It’s also an excellent way to engage in a wider community and a strong inspiration to really step my photos up and see if I can progress to a point where I can put the fruits of my hobby up against the output of some of the world’s best professional photographers.

At the same time, I find myself a bit disenfranchised. In part because the mindset that drives the selection and inclusion process for many of the top awards is the same concept over execution focus that drives modern and conceptual art. Photos that get selected are just as often dreadful throwaways with a sub-par execution and cliche narrative as they are incredible pieces of art that have technical precision blended with a dynamic and compelling story. Many are also outright plagiarisms, egregious misrepresentations in line with the above, or stacked decks and the photography industry seems either ill-equipped or unmotivated to address the issue. The latest incarnation of the photographic community is, however, gradually maturing and standardizing in response to the prolific rise of advanced editing software and digital cameras. It will be interesting to see how this continues to mature, and what quality enhancements eventually kick in. In the interim, I’ve re-focused most of my efforts and funds on exciting trips, gear, and the art itself.

Career Development

For several reasons, I rarely mention my “day job” here on the blog. However, as it has played a pivotal role in a lot of my growth over the last year, I’ll dive into a few more specifics. The company I work for is one of the leading digital advertising technology companies in the world. We’re going up against the likes of Google, Facebook, Adobe, Amazon and other ad tech behemoths and not only holding our own but excelling. Over the three years I’ve been there, I’ve been on board for a period of fantastic growth and expansion. The company has added more than six new countries, an entire wing to its product suite, and more than 300 new employees across a far more global footprint. It has also gone through a significant maturation process as it pivots from startup to an established global brand. During my days in M&A I had the opportunity to watch and discuss these types of transitions from the outside, but the chance to be immersed in it has been fascinating and deeply educational.

After joining the organization as the junior member of the Product Marketing team, I was promoted a year and a half ago to Global Marketing Manager, and then this previous year stepped into the role of Head of Global Product Marketing for the organization. While focused on Product Marketing, due to the relatively small nature of our team and extensive global responsibility, I have spent the past year and a half wearing an extensive mixture of hats. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on and help engage with key strategic and brand conversations, to shape keynotes with our c-level executives, and to be heavily engaged in the PR process and our global growth efforts. The promotion to Head of Global Product Marketing reflects the first time I’ll have direct reports and serve as a dedicated manager. This is a key area of my skillset that I’m eager to embrace and flesh out, but also one where I had previously dragged my feet a bit.

One of the essential areas I prioritize in life is my own variation on work-life balance. That means that while I’m still probably a workaholic, I blend that work overload with a mixture of career and personal projects. To that end, it means having the mental bandwidth and energy to love what I’m doing at work, but also to come home and to have space and creative juice left to invest in personal projects and my own internal personal development. To that end, I’ve held back from actively chasing a leadership or management role. Not because I’ve found the thought unattractive or excessively intimidating, but because I have a firm appreciation and respect for the significant shift that comes with the mental load and sense of responsibilities tied to the role. Particularly for a highly contextually aware and empathic personality profile like mine.

As part of an extensive three-day leadership development program, I had the opportunity to take the Gallup Clifton Strength tests. Ordinarily. I’m a bit wary of and have had mixed experiences with these types of tests.  In this context, however, the results were interesting and illuminating. My top five in order of dominance were Individualization, Input, Responsibility, Restorative, and Ideation.

  1. Individualization gets expressed as, “You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each
    builds relationships.”
  2. Input as, “You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations … you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity.”,
  3. Responsibility as, “Your responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to..
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This is part two of my three part series done in collaboration with Nordic Travel Bloggers and the German Tourism authority’s #citybreakgermany campaign. Jump to part one. For this post, I teamed up with Bremen Tourism who suggested my itinerary and arranged/provided all lodging and accommodation.  The premise for the visit? Get an overview of what Bremen and the surrounding area has on offer over a three day weekend (arriving Saturday AM, departing Monday evening). Want to skip to part three? Click here.

When I was told that part of my suggested itinerary would include an artist village nestled a bit outside Bremen’s city limits, my curiosity was piqued. The personality of art-centered communities always vary widely and no two ever come across as identical. Would it be quirky and new-age centered? Young, hip and full of creative-garage-grunge? Hyper polished and sophisticated?

What greeted me as I disembarked at the last stop on the 370 Bus from Bremen’s Central Station to Worspwede was a bit of a mixture. The stop deposited me on the outskirts of the small town and provided a lovely view out across rich auburn leaves still clinging to terrestrial masts neatly cutting through rolling fields and farmland. My guide met me shortly thereafter and introduced me to the town’s rich history. It was, in many ways, a town that had drawn, nurtured and birthed some of the world’s great painters. But, in the tradition of many of the great creatives, the town’s painter heritage was only the tip of the iceberg. These same creatives and the kindred spirits they attracted were also blacksmiths, carpenters, innovators, etchers, sculptures, and architects.

The end result was a series of intimate stories about love, loss, creativity and the changing soul of Germany over the past 150 years. Though there’s a small central street, much of the town is spread out around a series of small gentle hills and connected by natural paths through the forest. Most of the museums are in converted estates or historic farmhouses, though others like the Große Kunstschau have their own beautiful structures.

We kicked off my visit with lunch at Worpswede’s intimate train station, recently re-painted in its original salmon and light green colors. The small station is every bit the small country train station you’d expect for a country-village. But, in place of the old ticket booth and waiting rooms the station has been converted into a lovely restaurant serving delightful (and delicious) local cuisine.

As we entered through the main door, we found ourselves in a room painted deep forest green with golden color lamps costing gentle yellow light across a bar and a well-oiled bar. Change our clothing and add a thick layer of smoke and you’d feel as though you walked into a thriving train station in an affluent small town in the heart of the 20s.

As we paused, my guide explained it was the former 3rd class waiting room. Then, we stepped into a small atrium lit by natural light with an unlit fireplace in the corner. It felt clean, and vibrant more 1910 than 1920, in no small part due to the large plants used to decorate the room and the lovely white simplicity of the furniture which, as with the rest of the structure, was designed and built by one of the village’s most iconic artists, Heinrich Vogeler.

The third and final room had an entirely different personality once again. This time, as we stepped into what was formerly the 1st class waiting room, we were greeted by the same vibrant brightly lit space but with an added air of elegance. As with the rest of the venue, the chairs, designs, and colors were all restored in line with Heinrich Vogeler’s original designs.  The room itself was perfectly cued up to host a retro scene from a movie.  I think it was ultimately something in the mixture of the types of plants, the colors of the paint on the walls, and its contrast with the white straight style of the chairs that made the sense of a bygone era palpable.

The meal my guide suggested was a season special that, as he explained, was locally called “Green Garbage” and required the first frost of the year.  It sounded too strange not to try. Especially since the odder the name or season the dish, the better it usually is. The dish was fantastic and reminded me a bit of diced collar greens with smoked sausage. My guide/host, Hartmut, helped me navigate which of the sausages I should peel and which were typically eaten skin-on. A lucky bit of guidance as I’d have otherwise bulldozed my way through eating everything as I went. The combination of the Knipp sausage, which is a blend of oat groats, mixed pork cuts, liver, broth, and spices was hearty, filling, and a flavor-filled match to the “green garbage”.

Wonderfully stuffed and after a glass of the every-present red-wine which is prolific within the region, we crossed our fingers, waiting for a light mist to subside and then stepped out for a brief walk to the village center.

Artistic History and Tranquil Beauty

We made our way along cozy country lanes lined by old farmhouses converted into comfortable modern homes, shops, museums and B&Bs we wound up to the hill which Worpswede encircles. As we scaled the small rise, Hartmut explained that the region had, for many years, been a source for high-quality peat which was harvested from the nearby fields, sold, and transported down the river for sale and trade.

The view from the top of the hill was obscured by autumn’s leaves and a lovely stand of trees. But, a quick walk to the side offered a view out over the region’s mostly flat farmland, hedgerows, and greenery. All set to the backdrop of vibrant rays of light. That light, as it turns out, is quite special and was one of the historic draws to Worpswede for painters. The mixture of the river, the farmland, the nearby sea, and other atmospheric conditions all create a wonderful soft rich light which is at its peak on a partly cloudy day when the humidity level is high.

It’s also what drew artists like Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn, Hans am Ende, Fritz Overbeck, Bernhard Hoetger, Carl Vinnen, Heinrich Vogeler as well as some of Germany’s most famous female painters including Paula Modersohn-Becker, Clara Rilke-Westhoff, Martha Vogeler and Ottilie Reylaender. You’ll find a bit more background and a more detailed list on the local museum webpage.

As is the case with so many of the world’s most creative minds, the stories behind each vary widely, periodically collide, and feature a mixture of great success, prank-filled mirth, and great sorrow.  The village cemetery features a variety of these stories ranging from artwork in the cathedral done in recompense after a misguided evening of tomfoolery to the haunting grave of Paula Modersohn-Becker.  Her grave stands as a haunting tribute by Bernhard Hoetger that seeks to catch her vibrant character while also depicting the suddenness of her death.  Despite being one of early expressionism’s pivotal artists, she died shortly after giving birth at the age of 31.

Meanwhile happier history is on display in the nearby and recently renovated Worpswede Museum which is intimate but blends a number of gorgeous pieces with visiting exhibits. The visiting exhibit was Jürgen Strasser’s Beautiful New World which is an incredible series of urban photos that captured the patterns and textures of city life and resonated heavily with me as a photographer.  The museum’s primary room has a circular structure and light that perfectly highlights the colors and intensity of the pieces most commonly created by the region’s artists. It also features Sommerabend by Heinrich Vogeler which even those less familiar with German art are likely to recognize.

Sommerabend or the Summer Evening (in English), depicts a brief moment in time around 1905 when the local community was home to many of the region’s greatest artists, all living, socializing and working in relative harmony. Later sickness, politics, financial constraints, and the intensity of these individual’s personalities would rapidly alter the tranquility captured in the painting.  It also served as the perfect inroad for our next stop.

Despite a bit of rain, we popped out from the museum and took a quick walk through what would have been a lovely wooded park on a slightly drier day. The light was rapidly fading, but with its last hues we wound down along a lovely pond, wrapped up, passed just beside the staircase depicted in Sommerabend by Vogler, and then passed into the Heinrich Vogeler Museum which now sits inside the converted farmhouses which comprised his estate.

The Museum offers a fascinating insight into local history as well as the breadth of Vogler’s abilities. It highlights artwork from across his life, which shows the heavy influence of history.  His earlier works which include a wide range of beautiful Art Nouveau artwork, etching, and sketch work are on display alongside his incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship with displays dedicated to the furniture and cutlery he created.  It also ends with some of the darker works he crafted towards the end of his life as he became increasingly political and aligned himself heavily with communist imagery before relocating to the Soviet Union in the lead-up to World War II.

A Perfect Day Trip

I rarely use local guides, often preferring to move at my own pace and with a preference for shaping my own route to discovery. However, after the day spent in Worpswede, I’d highly suggest treating it less like a village to visit and more like an extended open-air museum spread out over a large area and which is brought to life by the detailed history and stories that go with it. My guide, Hartmut, is one of several that give local tours and I highly suggest not only considering Worpswede as a day-trip from Bremen, but also setting aside the time to let him or one of his peers share the local history with you.

There was also ample to see and do that I missed due to my tight time constraints and leisurely lunch. Particularly for those who are perhaps even more inclined to deep dive into the local painter’s history and the styles they painted in.

As far as returning to Bremen? The trip was as uneventful and easy as the trip out.  Hartmut dropped me at the bus stop and from there it was a 4 Euro / straight shot back to the final stop at Bremen Central Station, just in time for a pleasant dinner.

As noted at the start of this post, this visit was organized and hosted by Bremen Tourism as part of the #CitybreakGermany campaign in collaboration with #NordicTB who arranged and covered all aspects of my stay. As always, you can see the full album from my visit in color here, or black and white.

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