Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Scouting the Mayan Riviera for future photoworkshops and helping my fellow photojournos

--> I have come to the conclusion my new life as a photographer after having been a staff newspaper photographer for 20 years is going to be split between teaching photo workshops nationally and internationally and doing commercial assignments with the occasional editorial assignment thrown in there for good measure.

I've also become aware of lucky I truly am for I now hold a privileged position: I'm now solidly booked through mid 2016 after only seven months of being offered a buyout by the Boston Globe.  Especially with photo workshops in Cuba through Road Scholar where I now have waiting lists for most of my trip dates.

So for that, I am very thankful. But I was raised to believe it is not good enough just to do well for yourself but whenever possible you should try help others do equally well. So I figured: What better way of doing this than by expanding my photo workshop destinations and by adding other world-class-award-winning photojournalists and photographers that share my passion for photography and teaching?

I'll be helping others who now find themselves in the awkward position of knowing all things photography but possibly finding themselves out of work in the coming years. I'll be adding to my team master visual-story-tellers with a knack for sharing their life-long photographic knowledge acumen.

That's why I'm now in the process of looking for new destinations for photo workshops. So I can bring in new photo instructors and share with them the joys and rewards of teaching I now get to experience on a regular bases. 

Anyhow, thus the Mayan Riviera.

When I was first approached by a tour operator about the idea of adding this area as a destination, I was a bit leery. He'd try explaining the appeal of the area several times but to no avail. So once he realized he just wasn't getting through. He finally said to me, "I'm just going to have to show you."

Before I arrived in Cancun, I was feeling pretty bad.  I just wasn't sure how I was going to gently let him down. This guy is honest to God one the nicest and most genuine person I've ever met. So I thought, he'd take it very hard when I'd have to tell him the way my associates and I best taught photo skills is in real-life scenarios and not in a "theme park."

But alas, I never had to utter such speech. From the first day I arrived to Xcaret, the word "WOW!" became a constant in my vocabulary.  I've always known how photogenic a place and/or its people truly are by the amount of shooting I do while on location. The more I shoot the better the photo opportunities. And in the Mayan Riviera I kept shooting, and shooting and shooting... 

Everywhere I'd turn there were great situations happening, great characters, and great scenes begging to be photographed. There were so many things I wanted to photograph, so much variety of visually appealing details everywhere I looked. By the end of my visit, I had no doubt this is a great place for a photo workshop.

I can think of very few places around the world where you’d have this caliber of accessible archeological attractions such as Chichen Itza, Coba- just to name a few- with their jungle-covered pyramids as well as thousand-year old stone carvings called "stelae.A landscape dotted with naturally- occurring geographical features such as underground rivers, and an abundance of see-though-water-filled-sink holes known as “cenotes.” A cornucopia of wildlife ranging from all-things marine to jaguars, exotic birds, and adorable coatimundis (long-snouted mammals the size of small dogs from the family of the raccoons.)

Colonial-style small town pepper the area where the pace of life has not changed in hundreds of years; thus, rewarding photo-philes with timeless imagery waiting to be captured with their cameras.

A theme park depicting the many cultures found within Mexico as well as visually- rich re-creations of Mayan traditions such as a sacred ball game known as  “juego de pelota.” A game played by Mayans descendants where the only part of the body allowed while hitting the ball is the hip and where in ancient times the winning team was the one who was sacrificed to the gods?? To ritual ceremonies re-created on floating rafts just the way they were originally performed thousands of years ago.  

I can see this place lending itself to future workshops not only specializing in travel photography but also in a myriad of other photographic specialties such as nature,  portraiture, food and macro photography…etc. The possibilities are truly endless.

Not only is the area filled with visual candy for the photo aficionado but it also offers something else, I’m now learning to appreciate: A plethora of participatory and enjoyable activities for those non-photo-interested significant others that might want to tag along with us the crazy photo people! 

Among these: zip-lining over the jungle canopy during day and night runs which might end up taking the adventure traveler through fire rings and ending in underground caves. To the excitement of driving off-road vehicles at night through the tropical forest. Or floating on rafts in underground rivers under a ceiling of thousands-of-years old stalactites. Swimming with dolphins, with manta rays or simply donning a life vest while floating or snorkeling for hours on end. All of these accompanied by gastronomic delights to be photographed and/or consumed. 

TECH STUFF: This time around I decided to take two of my camera bodies: D4 and D3s. However I added to my regular lenses, 17-35mm 2.8 and my 70- 200mm 2.8 and a 1.4TC, a 60mm 2.8 macro and a 500mm 4.0.

I also brought two strobes with me: An SB 800 and the versatile SB 910. I added to this kit  an SU-800 Commander to remotely control the latter as well as an external battery pack, SD-8A, in case I'd needed the extra power for shooting inside the underground cave system.

Click here if you want to see a full-gallery of images

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Life after the Boston Globe, my beloved Cuba and future photo workshops

I thought after having worked for newspapers for two decades that I'd miss the daily hustle and bustle of being a photojournalist but interestingly enough that has not been the case. 

I really haven't had much time to ponder upon the fact I no longer have a job. It seems I've been too busy to even notice. I've been doing lots speaking engagements, photo contracts, and teaching street-photography photo workshops, and I've even taught a couple of classroom-style photo workshops on "Creating Sophisticated Images." 

But most of my time has been spent working out logistics and promoting the  Road ScholarCuba a Photographic Journey photo workshops. 

Just this past week, I finished my first Havana-Trinidad Cuba trip. This one was extremely important because it set up the structure and format to follow for other future photo workshops to Cuba. And most importantly because I got to travel with my good friend and Pulitzer prizewinner photographer Cyrus McCrimmon. 

Back when I had just started to work for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, CO Cyrus was one of my mentors and we fast became best of friends. He is not only a talented photographer but he is also a great human, salt of the earth, and a pure-soul kind of guy.  

Ours had been a trip in the making for 18 years. Right before his son, my godson, Sebastian, was born; he and I had planned to travel to Cuba for the pure enjoyment of making photos. 

However one day I asked him, "So CyDaddy, how are the preparations for our trip to Cuba coming along?" He just stared back at me with his mouth half open looking like a fish out of water. In that moment I knew his wife Had to be pregnant because I knew that would've been the only way he was not going to make that trip. And I was right. 

So after almost two decades, our trip finally came together. I had the opportunity to bring him along because my workshops on the island have been such a resounding success that I now have a waiting list for many of the upcoming departures.

So when it came time expand the teaching staff with like-minded shooters of the highest possible caliber and who love photography and have a love for teaching,  it was only natural for me to reach out to my original mentors. All of them are world-class photographers and the majority are Pulitzer prizewinners too. Cyrus is the first of the chosen few talented photographer/ instructors we will be adding to our team. 

I’ve always considered myself blessed for having had the opportunity of learning from some of the best in my industry. Photographers like Cyrus, who have proven their mettle over and over again when it counted the most, in real life covering real events. But most important of all, they are professionals who were never stingy with their knowledge and who were always ready to answer all of my photographic questions.

This team is completed by a great Cuban photographer named Joel Hernandez who works as an assistant with us while we visit the island. He is kind, soft spoken, with shoulder-length curly black hair framing a handsome and welcoming face. Participants love his teaching methods and by all reckoning he has the patience of saints.

These are members of the team I’m bringing to this program and I hope you give me the chance to show you how good they truly are at passing on their knowledge. I can promise you will not regret it and you will have a blast.

Here are just a few comments from recent participants:

Deborah C, “I just returned from Cuba where Essdras was our amazing photo leader. I learned more in one week than I’ve learned in a long time.” 

M-j: “The best week ever - so much warmth - so much shared - a dream trip where one can learn from 4 incredible professional, giving and talented photographers - we were blessed - thank you for an unimaginable week - and putting the joy back into my photography - bless you Essdras!”

Rosemary G: “Thank you for exposing us to such a variety of scenes from Cuba… everywhere we looked there was something begging to be photographed. I felt safe and appreciated everything that you and your team did to make our time in Cuba memorable.”

The above images were taken between May 20th through 28th of 2015. 

TECH STUFF/ Two camera bodies: Nikon D4 and a Nikon D810/
Two lenses: 17-35mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8/ ISO: range from 100- 800/ WB: Mostly Cloudy, some Sunny and perhaps a bit of AWB/ Format of files: JPG Fines (I don’t shoot Raw unless I am doing a commercial job)