Port #9: Valencia

Valencia was our second stop in Spain, and what an interesting mix of old and new! In one day, we saw the Holy Grail AND some of the most modern, space-age looking buildings we’ve ever seen. The first half of the day was spent walking around the more historic part of the city, shooting the Basilica dels Desamparats, the large cathedral (home of the Holy Grail) and the local market. Valencia is where the famous Spanish dish, paella, originated, and we were happy to find some delicious paella while we were there.

The second half of the day was spent at the City of Arts and Sciences, and what a contrast that was to the old churches and such! The City of Arts and Sciences is a huge, futuristic, educational complex designed by the famous architect, Santiago Calatrava. It looks like something you’d see in a space-age movie and we spent hours photographing the many buildings there. The rest of the story, I’ll tell in photos. Enjoy!

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2013_12_07_033551_Valencia Spain_0402The Holy Grail, found in Valencia’s cathedral.

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BenPaellaValencia is where paella originated, so we had to get some while we were there!

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Port # 7: Cádiz

After spending two days exploring Morocco, we sailed through the Strait of Gibralter toward our first Spanish port: Cádiz. Cádiz is the oldest inhabited city in the Western World, so we were excited to explore some old buildings and historic Spanish squares. Instead of doing a cruise excursion here, we went off exploring on our own, which was easy since the ship docked right in town. (It was so close to town that it literally looked like it was nestled in with the rest of the buildings!)

We started off in a big, beautiful square that was mostly occupied by the Cádiz Cathedral, which was huge. We took photos inside and out and then wandered around the surrounding cobblestone streets, which were lined with loads of old buildings and full of local vendors in some areas.  Walking through the local market, it was incredible to see how different and new-looking it seemed compared to the one we had visited two days earlier in Casablanca.

Most of the historic part of Cádiz is surrounded by water, and one of the places we visited was an old fortress that jutted out into the water and overlooked part of town. Right by the fortress, on the water, was a nice little tapas restaurant and that’s where we stopped for lunch, using their wifi to connect to the rest of the world for a while. A tapas lunch in Spain overlooking the water… not bad, right?!

As with many of the rest of these posts, I’ll tell the rest of the story in pictures. After Cádiz, we would sail to Valencia and explore another Spanish town. More to come…

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Ports #5 & 6: Morocco

We went from the Canary Islands to Morocco, and what a difference that short distance makes! We visited Agadir and Casablanca and both were worlds apart from the vacationer retreats we saw in the islands. I admit that one has to have a bit larger of a comfort zone to feel at ease walking around in these ports, but if you ARE comfortable then the photo ops are great! We visited Agadir first and then Casablanca, the latter of these being the one where we spent the most time exploring. We spent a lot of time at an internet cafe in Agadir getting some mandatory work and holiday shopping (thank you, Amazon!) done before exploring there. Once we got out and about, we walked to two mosques (mosques usually have unique architecture) and then a traditional Moroccan souk (market) that was full of vibrant clothing, spices, jewelry, etc. You just have to get used to the fact that persistent vendors will literally follow you around trying to sell you their wares.

We spent one night sailing from Agadir to Casablanca and after dinner, the movie, “Casablanca,” was played in the ship’s theater. Karen and I like to watch movies set in the locations we visit so this was perfect. We docked in Casablanca the following day and spent the entire day exploring, starting off with a long walk through the local outdoor market. The market was essentially several city streets completely lined with vendors selling all kinds of foods (including some that we couldn’t identify) and other wares. We definitely stuck out here in that it was not at all a tourist location and we were walking around with huge cameras and clothing that didn’t fit in at all. We did know ahead of time that, because of the local religion, we were not to wear shorts or anything that exposed the shoulders (for Karen at least). We both got loads of photos at the market. With the colorful foods and expressive faces, it was a photographic haven… if you were ok with the odd stares and the fact that you stood out like a sore thumb. I did gesture to many of the folks with my camera to make sure that they were ok with photos. Some were and others weren’t.

We then walked to the Grand Mosque, which is the second largest mosque in the world. Unlike the market, the mosque was filled with tourists. This was also a great shooting location, especially if you use the unique arches to create a frame for your subject. All of the colors and tiles were beautiful as well. Eventually we did the very touristy thing to do when visiting Casablanca, which is eat at Rick’s Cafe, which is the setting for the movie that made this city famous. Now we know that it’s not the actual cafe from the film, but that’s ok. It was close enough. We actually got some yummy Moroccan food there… and we can now say that we’ve eaten at Rick’s Cafe.

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was time to head back to the Crystal Serenity. That evening, we would be setting sail toward Cádiz, Spain with one full sea day before we arrived there. More on Spain later. For now, here is a photo journey through Morocco!


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Ports # 3 & 4: The Canary Islands

After departing from Madeira and saying goodbye to Portugal, we continued onward to visit two of Spain’s Canary Islands. The first stop was Lanzarote, which is unlike its neighboring islands in that it’s very dry, with a lunar-like terrain. This is because of all the volcanic activity this island has seen over the centuries. We did a shore excursion in Lanzarote that  had three stops and gave us a good feel for the island. Our first stop was an agriculture museum called El Patio, was really a series of historic buildings that somehow dealt with the agriculture of the island. There was a farm house, a barn, a winery, a windmill, etc. The place was very photogenic so we spent a lot of time shooting there before we all ended up in the winery to taste some of the island’s vino and have some tapas.  Our second stop was a gigantic cactus garden that featured over 1,400 species of cacti! When shooting a place like that, I do a complete walk-through with one lens, then switch lenses and walk through again in an attempt to see things in a different way. Out last stop on Lanzarote was the César Manrique Foundation, which is an artist’s home-turned-museum that is literally build into the lava rock, with the natural terrain serving as the walls and ceilings. The place had a very organic and  artsy feel to it, and I shot what few photos I could in our limited amount of time there.

Before I move on to the next Canary Island, here are some of my images and Karen’s video from Lanzarote:















Our second Canary Island was Tenerife, which was just a one-night sail from Lanzarote. On this stop, we did not do a shore excursion. Instead, we went about exploring town on our own. (We would eventually return to Tenerife a week or so later and do a tour at that point.) The Crystal Serenity docked at the port in Santa Cruz, which is the business capital of the island. It was quite bustling compared to our previous island stops, with busy pedestrian streets full of stores and people doing their Christmas shopping. We did find some historic buildings as well as a farmers market to shoot in town, but the most interesting thing we shot that day was the overly unique concert hall (You can see it in the photos below). It’s a very modern, space-age looking structure that was juxtaposed in an interesting way to the historic part of the town. On our second stop to Tenerife, we traveled to a more quaint and colorful town, but we’ll save that for another post. Next stop: Morocco!

More to come…











Port #2: Madeira

After we boarded the Crystal Serenity in Lisbon, we eventually set sail for Madeira, which is about 500 miles south of the mainland of Portugal. Madeira is known for its relaxed way of life and of course, its famous port wine. It took two days of cruising before we arrived at the port in Funchal, which is the main town on the southern coast of the island. We did an excursion in  Madeira, which is a tour that’s organized by the cruise ship. Over the course of our trip, we tried to choose excursions that looked the most photographically promising. Our day started with a cable car ride up a large hill to a historic church that looked over the town of Funchal. Then we got to go on toboggan rides, Madeira style, in order to get down the hill. This sounds nuts, but the “toboggans” are essentially large baskets with seats in them. There are ropes attached to either side and your two “pilots” run along side the toboggan, steering you down the street with these ropes. We then spent an hour touring one of the island’s botanical gardens and finally ended up at a winery in town to taste some of Madeira’s famous port. After all this, we still had time to walk around town, exploring and shooting. As with all of these cruise port posts, I’d rather give you more visuals and less text to describe the experiences, so below are a bunch of photos I shot in Madeira. Above is a video that Karen made documenting our day. To see her blog post on Madeira, click HERE.

Next stop: Lanzarote! More to come…
















Port #1: Lisbon

Hi All! Karen and I are finally stateside again after a month of travel via cruise ship. I gave a little overview of the trip in my last post, but now I want to start sharing lots of the fun images I shot on this adventure. First stop: Lisbon!

Our ship, the Crystal Serenity, would be departing from Lisbon and we decided to fly there a few days early in order to explore the city a bit. This was both of our first times in Portugal so we wanted to try to get a good taste of it. We spent most of our time exploring on foot, walking around the main areas and letting ourselves wander toward any potential photo ops. We enjoyed shooting in all the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with brightly-colored buildings and laundry hanging from the windows. We also spent a lot of time in the Castelo de S. Jorge National Monument, which is essentially a giant castle. And of course we couldn’t visit Portugal without getting some of the local flavor, so we found ourselves at the Port Wine Institute, sampling some 5-year-old, 10-year-old, and 20-year-old port. As an unexpected bonus, we also ran across the Portuguese Beer Museum, which was just hilarious because I have a way of running into beer-related things while we’re traveling.

So without further ado, here is a visual recap of our visit to Lisbon:













Karen has her own post on Lisbon, and you can read that HERE. Our next stop was Madeira, which is an island about 500 miles south of Lisbon. More to come!

Back on the grid!

Hi gang! If you follow this blog regularly, you probably noticed the lull in posts. That’s because I’ve been off the internet grid, so to speak. A few weeks ago, we flew to Lisbon, Portugal where we explored for a few days and then boarded the beautiful Crystal Serenity cruise ship. I would be teaching a digital filmmaking course to the ship’s guests for two back-to-back cruise adventures, the first of which began in Lisbon. Over the past month, we’ve been to multiple ports in Portugal, the Canary Islands, Morocco (including Casablanca), Spain and St. Maarten. I’ve got to tell you… it’s been quite the adventure and I’ve got loads of images to share with you. Because of that, I plan on doing some irregularly-timed blog posts, with one post per port, so that I can give you a feel for the places I’ve been without overwhelming you by sending out all the images at once!

For now, here is a map of where we’ve been as well as some photos that Karen shot … you know, just to act as a teaser 🙂

More to come!

2013Cruise-Lisbon-Miami Our travel map for the past month

Portugal-Lisbon-155Me at a castle in Lisbon 



Casablanca-328-EditThe above three pics are ones that Karen shot in Casablanca.

Madiera-111The basket toboggan ride in Madeira (Portugese Island)

Serenity2013-147Karen on board the Crystal Serenity at sunrise


The crazy concert hall in Tenerife (Canary Island) 


A scene from a small village in Tenerife

Teaching & Tinkering in the Pacific Northwest

Hi all! I just spent most of the past week in Seattle, WA and Eugene, OR. However, unlike last winter where we kept the bus in the Pacific Northwest, I flew in from Atlanta this time around.

I started off the week in Seattle teaching my “Think Like a Photographer” class at creativeLIVE. This class is geared toward folks who have been shooting for a bit and would like to get more serious about their photography. We covered composition, shooting strategies, gear, post-processing, etc. It was a lot of fun and everyone learned a ton. If you missed the class, you can still snag it HERE.

Ben_CL_NovHere I am on the set of my “Think Like a Photographer” class. Thanks to my awesome host, Jim Catechi, for getting this shot!

After wrapping up my class, I went south to Eugene, Oregon. That’s where my vintage bus is being worked on and getting its new interior installed. If you’re not already aware, I live in a 40′ tour bus and I travel around the country taking photos. The vintage bus is my next home on wheels and it will feature a completely custom interior when it’s finished. It’s been a long-term project, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! Karen and I spent last winter in Oregon so that I could oversee the project, but eventually the guys at the shop were on autopilot and we were able to explore and travel more. Now that lots of progress has been made, I wanted to pay the bus a visit and work with the shop on design details and such. I spent three days in Eugene and I’m thrilled with how the bus is looking! If you want to learn more about the project, or follow the progress, check out the Creative Cruiser Facebook page (yes, my bus has its own Facebook page).

LarryParadiseLarry, the owner of Paradise Coach, standing in my bus. 

As I mentioned earlier, the bus (the one I currently live on) stayed in Atlanta, so that’s where I returned to after my trip to the Pacific Northwest. My great friend and photographer Eddie Tapp is an Atlanta local, so we got to spend some more time together when I arrived. We paid a visit to the SE Railroad Museum and did a little shooting there. It seems that I’ve had a train theme going on the past few weeks. This is at least the third railroad-themed museum I’ve been to lately!

AtlantaTrainMuseumAn iPhone shot I took at the SE Raillroad Museum

From Atlanta, we will continue south to Florida because, well, that’s what we do in the winter time! Karen is actually in NJ to photograph her best friend’s newborn and she will fly directly to Jacksonville later this week. We will then continue to the Tampa area and maybe even make it further south. At the end of the month, we fly to Lisbon, Portugal, where we will board a cruise ship that will be our home for a month. I’ll be teaching a class for the cruise passengers, and then we’ll arrive stateside again just in time for xmas/new years. More to come!

Fall color in the Smokies

Hi gang! Get ready for another image-rich post. Last week, we worked our way south from NJ to Tennessee via the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the end of my last post, we had just arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and were ready to head out and explore. Shortly after entering the park, we immediately realized that we had hit the sweet spot of fall color. Our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway was just ok when it came to that. We had hit a lot of it past peak, so there were more browns than we would have liked. But once we hit the Smokies, we were in beautiful, colorful bliss!

We spent a lot of time just driving around looking for scenes that best displayed the color, so we made a lot of stops to capture windy roads twisting through the woods, or low-lying branches over rivers that provided nice colorful reflections in the water. We also drove up to Clingman’s Dome, which is the second-highest point east of the Mississippi (the highest only trumps it by 40 feet), to shoot sunset one night. The sky put on a pretty good show, as you’ll see from the image below.

As an added bonus, we also got to see some black bears in the Smokies! You can tell that there are bears around by the number of cars backed up on the roads, and the rangers directing traffic. We were allowed to get close enough to get some good shots though. In some instances, the bears had climbed trees and we were shocked at how high those suckers can climb! They were so high (several stories) that it was hard to spot them when looking up at the treetops.

We were really happy with our time in the Smokies, and I ended up getting a lot of nice photos to show for it. If you ever plan on visiting the area, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, this park gets twice as many visitors than any other national park (because half the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of the place) so expect crowds. Fall is a spectacular time of year to visit. The whole area is wooded and when the leaves change, it’s just an explosion of color. The last thing I would say to keep in mind is that restaurant choices are fairly limited… unless you’re ok with places like “Hillbilly Barbecue.” Karen and I like to eat pretty healthy, and Karen doesn’t eat meat, so we had a bit of a hard time finding places. However, the Dancing Bear Lodge has a restaurant that is fantastic, and the lodge itself is beautiful. The only thing is that it’s pricy, but we ended up going twice because we had such a great experience there.

After leaving the Smokies, we made the one-day drive down to Atlanta, where the bus will hang out for a bit. We were happy to be there because it meant we could hang out with our wonderful friends Eddie Tapp and Judy Host, who are Atlanta locals. After a few days, I had to fly out to Seattle for a creativeLIVE event. More to come!


BenSmokies19Some of the black bears we saw in the Smokies


BenSmokies16Sunset at Clingman’s Dome, the second highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi

The rest of the images here are fall color shots I took in the Smokies… with a few of me and Karen thrown in there as well. Enjoy!












Shooting our way south

This past week, we left New Jersey and started to meander south. (When your house has wheels, there is no reason to keep it in cold weather for the winter!) Our goal was to photograph the fall color on the way south, shooting in Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’ve actually made several interesting stops over the past week, and I thought a visual travelogue would be more appropriate, as we’ve been taking a lot of photos! Here goes:

BenBOmuseum-smallOur first stop after leaving New Jersey was Baltimore, to visit the B&O Railroad Museum. There was a nice, streamline train I wanted to see (pictured above) but we ended up spending a lot of time exploring the museum because it is really pretty awesome… and huge. The big roundhouse holds loads of trains, many dating back to the Civil War. 

BOroundhouseThe roundhouse (where they turn train cars around) at the B&O Railroad Museum.


For two nights, we stayed in Waynesboro, VA, which is right outside Shenandoah National Park and the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove around Shenandoah a lot, but much of the color was already past peak. It was still nice to see though. We got some nice shots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, like the one above, but we realized we were still a little too far north for nice fall color. 

ShenandoahNP-BlueRidgePkwy-27Karen got this shot of me shooting on the Blue Ridge Parkway… literally ON the parkway!

FallRedLeavesAnother fall color shot

BenOWLmuseumOur next stop was in Roanoke, VA, where there were two places I wanted to see. The first was the O. Winston Link Museum. Link was a photographer known for his night images of the N&W (Norfolk & Western) Railway. He captured the last workings of steam-operated trains, marking the end of an era. Most of his shots were made at night, where he used dozens of flash bulbs to freeze the motion of the trains and the railroad employees. The image in the shot above is Link and his assistant with their lighting equipment. 

BenRoanokeStationMy second stop in Roanoke was this vintage Amoco station. I spent a couple minutes shooting it and then we continued on.

Karen-VTJust south of Roanoke is Blacksburg, VA, home of Virginia Tech. Karen graduated from VT back in 2002 and hasn’t been back to the campus yet, so she wanted to pay a visit on our way south.

1391692_10153886978935355_1729416661_nWe stopped and spent a night in Fancy Gap, VA, which is right near the VA/NC border and very convenient to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We spent some time exploring the Parkway in this area, but the color was past peak here too. The photo above is the “Welcome To…” sign for both Virginia and North Carolina.

BenSunrisePanoEven though the fall color wasn’t that great, we managed to find this vista for a beautiful sunrise on the Parkway. This post’s header image is from the same place. 

Continuing south, our next stop was the Great Smoky Mountains, where we are parked right near the national park entrance. We will spend a few days exploring here and then head southward to Atlanta for a bit. More to come!