White on white landscape in Norway’s Lofoten Islands
I’m currently in the middle of a week long photo workshop in Norway’s Lofoten Islands. I visited this spot back in October and truly loved it. It’s a winter wonderland in late February. I wanted to share this cloud lapse video I made so you could get a sense of the beauty of this special Scandinavian spot.
Arctic Cloud Lapse
I booked this week long photo workshop through Iceland Photo Tours, a company I had a great experience with in 2015. This tour is being led by Stian Klo, a Norwegian native who has major photo game. Photographer Shane Wheel is also helping with this workshop.
This landscape was the inspiration for the movie Frozen
I am definitely outside my comfort zone with extra gear, parkas, and toting multiple tripods. We’ll see if my photos come out great.
UHS Faculty member Maggie Beckman hiking Portland’s Forest Park
I’ve long held the belief that travel is the best kind of education. So when my friend Wes Priest, an English teacher at University High School in Indiana, told me that he was bringing a group of students to the Pacific Northwest with his colleague, art teacher Tasha Barger, I agreed to join them and give a few photography tips.
Wes and the JTerm students at the Witches Castle in Forest Park (photo credit: Maggie Beckman)
These 23 teenagers spent the first part of January studying the art, photography and literature of the Pacific Northwest with Wes, Tasha, and faculty member Maggie Beckman during their school’s January Term (J-Term). During J-Term, the students take a break from their normal studies to immerse themselves in a single subject that interests them. This interdisciplinary class culminated in a trip to Portland and Seattle.
PDX snowpocalypse in Forest Park
I met up with the group in Portland, Oregon while the city was still pretty much shut down after experiencing the biggest snowstorm in 20 years. As a seasoned traveler, I know plans how often plans go awry and you need to embrace that. But I had no idea how a group of teenagers would handle it. Their upbeat attitudes and lack of complaints caught me off guard. It was refreshing. There really is nothing you can do about the weather and the students got to see Portland in a really unique way.
Time lapse of the students working on zines in Portland. What a cool class.
Spending time with this group taught me a lot of great things to do with teenagers in Portland. We hiked through snowy Forest Park to the Pittock Mansion to get a view of the city. We hit legendary Portland institutions including Powell’s City of Books and Voodoo Donuts.
Hiking the Upper Macleay Trail in Forest Park
I learned donuts are very popular with high school students. Top Pot Donuts in Seattle was also on the week’s agenda. The students documented their trip with cameras and used photos and found items to create hand bound zines. It was fun to watch so many young creative minds get busy making art.
Spending the week with this group of students was both exhausting and inspiring. They appreciated both cities as well as the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and they reminded me of what it is like to have a youthful perspective.
Eating Ramen at Pine Market in Portland (photo credit: Wes Priest)
Eating Ramen at Pine Street Market was a big hit with this crew on a cold night in Portland.
Watching the students document their trip made me want to include some of their photos and impressions on this blog. Featured below are some images the UHS students shot on their trip to the PNW and their own captions.
“I took this photograph of my friends’ and my feet right before our hike at Twin Falls.”- Kathryn Papp
These students came prepared and learned the best way to handle the Pacific Northwest’s moody weather is by dressing correctly. Every one of these students was wearing appropriate footwear. It made for a cute photo opportunity and I was excited that one of the students captured it.
Lily in Capitol Hill in front of graffiti- Erin Webb
The students wandered through Portland, checking out local record stores, thrift shops, and the Portland Art Museum.
I took it because its kind of a perfect depiction of the Seattle vibe. Everyone and everything is accepted, except for lack of acceptance- Lily Hunter
The students broke up into groups and explored different neighborhoods in Seattle, which prides itself on being progressive and a Sanctuary City. I wasn’t surprised the teenagers loved Pike Place Market and my personal favorite, MoPop (formerly known as the EMP).
“Gorgeous water fall at Snoqualmie falls in Washington” – Kenzie Binford
“A different perspective of a piece of wood art at Portland Art Museum”- Drej Cosby
It was my first visit to the Portland Art Museum and I thought it was both user friendly and a nice size. There was lots to see without it being too overwhelming.
“Meowtropolitan cat taking some time to chill”- Drej Cosby
Some of the students visited Seattle’s Meowtropolitan, a Japanese-style cat cafe. I’m allergic to cats but was interested in their take. They really enjoyed it, and seemed to think it was quite a bit of fun for the price point!
“Red and Boji”- Maddie Compton
I was impressed by the student’s genuine appreciation for the post-modern architecture of the the Seattle Central Library. They made me remember just how cool the Rem Koolhas and Joshua Ramus-designed building is.
“The Seattle Room at the Seattle Public Library”- Elise Zaniker
Seattle’s Central Library is also a great location to take photographs and the kids got some eye catching shots.
“The modern built Seattle Public Library is home to many of writers and artists that open a portal of literary bliss to anyone. I felt that this was a good representation of the modern architecture that houses the classic tales of our time.”- Serena Patel
“This was on the bus ride from Portland to Seattle. It was just a nice, quiet moment I wanted to capture.”-Kathryn Papp
The students impressed me with their keen interest in the Pacific Northwest, their manners and the general lack of drama. Travelers have always been de facto ambassadors, and this group certainly made University High School look good.
“This bridge that served as our entry point into Forest Park felt like a gateway or portal into another world. Once I crossed under this bridge, I felt like I was in an entirely different universe of snowy bliss. Almost like Narnia.”- Livi Nichols
Spending a week with these kids strengthened my belief that travel is great education. It forces you out of your comfort zone, makes you to think on your feet and switches up your perspective. It was fun being able to share the experience of exploring the Pacific Northwest with these students. Their enthusiasm and curiosity was contagious.
“Michaela laughed as she hoisted herself up to get a better view of Elliott Bay. It was our first day in Seattle and the rain and fog only added to our ‘authentic’ Seattle experience.“- Livi Nichols
I did not just learn from the students. Wes, Tasha, and Maggie are passionate educators who are dedicated to helping young minds develop. They worked hard to plan this trip and make it a positive experience for all involved. I hope these students know how lucky they are to have such fantastic and accessible teachers.
“It was really spiritual and one of the best moments of my life because everybody was helping everybody else. People were cold and tired, but everybody stayed positive and struggled together to get the best feeling once we hit the very top.”- Eli DeBrota
The whole J-Term concept is a really cool idea. Where were classes like this when I was in high school?
The JTerm Crew on the waterfront in Seattle
I have to confess I missed this group once they left Seattle. Hopefully some of them with return to visit. I promise Portland is an entirely different experience without all the snow.
Norway’s Northern Lights captured on my iPhone 7 plus using the NorthernLights App
I photographed the northern lights with my new iPhone 7 Plus on my recent trip to Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Anastasia Chernykh, this blog’s social media manager, also gave it a go with her iPhone 6. We had some success. As a general rule, the brighter the aurora, the better your chances are of getting a good photo of them with your iPhone. Here are five tips for photographing the northern lights with an iPhone.
Tip #1 Download Camera Replacement Apps to Shoot Longer Exposures
You need to use longer exposure times to effectively capture the northern lights. Since the iPhone’s native camera app doesn’t allow you to manually select your exposure time, I experimented using LongExpo Pro and the NorthernLights app.
Northern lights near Svolvaer, shot with iPhone 7 plus
I really like the LongExpo Pro app, and I thought it was going to be my go-to for this experiment because it has an intuitive interface which easily allows you to easily change the shutter speed with a simple tap, and an easy-to- locate timer butter.
Faint Northern Lights (shot using LongExpo Pro on my iPhone 7 plus)
Unfortunately both Ana and I had issues where the focus would lock where we wanted it to and then shift after the timer was set, resulting in blurry foreground. Hopefully this will be corrected in future updates of the app. I had the better luck using the NorthernLights app, which has some easy presets to play with for weak, moderate, and strong aurora lights. There is also a custom option that allows you to adjust your film speed (ISO) and shutter speed.
Tip #2 Use a Tripod or Mount to keep your iPhone still
Longer exposures require you to keep your camera still to avoid shake and blur. This also applies when you are shooting with an iPhone. Since we were both traveling with large tripods for our DSLR Cameras, we used In Your Face ViewBase clamps to steady our iPhones and clamped them onto the legs of our larger tripods.
Squiggly Aurora Borealis (shot with the NorthernLights app)
Northern lights reflected near Svolvaer (iPhone 7 plus)
Tip #3 Use the Timer feature
Delaying the shot by a few seconds helps prevent camera shake, which usually results in a better image. Using the timer feature or remote shutter release helps reduce shake and blur. All the camera replacement apps mentioned in this post have timer features. I found a two second delay sufficient. Some iPhone camera replacement apps, like Slow Shutter Cam, are compatible with the Apple Watch, which allows additional remote shutter release options.
Anastasia got the image above using the Shutter Speed App on her iPhone 6
Tip #4 Include Foreground Interest in Your Shot
The aurora can appear as everything from a green streak across the sky to a rapidly shape-shifting pattern of streaks ranging in color from green to pink and purple. If possible, you’ll want to compose your image in a way that will add some local context. I tried to frame my shots to include the local fishing cabins to add a bit of Norwegian fishing village atmosphere. The northern lights were strongest and easier to photograph a few hours later, when we were near a lake outside of Svolvaer. There I tried to compose my shots to include some of the lake, where the lights were reflected on the water’s surface.
Tip #5 Use iPhone Apps to Edit Your Northern Lights Images
All of the northern lights images I got in Norway’s Lofoten Islands looked better after some basic photo editing. Reducing the noise in the images and making the color pop were the two things most of the aurora photos shot on my iPhone 7 plus needed. I found the most useful app for editing these northern lights images was Adobe Photoshop Express,which has a good de-noise feature. I also used the TouchRetouch app, which was also useful for cleaning up burned out highlights and bleeding from artificial lights. I straightened the horizons in my images using the editing features right in my iPhone’s native camera app.
I’m taking the scenic route to Jo’Burg or Johannesburg. The first leg LAX-IAD (from LAX to Washington, Dulles) where I will have a layover before catching my connecting flight on South African Airways.
“Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of (or so I’m Told)”
Through the fence view from the Empire State Building
I just got back from a trip to New York City. I went to NYU, so I’m particularly fond of the city and love to get there as much as possible. My friend Rebecca was traveling with me and she had never been to the top of The Empire State Building. I was thrilled to tag along on her first visit to one of the most famous buildings in NYC. Here are some of my favorite photos of one of New York’s most iconic buildings and an art deco gem.
I love observation decks in general, and the telescope viewfinders are so old school.
My BFF Zan was also in the city. Zan is a comedian and also used to being on the road. It is an occupational hazard for both of us (and a win) when we wind up in the same city at the same time. All three of us got together for lunch at Les Halles NYC. The restaurant is just a few blocks from the Empire State building and a classic European brasserie. Les Halles is perhaps best known for being the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain was once the chef.
Tip: if you’ve already been to the Empire State Building another great scenic spot to check out is Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center.