Travel Preparations: Getting Ready for a Photography Adventure


Research is vital when preparing to travel abroad.  After checking out several books from the public library, I was able to decide on one to purchase and take with me. (Emily Naff)
Research is vital when preparing to travel abroad. After checking out several books from the public library, I was able to decide on the travel guide I wanted to purchase and take with me.

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!  Count down to departure is officially underway, and I’ve got Tokyo on the brain! I find myself spending most of my free time looking at guidebooks and websites dedicated to Tokyo. As we get closer to departure, I thought I’d share a few general travel preparation tips,  these apply no matter where you are headed.

Note… this blog series is geared toward the students who will be traveling to Japan with me this summer, but the advice could be helpful to anyone planning a photography trip abroad and wanting to learn more about photography.

Learn a little language: There are tons of great resources online for language learning. There are apps, websites, podcasts etc. A quick google search and you’ll have a ton of resources at your fingertips.  If you’re going to have a smart phone, be sure to download the Google Translate App.

Get a Guidebook and Phrasebook: Go ahead and start looking through them now. You don’t want to spend your time in Tokyo “figuring out” what to do.  Do your research before you leave, the public library is a great source for travel books.  I always check out several, so that I can decide which one is worth buying to take with me.  I personally like a paper back travel book, but e-books are a great option to help travel light.

Get your Photography Gear together: Practice shooting a few images, and downloading them onto your laptop. This way you can make sure you have all the cables, cords and connectors you need. Make sure you have plenty of memory cards, battery charger and if possible an extra battery. Also, start to familiarize yourself with whatever software you’ll be using to edit and organize images. You don’t want to waste time in Tokyo struggling with this detail. I recommend either Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom or Google Picassa (Free)  Don’t forget that you also need a way to back up your images to an external hard drive or high capacity thumb drive.  Japan outlets are only two pronged, so if your electronics have the 3rd grounding prong, then be sure to pack a 2-3 prong adaptor.

Kick up your workouts and break in your walking shoes:  The best way to see a city is to walk. I estimate that I average at least 3-4 miles a day when I travel.  So you want to have comfortable shoes for pounding the pavement. You also want to be sure that you’re fit enough to carry your suitcase and camera gear… up train station stairs if you need to!  I’ve been lifting extra weights, doing core exercises and spending some time on the stair master.

Plan what you’re going to pack:  Get your suitcase out (remember, the smallest one possible!) Find a corner of a room where you can start to lay out the things you want to take.  Plan your outfits carefully,  its a good idea to stick to one color palette for all your clothes, that way you can mix and match. Pick clothes that you know are comfortable, if something about an article of clothing always bothers you when you wear, it, then don’t pack it.  Choose clothes that are made of material that packs small, dries quickly and is versatile.  Space is at a premium in Japan, so don’t be “that person” with the extra big suitcase taking up all the space in the hostel.  Pack light! Pack light! Pack light!


Choosing a Camera: Part 2

This Blog post is Part 2 of a series with advice on buying a camera.

Choosing the Camera Brand:  For years, the answer has usually been “Nikon” or “Canon”.  I’ve always compared that choice to the Ford/Chevy or Mac/PC debate.   There are strong opinions  and valid reasons for choosing one over the other. For students who are majoring in Photography, I have always given the following bits of advice:

  • Go to a camera store, like Dury’s in Nashville.  Hold the cameras in your hands, see how the ergonomics of the camera feels for you.  You might find that one or other is easier to hold, or the controls seem more intuitive… Then purchase the camera from that store,  if you purchase online, then that store might not be there next year. You also more help with warranty support and a friendly face to ask for advice when considering future purchases.
  • Do you have a photography mentor? If you have a good friend, family member or professional mentor that you might call with questions, or swap equipment with, it will be easier if you shoot with the same system.
  • Consider future purchases:  One of the most daunting aspects of a new camera purchase is the idea of buying into a “system.” Each camera system has it’s one lens mount, so you can’t mount a Canon lens on a Nikon body…and vice versa.  So once a photographer has invested in one system and ones multiple lenses it is more difficult to switch camera brands.
  • Lenses and Accessories:  For years, most professional photographers have chosen either Nikon or Canon systems. These brands have strong brand loyalty, and offer a lot of flexibility because of the sheer number of lens and accessories that are available for the systems.   If you look at lens made by other manufactures like Tamron and Sigma, you’ll notice that the lenses are offered with either a Nikon mount or a Canon mount.  This is the primary reason why I tell students who are interested in pursuing photography at a professional or serious amateur level to purchase on of those two brands.   Sony has recently been making a push to enter into the professional market, and they actually make the sensors for Nikon cameras.  At the time I am writing this blog, the lenses available for their cameras are still limited, but there are adaptors that be used to convert most lenses with a Nikon or Canon mount to fit on the Sony Camera.
  • How much money do you have to spend?   When shopping for cameras, you will often find good deals on a kit that includes a body and lens (or two) and other accessories.   The lenses included in these package deals are often referred to as the “kit lens.”  This combo of body and lens are often packaged for new photographers who need a simple set up that provides flexibility for a variety of situations.   The downside to this setup is that these “kit lenses” are usually not the highest quality lenses offered by the manufacturers.  You can often find faster and sharper lenses by purchasing the body and lens separately.

Avoid loading up on gadgets and gizmos right away.  Wait until you’re are more knowledgeable about photographic terminology and your own personal needs.  If you are just getting started, it’s okay to start out with an entry level camera and kit lens.  All new digital SLR cameras are going to have the basic functions that you need to learn photographic fundamentals. You can upgrade your lenses later.

And most important: Cameras don’t take pictures, photographers make them.  It’s your vision and knowledge that operate the equipment.  The camera is only the tool, the photographer is the creative force behind the lens.   My Philosophy on Gear.

Boats returning to Abraao after a day at Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil (Emily Naff)
Boats returning to Abraao after a day at Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil.

Advice to New Photographers: Buying a Camera

As a photography teacher, I’m often asked the question what “camera do you recommend?”  I realize that most people just want me to give them a specific camera and say “buy this one, it’s the best.”   Unfortunately, the answer I give is never that simple. Like most major purchases, buying a camera requires some knowledge and research.   For newbies, who are about to take their first photography class, the lack of knowledge about technical aspects of a camera can make the research and decision seem daunting.

Last week, I met the students who will be traveling with me to Japan in 2014.   Unfortunately, our orientation did not allow enough time to really delve into the questions about the all important camera question.  Since they need to have the cameras before departure, I thought I’d write this blog post with these students in mind.  My goal is that anyone who wants to learn photography or is considering purchasing a new camera will find this information useful. You might also want to read my Philosophy on Gear that I wrote before a similar study abroad trip to Brazil.

Pedestrian silhouette in New York City (Emily Naff)
Pedestrian silhouette in New York City (Emily Naff)

When beginning your research it is good to know the answer to these questions:

Is photography going to be a casual hobby, serious hobby or profession?   The camera manufactures tend to make different models for these categories: entry level, pro-sumer and professional.  Many of the functions are the same, but the pro-sumer and professional camera body tend to be better built to withstand the use (aka abuse) that the heavy users will subject their cameras too.

How much money do you have to spend?  It is generally the case that more money will get you higher quality equipment and lenses. If choosing between spending more money on a camera body or lenses, spend more money on quality lenses. In most cases, the glass, optics and speed of a better lens will be a bigger factor in image quality than the camera body.

Do you already have some lenses and other equipment from an film camera, friend or relative?  Is so, what brand is it?  What sensor size is it designed for?  If the lenses are from a film camera, they may work on a digital camera of the same brand. If they are from a digital camera, you’ll want to know if they are designed for full frame or aps-c sensor size.

What type of shooting do you plan to do the most?   Snapshots of friends and family, portraits, weddings, sports, action, nature, wildlife, macro, extreme sports, urban street, night or lowlight photography?  Refine your search by looking for articles and reviews on cameras and lens by including the type of photography in your search.

Do you need an SLR, or will a compact point and shoot do the trick?   I’ve written a few blog posts about the pros and cons of SLRS and Point and Shoots.  There are also some new types of cameras entering the market that are worth taking a look at.  Many of these new models  bridge the gaps between the pros and cons of SLR and Point and Shoot.  Some of the terms you’ll hear to describe these other options are “mirrorless’,”interchangeable lens”, and “micro four-thirds”.  I’m planning another blog post to explain those options, so stay tuned.

The students in my study abroad trip are required to use an SLR or camera with interchangeable lenses, so Part 2 of this blog post will focus on the decisions to be made when buying an SLR. Subscribe to the blog (bottom right of this page) to make sure you get Part 2 emailed to you.  Part 2 will also include helpful links to websites that will be helpful in the research process.

Saturday Night Lights

Tennessee State Fair, Ferris Wheel at Night (Emily Naff)
Tennessee State Fair, Ferris Wheel at Night (1/30s @ f/5)

Saturday night at the fair.  Looking for a unique perspective on the iconic fair rides, I experimented with intentional blur and bokeh effects. I wanted the shapes and lines to be recognizable, since the shape of the wheel  is such an icon of summer fairs. The blur in these images is from manual “unfocus” and not from my usual love of motion blur. My first instinct was to shoot wide open, but I found that those images had too much blur. I’m pleased with this experiment and hope they captured the festive spirit of the fair.

Tennessee State Fair, Ferris Wheel at Night (Emily Naff)
Tennessee State Fair, Ferris Wheel at Night (1/50 @ f/2.5)


Tennessee State Fair, Ferris Wheel at Night (Emily Naff)
Tennessee State Fair, Ferris Wheel at Night (1/60 @ f/3.2)

Bad weather makes better photos.

Sometimes bad weather can make more interesting photos.  Here are two examples of similar pictures taken in different weather conditions.  Often the blue sky and sunny days are when we think we we’re going to get the better pictures.  Sunny days might inspire us to have more fun and take a lot of pictures, but often the “bad” weather makes better photographs.  The unusual light and atmospheric conditions can create more drama, contrast and interesting textures in the sky.   Of course, personal safety and comfort is a factor in whether or not you can or should take the risks to capture the shot.   I would have loved to have stayed on the top deck of the Spirt of Peoria for just a few more pictures, but the crew of the boat had my safety in mind when they kindly “kicked us off” the top deck.

Sprit of Peoria is a paddle driven river boat that takes day trips and extended river trips along the Illinois River. (Emily Naff)
Sprit of Peoria is a paddle driven river boat that takes day trips and extended river trips along the Illinois River.  This picture was taken with the dramatic sky created by an approaching storm.


Sprit of Peoria is a paddle driven river boat that takes day trips and extended river trips along the Illinois River. (Emily Naff)
Sprit of Peoria is a paddle driven river boat that takes day trips and extended river trips along the Illinois River. This blue sky day is inspiring for the photographer, and this image would probably be the one chosen by a marketing firm, but the image itself is not as dramatic as the shot taken with the stormy sky.


Colors of Jamaica

Happy Jamaica Day!

When I found out that today was Jamaica Day, I started daydreaming about last year’s trip to Jamaica.  Jamaica Day is a celebration of Jamaican culture, and citizens are encouraged to wear the national colors of green, gold and black.  That made me think of the colors of Jamaicas that I photographed while there last year.

In honor of Jamaica Day, I have uploaded a new gallery to my website, and am featuring a few pictures here on the blog.  I selected the images that showed the pride that Jamaicans have in their culture and country.  The colors of gold, green and black are the colors of the Jamaican flag. The colors of red, yellow, green and black are the colors that are used to symbolize the Rastafarian religion.

Click on any of the images to see the more of the Jamaica Gallery on my website.


Color building in Drapers, Jamaica houses the Post Office a small store and a bar. (Emily Naff)
Color building in Drapers, Jamaica houses the Post Office a small store and a bar.
Colorful bar in Drapers, Jamaica. (Emily Naff)
Colorful bar in Drapers, Jamaica.

These images are from 5 day  spring break get-away in March of 2012.   Ever since our honeymoon in Jamaica,  we always dreamed of going back.  On our honeymoon we did the “tourist track” and stayed in Negril, went to Ocho Rios, etc.,  but we had also ventured into the Blue Mountains and over to the eastern coast of Portland.  It was that rugged coast of Portland that we wanted to return too.  On this trip, we stayed off the beaten path, and couldn’t have been happier with our choice of accommodations.  My Time ‘n’ Place was perfect for the first and last night, as it was less than 2 hours from the airport and right on the beach.  In the small town of Drapers we stayed at a guest house, Search Me Heart.  Rosanna was a gracious hostess, and she and her stepson,Roy, were alway there to answer questions, take us on a hike or show us the best beaches around.  Our best memories from the trip are because of the people we met.

Surf shack on Winnifred Beach in Portland Jamaica. (Emily Naff)
Surf shack on Winnifred Beach in Portland Jamaica.


Fresh fruit for sale on Winnifred Beach in Portland, Jamaica. (Emily Naff)
Fresh fruit for sale on Winnifred Beach in Portland, Jamaica.

Color Story

I love color!  If you come to my house, you’ll see walls that are bright yellow, blue and red, turquoise kitchen cabinets, a green sunroom and lots of other colors sprinkled around to brighten things up.  I’ve always loved color, just ask my parents about the “primary colors and polka dot” decorating scheme that I used to decorate my junior high bedroom. (groan…)

This love of color definitely translates into my photography.  Like many photographers of a certain age, my first introduction to photography was in the black and white darkroom.  I stil love a good black and white print, and believe that making b&w images is a great way to refine an eye for composition. Hover, for me personally, I know that my photography became more of an expression of my personality when I embraced the creative use of color in my images.

Shadows on a yellow wall in Florence, Italy (Emily Naff)
Chance Encounter, Florence, Italy

So, it was an easy decision to enter my work for consideration into the current exhibit at The Darkroom Gallery in Essex Jct. Vermont.  The call for entries said  “If a confident use of color defines your work, we want to see it.”   The exhibit was juried by Seth Resnick, a highly respected photographer, digital imaging expert and fellow lover of color.  I was delighted to find out that two of the four images I entered were selected for the show, appropriately named Color Story.   Be sure to check out the other images that were selected for the show, and read Seth’s commentary on his process for selecting the images.  The show opens tonight (2/10/13) and will be up until March 3, 2013.

The images “Chance Encounter” and “Room with a View” are the two images that were selected.  These two images are part of a series on Italy, called “La Passeggiata.”  The images in the series are a sampling of my work from over 6 trips to Italy, in which I’ve explored Italy from the top to the bottom of the boot.

Room with a View, Martea, Italy (Emily Naff)
Room with a View, Martea, Italy

2012 in Review

Children playing at Winifred Beach, Jamaica. (Emily Naff)
Children playing at Winifred Beach, Jamaica. (Emily Naff)

Over this holiday break from teaching, I have been working to better integrate my blog and website.  I am also in the process of updating the galleries of images that are available on my website.  Images will now be available for instant image licensing for stock and editorial purposes, and print orders for fine art clients.  During this process, I have spent a lot of time scrolling through my images.  There are certain images that resonate with me for a variety of reasons, so I thought I’d test out the feature of embedding a slide show into the blog, and share this collection of images made in 2012.  These images are from the backroads of Tennessee to the backwaters of Brazil, the only thing binding them together into a collection is that they were all made in 2o12.  More galleries will be added soon.

I’m also using this as an opportunity to test out some of the features being used to better integrate my blog and website.  The goal is that viewers will not notice the difference between the two.  I’d love feedback on what is working or not working as you navigate between the blog and the website.

Traveler or Tourist?

Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala
Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala

The Mayan culture has been getting a lot of attention lately.  Especially yesterday, 12/21/12, the day that the Mayan calendar ended.  The end of this calendar has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but that’s not what I’m going to write about. All this attention to the Mayans has made me think of the two different encounters that I have had with the Mayan culture, and the contrast of travel experiences that I had on those very different trips.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit 4 different locations with mayan ruins: Tikal, Copan, Chitchen Itza and Tulum. The first two sites were visited almost 20 years ago, when I spent 5 weeks backpacking in Guatemala in Honduras. The last two sites were day trips from an all-inclusive resort near Cancun about 6 years ago. Those two trips could not have been more different. The manner of travel and budget being the two biggest differences.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”  Paul Theroux

Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Santo Tomas Church during Holy Week.

The first trip to Guatemala and Honduras was on a budget of less than $15/day, including food and accommodation. I was 23, single and broke.   I stayed in cheap hotels, hostels, hammocks and slept on the deck of a boat.   I ate beans, rice, avocados and lots of liquados (fruit smoothies.) I also spent about 10 days studying spanish in Antiqua, Guatemala. On that trip I met a lot of people, other travelers and locals. I would sit in the park in Antiqua and strike up conversations with strangers so that I could practice spanish. I rode public transportation, and constantly had to ask people for directions and other forms of help. During that trip I was able to visit the ruins of Copan and Tikal, and several small towns and villages that were populated mostly by people of Mayan descent. In general, I felt like a traveler, not a tourist.

Fast forward about 12 years; I’m married with a full time job, and a comfortable income. My husband and I took a trip to Cancun that was an all-inclusive package deal. We could have everything we needed for a relaxing vacation without ever leaving the confines of our resort. My husband and I booked this trip last minute during a very busy period, and we didn’t have much time to plan or choose, we just knew we needed a vacation. We were met at the airport by a driver holding a sign with our name on it. We had a room with a view of the pool and the ocean beyond. There was drink service without leaving our beach chairs, maid service and meals on site. It wasn’t an expensive trip, when you consider that airfare, lodging and food were included. It wasn’t a luxurious resort, but it definitely wasn’t shabby either.  I venture a guess, that sounds like most peoples idea of a dream vacation, we hated it.  Yes, the beach was nice, the drinks were refreshing, the service was good, etc…  It was nice for about the first 36 hours, then we were bored out of our minds.  We might as well have been in Florida. What’s the point of leaving the country, if everything is the same as home?

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michner

Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsual, MexicoMayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsual, Mexico
Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsual, Mexico


My husband and I made the most of that trip, by renting a car and escaping the resort for a trip to Chitchen Itza and Tulum.  We also promised ourselves, “never again” to the easy allure of a package vacation. Those types of vacation deals are designed to keep the tourist away from the realities of the lives being lived around them. It’s hard to relax, when you’re face to face with the reality of the poverty of the people who are making your drinks and cleaning your rooms. Even more difficult, when you realize they’re probably barely making a living wage, and the money you are spending often goes to the big multi-national corporations.

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman




So, how can we make the travel experience more authentic?  There are many options of ways to create travel experiences that allow you to interact with local culture, and allow your travel money to have a greater impact on the people you are meeting.  I believe very passionately in the idea of EcoTravel, which is a type of travel that does not damage the environment and helps to support local economies.  It is the idea that local communities can benefit from tourism, without the tourism ruining the environment and culture that made the location a destination in the first place.   There are a lot of ways that we can support these ideals.  Here are just a few:

Buying pineapples from a roadside vendor in Honduras.
Buying pineapples from a roadside vendor in Honduras.
  • Stay in small, family owned hotels or B&B’s.
  • Strike up a relationship with the people who work there.  Go out of your way to talk to them beyond the scope of “I need a towel, or a key”, etc..
  • Study the language, so that these types of interactions are easier.
  • Rent an apartment with a kitchenette, which requires that you…
  • Shop for groceries at the local market or corner store.
  • Eat at the locally owned restaurants, and avoid the fast food chains.
  • Participate in an educational program.
  • Be respectful of the differences in the culture.

Remember: “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Wordless Wednesday

Dreaming of Rio
Dreaming of Rio

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