Journal

Ruminations about photography, travel and pursuing life.

Listen to your photos

They say that “movies are made in the edit”, for that’s the moment in which footage is carefully color corrected, graded, and sequenced to create the final look and feel of a film. The same methodology applies to digital photography, where photographers use tools like Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One and other products to shape and mold their flat, unsaturated RAW files into final images which capture their original creative intent.

It’s a laborious process which brings to mind this famous quote from Michelangelo:

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”

When I read this quote, I don’t visualize David lurking inside a giant block of marble. Rather, I interpret this to mean the block of marble informs the creative process. This isn’t about what the marble should be, but rather what it wants to be. And if the artist is listening closely, they will hear that intent, and mold the raw material into a finished work which appears effortless, obvious and respectful.

In the past, there have been many times when I haven’t “listened” to my photos. I’ve pushed them where they didn’t want to be pushed. Forced them to do weird things with their colors and display unnatural lighting. Applied presets which had nothing to do with the source material. All in the name of creating an attractive image.

Thankfully, in today’s digital photography world, starting over is easy. With a single click, a RAW photograph can return to its original, straight-out-of-camera state at any time. It’s then the photographer has the opportunity to revisit the past, see their work with a more critical editorial eye, and work with the tools at hand to uncover the photo lurking inside.

Here’s an example of one photo I’ve repeatedly struggled with — a RAW photo from Alpe di Siusi in Italy, captured in the fall of 2018.

Original, RAW photo / Canon 5D Mark IV / 47mm / f8 / ISO 100 / 1/6 sec

Original, RAW photo / Canon 5D Mark IV / 47mm / f8 / ISO 100 / 1/6 sec

I’ve edited this one photo at least six times since it was captured nearly a year ago. Ten hours of editing work, at least. Why? Because each time I’d edit the photo I’d be happy with the net result, walk away, then return a day or two later. I’d then see my edits with a fresh set of eyes, dislike what I’d done, and throw everything away for yet another spin of the wheel.

With this image, I finally gave up. I put it away and moved on.

But then recently, I went back through my 2018 Lightroom catalog and stumbled across this photo. This time, I felt “ready” to edit it. I no longer felt the pressure to quickly edit the photo for social media or my website. I would take my time with it and perhaps be more thoughtful and attentive.

This time, the photo turned out like this:

Edited version of the image from Alpe di Siusi

Edited version of the image from Alpe di Siusi

A big difference for sure, but what separates this image from all previous attempts was my attention to color. It’s hard to see underneath the magenta color cast of the original RAW file, but when I was there in the Dolomites, fall was in full effect. Vibrant colors of orange and yellow. Clusters of green pine trees. Gray peaks rising in the distance. That was the atmosphere I remembered. This time, I tried to channel that memory into the edit and work with the image instead of on it.

Today, I think it’s the best edit created thus far, but we’ll see what I think a year from now. ;)

What I’ve learned through experiences like these is to always trust and listen to your source material. Begin your edits by normalizing the RAW photo (removing any unusual color casts, correct for tint and white balance, etc), then work creatively from that corrected state. Remember why you took the photo in the first place, and enhance the qualities of the image which speak to that memory and emotive state. Work with what’s appropriate and natural to the image without applying unwanted effects or style treatments. And above all else, know when to stop when the image tells you to. If you listen closely enough, you’ll know when you’ve reached that point.

Todd Dominey
Gear page update
gear-image.jpg

Updated my gear page with a bunch of newly acquired items, large and small. These aren’t just things I own, but gear I use and recommend. Newly added items include the Ronin SC gimbal, Rokinon 14mm f2.8 Ultra Wide Lens, Acratech Leveling Base, FEELLE Solar Power Bank, PGYTECH Landing Gear for Mavic Pro 2, and the Ravpower FileHub which I reviewed in my last video.

Todd Dominey
How to Backup SD Cards Without a Computer (Video)

I hate traveling with a laptop. It’s bulky. It’s heavy. It’s literally a pain when carrying a bag full of camera gear. But without a laptop, how would I backup SD cards? Turns out, it’s doable thanks to some new devices ranging from super cheap to super expensive. In this video I break down the RavPower FileHub plus other product options for every budget to help you backup SD cards on the go.

videoTodd Dominey
Video: Best Travel Lens?

While visiting San Miguel de Allende, I took a look inside my camera bag and selected the one lens I couldn’t live without. The one lens I could have traveled to San Miguel with and left all my other lenses at home. I talk about that lens in the video above; discussing its strengths and weaknesses, and why — even with newer Canon RF lenses and mirrorless bodies — this older lens is still the right choice.

videoTodd Dominey
Exploring San Miguel de Allende

Recently my wife and I traveled to San Miguel de Allende in the highlands region of central Mexico. Designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2008, San Miguel’s historic town center features nostalgic cobblestone roads lined with beautifully preserved 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial architecture. In sunlight, the buildings pop in vibrant hues of yellow, orange, pink and red. It’s old world, romantic, and beautiful.

Man in doorway looking down the street in San Miguel de Allende

Man in doorway looking down the street in San Miguel de Allende

Remarkably, San Miguel has mostly avoided the westernization of its culture and commerce, for outside of one Starbucks I never came across a single chain restaurant or business. Every cantina, restaurant, art gallery and boutique was unique and appeared to be locally owned and operated.

(Left) Me wandering the streets and taking photos, (Right) Incredible food throughout San Miguel, including this sumptuous breakfast

(Left) Me wandering the streets and taking photos, (Right) Incredible food throughout San Miguel, including this sumptuous breakfast

The town center is anchored by the neo-gothic La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a Catholic church designed by Zeferino Gutierrez, an indigenous bricklayer and self-taught architect who was inspired — rumor has it — by travel postcards of European churches. With its brilliant pink spires towering overhead, this church is both the iconic symbol of San Miguel and its center of activity. By day, the area is abuzz with merchants selling homemade ice cream, ears of roasted corn, balloons, and souvenirs. By night, the music of mariachi bands fills the air as families gather, sing and dance.

(Left) Man of many hats, (Middle) La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, (Right) Woman posing with giant carnival puppets

(Left) Man of many hats, (Middle) La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, (Right) Woman posing with giant carnival puppets

With its mild climate, gorgeous architecture, vibrant arts scene and incredible food, it should come as no surprise that San Miguel has received an influx of retired expats from Canada and the United States. San Miguel has also attracted the attention of travel media, including Travel & Leisure magazine where San Miguel has been voted world’s best, two years running.

(Left) Backside of La Parroquia, (Right) Typical single home in San Miguel

(Left) Backside of La Parroquia, (Right) Typical single home in San Miguel

For those living in North America (like me), San Miguel de Allende gives travelers the charm and old world experience of Europe, but without the long flight, expense, and busloads of tourists. Venture away from the town square and you’ll find block after block of fantastic architecture, quiet cafes, and a casualness to everyday life which feels suspended in time. San Miguel isn’t the most exciting place for younger kids, but for adults who love great food, ambiance, shopping and culture, it’s got it all.

Here’s a collection of some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Todd Dominey
Video: Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

After photographing Cape Kiwanda and Hug Point in Oregon, I ventured further north to Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, Washington. This beautiful stretch of beach is known for its towering, extraterrestrial sea stacks along the ocean’s edge. I was there all afternoon and into the evening, hoping for good weather, and by the end of the day my wish came true. Check out the video above to experience Ruby Beach and see some of my favorite landscape photos from that day.

videoTodd Dominey
10 Things I've Learned Creating Videos
Still from a recent video in Lofoten, Norway

Still from a recent video in Lofoten, Norway

My recent journey into the world of creating video has been…well, let’s just call it a learning experience. I’ve screwed up. I’ve broken equipment. I’ve deleted multiple hours of shoddy work. I got into this thing a few months ago as a personal dare — a challenge, really — to see if I could use the equipment already in my camera bag to create videos.

Since then, I won’t lie. It’s been awkward. Frustrating. Yet also, exhilarating and new. I’ve always been interested in video, for it’s a sibling of sorts to photography, but have always felt I lacked the skills to create it. And besides, aren’t there enough people in this world making videos?

But you know, this isn’t about what other people are doing, or how my work compares. This is something I want to create for me, my family, and anyone out there in the world who shares similar interests. It’s a shared learning experience, a creative outlet, and a means of expression. I’m stumbling and fumbling my way through, but having a lot of fun trying, failing, and occasionally getting something right.

On the eve of my tenth video, here are ten things I’ve learned.

Watching yourself on screen can be awful

You know how weird some people get when hearing their voice for the first time? Video is worse. Way worse. Unless you already make a habit of filming yourself, seeing and hearing “you” on screen the first time is super weird. You may notice strange body language quirks you weren’t aware of, odd vocal tics, and words you overuse and repeat. It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. But in order to get better and improve, you have to watch yourself. After nearly ten videos, I think I’m finally at a place where I can do that without cringing too much.

Be you, plus ten percent

I wish I could remember where I first heard this advice, for I think it’s brilliant. When on camera — or any situation involving an audience — boost your everyday personality an extra ten percent. Video is like theater, where everything needs to be just a little more pronounced so audiences can see and understand what’s happening from a distance. Anything more than ten percent can be exhausting and inauthentic, while anything less may be too flat. General rule of thumb, be you, plus ten percent.

Take time to breathe

You know that thing that happens when speaking to an audience where one sentence just runs into the next because you keep dropping conjunctions like “and”, “but”, “yet” and “because” instead of planting your feet on the period at the end of the sentence? Yeah, I do that. I think it’s a natural attempt at keeping an audience engaged, for if you never stop or slow down they’ll never have an opportunity to nod off. It’s not good, for all those conjunctions make your thoughts hard to follow, and in video they make your dialogue super difficult to edit. Slow down, pause, and give your audience a chance to digest before moving on.

Capture more than you need

To tell a complete story, you need A LOT of footage. I’ve come to realize that b-roll — despite its second class status — is actually one of the most important ingredients. It injects variety, eases fatigue (so people aren’t always looking at your ugly mug), and enhances your story. I never seem to capture enough. For that reason, I’ve started carrying around a DJI Osmo Pocket so I can quickly film anything of interest without stopping to open my camera bag.

Hold your shots

Every time you think you’ve “got the shot”, keep recording a few seconds longer. You might need that extra footage in post, especially when editing to the beat of a soundtrack.

Visualize your shot before flying a drone

I love flying my Mavic Pro 2 for establishing shots and b-roll. It does an amazing job at capturing stunning video footage and still photographs as well. That said, I’ve made the mistake multiple times of getting in a hurry and putting my drone in the air before planning what to do with it. All that aimless flying eats batteries, and by the time you find something, the drone has to land. Lesson learned — pre-visualize your subject and movement prior to liftoff.

Always bring a second tripod

Shooting yourself with a second tripod is a pain. It’s yet another tripod to carry, you’re constantly backtracking, and people around you will think you’re nuts (eg, on a recent trip to Iceland, a stranger chased after me because he thought I was leaving my tripod and camera behind). All that said, a second tripod makes a huge difference when telling your story. If you only film yourself while holding a camera, your audience won’t get an adequate sense of place by looking over your shoulder. A second tripod fills in the gaps, and helps the audience feel like they’re along for the ride.

Always shoot an intro and outro

As they say, films are created in the edit. I’m not creating motion pictures by any stretch of the imagination, but the same logic applies. You may think you know how your story is going to unfold when filming, but you don’t. Later while editing, you might look at your footage and realize that Day 3 would be a more engaging starting point than Day 1. You never know where your videos are going to start and end until you edit them, so it helps to record multiple intros and outros. General rule of thumb, record both at each new location you visit. That way you can later change the order of the story however you want to.

Pay attention to audio

I recently had to scrap an entire video from Iceland because the audio was awful. The gain on my mic was too high, which caused my voice to sound crunchy and distorted. It was just as painful to listen to as it was to delete what I considered to be solid footage. Since then, I’ve always made the effort to test audio levels every time I speak to ensure they’re correct (eg, -12db).

Don’t take it too seriously

Being a lifelong designer (both contributor and leader), I’ve always strived for perfection. I’ve restarted projects, nit-picked seemingly unimportant details, and driven myself (and some people around me) crazy trying to make something as good as it can be. But you know, there’s a point at which that effort and attention to detail impedes progress towards the greater goal, and you have to learn how to eat your mistakes, accept the imperfections, and move on to the next round. It helps to keep your eye on the long game and focus on what matters: sustained progress over time through a series of incremental wins. Instead of beating yourself up over how poor something turned out, unpack what went wrong, learn from the experience, and make an effort to fix it the next go around.

~~~

Check out my YouTube channel to see what I’ve been up to.

Todd Dominey
Video: Cape Kiwanda and Hug Point in Oregon

Summer is such a magnificent time to visit the Pacific Northwest. The days are mild, the nights are cool, and there’s plenty to see and do. For that reason — and because we have family in the Seattle area — I recently traveled with my family to the Oregon and Washington coast.

I first experienced the Oregon coast many years ago as a teenager, and still remember everything about that experience in vivid detail. The driftwood, the sea-stacks, the moody atmosphere. I loved it. So as part of our summer vacation plans this year, we flew to Portland, then drove a couple of hours west to Oceanside.

While there we built bonfires on the beach at night, explored neighboring state parks during the day, and then — when the light was right — I’d grab my photography gear and head out solo. Two destinations which proved especially fruitful were Cape Kiwanda and Hug Point, both of which are featured in the travel vlog video embedded above.

videoTodd Dominey
Talking Mailchimp design at Leading Design London

Late last year I spoke at the Leading Design conference in London about the (then, recent) overhaul of Mailchimp’s brand. In my talk (embedded above and at Vimeo), I shared the story of how the brand refresh came to be, why it happened, and the changes I helped lead internally to provide Mailchimp’s customers with a new, cohesive brand experience across every touchpoint.

I was invited to speak at the conference months before when I was Senior Director of Design at the company. I accepted the invitation, for the brand refresh would be launching soon beforehand and the format of the conference was perfect for the topic.

Leading up to conference, I resigned from the company. As much as I wanted to stay and see my vision for the brand play out, the time was right for me to step down and take some (much needed) time off. I considered uninviting myself from the conference, but was encouraged to stay and share the story. So I did.

In the end, it was a cathartic experience, for it culminated many months of hard work. This wasn’t simply a story about changing colors and typefaces (that was actually the least of it), but rather a story about organizational alignment, scale, and the requisite changes design at Mailchimp needed to meet future demand.

Todd Dominey
Video: Reviewing the MediaLight Eclipse

Recently I decided to update the lighting in my home office to make it more suitable for editing photos and videos. Before, my office was illuminated with overhead lights and table lamps using “warm white” LED bulbs. As much as I like the look of these bulbs (for they resemble old incandescents), they add far too much yellow and orange to the ambient light of my workspace. I considered replacing all the bulbs, but then my office would look like a hospital. I tried editing in the dark, but then my eyes burned out. Seeking an alternate solution, I came across the MediaLight Eclipse, a bias lighting system specially made for film editors, photographers, and anyone doing sensitive color work on their displays.

Does it work? Did it improve my setup? Check out the video above where I unbox, install, and test it out.

Fixing washed out videos from Premiere Pro (Mac)
premiere-screens.jpg

Since I first started editing content in Premiere Pro on my iMac, I’ve had ongoing problems with exported video appearing softer, lighter, and with less contrast compared to the source video inside Premiere.

See the image above for comparison. The top image was captured from the timeline in Premiere Pro on my iMac. The second image was captured from QuickTime using the same video exported to H.264 (using the default YouTube settings). The third image was also captured in QuickTime, except this time the video was exported using a new Gamma Compensation LUT provided by Adobe.

By applying this LUT on export, your rendered videos will look very similar to how they appear inside Premiere, which is huge help when color grading. There are all kinds of technical reasons for why this is even happening, which you can read about on the page linked above if interested. Overall though, I’m thrilled to have this issue finally resolved, even if it means the extra step of adding a LUT everytime I export a video.

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out some of the videos I’ve been producing lately, head over to my YouTube channel.

New Video: Must Have Accessories for Iceland

After my most recent trip to Iceland — a trip in which my Canon 5D Mark IV unfortunately succumbed to the elements — I decided to create a follow-up video of recommended photo accessories and other general tips for those photographers who may be planning their own trip to the land of fire and ice.

Iceland’s weather is famously unpredictable, with everything from rain to snow to cold temperatures to high wind. It’s a place which demands extra vigilance and care when protecting your camera gear. And because of Iceland’s geographical remoteness, the gear you have is typically the gear you bring, so you want to make sure you’re packing all the right things before scanning that boarding pass.

This video, by the way, is the first of its kind for me. I’ve been slowly putting together a space in my home to produce videos like these, one light and boom stand at a time. I’m a total amateur when it comes to producing content like this, but I’m having a great time doing it, and expect to get better at it as time marches on.

Check out the video above, and if you’d like to be notified whenever a new video is posted, subscribe to my channel over at YouTube.

Must Have Photo Accessories for Iceland

videoTodd Dominey
New channel on YouTube

At first, I laughed at the idea. Me? Making YouTube videos? My own “channel”? Seriously?

Part of me still feels that way, but here’s the thing. Over the past year I’ve traveled to Hawaii, Costa Rica, Banff, Iceland, Norway, Italy, Germany, and the American West. I’ve hiked miles carrying a backpack full of photography gear. I’ve captured thousands of photos, edited and posted my best images to this website and social media. I’ve returned home with stories to share, and sometimes wrote about them. And yet, through it all, felt something was being left behind: the experience of being there.

The behind-the-scenes moments. The challenge of traveling to a new country. The creative process behind a photograph.

I may have a Lightroom catalog full of photos, but the memory and experience of where those photos were taken and the process of creating them mostly exists only with me.

It was then the idea of starting a YouTube channel didn’t seem quite so crazy. My initial question of “why?” eventually gave way to “why the hell not?” I realized that unless I made an effort to capture these experiences, no matter how weird it might feel being in front of a camera, nobody else would. I had to do it myself, and learn the ropes by throwing myself into the deep end of the pool.

And so, last month I shot videos in Iceland and Norway, and to my surprise, had a blast doing it. I probably made every beginner mistake in the book, but learned a lot along the way. My first attempt — photographing Vestrahorn in Iceland — is embedded above.

Here we go.

Todd Dominey
Printing photography with a Canon PRO-10
Homemade print from the Canon PRO-10. Photo was taken in White Pocket, Arizona

Homemade print from the Canon PRO-10. Photo was taken in White Pocket, Arizona

For years, I’ve wanted to make my own photography prints. I’ve printed plenty of photos through third party labs, but despite their relative cost and ease of use, have never felt fully satisfied with the results.

The issue has never been with the labs, but rather my own ability to adequately prepare digital photos for printing. My prints would often times come back darker, softer, warmer or colder than how they appeared on screen. The differences were never dramatic or pronounced enough for an average person to notice, but my inner perfectionist always found something to grouse about.

In frustration, I decided the only way I was going to get better prints was to start creating my own. I needed to reacquaint myself with the differences between paper and screen. Plus, printing at home seemed like something which might be creatively satisfying and inspiring, so I took the plunge.

Purchasing a printer

After shopping around, I purchased a Canon PRO-10. Additional models offered by Canon include the Canon PRO-100 and the Canon PRO-1000. The PRO-100 is their most affordable (and popular) model, while the PRO-1000 is their largest and most expensive.

I considered the PRO-1000, but couldn’t justify its size or cost. It’s a massive printer capable of printing 17x22” prints and sells for just over a thousand bucks. The PRO-10 and PRO-100 models are smaller, with a maximum print size of 13x19” (which is still plenty large), and cost a great deal less.

Comparing the PRO-100 to the PRO-10, the only notable difference between the two is ink. The more affordable PRO-100 uses eight dye based inks while the PRO-10 uses ten pigment based inks. Both produce spectacular prints, but the PRO-10’s pigment ink system is considered to be more sophisticated (especially with black and white prints and matte paper), and the archival quality of dye inks (which the PRO-100 uses) appears to be up in the air. In the end, I decided to spend a little more and pick up the PRO-10.

Printer setup and first impressions

Out of the box, the Canon PRO-10 is a beautiful piece of hardware. Solid, simple, and well designed. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the user experience of Canon’s software. Everything is setup using a bundled CD — despite the fact that most computers sold today don’t include optical drives — and the written instructions offer no help at all.

Canon PRO-10 in my office

Canon PRO-10 in my office

That means flashing back to the bad old days of searching for printer drivers, ICC profiles, choosing between multiple versions of software, and crossing your fingers everything is being setup correctly. All told, it took me nearly two hours to figure out how to connect the PRO-10 to my wifi network, install all the separate pieces of requisite software on my iMac, and make my first print from Adobe Lightroom.

Everything is operating fine now, but Canon could do a much better job with their software and setup experience.

Printing for the first time

Once all the software was installed, it was time to print. To do so, you use Canon’s proprietary Print Studio Pro software, which functions as a standalone desktop application and plugin for Adobe Photoshop / Lightroom. I would prefer to use Lightroom’s built-in printing capabilities, but Print Studio Pro appears to be the only dependable software for Canon’s printers.

Print Studio Pro is pretty straightforward. Simply select your paper type, the appropriate ICC profile, print size, then add or remove borders from your layout. My first test prints with the Canon PRO-10 were exceptional — even better than I thought they would be.

All of my prints looked good, but I knew they could be better. I wanted my prints to look exactly like my screen (and vice versa). After plenty of research, all roads pointed to one thing: calibrating my display.

Display calibration

The last thing I wanted to do after purchasing an expensive printer was to buy more hardware, but unless I found a way to align my display and printer, my issues would only continue. As luck would have it, I found a great eBay deal on a used ColorMunki Photo.


ColorMunki Photo

ColorMunki Photo

There are plenty of screen calibrators out there similar to the ColorMunki Photo — some of which cost a good deal less — but this particular product is designed for synchronizing displays with printers — not simply generating new, “corrected” ICC display profiles. That synchronization was what I was ultimately after, so I picked one up and started the calibration process.

The ColorMunki Photo made some minor changes to my display’s temperature, tint and color, but the biggest change was brightness. My display was way too bright. To achieve more accurate colors and a display luminance which matched the reflective texture of paper, I needed to drastically lower my display’s brightness (general rule of thumb is 120 cd/m2, which is around 60% or so depending on your display type). At first I thought it was a calibration error, for the brightness felt unusually low, but I stuck with it.

After weeks of working with this new setup, the change in brightness had the greatest impact on my screen-to-print matching. I still have to bump my shadows/blacks just a touch before printing, but overall I’m getting far better results.

Closing thoughts

Printing photos at home won’t save you time, money or hassle, but for photographers who are passionate about their work, it’s so worth the investment. I’m having a blast learning about the intricacies of color matching, paper stocks, and holding photos in my hand instead of swiping them on a phone. There’s a permanence to the experience which is far more satisfying and inspiring than simply publishing a photo online. It’s not for everyone, but for those willing to put in the time and effort, it pays off.

Winter in the Rockies

I’ve recently returned from a nine day landscape photography trip to the Canadian Rockies. Specifically, the stunning vistas along the Icefields Parkway, a two-lane stretch of road connecting Banff and Jasper National Park. I went there hoping to find tons of snow, gorgeous blue light, and a photography experience unlike anything I’ve tried before. Thankfully, it paid off. In complete transparency however, there were moments which weren’t so great, when I was worn down by the freezing cold, creatively frustrated, and questioning the point of it all. Instead of ignoring those dark moments, I decided to write about them over at Exposure, where I also posted a bunch of photos from my solo adventure.

Todd Dominey
Five things I learned in Iceland

Before making my first trip to Iceland in the summer of 2018 I read a ton of blog posts, wikipedia pages, and solicited the advice of friends. I wanted to learn as much as possible to avoid unnecessary surprises and ensure I was packing everything I'd need (without overpacking). Most of the things I learned turned out to be true, but there were a few things which could only be experienced on the ground. To help others who may be planning their own trip, here are five things I learned as a first time visitor.

1) It's expensive - Plenty of people told me Iceland was expensive, but I didn't truly appreciate how expensive it was until I was there spending money. The conversion of Icelandic Krona to United States Dollar can be punishing. Coffee, groceries, clothes - you name it - everything is higher.

Here are a few tips for spending less.

One, buy food from local grocery stores instead of eating out. You'll still pay more than a grocery store back home, but the cost won't be as bad as eating in a restaurant. I heard a story about someone who flew to Iceland with an extra suitcase full of groceries to save even more. Sounds crazy I know, but if you can check an extra bag for free, it might be worth the effort.

Two, buy beer, wine and liquor from the Reykjavik airport when you land. You'll be tired and not thinking about booze, but if you plan on drinking anything during your stay, load up at the airport. If you're staying with an Airbnb host, ask if you can bring them something. They'll thank you.

Three, avoid purchasing anything you could just as easily get at home or order online. You'll be tempted by all kinds of colorful outdoor gear (I came this close to buying a bright yellow rain jacket and some Fjallraven pants), hand-knitted Icelandic wool sweaters and blankets, but seriously, you'll cringe at your credit card statement a month later.

Four, if you do break down and purchase something of value, there's a counter at the Reykjavik airport where you can receive tax refunds for items purchased in Iceland. You can't deduct accommodations, food, or anything like that, but if you picked up a 66 North jacket with a fur-lined collar, keep the receipt, then head to the Tax Refunds counter at Keflavik Airport before you fly home to get some of your hard earned money back.

2) Everyone speaks perfect English - Seriously, it's weird. I'm accustomed to at least some difficulty communicating with locals in foreign countries, but in Iceland, I felt at times like I hadn't left home. No matter where we went, communication was easy. Too easy. Don't get me wrong, not having a language barrier certainly made getting around convenient, but it also detracted somewhat from the feeling of being elsewhere.

3) Avoid the tour, get a car - When I first started researching Iceland, I perused a number of different tour companies offering "day trips from Reykjavik" to touristy areas around "The Golden Circle" and along the southern coastline. I'm sure many of these companies provide a great service, but unless you have a specific reason to use one, you probably don't need it. Instead, rent a car from the airport and drive yourself to all the same places, and then some. With your own car you're free to explore and enjoy the scenic landscapes on your own time. I especially liked this Google Map.

4) Move beyond Reykjavik - Reykjavik is worth seeing and exploring for a day or two, and is a good "home base" when driving around the Golden Circle and the southern coastline, but consider spending the night in other parts of the country. That way you're not spending hours in the car driving back and forth from Reykjavik and you'll experience more of Iceland along the way. There are plenty of locally-operated hotels and Airbnbs all around the island.

5) Prepare for the weather - As they say in Iceland, "if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes." Rain, wind, sun -- you name it -- the weather in Iceland is famously unpredictable. Even in summer when temperatures are at their most mild, you'll still experience cold breezes and plenty of rain and mist. Bring an actual rain jacket that repels water -- not a poncho -- unless you always want to look like you're wearing a trash bag. Waterproof boots are very handy as well, if you've got them. Overall, bring what you'd typically wear to go camping and leave your nicer threads at home. You'll fit right in. If you're really serious about the weather, bookmark the Icelandic Meteorogical Office website for up-to-the-minute updates.

That's it! Hope this information was helpful to anyone considering their first trip to the land of fire and ice.

 

Todd Domineyiceland
Photos from Iceland

Earlier this month I traveled to Iceland for nearly two weeks. My family was with me for the first few days to explore southwestern Iceland, including waterfalls, geysirs, geothermal pools and beaches along the Golden Circle, as well as the small city of Reykjavik. They then moved on to Europe while I stayed behind to meet-up with a crew of six photographers from around the world for a photography expedition in the Highlands -- Iceland's central region of volcanic deserts, glaciers and mountains.

Iceland may be small (it's roughly the size of Kentucky with a population of ~350k) but it's overflowing with enough natural wonders to fill an entire continent. Even more remarkable, three-quarters of Iceland is raw, uninhabitable and inhospitable to life -- humans especially. You can drive all the way around the country using Route 1 (which takes roughly two days), but getting into Iceland's mountainous center requires 4x4s or monster trucks outfitted with massive, car-crushing tires.

For our adventure we explored the southern Highlands using a classic Land Rover Defender. We'd sleep during the day in simple, rustic hotels, then venture out at night to capture the landscape at its most ethereal and beautiful. I lived the life of a vampire, sleeping for a few hours each afternoon, then staying up all night exploring and photographing while the rest of the world slept.

Standing out here in the middle of this remote landscape in the middle of the night was unlike anything I'd seen or felt before. It was dark, cold, wet, and unnervingly quiet. Outside of the crunch of my boots and the occasional blast of arctic wind, the environment was literally silent. We very rarely saw another human being. I felt at times like an astronaut in a sci-fi film, exploring a newfound world in search of resources. That, or I had been banished to a form of purgatory where time and life - including my own - had ceased to exist. That may sound harrowing and a bit strange, but it wasn't hard to let your imagination run wild. Holding a camera and tripod, I found, to be a grounding effect to keep me focused on the task at hand -- capturing photos.

View of Stórasúla mountain in the Suðurland region of Iceland's Highlands

It was ridiculously hard whittling down the hundreds of photos I brought home, but in addition to the image above I've picked a few of my favorites and posted them here. These include the full range of landscapes we experienced, from moody deserts of black sand to the wondrous color kaleidoscope of Landmannalaugar.

Aerial view of the southern highlands. Note the gigantic glacier at upper-left.

In addition to seeing the Highlands on the ground, I also shot the region from above. Not with a drone, but from a low-flying Cessna aircraft. This required cranking up the shutter speed (~1/2000), a wide-open aperture and a healthy amount of ISO to help stabilize my camera as it bounced around in the strong wind. I'm normally terrified of heights and flying in general, but the adrenaline rush of capturing these photos kept me focused and distracted. The diversity of texture, color, shape, and line were mindboggling. I'm thrilled with how these turned out.

Overall, I experienced a lot in Iceland, but I've barely scratched the surface. Future trips will include going beyond the south-western side of the country, not to mention experiencing the entirely different season of winter. I can't wait.

PS - To see more photos, follow me on Instagram. I'll be sharing more images from the trip which didn't make the portfolio cut.

Todd Dominey
What's in my bag - Iceland
So...much...stuff

So...much...stuff

Update: This list has been moved to a standalone gear page which is actively updated and edited.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for a week-and-a-half-long trip to Iceland (yes!). I'll be exploring Reykjavik and the "Golden Circle", but the majority of my time will be spent in Iceland's mountainous Highlands region. This area is in the interior of the country, and can only be accessed during the warmer summer months. I expect plenty of hiking, exploring and shooting.

Before hitting the road, I thought it might be fun to share the gear I'm bringing. Trips like these don't come along every day, so I'm packing plenty of equipment to get the widest possible range of images.

Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW - Earlier this year I needed something larger than my medium-sized Case Logic camera backpack, so I picked up the Lowepro ProTactic. It can hold a lot of stuff, fits in an overhead bin as a carry-on, and is configurable internally to hold everything snug. Also comes with some nice attachable pockets for the outside of the case to carry a tripod, water bottle, etc. Shoulder straps are comfortable enough to hike with, and the belt strap is a welcome addition to help distribute weight. I doubt I'll ever need another bag.

What's going in the bag...

Canon 5D Mark IV - I've been using Canon DSLRs for years, so their interface is pretty much second nature to me at this point. Solid camera, built like a tank, great full-frame images.

Canon 50mm f1.2 L - (Attached to the 5D in the photo) Picked up recently used on eBay. A phenomenal lens with a gigantic f1.2 aperture. Works well for a wide variety of compositions - especially low-light indoor settings. The temptation with a lens like this is to set it to f1.2 for the most beautiful blown-out backgrounds possible, but at that aperture the depth-of-field is razor thin and the sharpness is just okay. The lens is noticeably sharper at f4, so I typically try to stay there and not open it up all the way unless I really need to. I don't anticipate using this all that much, but I'm bringing it just in case.

Canon 16-35mm f4 L - I've used this lens more than any other. Fantastic wide-angle perfectly suited for architecture, streets, and cityscapes. There are cheaper wide angles out there (I used to own one), but the color, clarity, and sharpness of this Canon version can't be beaten.

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II - This was one of the first lenses I purchased eight years ago, and it has earned the distinction of being my least used overall. Not because it's a poor lens - far from it - but because it's a such a commitment to carry around and travel with. Lately, however, I've been making an effort to use it more, for it really is an ideal lens for landscape photography. You might think a 16-35mm would be better, but if you're shooting subjects at a distance a wide angle lens will make them too small. You may get more of the overall scene, but that latitude comes at the expense of depth. A telephoto zoom like this 70-200mm not only brings subjects closer, but compresses the overall scene for increased clarity throughout your field of view. I plan on using this lens a lot in Iceland.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L - Ask any Canon shooter which lens they'd own if they could only have one, and most would answer the 24-70mm. It's an all-around lens capable of shooting everything from wide angles (at 24mm) to zoomed images at 70mm and everything in between. Can't go wrong.

Lee Filters - This is really a category unto itself. Included here is the Foundation Kit and Filter Holder, the Lee 77mm adapter ring, the Lee Polariser Adaptor Ring 105mm and the Lee Graduated ND Filter Twin Pack. This is a bunch of stuff which attaches together to the front of nearly every lens I own. The kit allows you to apply filters (in this case graduated NDs) to a variety of lenses using rectangular plates instead of the circular versions you typically find. Because the ND filters are held in front of the lens, you can freely move them up and down to apply however much (or little) darkening your scene needs. You could do something like this in Photoshop or Lightroom of course, but doing this "in camera" means you can push exposures without blowing out highlights in the sky to create more balanced images. Plus there's just something fussy and fun about using them.

Breakthrough Photography 105mm Circular Polarizer - This attaches to the aforementioned 105mm Adaptor Ring from Lee and is mounted on the very front of the filter kit. What's it for? Polarizers help subdue light reflections on surfaces, most notably water. You can live without ND filters, but polarizers do something magical which can't be replicated using software. 

Fujifilm X100F - I fell in love with the (older) X100T a few years ago, so when the X100F was released I didn't hesitate to buy one. Fuji has done remarkable work with these cameras, for they produce wonderful images with that Fuji "look" and have a physical design which feels like old analog cameras. It may be weird, but I set mine to manual focus with the rangefinder-style viewfinder (requiring you to line-up two images) to give it an even more retro feel.

MeFOTO Roadtrip Travel Tripod - Ruggid, lightweight tripod which folds up nicely. I typically pack this in checked luggage, then attach it to the outside of the backpack. The included ball head is adequate, and the legs extend and collapse very easily. Good choice for travel.

Leofoto Mini Tripod - Impressive little tripod which can hold a ton of weight - even the 5D with the 70-200mm attached! Great for when you can't use a tripod or just don't feel like setting it up.

Sunwayfoto Quick Release Plate - This "L" bracket fits perfectly on the Canon 5D Mark IV and makes switching from landscape to portrait orientation on a tripod super easy and quick. You simply unlock the plate and then re-attach the camera on its bottom of left side without messing around with your tripod's ball head mount. I often times just leave this attached to the camera even when I'm not using a tripod.

Breakthrough Photography Arca Swiss Quick Release Plate - When I'm not using the aforementioned "L" bracket I like to use this quick release plate from Breakthrough Photography. Very well built and can be mounted by hand without additional tools.

RAVPower Charger and Batteries - This is such a fantastic accessory for any Canon DSLR user. Unlike Canon's default battery charger which can only be plugged into a wall, this charger plugs in via USB -- allowing you to charge batteries off pretty much anything (I almost always use my MacBook). It also comes with two extra batteries so you never run out of juice.

Silicon Power 1TB Rugged External Hard Drive - I once lost an entire set of photos from Cannes, France because of bad SD card. Never again. I use this drive to copy photos from SD cards while traveling to ensure I have at least one backup of what I've shot. If wifi is strong, I also try to transfer images to Google Drive for yet another backup just in case everything gets lost. 

Petzl Tikkina Headlamp - Perhaps I'm just getting old, but I've used this headlamp over and over again for all kinds of projects and things. Will almost certainly be needing this later at night.

There are other small accessories and things, but these are the most important bits. Off we go!

 

Todd Dominey
California with my kids

Recently I traveled to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park for a week-long adventure with my kids Drake and Sophia. This trip was unique, for the three of us had never traveled together for this long without my wife Heather (she couldn't take the time off from work, unfortunately), so for all intents and purposes it was a "dad trip". For a couple of days we hit up all the touristy spots around the Wharf, toured Alcatraz, ate plenty of sourdough, then ventured three hours east to Yosemite for five days of hiking, exploring, and soaking in the beautiful summer weather. Fantastic experience all around.

Todd Dominey