Thursday, May 29, 2014

Selfies with Strangers: Cuba (Part II of Series)

Recently I debuted a new blog series "Selfies with Strangers" featuring Morocco and, yes, myself. But wait, it's not all about me. In fact, it's not about me at all, it's about travel and photography, and sharing the perfect tool for enriching your experience of travel, and for taking better pictures when you do.

The travel experience is about more than beautiful landscapes, iconic architecture, luxurious hotels, and good food. It's about people - discovering the other humans who share our planet and observing their culture, customs, and way of life. My recent travels to Cuba provided the ideal circumstances and opportunity to learn more about the people, face to face.

How could I resist a selfie with with Cuba Bling Dude?

If I've taken a picture of someone, I share it with them. That's easy for anyone to do, after the fact.

But try sharing the camera before taking the picture. It's never any easier than with kids. Taking selfies with kids is especially rewarding, as they love to see themselves and often want to push the button.

Selfie with two boys before I photographed them

Two boys at Muraleando Projeto, Cuba
These demonstrate that having engaged and shared with the kids first made for a more relaxed and genuine photo when I shot them candidly. You can also see that the boys have a relationship with the photographer, and are comfortable just being themselves in front of the camera.

Although I am a photographer, I don't hide behind my camera - too busy perfecting settings or looking through the viewfinder to take in the life happening around me. I know, shyness is a big barrier for many photographers. I understand. I used to be a "shy person", and in some circumstances, like meeting Frans Lanting or Jan Morris, I still am. But when traveling, I find the experience more fun being engaging than being shy. Then the picture has a story, and tells a story, too.

Engaging with a local banana vendor in Remedios

The Banana Man first sees himself on the phone...
Now he's ready to take the selfie!
Here are more examples of my "selfies with strangers" in Cuba. 

A proud moment with my Afro-Cuban Dance instructor in Trinidad

My "Uncle" Enrique who welcomes me as family every time I return to Cuba

Selfie with the man who rolled my first Cuban cigar at Finca Robaina

Clearly, I'm not shy when it comes to connecting with people of other cultures. But let's get back to the kids, and you can see for yourself just how effortless it is to engage with others and take "selfies with strangers" for more story and depth to your photos.

Kids dressed as honeybees in Caibarien

Young dancers/performers in Santa Clara

Finally, I think this sums it up as well as anything - I didn't realize I had the iphone set to video when I went to take a selfie with the kids....and look what happens!

This post is shared for #IGTravelThursday. Search the hashtag on instagram and also discover Instagram Travel-related blog features every week!

More on Cuba:

Cuba Cubed - instagrams of Cuba
Cuba From the Heart: Mourning and Music
Cuba Image gallery

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Roadtrip for Cameras: California's Pacific Coast Highway - the Central Coast

California's Pacific Coast Highway 1

Summer is fast approaching when Memorial Day Weekend comes around. It's the time of year when folks load up their cars and drive - some like to get away for the long weekend, some prefer to go across the country for a month. As for me, I like to load up my camera gear, extra memory cards, and take the slow, scenic route.

Rock Formations along 17-Mile Drive, Monterey

Based in San Diego, I’m pretty much already at the end of the road for most road trip routes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have options. I live in Cardiff by the Sea, just a few blocks from the section of Pacific Coast Highway that runs through San Diego’s north county. I love everything about the PCH, I grew up taking family road trips along this coastal highway, and have vivid memories of watching the ocean and scenery from the backseat. I have a few faded photographs too, but those stay in the family scrapbook. I decided it was time to do this road trip all over again – this time, for my camera.

My Starting Point: Carmel by the Sea

My Ending Point: Cardiff by the Sea

First, it's an absolute must to spend more than a day in Carmel by the Sea. I based my stay in two different but equally awesome hotels: the Vendange Inn, a classic motel thoughtfully re-designed for wine-lovers, and the Hofsa House, an ideal family and pet-friendly hotel with spacious rooms and great views.

View from the Hofsa House Hotel in Carmel by the Sea

From here, it is a short drive to Monterey via the infamous 17-Mile Drive. Photo opportunities abound, and I found that an early morning made for the best chance of viewing wildlife and avoiding crowds at significant stops along the coast.

17-Mile Drive, California - Images by Kymri Wilt

Monterey and Carmel both have a great variety of restaurants to choose from, depending on your mood. Some of my local favorites are: The Beach House at Lover's Point, Pacific Thai Cuisine, both in Pacific Grove; and in Carmel, Mundaka Spanish style Tapas Bar, Village Corner for breakfast, and Basil Seasonal Dining for dinner.

While in Monterey, be sure to check out Pacific Grove sights such as the lighthouse, and Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. If you are here between October and February, look for Monarch Butterflies, who gather here in the Eucalyptus Trees to mate, before continuing their migration.

My camera was certainly having a great time exploring the Monterey Peninsula, and we hadn't even left Carmel yet! Before I headed south, I went east to explore the Carmel Valley - a popular region for wine growing with many tasting rooms and ranches to visit. I checked out Holman Ranch, a fabulous setting for weddings, retreats, and special events. There I found lots of great eye candy for the camera, and was particularly captivated by the property's Coast Live Oak Trees.

Heading south on Pacific Coast Highway 1 from Carmel, a must stop is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a great spot for whale-watching as well as viewing other marine mammals, like adorable Harbor Seals.

I set out early, and found the sandy beaches of Carmel and the foggy coast of Big Sur to be particularly photogenic in the morning light.

Oh, there is so much to see and do! I lost count of how many times I pulled over to take pictures. One of my favorite stops, which is also one of my favorite campgrounds, is just south of the Redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur, called Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I love it because it's quieter, less visited, and has an pretty fantastic waterfall that spills into the ocean. While better to photograph in the afternoon light, it is impressive nonetheless.

Continuing down the coast provides plenty of scenic vistas and countless opportunities to pull over, which you'll want to do often, as the Pacific Coast Highway winds it's way clinging to cliffs with steep drops to the ocean below. The speed limits are lower and require driving more slowly and carefully. Road closures for repairs due to landslides are not uncommon any time of the year.

It finally begins to level out, and takes on a different character through San Luis Obispo County. Here my favorite roadside attraction is the Elephant Seal Colony at Point Piedras Blancas, just north of the Hearst-San Simeon State Park region.

Finally, just before the Highway turns inland for a long stretch, there is perhaps the most breathtaking of all natural land formations along the California Coast, and one of my favorite stretches of beach, at Morro Bay.

From here the road leaves the coast, and becomes a whole new story, for another day, another blog. While California's central coast road trip on Pacific Coast Highway can be done in a day, you really don't want to rush it. There are numerous State Parks and historic sights to see, as well as lodging options ranging from campgrounds to 5-star hotels. Take your time, and take your camera.

On instagram, check out my stream and hashtag #electrictrek.

For more photos, see the Mira Terra Gallery of California images.

Disclosure: All or part of this trip was provided free or at reduced cost for review purposes. Chevrolet provided me with a Chevy Volt for my road trip - see my honest review on

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Selfies with Strangers: Morocco (Part I of Series)

Three Muslim Girls of Touroug, Morocco
Welcome to the first installment of my new blog series, "Selfies with Strangers." I'm sharing my best tip for taking portraits of locals who may be reluctant or uncomfortable being photographed by a stranger. My advice? Take a picture with them first, in the form of the selfie.

Selfie with Moroccan Muslim Girls

Taking the first shot with the camera turned on myself too is a simple gesture that speaks volumes.

* It means asking permission - something many travelers hesitate to do when photographing strangers. Break the ice, talk to them, share photos on your cellphone or ipad and turn the camera on both of you so they too can see what they look like.  A must to do after the shot, of course. But try starting with it.

Selfie with Berber villager near Skoura

Portrait of Moroccan Berber wearing traditional Djellaba

* It relaxes my subject from striking stiff uncomfortable poses.

Selfie with Moroccan Berber Villager

Portrait of Moroccan Berber of Asni Village in the Atlas Mountains.

The resulting cellphone shot for instant sharing on instagram, twitter or facebook will be impressive - unposed, relaxed, and candid:

* It shows that I am willing to be subject to the same experience of being photographed, and that it is easy and fun.

Selfie with the piano player at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca

* It releases a more genuine facial expression and smile. It keeps my subject from forcing a fake smile because they think it's what I want, or they have become used to tourists with cameras telling them to smile. The last thing I ever ask my subject to do is "smile", if it comes naturally, great, but otherwise I don't want it.

I just love this selfie I took with my Moroccan guide, Hicham - we'd been working hard for our group and finally had everyone settled and happy and just sat down together for lunch. He's a fabulous guide, by the way, Morocco's best, never mind how handsome he is too!

* It shows that I wouldn't ask of my subject something I'm not willing to do myself. Some cultures believe that a camera takes a part of one's soul, thus, I too am sharing my soul. This is particularly true in other parts of Africa, which I will share in an upcoming episode of the series.

* It brings us together, regardless of race, religion, or politics - we are all just people sharing the same planet.  We may be strangers, but in the frozen moment of the selfie, we are a family.

Selfies with Strangers: Cuba (Part II)

Morocco Gallery of Images

Made In Morocco
Morocco - A Journey in Pictures (multimedia)
Kids Around the World - Photo Friday, Morocco

This post was contributed to the Instagram Travel Thursday community.  Be sure check out the other #IGTravelThursday features linked below.