Archive for the 'travel' Category

Oct 04 2010

i once again have an iPad – do i need it now?


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You may recall that I had a first day iPad and then gave it up because I really needed a new laptop. Now through the kindness of friends we are now a two-iPad family and I have a new iPad to use once more.

The question is do I really need it now?

My biggest activity has been using it as an e-reader. I use both the iBooks and the Kindle apps for reading and I like them both. My reading is done at home so I could very well read the paper versions, but I’m happy with the experiment.

I reported a downside of the original model that it only accessed the internet through a wifi connection. I thought that the added 3G capability would add greater roving functionality. I have 3G on the new model, but to-date I haven’t activated the service. Much of this has to do with traveling less now.

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iPad highlighting the Mail app that needs a junk mail filter - Apple photo

The big advantage of the device is the long battery life. I’ve recently used it at the USC Body Computing Conference and alternated between using it as a live tweeting platform with my laptop. The iPad frees me from being so concerned about my battery charge, but I have many fewer typos with the laptop and I can more easily find websites and shorten the URL’s with my TBUZZ Safari plug in.

The other browser plug in I often use is Evernote. When I find a great website or blog post I now catalog and archive it in my Evernote application. The iPad has the Evernote app, but it does a better job of retrieving the notes than creating them.

In general the iPad is a media-consuming machine and the laptop is a better creating machine.

There are many great features of the iPad and I recommended it to a friend today who doesn’t own a laptop. I love my Pinball HD game, watching videos in bed and I even used it to make a phone call with Truphone. But it still lacks the junk mail filter to keep Spam out of my Mail program that I hoped would be added in the software update.

I’m happy to have an iPad back in my life, but it remains a luxury more than a needed tool. I may be missing the killer app or need to travel more to appreciate the wonders. It might also replace my handmade printed portfolio one day as well.

Let me know what is working – or not working for you.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

4 responses so far

Jun 22 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth?

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A cluster of Mickey Mouse balloons are smiling at Disneyworld. What about the guests?

That famous Disney advertising line set expectations very high for a visit to Disneyworld – perhaps too high for most visits to the park. (I have the secret of visiting below.) With summer in full swing and many families looking for local vacations. Disney World could be a prime destination.

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In-flight entertainment with Dumbo The Flying Elephant

My agenda was different than most though. Visiting the park for me was an opportunity to do some street shooting and document a bit of Americana. When I’m in New York City or Paris I walk the streets looking for photos. In Orlando, I visit the parks.

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Even grown adults can relive youthful joy on the Mad Tea Party ride

So I wasn’t a normal visitor looking to enjoy the shows and experience the rides. I was there to document the experience. Part of that experience is the heat. This is Florida in the middle of summer. The temperature and humidity are both in the 90’s and there is lots of standing and walking in the sun. Most visitors to the park are there for a one-day visit and that can create a great deal of pressure to see everything.

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I love watching the interactions with the costumed characters. There is an unexpected mix of joy and fear

I didn’t have to navigate long lines. I could stop and rest whenever I wanted. And I didn’t have to negotiate with intricate family dynamics over what to see next or where to eat. Concerns about the special needs of Grandma or the toddler belonged to others. Too often these negotiations led to heated exchanges that were less than happy.

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There was more than normal family stress at work with this young rider

Later in the day I learned secret to visiting from a family that looked happy. They shared that they were staying in a Disney Hotel and had a multi-day pass. They would get up early and visit the park before the crowds and heat would build. They then ride the monorail back to their hotel and break for lunch, a nap and pool time for the kids.

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Take a break and return to the park for the evening firework show

After the afternoon shower, the heat and crowd dissipate and everyone is refreshed to dive back into the park and to have fun up to the evening fireworks show.

If you plan on visiting any of the parks give yourself enough time to do it in a way that reduces stress and creates that Disney happiness.

What are your secrets to visiting Disney World or amusement parks in general? Share them in the comment section below.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

5 responses so far

Feb 25 2010

documentary photograph & photoshop

Update: New York Time tech writer David Pogue raised the question of Photoshop and Photography: When is it Real? The subject came up when two winners in Popular Photography’s annual Reader’s Photos Contest had two winners that clearly were Photoshop compositions.

The question is when does manipulation take an image beyond a photograph? Next year the magazine handles the issue by having a separate category for Photoshop creations?

What do you think about that and the questions raised by my examples below?

One way that I describe the way I work is that I’m a documentary photographer that both knows how to find and see great light, and knows how to make it great when its not.

When I doing a commercial job part of the process is going into a real situation and making it look better. If that involves doing a head transplant from one frame to another or cleaning up a distracting background in Photoshop – that’s just part of the service that’s offered.

But what about when I head back out into the streets? What sort of alteration is fair game? Most serious journalistic publications only allow what could be traditionally done in a darkroom. Perhaps there is a vigorous discussion that is raging in the fine arts world about this issue that I’m not following.

What do you think is fair game from the two examples below and an earlier post about a Moulin Rouge photo?

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An altered documentary photo of an Upper Eastside socialite walking her poodle

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The grate was behind her foot and the sprinkler sign was removed

This Upper Eastside photo of a society women taking her poodle out for a walk was only slightly altered. The red sign above the fire-hose plug and the sidewalk grate were removed to cut down on the visual distraction. I personally only have a slight problem with this one. Would it be better if the alterations were indicated similar to what I did with these photos?

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A subway mime preparing for her performance

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One frame has the great reflection in the mirror.....and the other has the reaction of the passengers

The subway mime is more of a stretch. Instead of just cleaning up stray distractions this is a blend of two moments where the charm comes from actually being there and capturing the moment. I could say that I indeed captured the moment and the convergence just happened a different times. In my heart I feel its cheating. But is a much better photo as the combination than either one is alone.

What do you think? Where would you draw the line?

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

14 responses so far

Dec 19 2009

the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

Almost exactly one year ago a Winter storm came rolling through Southern California. This normally just means rain here in the Los Angeles basin, but we do get snow in the high mountains – and on special occasions the snow level drops down low enough to deposit snow in the high desert area of Joshua Tree National Park. Visiting the snow covered desert is one of the real treats of living out here and my excursion out there last year became this year’s Holiday card.

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The snow covered Joshua Tree that became a card

The printing of my cards is done in-house on my own printer using a card stock that I get at Red River Paper. In the middle of printing my Epson 2400 suddenly stopped printing without warning!  Instead of having a “Check Engine” light like we have on our cars now, this printer simply shuts down when it’s time for service. A late night trip to the electronic store to update the printer got me back in business to finish the rest of the cards.

As I was complaining about the printer to my friend Chuck Chugumlung and showed him a video version of the scene on my iPhone. He said, “You should just do an interactive version of the card”. It never occurred to me, but Chuck is an interactive designer that does this sort of animation all the time. I sent him the movie and he came back with this wonderful interactive version of a Holiday card. If you haven’t seen it yet, click on the link. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You can even play it more than once.

The original clip is a full HD video version of the snow falling. I had received one of the first Canon 5D MkII cameras, but really hadn’t done much with the video capability beyond learning how to push the record button. So after trudging out through the snow to the tree I set up for a still photo, took my shots and after seeing clumps of snow falling around me, I decided that I would try to catch the action of the melting snow. At the time, I was proud and showed it to my TV friends. The reaction? “That’s nice, where are you going to show it?” With the traditional TV frame being a horizontal rectangle, he had a point. But since then I’ve seen some interesting work with what some call “living one-sheets”. This is where a movie ad comes to life. Here’s one for Marley & Me from last Christmas. These are often shown in shopping malls that have HD TV sets turned vertically.

Here is the original video version – only four seconds.

Snow drop – Joshua Tree National Park from Mark Harmel on Vimeo.

On that same day I also shot another horizontal variation I liked. I sent both versions off to the Photo District News and this one was chose to be one of their first’ “Photo of the Day“.

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This version became the PDN Photo of the Day

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

 the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

2 responses so far

Nov 19 2009

remembering jeanne-claude, collaborator with christo

The long time collaborator with environmental artist Christo died today in New York.

It was there back in 2005 that I saw their last project “The Gates” in Central Park. The beautiful saffron colored curtains of nylon brought the barren winter landscape to life. I was fortunate enough to be in New York the night that 6 inches of fresh snow fell. Seeing the snow start to fall at midnight I felt like a young boy on Christmas Eve looking forward to all the presents that would greet me in the morning.

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Woman with the perfect saffron parka taking a photo of "The Gates"

It seemed as though every other photographer in the city had the same idea and it was hard to keep out of each other’s pictures in the snow-covered park. I succeeded until I spotted this woman in a matching saffron parka. I stalked her until I captured this photo of her in front of a pond.

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Street lamp covered in snow

I had the pleasure of seeing two of their other installations, one here in Southern California and the other in Miami. When I was living in Florida I drove over to see “Surrounded Islands” where they created a pink ring around a number of islands in Biscayne Bay and in the Grapevine pass north of Los Angeles I was able to see “The Umbrellas”.  I both loved the visual impact of their projects and admired how they moved art out into public spaces. This created wonderful conversations about art from people in all walks of live, including those that rarely stepped into an art gallery or museum. To me this is their greatest contribution.

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Snow covered tree branch and a series of panels

I’m happy to report that a series of my photos of “The Gates” was selected to appear in the 2005 Communication Arts Photography Annual and the page was used to promote the 2006 competition.

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My Gates series was used to promote the CA 2006 competition

I look forward to seeing the completion of some of the team’s work in progress.

Postcript: As I was writing this post I wondered if my friend John Lizvey had any of his photos of the “The Umbrellas” project. He was ambitious enough to go out in the middle of the night, and shot the installation by moonlight when the umbrellas were free from most of the crowds and traffic – except for a Sheriff’s cruiser that roared up and caused a broken lens as John yanked his tripod from the middle of the road. The price we pay to make art.

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John Lizvey's moonlight photo of "The Umbrellas"

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

9 responses so far

Nov 18 2009

everglades, sanibel island and airboats

Update: NPR’s Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan loves Randy Wayne White as much as I do. Listen to his interview of Randy.

On my recent ranch vacation I engaged in one of my guilty pleasure reading habits – I read the Randy Wayne White book “Everglades”.  I’m a bit behind in reading his Doc Ford series, his latest “Dead Silence” was released in March. (A recent NPR interview of Randy is available.) My favorite feature of the books is the location. They are set near where I used to live in Southwest Florida. The stilt house of Doc is set in Tarpon Bay on Sanibel Island. I lived and worked worked nearby at the Sanibel-Captiva Islander in the early 80′s.

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Cypress and palm trees at sunrise in Everglades National Park

Around that time Randy was writing a number of adventure articles for Outside Magazine and a fishing guide friend Capt. Mike Fuery arranged for me to meet Randy at his house in Everglades City. The plan was to enlist Randy in working with me on a feature on airboats in the Everglades. I had made a connection with a local Cracker that agreed to be my guide. At the first meeting I received a similar daredevil experience that James Tiger gave to Doc Ford in “Everglades”. My Cracker wanted to see how a mid-western suburban boy would handle some real airboat fun. He gunned the throttle full-bore and proceeded to drag race for about a quarter of a mile and then threw the airboat in a 180 degree slide before speeding back. I could tell he was a master pilot and personally I enjoyed the speed and passed my Snowbird test. Unfortunately he punctured his gas tank on his craft and my opportunity to work on the feature with Randy passed while I looked for another connection.

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Great white egrets on Sanibel Island

My opportunity to go out resurfaced the next season. I had moved down to Naples and Gulfshore Life Magazine and an ad sales rep made a airboat connection with a local pharmacist. This was a more more civilized experience even though I still didn’t quite know what to expect would happen on a weekend in the Everglades. Would we be sleeping in tents and sharing our sleeping bags with snakes and alligators?

The reality was much different. We ventured out in a convoy of 4 airboats to a cypress head island where there was a large dock and two story cabin. All the materials were transported out by airboats a weekend at a time. There was even a stove and refrigerator powered by propane. The land was officially in the National Park, but there was a grandfathered/gentleman’s agreement that allowed the improvements to remain. In exchange the park rangers were able to use the cabin as a dining hall or over-night bunk house on their long patrols in the Everglades.

We cruised through the sea of grass in the days and gigged frogs by headlamps at night. The birds were amazing and we were visited by alligators at the dock. My best memory was the lack of mosquitos. I expected to be swarmed the entire weekend, but the slowly moving water is not the best breeding ground for the pests.

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Cat-tail shadows on fire flag plant in the Six Mile Cypress Slough

You can find tourist boat rides along the Tamiami Trail. There are the big, easy to find 30 seater, bus-like contraptions that give you a small taste. But they are no where not as good as the smaller boats that more resemble a sports car. You can also find swamp buggy rides that will take you out as well. Anything that gets you out into the Everglades is a treat worth experiencing. The best time to visit anywhere in the area is in the Fall. This is after the rainy season and before the Winter chill and tourists arrive.

I would love to find a tour company that has a weekend, or multi-day trip that operates in the Everglades area so I could make the trip again. If you know of one please contact me or leave a comment.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

3 responses so far

Nov 09 2009

the best iPhone photography app

Much of the talk about using the iPhone camera surrounds additional apps that you can use to tint, crop, zoom or selectively focus your photos. There are titles that bounce around the internet like Must-have apps for iPhone photographersThe Five Best iPhone Apps For Travel Photography and The Best Camera “ecosystem”.

I find some of the apps useful for making it easier to crop, adjust the exposure and upload to a photo sharing site; but I find that most of the tinting and special effects features to be cheap tricks. Most of the time the app will simply transform a bad photo into a bad photo with a blue tint.

To me, the most most important app is the person taking the photo.

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Surfer on the Venice Beach boardwalk

The beauty of the iPhone is that it’s always with you. The camera function is both very easy to use and at the same time very hard because it’s such a simple camera. The camera works great for basic snapshots of friends, but I wanted to see how it would perform in the stress test of the Venice Beach boardwalk.

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Beach visiter taking a cool drink by the iconic wooden umbrella clusters

The boardwalk is both a target rich environment with a collection of colorful characters, and a very challenging place to shoot. The light is harsh and the action is quick.

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The palm reader's sign blocked the sun creating a perfect north light studio

You have to look for the places that either have good light already or find a simple way to control the light. There isn’t an app made yet that will help you identify ways to control light by shooting your subject in front of a backdrop, or moving them in front of the sun.

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I moved the stilt-walker in front of the sun and palm trees

Since we use the iPhone’s screen to preview the photo, shooting into the sun is even harder. Unlike looking through a camera viewfinder, on the iPhone you have the confusion of the reflection on the screen and the glare behind the phone. Half the time it seems like I’m guessing at the composition. The shooting is similar to using the cheap plastic Diana camera where the joy come from the surprises created by the lack of control.

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Catching action is an advanced skill

The other issue with the camera is the shutter lag. Venice Beach is full of action and all good street shooters pride themselves at being able to capture the “decisive moment“, but with the time delay you have to press the shutter button a half second before you think something may happen. (You can control this a bit by being aware that the shutter is actually activated by releasing, instead of pressing the shutter button.)

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Quick movements often produce a warped effect

There is also a odd warping effect that’s created by the iPhone using a rolling shutter. Instead of the exposure being created all at once by the aperture effect you see on the screen, the scene is being quickly scanned. In the shot above, the head section was scanned first and the legs moved to the right by the time the scan made it down to the bottom.

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The light weight of the iPhone makes it easy to shoot down

One of my big shooting surprises is that now I’m often holding the camera straight out and shooting down. Instead of having my face up to the view-finder, the iPhone already starts away from my face and it’s a quick movement to point the iPhone down. Instead of the normal Hail Mary Shot that photojournalists use in a crowd to get the camera higher. I’m finding that I do the same thing shooting down. I simply guess at the framing and swing with the action.

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There's a whole new world down below

For most people, I suspect the hardest part about doing iPhonetography is using the moderate wide-angle lens. The view is similar to what you would get on a full frame 35mm camera using a 35mm lens. Our minds are very good at zooming into a scene to examine the front wheel pattern above, but we’re less well trained to see the wider view while being aware of all the action that’s shown below.

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Learning to see all the elements in the wide view is an acquired skill

I’m constantly working at striking the balance between simplifying and getting something interesting in the frame. When I first arrived at the beach I noticed a large sailboat on the horizon. But it was too small in the frame by itself, so I chased it down the beach while searching for something to place in the foreground. First there was a volleyball game, then a life-guard stand and finally I spotted a surfer balancing a board on his head to change his shirt.

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A balance between a simple background and a foreground surfer to fill the frame

Years of experience and learning to see like the iPhone camera is the real secret app in iPhonetography.

None of these photos required any special app filters or effects. I did use my normal workflow of opening the photos in Photoshop CS4 Camera Raw (even jpgs from the iPhone can be processed this way) and making some simple exposure adjustments and clean-up.

I took these shots in preparation of teaching an iPhonetograpy class at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops. The class is scheduled for December 6th. I hope to see you there.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

10 responses so far

Oct 23 2009

encounters with i. m. pei

Update: A belated congratulations to I. M. Pei for winning the 2010 Royal Gold Medal in Architecture. I recently discovered this by looking at my blog logs that showed that Pei’s name was one of the most searched and I found the announcement of the award while searching for the cause.

In my recent Washington D. C. post (4/16/09) I mentioned that I was fortunate enough to meet and make some portraits of I. M. Pei and his sons C. C. and Sandy. The location was the Pei Partnership office in Manhattan which was then a more modest operation than he had in his Pei, Cobb & Freed past. There was no grand architectural space that served a a showroom for the firm, but in the entrance was this reception area that I decided was the most representative of his building spaces.

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Portrait of I.M. Pei in his Manhattan office

He seemed to come into the office about once a week to review and oversee the next steps of their current projects. The purpose of my portrait was to help raise money to build the UCLA hospital that the Partnership designed, but the active project was a Bank of China headquarters in Bejing.

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I. M. Pei's glasses on a set of plans

I want to do a portrait of I. M. Pei’s glasses as well, but I had to wait because he needed them while he worked. So I was able to sit-in as team reviewed the details of the bank’s plans. Pei was very attuned to the details of how big the trees would grow at maturity, the type of stone that would be used, and great attention was given to the shape of the object that would grace the spire on the front of the building. There was first was talk about balls, but Pei thought a bit and decided on rings – because “rings are very Buddhist.”

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Tourist in front of the Louvre Pyramid

Years after my portrait session I had the opportunity to visit Paris and the  view his design of the Louvre entrance with the famed pyramid. All my grand plans to show the pyramid glowing at night, floating in pools of water were quickly extinguished after seeing the pools drained for maintenance and learning that the night-time lighting doesn’t happen in the summer.

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Couple kissing on the spiral stairway inside the Louvre Pyramid

So I concentrated on using the pyramid in the background and showing it from the inside and included the prismatic effect on the biggest secret revealed in the “Da Vinci Code“.

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Inverted pyramid that plays a role in the Da Vinci Code

Back in the US in Spring of 2009 I finally paid my first visit to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. This study in triangles was granted Architecture Week’s 25-Year Award. It was described at its opening in 1978 by Washington Post architecture critic Wolf Von Eckardt as “an architectonic symphony of light and marble, color and glass, painting and sculpture.”

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The lobby of the National Gallery of Art

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Oct 23 2009

wanna buy a camel?

Update: The Birqash camel market is running into hard times. The cost for the camels is rising and the selling price is falling. An LA Times feature today highlights the squeeze on the market I visited in 2006. It also confirms my suspicion that the camels were being sold for their meat instead as a working animal.

“It’s just like judging a beautiful girl,” said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh. “You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck, maybe 39 or 40 inches.”

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A very cute young camel

Camels have been in the news lately and I understand why. I fell in love with camels on a recent trip to Egypt. Not in love enough as the Dubai prince that paid $2.7 million for a camel today. But as a tourist sight outside of Cairo I can highly recommend the Birquash Camel Market (Souq al-Gamaal) that is 35 KM Northwest of Cairo. I had the chance to travel to Egypt with my wife and equally brilliant doctors on an American Diabetes Association organized trip. On the days that the others were busy attending their serious conference I get to go out and do some serious photography.

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Spotting a brief mention in a travel guide about a camel market I decided that this was the place to visit. Since it was off the normal tourist beat neither my driver or guide knew exactly how to find the place. There are many mysteries to driving in Cairo, but one of the best parts is that is always acceptable to stop and ask any stranger at the side of the road for directions. That is what we did. Every two kilometers the guide would roll down the window and inquire “Souq al-Gamaal”, “Souq al-Gamaal” and arms would point in one direction or another.

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An experienced camel trainer

The market outside of Cairo is more of a working class market where buyers are looking for working animals or perhaps ones that will end up on a dinner table somewhere.This was not the beauty pageant style of market in Saudi Arabia that was featured in the New York Times recently. (The opening quote is from the story written by Katherine Zoefh.) But the next time you are in Cairo roll down your window and shout “Souq al-Gamaal” for a sight that rivals the Giza Pyramids with none of the tourists.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Sep 30 2009

hey! glen allison show us what you’ve got

World traveler and photographer Glen Allison is in Siem Reap complaining about a little rain. He calls it a typhoon. But typhoon – monsoon. What’s the difference. Rain is rain. As Ernst Haas says, “It’s all part of the effect.”

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Western causeway to Angkor Wat in a little rain

Sure you can write circles around me in that blog of yours with all of your poetry sounding words, but can you shoot?

You’ve been around the world what two times going on three now? I was juggling shooting with being social in a group in between diabetes talks, and did I complain about the rain?

When you’ve got something to show let us see what you’v got.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com
@MarkHarmel

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