Thursday, January 31, 2008

Agudio or Guido?

"Hofstra guard Antoine Agudio (no.13)and forward Charles Jenkins exhibit frustration after a missed free throw late in the second half against Towson at the Towson Center Wednesday night. Agudio made only 3-of-15 attempts from the floor in the 60-51 loss."

Hofstra is a big Colonial Athletic Association rival of Towson. No matter what the sport, be it football, lacrosse or basketball, the matchup always brings out a decent sized crowd to Towson.

While the crowd was not record setting by all means, students filled the stands making up about 70 percent of the fans base Wednesday night. Having shot one or two games at Towson during my winter break, it was nice to see more than 100 fans at a game.

In the crowd and camped out behind the far end basket was the Towson fan group T-Unit. This club tries to build better student attendance, at the mainly commuter school, yet never makes a full squad appearance at every game. In addition, they enjoy firing up the rest of the crowd and shouting obscenities to the other team, mainly the coach and star player.

Nonetheless, much as I remember from last year when Towson squeaked out a home victory against Hofstra, 94 - 91, their main target was guard Antoine Agudio. The minute Agudio, a Long Island native, walkes through the locker room door each visit, the name "Guido" resonates from the T-Unit section of the Towson Center.

It's funny, because this is a term I hear often used on the Towson campus, as a large majority of students reside in New York and New Jersey. My only thought is there are no New York students in T-Unit or other Towson fans that take no offense to it.

In any case, I don't know if it was the T-Unit's continual banter or an off-game by Agudio, but Towson came out victorious.

A lot of pressure was put on Agudio by the Tigers and I knew if Hostra didn't win, I wanted to move an image showing his notable frustration. I had made some images of him getting swarmed by Towson players and having the ball stripped, but I liked the subtle (above) reaction shot late in the second half.

I was going to run with this photo, but I was caught off guard after a timeout and couldn't frame get the image in focus quick enough. It happens and not even eight frames per second and cat-like-reflexes can save you when you're not ready for the action.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Contrasting smiles

"Bridget Niedermeyer, a senior speech pathology and audiology major at Towson University, discusses some of the advantages of her cochlear implant that helps her hear better in her Towson home, Jan. 25, 2008. Niedermeyer was diagnosed as almost completely deaf at age 4, but has worked hard to make hearing aids and reading lips work so she could remain in mainstream classes all throughout school."

Last week I encountered a difficult portrait subject. The subject didn't like having their picture taken or the idea of pictures to begin with.

Granted a lot of people do not like having pictures taken of them, it was still very odd that they didn't even like cameras.

It was suppose to be a straightforward portrait, and although it only lasted 10 minutes, in and out the door, it felt like a life time.

I tried breaking their nervousness and tension by talking to them, no camera in hand. Didn't work. So I forced a portrait and a smile out of them since their story was positive. The person didn't even like smiling. I was so frustrated; I really couldn't think of what I could have done to make the session more successful.

When I walked out the door, I hated the mindless image I had produced. However, a day later I would erase the poor image (in my mind) from my aching head.

This time instead of a one-on-one portrait, I was instructed to shoot images during the interview. While these don't always give a photographer the freedom to be creative, they still produce something different and a lot of emotion.

I've had subjects break down into tears as they told their story and struggles to a reporter. I've also had them tear up joyfully as they told a great moment in their life.

Bridget Niedermeyer, above, had nothing but a huge smile on her face the entire interview, which matched her story perfect.

She is senior speech pathology and audiology major at Towson University, and during the interview discussed some of the advantages of her cochlear implant that now helps her hear better. She was diagnosed as almost completely deaf at age 4, but has worked hard to make hearing aids and reading lips work so she could remain in mainstream classes all throughout school.

It was fulfilling to listen how hard she had worked to better herself and be happy, but more satisfying voiding the other difficult subject from my mind. What was also very cool is she one of many deaf people entering into the world audiology to help others deal with hearing loss.

OK, and the great light didn't hurt either. I am getting a bunch of assignments with great lighting; I am scared for what is ahead of me. I can see the assignment now:

DATE to be taken: 4/1
TIME to be taken: 2 a.m.
LOCATION: Lake Vostok (The coldest, darkest place on Earth)
SUMMARY/NEWSHOOK: Please shoot photos at ISO 100 ONLY. Please, no flash.

That would be funny.

On a side note, look for a design change this weekend. Also, if you encounter any dead links on the blog, please let me know. Thanks.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sinking the ship

"Navy guard Chris Harris (no.5), who finished with 20 points, pushes the ball in transition during the second half against Army at Alumni Hall, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008. The Midshipmen fell to Black Knights 69-67."

I don't know what it is about shooting in Annapolis, but something always makes my assignment difficult.

A new e-mail popped up Friday night with an assignment to cover the Navy vs. Army men's basketball game Sunday afternoon. Since I've never shot basketball there, I e-mailed a contact name off their Web site to see if free wireless Internet was available.

But I guess there was some sort of confusion and they thought I wanted parking on the Academy grounds. If you never been to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., it's impossible to park on the yard. You must either take a shuttle (which I normally do) from the football stadium or park in town and walk. Otherwise, you will be face to face with a semi-automatic weapon.

Nonetheless, after ten e-mails, it was cleared that I didn't need parking and they did have wireless Internet.

Luckily, that was the extent of my troubles for the day. Man, was I am glad. The last assignment I covered down there I got caught in traffic for hours. No, I am not embellishing. Hours.

Anyways, I feel as if I've been talking a lot about basketball and ambient lighting of recent, but that all ends now. The Academy has absolutely the best available lighting in Maryland. Well, the best I've ever experienced to date.

I shot everything at 1/500 f/2.8 at 800ISO. I loved it.

Although Navy had some mistakes in the first half, they had a small lead going into half time. They were pumped as they hit a buzzer beater shot, too. So I decided to just download and not start editing until after the game was over.

The second half had a slow, dull pace to it until the last three minutes or so when Army starting marching back into the game. Get it? Marching. They made a some key plays that fired them up.

Navy would then commit some fouls, sending Army to the foul line and eventually into the lead.

With seconds left Navy got two opportunities to tie the game, but couldn't make the shots and were left dejected. I wish he would have stepped a little to the player's right, revealing the score board in the image. But it happen so fast, I am happy with just any short of reaction.

Overall, this is probably one of my better shot basketball games shot this image. The lighting fired me up, which was good because last night my indoor soccer team finally beat the New England Patriots of our league. They were pissed, but we came out victorious 7-5.

A good positive day to kick-off classes that start this morning.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Polar bear bay

"Plungers splash into the frigid water during the 12th annual MSP Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park, Jan. 26, 2008."

I've been busy the past couple days and it couldn't get more hectic than thousands of people running in frigid water for a good cause at the 12th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park on Saturday.

According to the MSP Polar Bear Plunge's Web site, the plunge is Maryland's most successful single-day fundraiser, netting more than $2 million dollars, which benefits the Special Olympics.

Although a lot of people showed their support by diving in the Chesapeake Bay, I don't know if I couldn't justify jumping into the frigid water myself. I would certainly make a contribution for someone else to do it, but being cold is not something I enjoy too much.

As a matter of a fact, I wasn't too happy shooting the event dry. My hand warmers failed me and after being drenched during the first plunge, I needed warmth.

Those brave enough to make the plunge had to face air and water temperatures that failed to reach 40 degrees. I still don't know how they did it, as my hands were freezing just from holding my metal camera bodies and lenses.

Prior to the event, I had planned on getting The Towerlight to rent a helicopter for some direct overhead aerial images. With us now being an independent student newspaper, and our GM talking about previous helicopter rentals, I thought this would be a nice event to do so. But we were too late to schedule one. I am kind of happy we didn't, as the overcast day would have not made very colorful images from the sky. Maybe next year?

My second plan was to ask an old work friend to take me to Sandy Point in his boat. But not being very good with boats (I am the guy who turns green and is miserable the entire fishing trip) I opted against it. Fellow Baltimore shooter and friend Arianne Starnes, who was pumped to be wearing her new VW hat, told me that it isn't what it's cracked up to be, as she did it last year.

So with two ideas erased from my list indefinitely, I thought I'd be one step ahead of the game plane and wear some fisherman wader pants. This would prevent my feet from getting soaked and also allow me to get some different images from the water. Too bad I forgot them. Doh. The bottom of my pants and shoes were drenched, not only with water, but sand.

The event was fun though. In a small way, it reminded me of the Preakness infield. A bunch of wild people having a good time. Many of the plungers also wore costumes to make the frigid water temperatures fun and "bearable."

While I have them up, check out my Sports Shooter page with some more images. Also check out The Towerlight for full coverage of the event.

By the way, if you haven't seen this multimedia piece by Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuktwenty, it's worth five minutes of your life. Twenty days. Twenty thousand still images. A single message.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Constructing another one

"A construction worker cautions those below to watch out as a crane begins to lower materials onto the roof of the new CLA building at Towson University Tuesday morning. Construction began in April 2007 after Lida Lee Tall was demolished."

I said it the other day and I'll say it again, I wish I had a dollar every time I shot construction on campus.

The last year has been nothing but a mess at Towson University. New parking garages, new student housing and a new CLA building going up all at the same time.

Students are frustrated with parking situations, and I am sure nearby residents are not fond of the appearance of the new side of campus when driving by.

As I walk across campus, it’s not unlikely to hear the distinct noise of beeping as dump trucks back up or have my eyes redirected to the large crane lifting materials.

But I guess the university needs a face lift and we the students are the unfortunate ones going through it all. Those coming in after the renovations will see all the benefits.

This all reminds me of my high school. About a year and a half ago I passed the school on my way to Kate's parent’s home. The school was in shambles and there were portable class rooms scattered along the road. Construction vehicles, piles of trash and workers littered the campus. I couldn't begin to think how awful of an experience it had to have been for the current students.

However, passing the completed school now, which was before construction one of the oldest schools in the Harford County, looks like a new generation high school. It really looks amazing.

Nevertheless, with beauty comes effort. Nothing is ever just beautiful in my eyes. One must work hard to achieve it, whether it is a school or university, one's physical self or a photograph. It all takes endless time and effort.

I have two assignments Friday, one big one Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday. I'll have plenty to talk about the next couple days. See you then.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thanks, ref

"Towson guard C.C. Williams (no.1) fights hard against Georgia State defenders to put up a layup during the first half at the Towson Center Wednesday night. Williams scored the game-winning shot with three seconds remaining in regulation and finished with 12 points in the 58-57 victory."

Wow. The effects of one human can sometimes put a damper on your night.

Although missing the game winning shot due to a ref, a brief reaction of the men's basketball team was enough to satisfy me for the night. And go figure, on a night I shot basketball in a different manner in which I normally do with hopes of getting something different ran in print.

After shooting a full day of assignments, I made my way over to the Towson Center to cover the men's basketball team versus visiting Georgia State.

I wasn't too excited to shoot another basketball game, as my bottom end has started to get sore from covering basketball games one after another. So I decided to bring the 300mm along and shoot 90 percent of my images from the balcony and seats.

Satisfied with my different images from my not normal positions at half, I thought about leaving. But instead I continued shooting from anywhere but the floor of the court. Makes me wish Towson had catwalks.

With less than five minutes left, I made my way courtside as the game grew very close. Towson was down, but rallying back in the game with about 30 seconds left.

After what seemed like a 20 minute duration of timeouts, Towson, now down by one, put up a shot with 19 seconds left. It was short, but they got the rebound and took another timeout. My reaction? Disappointed, because I had a clear, peak action image of the game-winning shot had it gone in and Towson won. Scratch that image.

Towson walked back on the court and I quickly switched to my 70-200mm lens. I felt a buzzer beater, game-winning basket. As I followed the ball closely, I focused and I framed the shot. Towson guard C.C. Williams drove and put up the shot. Click, click, click, click, click, click.

It goes in and Towson is up by one with three seconds left. The crowd goes wild. I quickly chimp (aka look to the back LCD) to check my images and the ref had impeccably walked in front of my shot of Williams firing the winner. Enter expletive here. All I had was the drive, which was blocked by defenders and his shot, which was blocked by the ref.

But after the basket went in, I had scanned the court for some sort of jubilation.

I caught Towson forward Junior Hairston screaming and running around like a wild-man as Georgia State took a time out. Some may say it's a nice shot, but I said another expletive because it's a little too tight for me, cutting off his hands. But it’s the best I could do at 70mm.

I moved a total of five images, including the two mentioned, as hopefully the main art. I am not sure what will run, but I had some other images I liked better, however they didn't tell the story.

I am hoping the above image runs lead, as it is what I would have turned in if I left at half and found out Williams scored the game winner.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I see the light...

"Influenced by his mother to become a professor, George McCool has been teaching French for about 25 years. However, his career path may not stand out as much as the other gift he received from his mother: his looks. McCool was ranked No. 49 on’s “Top 50 hottest professors of 2007.”"

...The Towerlight that is.

Tuesday marked my second to last semester at Towson University and as photo editor and staff photographer at The Towerlight, the now independent student newspaper.

I began my day making new folders on the server for the various sections of the paper and labeling them accordingly for our issue dates. It's tedious and mindless, but saves us a lot of time for the next four months. I then archived images from last semester and submitted some images in two college photo contests.

My first time ever submitting images for awards was last year. I won a total of seven. I was shocked I won so many and looking back, it's great to see how my images and vision have grown. Photos at the time I thought were my favorite early last year are now my least favorites.

I decided to go back through some of the originals of my assignments and discovered many images I liked way more than what we ran with.
Around 11:30 a.m. I walked across the frigid, ghost town like campus. With only a handful of winter courses being taught, not many students were to be found.

Entering Linthicum Hall, I was again greeted by a eerie, empty building. All that stood between Dr. George McCool and I was a couple of empty newspaper racks.

Once in his office, we proceeded to a classroom for a portrait. The first assignment back always seems to be a portrait. But this time it wasn't someone who had just been hired or decided to retire. Dr. McCool was as cool as they come. Laid back, fluent in French and just an all out good guy.

I don't know why, but Americans who speak fluent in other languages always intrigue me. English is such a complicated language and for them to be able to master another is fascinating.

So, after some small talk, I knew I wanted to do something a little different than the standard portrait. He was dressed very nice and didn't smile much, but when he talked about something he was passionate about, he would let out a small grin. After shooting a standard portrait, I had him write some things in French on the board. I told him to tighten his tie and fired a couple frames.

It wasn't what I expected, so I had him relax and talk about how he decided to become a professor. His smile came out and I asked him to tighten his tie one more time, as it "wasn't tight enough." I was happy with the end result since he was
rankn No. 49 on’s “Top 50 hottest professors of 2007.”

After parting, I shot the wish I had a dollar every time I shot it assignment of the year: construction.

Standing in the sleet, shooting through a fence with a 300mmm is always boring. But this new site on campus had some interesting angles and I was again pleased with my images.

So far, so good. Hopefully the semester follows this trend of different images.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Loyola light

"Loyola guard Gerald Brown (no.1) looks for an open teammate during the first half against Marist at Reitz Arena, Thursday, Jan.17, 2008. Brown scored 24 points in the, 83-71, victory over Marist."

On Thursday I ended my night shooting college basketball in Baltimore. Located at Loyola College, yesterday I said it would probably be canceled, but by the time I left, the snow had turned to rain and the roads were easy to travel.

However, it took me twice as long to get there, as drivers in Maryland like to pilot their SUVs 25 mph under the posted speed limit when it rains, nonetheless, when rains immediately after it snows.

I arrived earlier than normal, only because I had alloted enough time for the traffic and weather. I've never shot inside this arena before, only outside for numerous soccer and lacrosse matches. So I sat on the floor, as there were no open seats on press row. It appeared as I would be filing my images very quickly without power for my laptop.

Before the tip, I thought I'd check my e-mail and see if the server was working. Sometimes there will be free wireless Internet in college venues, but I cannot always connect to a publications FTP server if they don't have it completely open. It's always nice to file images for the warmth (or cold A/C in summer) from a arena, rather than my mobile office, other wise known as my car.

Figures it wasn't working, so I quickly powered down and made my way to the court.

After bumping into an old friend from high school, who was sitting court side, I noticed something very odd. I held up my hand and noticed a hard side light to my right. I gazed up and saw a row of bright lights. Not spot lights, more like studio lights or lights you would see in a theater to illuminate actors.

This was a great. Not only would this mean I would be shooting at a lower ISO than originally planned, it would also 'pop' players from the dark background, if shooting from one angle, and give them a more three-dimensional look when the light hit them from the other side.

The above image is an outtake, it obviously doesn't tell the reader anything about the game, but I like the light on his face and his determination look.

Fellow Baltimore shooter and Baltimore Sun staffer, Gene Sweeney Jr. was shooting from the bleachers behind the lights with a 300mm. I would later find out, late in the second half, that from his angle, one could achieve even better lighting. Not only do you clean up the background, but you also get nice evenly lit images with the light reflecting from the floor.

I needed to file my best image at half and was planning on leaving afterwards. But after Loyola took a comfortable lead and let it slip away, they was down by one point at half.

As the second half started, I had downloaded, edited, captioned and moved five images. As always, transmitting at half time means you have no idea who will win. So I moved three action images and two dejection shots of Loyola.

With nothing scheduled tomorrow and not being able to sleep due to my recent Japan trip, I figured I'd stick it out for the rest of the close game.

I ended up making some different images from the bleachers, playing around with some different settings, as the game see-sawed back and forth. Then as I made my way back court side with about five minutes left Loyola would go on a run to put them up, eventually winning the game.

I was hoping for some jube shots, as Marist was first in their conference, but as always, the players just walked right off the court. Oh, well.

Going to watch some Dave Chappelle show before calling it a night. I forgot how funny it was before he went crazy.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My favorites of 2007

"North Harford senior quarterback Dan Griffin, right, who will look to lead North Harford to a victory over Wilde Lake in the 3A East Region final on Friday, walks through a drill during practice at North Harford High School, Tuesday, Nov.20, 2007."

Since I have a little down time between assignments and most likely the game I am covering later tonight will be canceled, (not counting on it) I decided to look through my images quickly and choose some of my favorites from 2007.

I should be out making a snow feature as it dumps a mix of snow, rain and probably ice. But it's so warm in here.

Every year many Web sites, such as, MSNBC, Time, Yahoo! and POYi, to name a few, share what they think are the best images of the past year. In addition, large newspapers around the world, small community and college papers in towns near you also share their top images of the year.

But while these organizations choose their favorites for thousands of image in their databases, from thousands of different photographers around the world, I always choose my favorites.

They may not be my favorite just because of the image, but maybe because of the subject or the great time I endured making the image.

After combing my archive, I had marked 20 images. But since my Sport Shooter page only can hold 10, here they are.

Let me know what you think and maybe I'll create a hidden gallery with all the images, that is if I am off later due to the snow.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Super ball

"Baltimore Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain (no.37) shows emotion after a play he was injured in during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday, Dec.9, 2007."

In 2007, I started covering the Baltimore Ravens weekly and loved every minute of it. So much that I thought of delaying my trip to Japan, so that I could shoot the last game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But I didn't, and believe me, I was thinking about it as I flew over Canada and the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, I missed them break their nine game losing streak, which would come after getting beat by the Miami Dolphins, who only beat the Ravens this season, and the still undefeated New England Patriots. I also missed the firing of coach Brian Billick on Dec. 31.

Although the Ravens shaped up to be one of the weakest teams in the NFL, the thrill of shooting the most popular sport in the United States at the highest level was incredible.

The speed, the size and the strength of the players had me amazed my first game. All the players look as they are no bigger than myself (standing in the red corner, weighing in at 165 pounds and a towering 5-feet-11...) when watching a game on television, but when on the sideline, their mass is overwhelming. One break through the hole and I would be crushed and never get up again, ha.

With that said, my first game shot was not nearly as good as my last, as the initial thrill of shooting the NFL had to wear off. But I've certainly gotten better and worse images covering Pee-Wee football.

Why? Because to the average viewer and reader, they see shooting the NFL as the best possible job. I heard it many times from friends and family.

“You are shooting the Ravens? That is probably the single handily coolest/best job in the world. You get to stand on the sideline and take pictures.”

For one, taking pictures is no easy job. But the underlying gem is at the end of the day. It doesn’t really matter what level of a sport you're covering.

If you approach any game, no matter the skill or age of players, with the same excitement and enthusiasm each week, you're sure to make telling photographs.

As mentioned, I can get portfolio images from a street ball game as easy as I could from an NBA game. It just depends on the players, their actions and my ability to capture these moments clearly to the readers.

Moving on, with the Super Bowl or “super ball” approaching, I still picture the Patriots losing in the final match to the Green Bay Packers. At that time, Brett Favre will retire, after upsetting one of the "best" teams in NFL history.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

No lights, no problem

"A spectator looks dejected and blue as New Town takes an early commanding lead over Lake Clifton in the second to last game in the 12th annual Basketball Academy at Morgan State, Saturday night, Jan. 12, 2008. Lake Clifton was defeated by New Town 52-39."

Back in the United States and back to my normal shooting assignments. I am happy to be back, I guess. I do miss Japan.

Saturday night I shot two high school games at the 12th annual Basketball Academy at Morgan State.

It was a nice relaxing assignment to get me back into the flow since there was no tight deadline and the images would be used for future articles.

I had a list of 10 players to shoot in two games. Thus means I could show up a little late and part a little early.

Living about 45 minutes away, and a deadline in the morning (I always do them when I get home anyways) it was perfect.

What wasn't perfect was the light in the gymnasium. I say not perfect, because standard high school gyms in the Baltimore region are dungeons and pitch dark. If I shoot at one, I have to use small strobe lights mounted in the bleachers, otherwise my images are beyond grainy and unusable.

My buddy Darnay actually sent me a message earlier relating to this. When he is not the sports anchor, he shoots sports for his television station on weekends:

"Last night I was working the biggest basketball game in the state so far this year, No. 1 Sentinel vs. No. 2 Flathead (from Kalispell)...and I was shooting next to the local paper's photog...he was using strobes, and midway through the second quarter the refs made him turn off his strobes...he was PIISSSEEEEDDD...more pissed than you were when your backboard cam got the axe."

I would have been angry, too. I've only got the "axe" on strobes at a high school once. And yes, I was furious.

However, Morgan State was a middle road complex. Towson University has, by far, has the best lighting in Baltimore for indoor sports.

But my Morgan images were shot around 2500-3200 ISO at 1/500 shutter at f/2.8. Now, I wouldn't normally shoot at such a high ISO, but the D300 makes it easy not to. Such as the this image.

I'd still like to see the D3 at high ISO in a personal test. Has anyone reading had the chance to play with both a D3 and D300 in the same dark, high ISO settings? I'd really like to see the difference.

On the other hand, by the time I see the difference and get hooked on the D3, it will be spring sports season.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Jet lag

"My 2005 Subaru Impreza sits in the middle of the road in Whiteford, Md. as the sun rises Thursday morning. Jet lag from my trip to Japan has left me with irregular sleep habits the past two days."

There is nothing really fun about coming home from a foreign country and still being 14 hours ahead of time because of jet lag.

The past two days I have gone to bed after 8 a.m. and gotten up around 4 p.m. Respectively, that is the same as going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. in Japan. But for now, it means I stay up through the entire night into morning.

I get to see the news twice, view all the late night talk shows, watch ridiculous boring television programming from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. and basically be bored out of my mind as everyone else on the east coast sleeps.

There is one upside to the equation. Catching the sunrise Thursday morning.

Obviously not sleeping, I thought I’d pick up Kate and take her to work since I had not really seen her for two weeks. It was early, but I had been wide awake since 5 p.m. and I can't remember the last time I caught a glimpse to the sun actually rising.

Sure, I've watched the sun dip below the horizon hundreds of times in my life, but I can't recall the last time I watched morning turn to day. It was stunning. Makes me wish I was a morning person and had the opportunity to see the magnificent amber sky every day.

As I waited for Kate outside, I decided to take a picture of the Subaru. I bought the car a little over a year ago and love it, especially around this time of year. Why this time of year? Because it is an all-wheel drive car and navigating it around in the snow is a breeze. Not to heavy like an SUV and not front wheel drive like my old Honda.

I also hadn't driven in roughly two weeks. I had grown used to hoping on a train or in someone else’s car in Japan.

As for tonight, I am forcing myself to try and get to bed early. Yeah, it's past midnight as I type this. I don't know what I'll do, but this jet lag needs to stop.

The odd thing is, was when I got to Japan, I was so excited that I paid no attention to how long I had traveled without sleep to get there. I also paid no attention to the time difference.

Figures when I get back, I have two unpleasant days of unrest.

I miss trains, rice and green tea. Oh, yeah. Sushi, tempura and other traditional Japanese foods, too.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Japan adventure over

"Visitors pass through Hozomon, the main gate at the Sensoji Buddhist temple in Asakusa, Japan on Jan.1, 2008."

Over 13,000 miles traveled by air. About 35 hours walked. Approximately 20 hours rode in a train or right hand drive car. Dozens of assorted sushi devoured. At least 16 cups of ocha, or green tea, drank. More white rice consumed than I air probably breathed. Stayed up for 24 hours twice. Made a bunch of new friends. Had one incredible experience: Japan.

My nine day solo adventure in Japan was what I always dreamed of and glad I made the decision to go.

Tokyo is vibrant city littered with color and movement. Everything is fast, too.

People: eat fast, walk fast, drive fast and speak fast (for an amateur Japanese speaker).

Its home to insane crisscrossing intersections with so many people, that it makes Times Square during Christmas look like campus on a Friday during summer.

Speaking of people, they: overfilled elevators, crowded trains and crammed the sidewalks. But again, this is Tokyo, the most populated metropolis in the world.

Although it may be jam-packed and hotel rooms are likewise crowded with you in them alone, Japan is host to some of the kindest people on earth. Not only are the people generous, but it’s the safest country in the world. The folk in Japan make an American, like myself; see how rude we truly are.

I took over 10,000 images, many snapshots of places I walked by or visited. I know I missed many of my favorites when posting previously this week, but those posted stood out.

Americans don't have "enough time" for anyone except themselves and always put off a negative attitude. Japanese people are passionate in everything they do. From helping a foreigner with directions, sweeping a sidewalk or inventing some of the newest technologies.

Equipped with a Nikon D300 with a wide angle lens, a map, compass and a strong urge to learn more about the country I made my way through most of Tokyo, and it was unbelievable.

My journey through and around Tokyo was something I'll never forget. My time was peaceful, stressful, rewarding, captivating and motivating. I was in my own world, understanding very little Japanese, only hearing my inner thoughts as I navigated down the sidewalks and roads.

I got lost, time and time again. I witnessed new things, people and places I've only read about in books and on the Internet and was fascinated by them all.

I took pictures that meant something to me and hopefully to others.

I met many people who I can call a friend and whom I hope to contact when visiting Japan again.

Japan was an awesome learning experience. I cannot wait to go back.

If I can instill one thing, I strongly urge anyone, is to take a trip out of the country alone. You will not only learn about the country you travel, but about yourself and what is really important. Break away from your everyday habits and schedule and accustom yourself in a culture completely foreign.

As I work on my thousands of images, you can find them updated daily HERE. (Note:colors may appear subdued, not my fault.)

Now only if I could go to bed. I need to kick this 14 hour time difference I grew accustom to.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Japan: Day seven

"Many people cross the street in front of Shinagawa station in Tokyo, Japan on Monday, Jan.7, 2008."

My last full day in Japan is over. All that is left of my trip is a the long haul back the the United States.

I am keeping this post very short and to the point, as it's past 11 p.m. and I have to be up very early to start my 16 hour or more pilgrimage back home. But I will have a full recap on my day and entire trip. Also, hopefully dozens more photos to share.

Started Monday shooting some images in the hotel lobby since I've been eying up them since my first day. After an hour of strolling around, I finally made it atop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. No line. Great view.

After grabbing breakfast in the bottom of Shinjuku Station, I took the next train to Shinagawa, since I didn't get to see much of it Sunday.

Later, I then traveled back to Shinjuku to gaze the streets that surround my hotel before meeting my last guide.

My last guide showed me some used camera shops, many which housed just about every lens and camera ever created by the big names in photography such as Nikon, Canon and Leica.

We then went to his friend's sweet shop, other wise known as a dessert restaurant. I got the royal treatment, not only getting to taste many different traditional Japanese desserts, but also getting to help create some of the masterpieces. Of all the dishes I devoured, none included sugar. Only the finest, purest ingredients natural to Japan, such as rice.

I also bumped into some of my other earlier guides, as they are all friends and apart of a photography group. They meet there often to share tips and photos. Since many of them shoot film, it made me realize how much I miss having a nice print in my hands. It also made me want a stereo camera, as many of them are stereo camera fanatics.

Finished my night filling my stomach with my last Japanese meal dinner. I am getting sushi one last time in the morning before my flight.

Well, as I said in the beginning of this post, it's late, I am exhausted, I need to pack and I need to be up early.

Look back for a bunch of images and full recap of Monday and my entire trip.

If my posting is slow, be sure to check out more images here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Japan: Day six

"A vendor in Ameyoko calls out prices of fresh fish, including octopus, to passerby on Sunday, Jan.6."

My time here in Japan in winding down quickly. It's a sad state of affairs. On Monday I have one last guided tour of Japan (I am not sure where) and I fly back to the United States on Tuesday.

As for Sunday, it was my last day on my own...well sorta.

I started out retracing some steps with hope to try and remake an image I had earlier made in Nippori. However, it seemed as if everyone had slept in. There was no one around and I failed my mission of creating a better image than the first.

After wasting 45 minutes, I went back to Ueno. I felt the need to see some areas in greater detail, including Ueno park.

Little did I know, the place tried to remake the image at was literally 10 minutes from the edge of Ueno park. I had walked 25 minutes back to Nippori station for nothing.

All the walking earlier in the morning had me starved, so I grabbed something for a street vendor near Ueno station. I have no idea what it was, but I ate five fried dough balls. Each had a octopus tentacle and some other things in it. It was really, really good. And for 400 yen, I was full.

Finishing my rounds in Ueno, I realized one of my guides had circled Shinagawa on one of my maps. For what reason is unknown.

Nonetheless, I walked around an didn't find anything. That was until Mamoru called and told me to meet him in Ginza. As he called, I stumbled upon a couple nice looking shrines. Maybe in the morning I'll revisit them.

When I got to Ginza, I told Mamoru about my tempura lunch that I loved. I guess I had eaten at a tempura restaurant equivalent to a McDonald's because he took me a upscale place. I would have never found it, as it was in the top floor, that's nine floors, in a department store.

It was so delicious. By far the best meal I've had since being here. It blew my previous tempura meal away, ten fold.

After eating he took me to see the Nissan GT-R in person. I got to sit in one and play around with all the controls. Such a beautiful vehicle.

To finish my day, he took me to the Tokyo Tower. This over looks the entire city from Roppongi. It was extremely interesting. We didn't go all the way to the top of the Eiffel tower replica because of the long lines. But we did catch the sunset while overlooking Tokyo.

Well, posting early tonight. About to catch dinner and call it night. I am sad I only have one day left.

Also, I've started to add some (some is less than two percent of my images) to my Flickr page.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Japan: Day five

"A motorist passes Scai the Bathhouse located in the traditional downtown Yanaka district south of Nippori, Japan, Saturday, Jan.5, 2008."

I bought the best traveling tool Saturday morning for 100 yen. A compass.

Knowing I would be again walking around for seven hours or more, I thought a simple such a compass would help my navigation in case I decided to get totally lost. It paid off, too.

The subway in Tokyo is very difficult. It's all in Japanese, until you get on, and I don't have an English map. So I've decided to avoid it altogether. Also, with plans of traveling back to Japan by the end of the year for a longer stay, I've also decided to stay on the JR Yamanote line. Basically it's a huge circle with about 30 stops in Tokyo.

This limits me from seeing other parts of Japan, but I've been fortunate to have guides take me out of Tokyo.

Nonetheless, I've seen most, if not all, of the main train stops in Tokyo, so the past two days I've been getting off at the smaller towns and just walking.

Saturday I went to Nippori and Ikebukuro. To be perfectly honest I loved Nippori more than the more crowded areas. There was not many people or cars.

I didn't have a map of Nirppori, so I took the south exit and just walked. I found so many temples and shrines, and have no clue which ones. I walked in places I felt I probably shouldn't, and walked by nothing twice.

Other than shrines and temples, I got a glimpse in a area with a smaller town vibe. Many times I was stared at as if they never saw an American before.

On my way back to the station, I decided to make another detour. I heard some loud noise of shuffling people. It seemed to me as if was some sort of street festival. It gave me a chance to grab a quick snack, too. I am not sure what I ate, but for 200 yen it was really good.

After eating, I became extremely hungry. So I hoped on the JR to Ikebukuro with a goal of finding a tempura restaurant.

Without much trouble, I found one. And without much trouble, I ordered something. I wasn't sure what it was going to be, but it turned out to be the best lunch I've ever had.

Basically it was shrimp, two vegetables, white fish and scallop tempura over a rice bowl. The woman next to me was impressed with my chopstick skills and gave me a thumbs up. She probably thought that if I couldn't order, I couldn't eat. She was wrong. It also came with miso soup. I must say, I was never a fan of miso soup in the United States, but it's insanely good here. It's not just water and onion like home.

After eating, I roamed Ikebukuro some more. I found another eight floor camera shop. My compass failed me in there as I again got lost for 10 minutes trying to find the deguchi or exit.

Becoming tired, I decided to come back to the hotel and rest before searching for dinner. But as I made my way back I noticed a beautiful sunset. I dashed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building with hopes of getting a nice city scape photo with the sunset. I took a different route and over shot the buildind by five blocks. The sun was setting fast, so I started running. Yeah, you probably know what happen next. It was closed. So much for that.

Well, another successful, fun and adventurous day in Japan. My plans will be the same tomorrow as I will just roam more small towns of Tokyo.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Japan: Day four

"Many Japanese residents use trains and subways for traveling and often rest on them, such as this man does as the Hibiya line subway speeds past Akihabara station, Friday, Jan.4, 2008"

Wow. My feet hurt. But I can sum Friday in five words: cars, sushi, walking, lost and trains.

Being my first day alone, I walked for almost eight hours without rest, except on trains or subways and lunch. I Saw many cars I wish I owned, ate sushi twice and got lost more than I would have liked.

I'd tried to sleep in a little since I didn't need to meet anyone in the early morning. I guess I didn't try hard enough, because I woke up at my typical time of 6:15 a.m.

To start my day I walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which offers one of many lookout points in Tokyo. However, it didn't open until 9:30 a.m. and I was about 45 minutes early. I decided to ditch the idea until Sunday or Monday.

Instead, I walked to the JR train station and took a short ride to Harajuku. This was the same area I visited earlier this week when at the Meiji Shrine, but didn't see the rest of the area. It was crowded with a lot of boutique shops and teenagers. Many shops where just opening, so I did nothing more than people watch and get lost trekking around.

I found, what I think was a shinto shrine, and saw a bunch of neat little cars in this region.

Around 10:30 a.m. I went nine train stations south to Yurakucho. Since there is no station for Ginza, so I had to walk there. Before hiking south into Ginza I walked north to the Imperial Palace, home to Japan's Imperial family. It's closed everyday of the year except January 1st, so I only caught a glimpse from the gardens that surround it. (Mom, this is where I was when you called).

By 12:30 p.m. I needed food. I decided on sushi in Ginza.

As my day continued, I roamed around Ginza and Tokyo station. Tokyo station is congested and very, very confusing. I was lost for a good 30 minutes in the station. I didn't find much once I did though.

I ended my day walking in Shibya and Akihabara. In Akihabara there are tons of electronic stores. If you can think of an electronic device you want, this place has it. From stores in streets to six level camera stores that take one 15 minutes to find an exit. I don't think some were legal. But I had fun looking at these businesses.

Since I knew this would be my last town of the day I decided to walk 45 minutes one way. I didn't find much. I just saw a bunch of my favorite Japanese cars, including the brand-spanking new Skyline GT-R. I happened to walk up to it on my way back. A man walked by and said in broken English "monster car."

I returned to my hotel at 6:00 p.m. and rested before walking around in Shinjuku at 8:00 p.m. before grabbing more sushi and calling it a night.

I am starting to think I am Japanese. Of all the places I've been since my arrival, I've seen maybe five non-Japanese people. I am in my own little world, as I only know very little Japanese. It's very weird, yet peaceful.

Not sure where I'll go tomorrow. Probably some more of the little towns on the JR line.

note: I've just realized that many of my Japan posts have wrong days and dates and many typos. I lost a day traveling and it's a 14 hour difference from Baltimore, Md. Please excuse my faults. I'll try and correct what I can.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Japan: Day three

"From this angle, the water in Wakuike pond appears black, however the natural spring water from Mt.Fuji radiates a vibrant clear blue color."

No matter where you go in the world, traffic is there. This was the case Thursday.

I met my third guide, Mamoru out front of the Shinjuku Washington Hotel at 8:30 a.m. without knowing what we would be doing.

He informed me since he had his car we would could go see Mt.Fuji. I thought that would be awesome, since for the next two days I will be on my own in Tokyo. It would also be a chance to see somewhere I probably wouldn't be able to with paying a lot of money for a bus or train.

The day was clear and as soon as we got on the express way I could see Mt.Fuji from a distance. As we got closer and closer, the temperature dropped and the mountain got bigger and bigger.

Our first stop was to a natural spring of Mt.Fuji. Water from the mountain is pumped from the ground to a little park nearby. I got the chance to put my hands in the crystal clear, cold water and also take a drink of it.

There were additional ponds, in which, the water was so blue and beautiful and filled with fish. I had never seen anything like it before.

After hanging out for about 40 minutes, we got back into the car and drove up the street to Lake Yamanakako, one of (I believe) five that surround the massive land form. This was a quick pit stop, but I made my favorite image of Mt.Fuji there.

Again, we continued driving, this time up into the mountains. I have never experienced roads such as the ones we drove on. They were continual 90 degree turns and steep upgrades. Americans would be crashing every 10 feet. But Mamoru was a very good driver and did a great job piloting us up to a couple of different amazing lookout points.

Throughout our drive, I got nearly 10 unique views of Mt.Fuji.

But our original destination was not the lookout points, but rather some hot springs. However, an hour of standstill traffic in the mountains, due to visitors at a shrine, forced us to make alternate plans.

Mamoru thought I would enjoy the Odawara Castle Donjon as a replacement to the springs and he was right. Getting a taste of Japanese history was every interesting and extremely picturesque. This castle was around in the Edo period, which was 1806-1867.

From there, it was growing late in the day, so we agreed to start heading back toward Tokyo. Little did I know, this 45 minute car drive would turn into a three hour adventure of traffic and back roads.

Since the New Year is a very special time for Japanese, they have the first three days of the year off. But on the fourth, they all return to Tokyo over crowding the trains, planes and highways. The closest analogy I can come up with is combining Thanksgiving and Christmas traffic into one day.

It's funny. Spending nearly 12 hours in a car sightseeing can be as draining as walking around for 12 hours.

Every night I am exhausted. When in the states I can work or go to class all day and stay up until 1 a.m. Here in Japan, with the 14 hour difference, I have yet to stay up past 10 p.m. I have never felt so tired every night when I go to bed.

I am going to try and get some extra sleep in the morning.

Tomorrow is my first day on my own in Tokyo and I think I am going to Ginza for the better part of the day. Also going to try and find a Tempura restaurant.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Japan: Day two

"In front of vibrant bright green door, a Japanese monk begs for yen on the sidewalk near Ueno Station in Japan on Wednesday, Jan.2, 2008."

I had a blast Wednesday.

If I never got out of bed again during my trip or the rest of my days are horrible, I will know I had a great time Wednesday.

I woke up around 6:15 a.m. and again grabbed a quick breakfast from the hotel's AM/PM shop.

Around 9 a.m. I met with my second guide, Mr. Koichi Muramatsu or also known as Vivo. He is an engineer with Toshiba and an amateur photographer. He also brought along his 20-year-old friend and co-worker, Toshihide. Both of their English was better than the others yesterday, but it was still a challenge understanding them. I learned a lot from them throughout the day and they seemed to really appreciate it when I spoke in Japanese.

To my surprise, we started the day by hopping into Vivo's Subaru Legacy. This was a treat as I love Japanese cars, own a Subaru and got to see the town in a different way. After parking the car, we went back Asakusa and the Sensoji Buddhist temple. I felt rushed last visit.

We hit up a small restaurant of traditional Japanese food and then checked out some side streets. We then got on the subway and visited some other shrines in Ueno. I am not sure of all the shrine names, but they were beautiful.

We later met Vivo's friend, Mr.Yamagata, another photographer. I would later be in for a awesome surprise.

Around 2 p.m. we drove roughly 40 minutes south to Yokohama. The city was very cool and before seeing some tourist spots, we had a delicious sushi lunch/dinner.

One thing I noticed is that Japanese people can eat some food. No matter what is placed in front of them, they clean their plate, bowl and whatever else. Between yesterday and today, I've never seen so many people finish a meal completely. I felt bad leaving soup or rice behind, but I was forcing myself to eat too much.

As the sun dipped behind Mt.Fuji, we again met another tomodachi (friend) of Vivo. From there, we went to a port for a snack and drinks.

Then, we went back to Mr. Yamagata's home for an awesome view at some rare photography and cameras.

Mr. Yamagata owns four golden cameras. Three are Leicas and one Nikon (which I am holding since I am a Nikon guy). Very rare and only a few exist in the world according to him. He also had a bunch of custom built stereo (RBT) 35mm film cameras, one which he built himself. The three dimensional images these cameras produce, in combination with the images he made, blew me away. I wish I could share the results. I was surprised he invited me into his home, too.

I am being very vague, and did a lot more than what I've talked about. But if you look at the image of me with Mr.Yamagate you can see the jet lag bags under my eyes. Ha.

Anyways, I am having a blast and making some great images. I'll be sure to give some more insight and deeper details when I get time. It is late here and I am not sure what I have going on tomorrow, but I need some rest. I also need to go through these 700 images I shot just today.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Japan: Day one

"The JR Yamanote line train speeds past Shinjuku station Tuesday, Jan.1, 2008. Some of the JR trains in Japan can reach over 150 mph."

Happy New Year. Although I had mine a day early. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything exciting and I learned there is no special celebration for bringing in the New Year in Japan, unlike the United States.

Tuesday morning before heading out, I had a small breakfast from the lobby. I had a simple rice cake with tuna inside and a small egg sandwich. Then had to checkout of my room and check my luggage in the lobby because of some error.

Afterward, I took the Yamanote line train to Tokyo and walked around Tokyo station before meeting with Ugi, his son and friend Shingo. They agreed to take me around Tokyo for the day.

Ugi and his son spoke very little English. On the other hand, Shingo, 19, knew a lot more. He is also a college student, so I am not sure if that was why, however, it was still not very good. I can’t complain though, as my Japanese isn’t very good.

While I had a little paper dictionary, he carried an electronic dictionary in his back pocket. We got along very well, and it was intriguing answering his questions about the United States and myself.

As the day went on, they guided me through Asakusa, Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku and also took me to a Shine and Temple.

Those two being the Sensoji Buddhist temple and Meiji Shrine. Basically people come to show their respect by visiting these two places on the New Year. They were packed with people; I mean packed. I felt like a sardine.

Around lunch, Ugi bought me another meal; this time Japanese noodles. It was very good. As mentioned previously, Japanese people are very nice, respectful and giving.

They later brought me back to my hotel around 5 p.m. I was glad to lie down for five minutes. The day was hectic and fast. Walking and riding the JR train all day drained me, not to mention my jet lag is starting to kick my butt. I must say, traveling around by train is very confusing, but I am getting the hang of it.

For now, I am thinking I am just going to relax tonight. I was going to walk around Shinjuku again, but I have to meet my next guide, Vivo, and his friend at 9 a.m. and I am exhausted.

More to come.