camera, photography, travel tips

How I get my photos: Camera Settings

So you have all your gear now. How do you set up the camera?

I almost always use manual mode on my D3300. I can be way more specific and have much greater control over the outcome this way. I find that auto tends to overexpose things.

I do use the Auto setting for my White Balance quite often, especially if I’m having trouble getting the correct balance with the presets. However, play with this, because sometimes the Auto setting doesn’t get things quite right you will end up with an overly red or overly blue photo.

The manual mode has 3 primary functions you can adjust: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

I try to use the lowest ISO possible (100 for my camera) to reduce the amount of grain in a photo. Sometimes I go higher if I need a quick shutter speed in a darker situation.

Aperture basically determines whether you are focusing on a very narrow and specific depth of field (lower numbers) or focusing on a larger range of distances (higher numbers). Lower aperture lets in more light (thus you can use lower ISO and fast shutter speeds) and is good for focusing on one specific item while keeping the background and/or foreground blurry.

For a standard landscape photo I use an aperture somewhere between 8 and 11. This allows me to keep the ISO at 100, keep the shutter speed fast enough that I don’t need a tripod, and still get the entire landscape, both near and far, in focus. When trying to get a long exposure I will turn the aperture up to 22 to reduce the light coming in so I can decrease the shutter speed without over-exposing the photo.

Shutter speed determines how long the photo absorbs light. I like long shutter speeds to blur water, take in stars, and give a dreamy soft light feeling to my photos. However, this requires a tripod or something sturdy to set your camera on, much more time, and compensation if it is bright out (a dark filter for example). Quick shutter speeds (1/400) are good for motion that you want to stop in mid-air (my classic jumping photos on my Instagram are taken like this).

I have recently been using an extra dark filter, 30+ second exposure, 100 ISO, and an aperture of 22 to capture some fantastic dusk photos with soft ambient lighting and blurred water (see the photo featured in this post).

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

 

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adventure, places

Adventure in Bryce Canyon

We awoke early morning a few weeks ago in a wonderful, clean, picturesque hotel in the Utah Wilderness near the town of Panguitch. The hotel is a Quality Inn by name but appears to be an old western themed mountain resort hotel with numerous small buildings each named after some western theme. The rooms were huge, had a fridge and a microwave, a huge king bed, separate shower, were super clean, and came with a free simple but good breakfast as well: all for about $60/night!

The night before, freezing rain had made our drive a bit nerve racking but we made it safely and  by the time we awoke to a beautiful, cloudy day, the roads were clear again.

Today’s adventure: run through Bryce Canyon before making the 1.5 hour drive back to Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon was to be a scouting mission to see if it was worth coming back to.

Snow covered the landscape as we made the journey in. Soon red rocks and pine forests began to dominate the landscape with some snow covered fields and an occasional village completing the scene. We arrived at the park and found the roads snow covered and icy but still passable in a small car. Whipping around curves created a bit of drift which was fun.

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Bryce Point Overlook, Old and Young trees dot the landscape, fog rises from the valley

Bryce Canyon National Park is quite interesting to enter into for the first time. You are completely surrounded by a dense pine forest with no sign of canyon anywhere. When we finally arrived and parked at Bryce Point, our first overlook, we could still barely see that there was a canyon through the trees.

As we walked down the ice covered gentle slope to this first view, the epic landscape unraveled before us revealing one of the most gorgeous sites of our trip: Bryce Canyon, covered in snow, shrouded in mist, dark moody clouds looming overhead, read and orange rock formations peaking out everywhere beneath us, and stately pine trees both old and new surrounding the landscapes. Soft light snow flakes began to float from the sky and continued the rest of our visit here.

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The Valley View opens up before you, this was our first site of the Canyon

After soaking in Bryce Point, getting close to the icy edge, attempting a few photo-shoots and some jumping shots, and basking in the gorgeous views, we went on to our second stop in the park: Inspiration Point! Inspiration Point is one of the best places to see the famous Amphitheater, one of Bryce Canyon’s most famous formations. It literally looks like the ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheater of even Coliseum.

For the most part there was hardly anyone in the park given the weather which was amazing. However, at this point we did run into a large bus tour of middle age travelers from all over the world (we heard French and Spanish among other languages). When they saw us approaching the edge of the cliff for some epic shots some of them began to completely loose it, yelling and waving their hands for us to back away. We asked one poor fella to take a photo of us, and despite being 20 feet from the edge himself, he was so nervous he couldn’t figure out how to take a photo! He literally pushed every single button on my DSLR except the right one. We found it all quite amusing and did a bit of drifting in the parking lot on our way out to complete their show.

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Inspiration Point where we tried to get out photo taken. Amphitheater is in the background!

And that was it! Will we be back? For sure! Are there longer trails? Tons of them! I would like to venture down the Fairyland Loop Trail and the Rim Trail my next visit. There is also a ton more to the park than just the area around the main vista points. We were surprised how big the map was. You can see the main parts of the park in a day or even a few hours. But you probably need a good 3 days to truly do it justice.

Before I go, let me highly recommend the National Park Annual Pass. Most parks charge about $20-30 per car per visit (Bryce and Zion are $30). However, with this pass you pay $80 once and go in and out of all national parks as often as you like, with a car full of people, without paying again! And no, this isn’t a paid endorsement. Just some good sound travel advice 🙂

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Should I Stay with Friends and Family When I Travel?!?

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Friends and Family:

Traveling where you have friends and family nearby is probably one of the most economical ways to find lodging. Your aunt lives in NYC and invites you to stay for a few days. You can have the spare bedroom. Most likely some meals. All free.

However be careful, she may be expecting you to babysit so her and husband can have a night on the town. I think staying with people works best if either you guys have the same agenda for the time you are together OR you have completely opposite schedules and they are simply offering you a place to sleep.

When I first started traveling, I primarily traveled where my friends and family were and stayed with them. It was a good way to start on a college kid’s budget.

Eventually I moved to more solo travel. Staying where I wanted to go and normally traveling alone.

Now, I find that I prefer to travel with people. And then find our own housing. I love my friends and my family and am thankful for all the times so many of them have hosted me. But the freedom of having your own place if hard to beat.

If you want to just spend time with that friend or family member, by all means stay with them. Or if your budget requires you to find a free place, by all means go for it. But if you desire ultimate freedom this may not be your best option.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

adventure, city reviews, places, travel tips

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Page Arizona

Page Arizona is a small, desert town right next to the lake Powell Dam on the Colorado River. It is probably on the map primarily due to two popular tourist attractions nearby besides Lake Powell: Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River and Antelope Canyon in Navajo Nation.

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View of Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise with the sunlight reflecting off distant clouds, great lighting this time of day!

Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular vista point on the river where the Colorado takes a sharp turn shaped like a horseshoe with deep canyon walls resembling the Grand Canyon but smaller. While not as grand as the larger canyon, this area is certainly large enough to invoke awe. Below are a few tips

Sunset vs Sunrise: The sun sets almost directly behind horseshoe bend overlook. So the site can be spectacular but the lighting can be hard to capture. Sunrise from behind gives better lighting if you can get up early enough but you will be facing away from the sun.

Crowds: This is a popular spot. English speaking American’s are probably a minority here which is super cool. For whatever reason this is a very popular place with international travelers. It certainly is spectacular. But can also be quite crowded. Go in the winter, on a week day, early morning for best results.

Temperature: Both times I went it was cold. In fact there has been snow there as the winters can be rather cold. But remember it is a dry desert and in the summer can be sweltering. So bring water!

Getting there: Tons of parking with bathrooms! I’ve never had trouble parking at all. The hike is approximately 0.4 miles each way. You briefly walk up a hill an then the rest is downhill (with the reverse on the way back).

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Where to shoot: The middles (where the most tourist are) is the symmetrical image classic to Horseshoe Bend. However, going to the right (and I’m sure the left as well), offers incredible alternative perspectives equally as beautiful if not so symmetrical. Walk around and don’t just shoot from one spot (like so many people there do).

Antelope Canyon is the most famous of many slot canyons that dot the desert landscape around Page. Upper Antelope Canyon is the primary place that people visit here. However, there is also Lower Antelope Canyon, and numerous less famous ones that one can potentially visit as well.

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Visiting: First pick your canyon. Upper is the most popular and is easy to get to but the other options can be beautiful too. Next pick a tour agency and preferably book in advance to secure your spot. Because this land is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation, they create the regulations for its use. Due to overuse and vandalism, guided tours are required to limit the number of visitors and to protect the beautiful landscape.

I recommend Antelope Canyon Tours Inc. I used them and enjoyed my tour immensely with an excellent tour guide and quick reasonable service. They are highly rated on Yelp as well. Total cost was about $40/person with optional tip (I tipped because I thought she was exceptional but didn’t notice anyone else doing so). Its a bit more expensive during the summer.

Getting The Photo: The photo that everyone wants to get here is that classic image of the light streaming down through the slot into the darker canyon. Its a beautiful shot. To get it you have to go close to noon when the sun is the highest. The canyon will be quite crowded so you may want to take a photo tour which allows more time and privacy (DSLR and tripod required to eliminate more casual tourists).

However, remember, the classic photo isn’t the only aspect of beauty here. A good tour guide will point out exceptionally beautiful spots in the canyon that require no special lighting or positioning of the sun. I went at 3pm and got some awesome photos!

Set your camera up before you go based on current lighting conditions and be prepared to shoot quick. The tour is fun but somewhat rushed as there are lots of people trying to see the canyon all the time. If you go in the winter and later in the day the canyon is much more deserted.

Page Arizona is a small, touristy, southwestern town. There isn’t a whole lot to do there besides the two main things I just mentioned and anything to do with Lake Powell (which is currently quite low). Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon are all within 2-3 hours which makes it possible to use Page as a base camp. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is also nearby and quite enjoyable to visit.

Where to Stay: We stayed in the Motel 6 in Page Arizona. It was newly remodeled. Very inexpensive (about $50/night). Quite clean. Nicely decorated (simple Ikea style). And very close to everything (10 minutes or less).  We looked at some of the other budget hotels and some nicer ones, but none seemed to give the same value for the money.

Where to Eat: For dinner we ate at a local American style Mexican restaurant called El Tapatio which was quite delicious. It seemed popular with tourist and locals alike as there was a 20 minute wait on a random week-day night. Other than that there didn’t seem to be many good local restaurants, coffee shops, or bars though I’m sure there are a few gems we missed.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

city reviews, iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.

Language:

Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.

Transport:

The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.

Lodging:

I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.

Eating:

Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.

Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.

Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.

Shops and stuff to see:

Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.

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A view of the city with the mountains behind it from one of the hotels I stayed in on my first ever visit to Iceland in 2015

Nightlife:

For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski BarKaffibarinn, and Austur.

Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!

Touristy Stuff:

Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.

Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.

There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.

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Random tourist saying a prayer in front of the great church

The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

camera, photography, travel tips

How do I get my Photos?

People often ask me how I get such amazing shots (their words not mine). I don’t think my shots are that impressive most of the time. They certainly aren’t professional yet. And I would love if you guys would give me some constructive feedback on how to improve.

However, I would love to share the few tips I do have so far on getting these shots, including setting, timing, location, equipment, and editing.

Lets start with the gear that I use.

For panorama shots, videos, and certain difficulty lighting situations (where HDR setting is best), I actually use my Samsung Galaxy S7. I wish they would sponsor me haha. Some of my best photos come from this phone. I use an Auto or Panorama setting occasionally using the HDR option on Auto. That’s it!

Brand New cost $600

My DSLR camera is a Nikon D3300. This is a crop sensor (as opposed to full-frame) entry level DSLR with a surprising number of options including full manual settings.

Brand New about $460

My favorite lens is the highly rated Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-140mm 1:3.5-5.6 DX VR zoom lens. This lens has an auto focus that is usually accurate and a manual focus which I find somewhat stiff to adjust precisely. I hope to upgrade to a professional grade lens soon.

Brand New about $500

My second favorite lens is the Tokina SD 11-16 F2.8 (IF) DX which works with Nikon though I’m not sure if the auto focus is accurate. I use this for wide-angle photos of landscapes at least 7 feet away (the manual mode for this lens adjusts to infinite after 7 feet. Make sure the focus marker is perfectly in line with the infinite symbol ∞.

Brand New cost $450

Besides that I also use multiple SD cards, preferring smaller 4gb ones over larger ones, some filters (Neutral Density filters to extend exposure time and Graduated Neutral Density filters for differing exposures). I need to purchase a Polarizing filter next to reduce glare. I also use an SD to Micro USB converter that allows me to directly put photos from my DSLR to my phone for Instagram posting on the go. I also own an older manual Nikon Nikkor.C 1:4.5 f=80-200mm zoom lens. It’s a really nice older lens that works well on most Nikon camera.

I’m looking to upgrade to a professional grade Camera and am torn between the Nikon D810, Canon Mark III or IV, and the Sony Alpha a7R II Mirrorless. Any suggestions or opinions?

Happy Travels!

 

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

 

 

lodging, travel tips

Affordable Lodging and World Travel

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How do I afford housing while I am traveling? Especially when I am usually paying rent on at least one place in the US during the same time?

One of the first places I look when friends complain about not being able to afford travel, is at how much they spend on hotels. I rarely spend more than $25/per person per night when traveling. And yet I see people who will literally spend $300/night on a weekend in LA and who can’t seem to understand how I travel so much more than they do. If I spent that much per night traveling, I honestly don’t think I could afford more than 3 weeks a year if that!

I’ll be honest, I don’t need anything super fancy when I travel. I don’t find that the return on investment is usually worth it. Most of the things I want to do don’t involve the place I am lodging in. I’m not one to spend hours relaxing at a resort.

But I also like my privacy. I’ve done the bunk beds. I’ve done the couches. They work for a time. But they aren’t my favorite option. I prefer a bit of relatively clean place to unwind at the end of the night.

Thus most of my suggestions focus on this niche: people who want to travel economically, who want some privacy, who want something clean, but nothing fancy, nothing over the top, no extra champagne perks if you will.

There are basically five ways to stay when traveling: hotels, hostels, Airbnb, Camping, and with friends or family.  If course there are more which I will briefly cover, but these are the primary ones that I use. Let me explain how I use each one to its fullest potential in the following articles which I will post over the next few weeks! Stay tuned 🙂

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II