This page is a shout out to and a thank you to my friend, Monica...

In the beginning of this year (2016) I made a personal declaration that I was going to travel more. I had a few destinations in mind, and I had a subconscious sub-plot to try to travel somewhere outside of Los Angeles once a month. In January, I did not go anywhere, BUT I was purchasing a bunch of plane tickets for the upcoming 2016 trips, so I let myself off the hook. February I took a mini-road trip to Joshua Tree National Park and made a day trip to Las Vegas. 

March would take me to Seattle, Washington to catch up with a dear college friend. I hold a soft spot for my friends from the University of Tennessee.  To fully understand why, I have to quickly tell the story of my east coast childhood. (*deep breath in...)

I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1984, but our family moved to Marietta Georgia for 2 years, then to Arlington, Virginia for 3 years. We finally settled in Stamford, Connecticut in 1991. From 1st grade through high school I lived in Stamford, and I would ironically, “coincidentally” decide to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. My mother could never get over the fact that I “went full circle” with my college choice.  I studied Architecture at UT staring in the Fall of 2002 and quickly made friends. (*exhales...)

The core of our Architecture curriculum was Design Studio. Each semester for the five year program, you would be in a “Studio.” The description of the course is pretty straightforward: it’s the class where you’re going to design a programmed structure and explore creative ideas. It could be a church, a library, any project of the professor’s desire. For three days of the week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for four hours a day, 1:30pm to 5:30pm, we were in Studio. This is the course that non-architects have always heard about.  “Yeah, my brother studied Architecture and they were always in that design studio. I heard people would be there for 3 days straight and sleep there in sleeping bags…” 

All the myths are true. Everything you’ve ever heard about being an Architecture student is true. 

You see, Architecture, and Design Studio, in particular, is not an education. It’s a war. You don’t have professors, you have evil dictators…dictators you are trying to simultaneously impress, assimilate with, and overthrow. You have a few allies and must manage your time correctly, and attack with precision, because the evil dictator will inevitably burden you with more tasks to complete… We were not students, we were soldiers, trying to live another day in the battle. 

I’ll end my silly analogy, but there’s a degree of truth to that. I described Design Studio as being “four hours a day” but that’s just the amount of time they printed on the semester curriculum. It wasn’t a rule. “You’ll only have to be here for four hours and then you can go home. Congratulations.” No, it was almost as if to say, “we recommend that you spend a MINIMUM of four hours here every three days. Good luck to you.” Studio never ends and it always seemed to be a recurring trait of our coursework: there was always too much work to do and never enough time to do it.

One of our professors came clean once, admitting that they intentionally give us more work and a “required” number of drawings on projects than we could actually finish before the deadline. It was on purpose, he divulged, as a way to test our endurance and commitment to the craft/profession. He later went on to say, and this makes sense, that you’re never finished with a project because there is always more information you can give to fully communicate your design or idea. There’s always another drawing you can draw to describe an idea or space, or another study model you can build to flush out an idea. I heard a quote many years later, and it drove that professor’s words home for me:

"no piece of art is ever finished, it’s only abandoned."

Studio was meant to break us, for the better.

[Before I go any further, I will soften my joke from before of calling professors “evil dictators.” Some were a bit rough around the edges, yes, but overall the faculty at the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design were/are top notch, world class educators. Like any good set of educators, they were direct, and they challenged us to bring more to our projects and get more out of our potential. There was not anything actually evil within the walls of our school.]

Back to 2002 and beginning Architecture, and making friends…

As the years continued, we were given the freedom to choose our Design Studio professor based on our desire to work on a particular project or work with a particular professor, but in the beginning it was the Hunger Games. We were selected and grouped together. (Hunger Games, haha *laughing at own joke. I promise, that’s the last, war/death analogy I will make about Architecture.) Seriously though, we were grouped into studios of about 20 students and introduced to our first semester design professors. I’ll name drop and always remember, I studied under Brian Ambrosiak in my first semester at the University of Tennessee. Incredibly sharp guy, and it was his first year as an educator. First studio in our first year was so crucial, not only for our design education, but in terms of friendships. I think back to the names and faces that were in that studio and as cliche as it sounds, we really were making friendships for life, even if we didn’t realize it. To add to the cliches, we really had to rely on each other.  It was a difficult education and you needed friends to survive, and to talk through ideas with. 

One of my classmates in that first semester was Monica. She was a Tennessee native; really fun, sweet and outgoing. Monica and I would get to know each other during our first semester, but it was in our Spring semester of 2003 that I truly believe our friendship began.

My experience in Knoxville and the University of Tennessee produced a fun personal lesson early on: culture shock…

As I mentioned a second ago, I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut about 750 miles away from Tennessee. It was in the first year of design studios that I learned how sheltered I was. I’m trying to salvage any sense of feeling cool and worldly, but I learned how my childhood did not expose me to as much as my classmates when it came to pop culture. That was one of my takeaways from early college life. I was not very versed in both film and music. 

In my second semester, Spring of 2003, I can remember a conversation coming up about a pretty popular movie. Let’s say it was The Godfather, though I can’t remember if that was that film. All of my classmates were chiming in about their favorite parts or impressions of it, and I may have said out loud, “I’ve never seen it.” Open mouths. Jaws on the floor. “YOU’VE NEVER SEEN….” 

That moment happened quite a few times, about a few popular movies. It came to the point where my classmates literally made a list of all the popular movies that I had not yet seen, that I needed to see. The same happened for music as well. With music, I won’t be too hard on myself, I can understand the cultural difference there: the south loves country and classic rock. Jimmy Buffett…that was the one that drove them nuts. In my short, 18 years of suburban life, I had never heard of Jimmy Buffett. 

Monica was in that Studio grouping and she was as baffled as anyone at my profound lack of musical knowledge. She joined in on some of the group teasing, but…I’ll never forget it, one huge gap in pop culture knowledge astounded her more than others. I probably bring up this up too often when I see Monica.

I love this story…

Again, it was Spring semester of 2003. I don’t remember the day of the week or month of the year, I just remember that it was very late at night or early in the morning, let’s guess it to be between 2 and 3am. As fate and timing would have it, Monica and I were the only two people working in Studio. We were working on a few drawings and she had her radio on. Studio etiquette was to wear headphones so that your music did not intrude on to others, but it was so late, and only we were there, so I did not mind in the least. Monica and I would casually chat between focused runs at our drawings. The radio played, and a few songs would come and go. After a few moments, in our silence, the radio filled the air with a new song…

It was the sounds of dreamy piano, a drifting, descending melodic rift that repeated itself, that was then accompanied by strong pop guitar and drums. The lead singer, a male voice, entered with tones of longing, passion and hidden angst…

I took pause. I listened. I looked up, listened further, and eventually uttered the ill-fated words to my friend across the desk…“This is really good. Who is this?”

I can’t remember the order of her words, but I’ll never forget her face. She looked up with surprised eyes and a squinted brow. Her face said, “really?” I believe she eventually asked outloud, “really?” But eventually Monica would tell me with a mixture of shock, disappointment, condescension, and pity…

“That’s Coldplay.” 


“You’ve never heard of Coldplay?” was in there somewhere…


“Oh my God,” was probably in there somewhere too…

Yes. It was Coldplay. And the song was…Clocks. Only one of the most popular tracks of the early 2000s from one of the most popular pop bands of all time…and I had nothin’. Blank canvas. Completely new to me.  (You've heard it before, but I like playing with all the features of this Squarespace blog, so here's a Soundcloud link with about 30 seconds of it.)

Though we had hung out in our first semester, I always say that, that moment was the beginning of my friendship with Monica. She had to teach me who Coldplay was…My sad lack of pop culture knowledge aside, Monica and I would spend a lot of fun times together over the years in Tennessee. Like any good friendship, it was built on a strong foundation of sarcasm. We commiserated about Architecture work, saw movies, and ran into each other at a party or two. In particular, I remember the summer after graduation in 2007. At the time, I was living with our mutual friend, another survivor of the war, Michael. The three of us were in the same Studio in our first semester back in the Fall of 2002. Michael would be leaving for Washington D.C. by the summer’s end and for some reason, for good reason, the three of us would spend a lot of time together before he left. 

To put faces with names, here is an image from one of our many adventures that summer, this one, to the Knoxville zoo: 

We don’t look too much different now, but man, time flies. Almost ten years ago. (Shout out to our friend, Chantal, who photographed that image.)

Fast forward…Michael ended up in DC for a few years, Monica stayed in Knoxville and I would eventually end up back in the northeast in Connecticut. Life goes on, I guess. 

As time moves forward, I am always fond of my friendships from college/Tennessee. I did not understand and appreciate how valuable the place and people were at the time, in the moment. It was only six years, as I get older that such a small proportion of my life, but such an influential one. I learned a lot about myself, had the chance to discover the creative portion of my soul, and of course learn about Jimmy Buffett. 

Monica and I would stay in touch casually over the years, texting and Facebook-ing on birthdays and holidays. The geography was what it was and our friendship went as expected. I could have made more of an effort to travel, but I was very focused on building a career in Hospitality (which didn’t happen obviously) and would later fall in love with Photography and start to build a portfolio. Unfortunately, I went through a tough time with my mother becoming sick and passing away. Time was really passing and it had been years since I had seen Monica or any friends from the south/Tennessee. But that would change…

After five years in Connecticut, I had made the decision to move to Los Angeles and inevitably that meant a cross country road trip was coming. I remember writing it down one day; I planned out and mapped out the trip. I already knew I was going to take the “south route,” and make my way through Tennessee. 

In addition I had many friends in the Washington D.C. area, including Michael, that I wished to see. Oh alright, I’ll just give you the rundown of all the stops on the trip. First was Baltimore, Maryland, then Washington, D.C., then Knoxville, Tennessee (for two days), then off to Nashville, Oklahoma City (to see my grandmother), followed by Albuquerque, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona, and finally landing in Los Angeles. It was a heck of a trip and I’ll only do it once :) Once was enough. Never say never, it would just have to be a different set of circumstances. I was very focused on making it to LA. Maybe a scenic, leisurely road trip would be fun one day. 

I had been in touch with Monica before making the trip to let her know I would be coming through Knoxville. With her gracious heart, Monica offered a couch to crash on for a couple of days (the last time I saw Monica she called me out for saying “awwww” out loud when someone was being sweet to me, but her hosting me in Knoxville was an “awww” kind of moment.) Even further, she gathered some of our old classmates in Knoxville to hang out at a local bar on one of the nights I was in town. I was so touched. We had a mini-reunion and it was more than I could have hoped for.  It was great to see her and our old classmates and friends. During that night our friend, Peter, urged me to stop by the Grand Canyon, which I was not planning on doing originally (and I have no idea why because it’s breathtaking.) 

Fast forward again…in March of 2015, a friend from my hometown, Jacalyn, tagged me in a Facebook comment, asking me for fun things to do in Knoxville, Tennessee. She was visiting (and would eventually move there). I scrambled and tossed her a few recommendations, but I remembered who the professionals really were and tagged a few of my friends, Margaux, Jacqueline and of course, Monica, asking them to chime in as they were still living in Knoxville and would be much more helpful. They sweetly added a few recommends to the comment thread. 

After the Facebook exchanges, Monica sent me a text message and surprised me. In the message she let me know that though she had made recommendations for my friend about Knoxville, she was “officially a west coaster,” and that she had just moved to Seattle a week prior for a new job. WHAT?! 

There was much mutual excitement over the fact that for the first time in many years, Monica and I lived on the same coast and within shouting distance of one another. We stayed in touch, as always, but now with expectations and soft plans being made to hang out, either in Seattle or in Los Angeles. We danced the dance of “I’m coming, I promise,” for the rest of 2015, and finally in January of 2016 (we’re back to the start!) I just did it. Ticket booked. 

I was thinking about that subconscious goal of traveling every month, and I had things planned for April, May, and June, with July and August starting to form, so I thought, “well, just do Seattle early, in March.” Thankfully, Monica had a few days in the month to hang out. You see, Monica is quite popular and many friends and family members visit her in Seattle :) I’m trying to make a joke of some kind, but it’s true. She ran down the list of everyone who would be visiting and wow, my timing was good as she had a few days open. Her and her boyfriend, Will would be fantastic hosts, and we spent a fun few days together.

Monica is an adventurous spirit and being a fellow architect student/architecture fan/architect herself, we were on the same wavelength about what attractions to see and things to explore. We could talk about art, nature and the landscape! It was very refreshing to be able to do that.  

the Space Needle

It's time for images! First disclaimer about these images: it was late winter in Seattle which meant overcast and clouds, but for some images that turned out to be a great thing. Our first stop was to ascend the Space Needle: 

Oh hey, little bird, sitting on a mosaic tile wall: 

Closer and closer...

We made it to the top and I don't know the last time you were at the Space Needle, but they have some really fun exhibits to accompany the amazing view. Monica captured a few cell phone shots of yours truly. One was from a fun app that creates a digital hologram of the Space Needle in the space in front of you. I’m psyched about it: 

On to the view..

Of course we spent some good time out of the viewing deck. I put my D90 to work and created a few panorama shots. I think Seattle is the best place that I’ve ever captured panoramas. You’ll see many more below. Here at the Space Needle you have the opportunity to view Elliot Bay and Downtown directly to the south:

Way in the distance, much further southwest are the infamous Mt. Rainer, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams. To the west, you have the Olympic National Park and Forest, and to the northeast are the Cascades and Mt. Baker. The Pacific Northwest is a gold mine for scenic photography. Many times Monica would speak of the challenge or joy of being able to capture the various mountains depending on the weather’s temperament. On this day, even through the clouds, we were able to catch a few glimpses of them: 

Monica was being kind and captured a cell phone shot for some strangers on the deck (you can see their reflection in the glass). I share image this because...her red coat. was. awesome. It would be a recurring theme, and almost a character in the story of this Seattle trip. Whether we were in the city streets with grays, black and steel, and or in the countryside with greens, blues, and browns, her coat always stood out in contrast in a wonderful way.  Look for it again and again in this post...

city streets

Before heading out for more distant excursions in Washington State, which is the second half of this post, we navigated Seattle on foot or by bus, which was great. Los Angeles, as much as I love it, can be a dusty desert and never-ending summer, so it was a nice change of pace to feel a little chill in the air, and smell fresh air. The rain very was welcomed. I captured a few images as we walked to and from Monica’s apartment or between our destinations.

One location we walked by was Tashkent Park, named for the city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a sister city of Seattle (the things you learn because of traveling). Within the park was a nice statue worth photographing, entitled, “Semurg” or “Bird of Happiness:” 

Who was I kidding? At some point I was going to have to encounter the Seattle Seahawks in some way....

This was no doubt a play on the Seahawks "12th Man," the catchphrase and nickname for their supportive Quest Filed home crowd.

I like professional football, and actually have a lot of respect for Pete Carroll and his team. My only grumble against the Seahawks comes from the fact that I am a Washington Redskins fan. (Ouch, I can't even say their name out loud anymore because it's such a divisive word/topic) The last few times the 'Skins were in the playoffs they seemed to meet and be eliminated by the Seattle Seahawks. But I wasn't going to let that get in the way of my enjoyment of Seattle... :) 

Naturally we found our way to the...

Who doesn’t enjoy a street performer dressed and painted as a statue?

Inside, Monica and I would sample so much food, striking up conversations with the vendors, even if we didn’t purchase anything in the end (we did go back for some chocolates). The plethora of seafood was of course the main attraction: 

Everyone needs a Mini Donut Cat at some point in their life...

Just around the corner was the original Starbucks (1st and Pike) opened in 1971:

Cops on horseback. You don't see that in every city:

We eventually continued onward from the Market down 1st Avenue, where we came to a Hammering Man statue in front of the Seattle Museum of Art. A series of statues worldwide, the Hammering Man is a tribute to the worker, all workers, as described by the sculptures' artist, Jonathan Borofsky. The rendition in Seattle is 48 feet tall, weighs 26,000 pounds and the mechanical arm hammers four times a minute, 24 hours a day. I paused and photograph him hammering about two-three times before we moved on: 

We came across a nice metal sculpture (artist unknown) resembling flowers on the way to Post Alley:

The following two images come from the following day (you can tell by the difference in the sky) but I thought I’d throw them in here while we’re talking about walking around Seattle. Monica and I would walk by Seattle’s version of the Flatiron Building, The old Seattle Times building, currently the Times Square building located between Stewart St. and Olive Way: 

impromptu portraits

Monica and I would venture towards Post Alley in search of the Gum Wall, but before reaching it, we walked down the steps of a nice public plaza just off of 1st Avenue at University Pl. Earlier in the day, I mentioned to her wanting to capture her portrait at some point.  Her red coat inspired me. It was very photogenic. As we reached this public plaza, I noticed pink blossoms on the trees and immediately knew that we had to stop and shoot here: 

Capturing portraits of my friends has been an interesting process over the years. I am a different person with a camera in my hands, and for most of my friends have never known me as that person. I’m not mean or anything, I just get very excited when great images happen and express myself in joyful noises, and on the other hand I can become much more discerning or critical, not personally, but in the name of creating a great image. In short, my filter goes a way a little bit when I’m shooting.  

Monica was open to the idea of me photographing her. Not stoked like “heck yeah, we have to!” but not necessarily, “no way, man,” just somewhere right in the middle. “Ok, sure.” I’m always interested to see how the chemistry will be when shooting a friend. It’s photography, I’m capturing their soul, right? Monica was very chill (as I knew she would be), and similar to shooting my friend Kelly (also from the Univ. of Tennessee) there was a lot of laughter involved and silly outtakes.

I'm always about creating deadpan, "serious"or "somber" portraits and that always makes my friends laugh. Hold on a minute…

My goodness, that red coat. It photographed so well. Monica did a pretty good job too :) My favorite...

Now would be a really good time to talk about light. Earlier, I mentioned in my first disclaimer about the images that it was very cloudy and overcast. For trying to capture nature and mountains in the distance, it was not the best set of conditions, but for this…PERFECT. The soft light created by the overcast skies was a natural umbrella and evenly lit Monica’s face more wonderfully that I could have crafted on my own. I could have stayed here for a long time in this light. We captured a few more before moving on.

Come on, stay serious, don’t laugh…

We’d eventually find ourselves at a street with a black brick wall and small overhang and I stopped her again, thinking the color of the coat and scarf would be in nice contrast:

I asked her at one point o act as if she was putting her hood on and to keep a serious face while doing it. You can see how well that went :) 

the gum wall

After our mini-photo shoot, it was on to one of Seattle’s most fun attractions: the Gum Wall. For over 20 years, locals and tourists have added chewed gum to a brick wall underneath Pike Place Market in Post Alley. It’s as disgusting and colorful as it sounds, but a must-see. In November of 2015, the wall was cleaned to prevent erosion to the bricks from the sugar in the gum. That didn’t really work as gum was re-added to the wall the very next day. Though a photograph looks like it, I didn’t have the stomach to add my piece to the wall:

Ha! "MP" How perfect (and narcissistic of me) ...

the seattle Central library 

We love architecture. We couldn’t resist. Designed by the famed, Rem Koolhaas, we made a stop by the Seattle Central Library on Fourth Ave. Glass, steel and geometric beauty, inside and out, I couldn’t get enough:  

I inadvertently turned Monica into a model again, having her stand in front of windows or capture her walking and gazing within the library halls:

Emo shot from an indy film?

10 Things I Hate About You

For nostalgia’s sake, in the moment and ambiance of being in Seattle, one morning we watched the teen movie classic, "10 Things I Hate About You."  Visual proof…

I did not shoot that to later use in this blog post. My older brother really enjoys a joke that is in that scene and I wanted to record it and text it to him for a laugh. (I argue that it is the greatest teen movie of all time. A close second is Can’t Hardly Wait, but that’s a discussion for another day…) 

10 Things was set in Seattle (and shot the city very well) and Monica and her boyfriend, Will, were doing a great job of pointing out and locating exteriors from the film. There was even a moment where they paused the movie to discuss where the camera was set up for a shot based on the location of certain buildings. Buildings they were able to name btw…impressive. 

Not that we were going on a filming location tour, but Monica decided to take me to two of the film’s locations before we hit the ferry for further Washington adventures. The opening credits of the film have a great wide shot of the city that can be found at Kerry Park: 

I decided to put my D90 to work again and create a panorama from this vantage point. I had no idea I was about to create one of my favorite ones...

When I try to create a panorama shot, I'll see the view and visualize the ends or edges of the image. I will stand still and rotate from the waist up, like a lawn sprinkler and various increments from left to right. Most of the time, when I go through my images afterward, I have to try to remember, "okay, which shot was the first one? How many shots did I take for this one?" I usually take 4-5 shots for a panorama and about 75% of the time they don't really work for various reasons and I don't share them, but this one made it through and I love it. It turned out to be 10 shots stitched together, by far the most shots I've used for a successful panorama: 

Thank you, kind strangers for posing for this shot (and looking at the sky) even though you didn't know you were...

The next location was the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge.  As it relates to the film, Joesph Gordon Levitt’s, and Larisa Oleynik’s characters are trying to plot against Julia’s Stiles’ character in order to get her to go on a date…it’s all very Taming of the Shrew (which is  what 10 Things is a version or very intentional interpretation of) and they decide to meet at the Troll in order to discuss their plans.

In real life, the Troll was designed by four artists in 1990 as part of a local design competition. The artists were, Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. Ross Whitehead is the principal at the architecture firm of Schreiber Starling Whitehead Architects in Seattle WA. Guess who works at SSW Architects? You guessed it, Monica :) Don’t believe me? Check out their staff page and you’ll see a glowing portrait of my friend. Small world.

A kind stranger poses for a shot (unknowingly) for a sense of scale: 

(Trivia: that’s a real VW bug as part of the statue.)

washington state excursions - whidbey island

Welcome to the second half of this blog post. The part where we ventured out into Washington State. 

I spent a total of four days in Seattle, arriving on a Thursday and leaving on Sunday. Again, Monica was a great hostess and had a subplot in her mind the whole time of where we would go and the things we would do. She planned for us to head north on Saturday and do a bit of hiking. I was all in. I was just  happy to spend time with my friend and have the chance to photograph some of Washington State’s countryside. 

As I mentioned earlier, we navigated Seattle the few previous days by foot or by bus, but for this day, Monica borrowed her friend’s car and we hit the road. Our destination would be Whidbey Island. The 4th largest island in the contiguous  United States, a part of Island County, Washington located 30 miles north of Seattle and from the south (where we were) there is only one way to get there: by ferry. 

We would drive from Seattle up to Lighthouse Park and the Mukilteo Terminal to board a really cool commuter ferry (aka, you drive your car on and off of the ferry). 

As soon as we boarded the ferry, I brought out my camera looking for opportunities to document the trip. I was actually already documenting it in the car by capturing a few images and recording video. At the end of this post there is a short video of moments and clips stitched together, capturing the essence of the trip. Check it out if you’d like. 

Before letting these nature images fly, I’d like to set a second disclaimer about the images and share my process for how I work on images:

Photography is pretty cathartic for me. I really enjoy sitting with images to edit them, because I get to play, like an expressive artist or painter even. My soul resonates with light and color in a profound way. It excites me to see light and shadow working together. I have Adobe Creative Suite 6 (CS6) at home on a 27” iMac. I’m thankful for my playground. 

My editing process involves Adobe Bridge in the beginning. I will save all my RAW files from a shoot or trip to its own folder. Afterward, depending on the purpose for the images, I have two different editing styles. For clients, I will go through and do a “toss sweep” and just black out blurry images or images that didn’t quite capture the moment. Then I will do large batch edits. I use Adobe Camera Raw to sharpen and color correct large groups of images. For a client, I need to make sure all the images are in focus, bright, with a realistic color temperature. Overall, the image needs to be “sellable.” My client should be able to use the image for future publications, private or public. It needs to be presentable. 

When I’m blogging or creating for myself, it’s a different process. Even if I’ve shot a large batch or group of photos, if the final product is just for me, to share as art, I like to edit images one at a time. This brings me to my disclaimer for the images you are about to see:

These images, of course, all take place in the same day between the hours of about 3:30PM to 7:00PM. There were variations in light and color during the day, but I really let myself stretch the boundaries of reality to create some art. I skewed color temperatures, and contrasts, I sharpened boldly, or dodged or burned areas. I let myself play in on the digital canvas. 

In short: the images are not going to look similar. From one image to the next you may see a drastic change in color, mood or feeling. Images and moments may not have been that dark or that bright, or that blue, or that red. Don’t be alarmed, it’s because each image was treated individually. I really edit with a thought in mind, I’ve said it before and it always sounds superfluously passionate, but I think, “what does the image want to be?” I like to discover the answer and I hope you enjoy my interpretations on the moments. 

 As I mentioned just earlier, we boarded a commuter ferry to get to Whidbey Island and I shoot a few along the way. From the boat’s deck: 

Going back and blogging this year’s images has revealed something to me: I love birds. I noticed it in the London, Paris and New Orleans posts; I was intentionally looking for birds while I was traveling. They kept showing up as a recurring theme during my trips. I probably kept looking for them because of what they represent. I really broke free in 2016 through travel and what better animal represents freedom and literally represents flight? The first of a couple of bird images from this trip: 

We arrived on the Island and drove off the ferry  and headed north. We hadn’t really gotten to any destination yet, but very quickly, by the side of the road I was pleased by the site of evergreens: 

When clouds look like mountains and become art: 

driftwood park

After a short lunch stop at Chick-fil-A, (that really happened, no joke. We are Tennessee kids, and love Chick-fil-A. ‘nuff said.) we arrived at our first destination, Driftwood Park. Aptly named because of the driftwood that lines the beach, I’ve never seen anything like it. Washington State at its best: 

The following images are an example of what I mean by the cathartic pleasure I get from editing photographs. You’ll notice the variety of color in the images below, the swirls of purple and orange in the sky. This is a testament to Nikon lenses and Adobe editing software.

Whenever I come up with images like these, my thought is that viewers will think I spent hours digitally creating the color combinations in Photoshop.  I did not. I simply dragged a few sliders, adjusted a few settings and arrived at the image, no extra color added. This process always excites me because (and I mention this a few times on other pages) when I look at the final product, knowing I did not add any additional color, I truly believe that those colors exist in the reality of the moment. Let me just share one and I’ll continue after. Monica, again in the fantastic red coat, on the driftwood, staring into the Puget Sound with skies swirling above: 

I truly believe that God is a painter, and that the sky truly looks like this, but maybe we can’t see it with the human eye. I really enjoy using the tools at my disposal to reveal it. Think about it, if I didn't add any color to the image, where does purple into orange come from? Maybe the sky really is that beautiful and we just don’t know it: 

Again, a bird appears. Fly away my friend, fly away...

Here's a warmer interpretation. Feels like something out of a dream: 

In comparison, here is one that was “normal.” I did very little this one, and this is close to how the sky appeared in reality:

We hopped back in the car after almost freezing, and headed further north. Our next destination would be Ebey’s Landing. I was really wowed by the Washington State landscape and had a moment of clarity about something, but first an image of more birds: 

Along the way we stopped on the roadside because we had a nice view across the Sound.  My moment of clarity was in realizing that Washington State  contained my most favorite and arguably most vast views of nature. That almost doesn’t make sense considering I’ve hiked many times in Southern California and have seen the Grand Canyon. 

Any view of an ocean, desert or a mountain range is great, but it was not until this day, that I realized those views, in a way, were incomplete. You really don’t have a sense of scale or depth when staring a great distance into an open space because it’s uninterrupted. “This is wonderful but how far am I seeing? One mile, 2? 10? I don’t know.” 

But here in Washington, something different happens because of the Puget Sound and surrounding islands and peninsulas. Having a body of water in the middle of your view gives you a sense of scale and distance. It let’s you feel the distance of that next patch of land on the horizon. Washington felt larger or more vast than anywhere I’d been before. These next two images show it a bit, but further down there are better examples: 

The following few images were created while Monica was driving. I could not get over the clouds and how you could literally see rainfall on the horizon in the distance: 

Ebey's Landing

(Another shot from the car) We would arrive at Ebey’s Landing…

We walked the beach, where driftwood appeared again, before heading up to the bluff to capture even more views: 

This image,  captures and sums up the spirit of the Washington State landscape as I viewed or felt about it. The vastness of scale can be felt with the Sound in the foreground but another patch of land (Fort Worden State Park) in the distance. The temperament of the sky and weather was overt and almost comical: clouds on one side, open sky letting the sun through in the middle, clouds and rain on the other. I loved how this is also reflected on the appearance of the water:

A rendition of a cloudy sky with respect to Renaissance painters: 

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deception pass

After Ebey’s Landing it was a race against time. Monica planned for us to end our day at Deception Pass, a state park located at the northern tip of Whidbey Island, but the sun did not want to cooperate with our plans and we realized we were losing light. We pushed forward anyway. It turned out to be worth it, and I was able to start out with capturing an image of Lighthouse Point from the Deception Pass Bridge: 

Speaking of the Bridge, on our way to a hiking trailhead, we passed underneath the 1930’s steel, cantilevered beauty: 

Afterwards, Monica and I had a fun moment of awkward indecision. It was clear, we really were losing light. Before us was the Goose Rock Summit Trail and she knew there would be great views rewarding us at the end, but what good would it be without light? We stood in place for a good five minutes trying to decide our course of action. We settled on “yes.” It was one of those, “we’ve come so far, how could we go back now,” kind of decisions. In the end, it was the right one. 

We hiked all the way to the top and I really wish I had asked her to properly stop and pose in this following moment, because the silhouette would have been impeccable. I’ll call it fatigue, because I kind of captured her at an awkward moment as she climbed the hill. It was still nice enough that I felt it worth including: 

The views from Goose Rock:

Monica would capture a nice silhouette of me as I took in the landscape. “The photographer at work,” she would later say: 

The positive takeaway from completing the hike after sunset was getting to see the moon come out over the landscape: 

Final Day - Golden Gardens Park

The sun rose again and it was my last day in Seattle. Monica was not finished showing me around, and I was thankful for that. In spite of the fierce wind and cold we made our way over to Golden Gardens Park in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood about 6.5 miles northwest of downtown. With more views of the Puget Sound and Olympic mountains, a marina to the south, a pleasant beach, and waves crashing to shore, it was well worth the trip: 

Below is another image in the category of really showing the temperament and character of Washington State all in one image: vast bodies of water, mountains/hillsides in the distance to show scale, the sun wants to come out, no, it wants to rain... It wants to do an be all of the above...

Here is one with little to no photoshop work to give you a sense of the reality, light and color of the moment. Really loved the masts of the boats in the marina in the distance:

One last bird, in a dramatic sky: 

This last image touched my heart. While I was editing it, I kept playing with color and contrast, and in particular its sharpness. I admit, the RAW file was not in the best focus. I tried to save it, and sharpen it, but I couldn’t sell it. It would have looked too forced to try and share it as a “normal” image. So I let it be what it wanted to be…I pushed the color and saturation and let the little blur or fuzz stay and before I knew it I was feeling very connected to the image. It did not take very long for me to understand why.

There was something about the scale of it, the man looking so small in comparison to the landscape. There was the hint of red in a kite at the left side of the image, almost out of frame. Again, there was the softness from a lack of focus, and then it hit me…this image looks like a Chris Van Allsburg drawing.

Chris Van Allsburg was my favorite childhood author. He writes and illustrates children’s books and you’ve heard of his creations. He is the award-winning author of works like Jumanji and The Polar Express. I was captivated by his books growing up and own a few in my small library. His work is truly unique and he has the ability to render images with a dramatic sense of scale and awe. His drawings are intentionally "sketchy" and border on the look of pointillism. Chris Van Allsburg was undoubtedly one of the first visual, artistic influences in my life. He  made a lasting impression. This image below for some reason reminded me of his book, “The Stranger.” I may have to print it out and hang it some day: 

For fun, I'd like to conclude with the little video I mentioned earlier.  It's inspired by that idea of recording one second of video every day when you're on a big trip or just in your life in general. I did not go into this trip planning to create it, I just started recording video along the way and decided to throw this together after the trip. The audio was only okay because wind is a real thing. But hope you enjoy nonetheless: 

I lied, I'll actually end with this photo. It's from the small collection of images Monica and I created on our cell phones at the bluffs of Whidbey Island. We were smart enough to bring a selfie stick with us and I feel it captures the true essence of the trip, our miniature reunion, and the silliness and unbridled joy of our friendship:

and yes, my eyes were accidentally closed, but I still love it. Makes me laugh every time :) 

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