A veteran I met in my travels

A few years ago while on assignment in Southwest Florida, I wandered around Sanibel Island and J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge one morning, in search of some images, and met an older gentlemen fishing. I thought he might make a nice subject fishing in the mangrove-lined refuge, and approached him.

Lee McMichen was in his early eighties, open to chat since he had been fishing for three days, casting his net without a catch. We talked a bit as I tried to figure out how I could capture a decent photograph in the harsh mid-day light. My first thoughts were all about creating an image, but as we spoke more, he shared a few stories of his life, and it became more about our personal interaction instead of producing an environmental portrait.

Sometimes, even when I’m on assignment, I stop, put down the camera, and listen. Although I might not create photos at those moments, and maybe miss memorable scenes, I believe this process brings me closer to the area I’m documenting, and in an indirect way helps me produce better overall images.

As we continued our conversation, he began to tell me about his experiences in war, and his time stationed in Pearl Harbor. You see he was on one of the four battleships bombed that morning, Lee deep in the hull when the explosions crippled the ships and the alarms to abandon ship sounded. He described his rush to escape from down below, only to have the main hatch be closed off in front of him and three others. Panic ensued as all four seamen realized the fate had been sealed, yet only seconds after the hatch closed, it reopened, and they were able to get out before the ship sunk.

After sharing this information, he didn’t talk of the joy he had at that moment, his life saved. He only spoke of all the others who weren’t able to get out. Yet because of the few seconds in his life where one sailor saved four others, he was given over sixty more years on this earth.

As we stood along Wildlife Drive, me fumbling through my camera bag, I heard him yell out – he had caught a large mullet, the first of his trip. “Looks like you are my good luck charm young man”, he said to me. I smiled, yet could only think of who his real good luck charm had been years before. You see, it’s not always the locations you dream of visiting, the adventures you hope to take, or even the images you produce as a travel photographer – it’s really about the people you meet.

Here’s to the men and women who served our country in all of our wars on Veteran’s Day. Although I prefer to follow the anti-war beliefs of many leaders such as the Daila Lama or Mahatma Gandhi, I will always honor and support our troops – those who do a job where so many lives are lost. To those who weren’t able to be saved, rest in peace, and thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.


Small World

Had something happen to me recently that reminding of a story I’ve told a few times in some lectures. It is about walking Don Moseman.

I photographed walking Don Moseman in the mid 90s while on assignment for City Sports magazine-


Books in the works….

The past few months I’ve been working on my second book – due out in the summer/fall of 2011, it will be based on nature photography- one of my first photographic loves. I thoroughly enjoy the process of writing a book because it brings out so much of what you do subconsciously, and reminds you of the many steps you take to capture a great photo.

I’ve also had the chance to capture new images without the limitations of a specific assignment- something I haven’t done much of for years.

Another book is also in the works, completely different from anything I’ve done so far- I’ll share more as it develops.

So over the next month or so, I may be absent on the blogasphere, but check me out on my Facebook fan page, where I try to pop in a number of times a week: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Arbabi-Imagery-Sean-Arbabi-photography/122003760806

I’m a Flickr nut too: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arbabi/

During the summer I’ll run a few workshops in the Bay Area and a few online (in between assignments), while planning a very exciting one I hope to make happen during the fall. Then in 2011, I may have an international workshop is an amazing location- more info to come.

Even with all of this activity, I continue to push forth my tv show on photography with my partner – we passionately believe in the project and hope to find a champion for it. More promotion as well as another tv spot also in the works.

Last bit a news- I was stoked to see my first book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure, hit #10 on Amazon’s Photo How-to section today- it continues to sell well, get great reviews, and I have signed copies available for anyone interested- check it out on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0817435549

Or on my site (with links to bookstores around the world): http://www.seanarbabi.com/book_exposure.html

Thanks for lettin’ me spread the news & promote- when you put your blood, sweat, and tears into projects, half of the excitement is sharing it with others.


Apple’s iPhoto ’09 cool news features

I know it’s 2010, but I started writing this blog about iPhoto ’09 a few months back, never finishing it.

There are a mix of new features in iPhoto (part of Apple’s media program called iLife), and I just wanted to share them (if you weren’t up-to-date). The program offers some great innovative ways to organize your photos, and some of these features have transferred into the latest version of Aperture (Aperture 3.01). And btw, I don’t get paid by Apple (at least not yet) – I just love their products and have used them for over 20 years (including iLife and iPhoto ever since they came out)- I have over 20,500 photos currently in my iPhoto ’09 database.

Check out some of the cool new features:

The Who-When-Where:

WHO: Now with a section called “Faces“, you can find the people you’ve photographed much easier and faster, through facial recognition software. They use “cork board” backgrounds to view snapshots of your friends, and allow you to skim across them polaroid-looking shot to see all of images of them. How to you get iPhoto to recognize a friend or family member? Simply click on the “name” icon, then add a missing face to any particular photo, and the software begins to learn those facial features- and, it gets better as you add more of their photos- it’s pretty cool! You can even confirm or reject photos if they don’t match, and create “Smart Albums” with a group of people (as I did with photos of only my family members).

WHEN: “Events” has been part of iPhoto for a generation or two (I believe it came out in iLife ’08). It basically separates your photos into events- that is when you took your photos (by date or event if you decide to create one). Again, you can skim across the event to see all the shots in that group. You can even merge events by dragging and dropping them into one another (as I did with a Christmas vacation that lasted a few days).

WHERE: With “Places”, you have a Map view and a List view of the locations where your images were captured- you can manually place locations, use reverse GEO Coding (on devices such as the iPhone or any camera with GPS, basically recording the coordinates of where your image was captured on the Earth). You can also create personal locations such as “Our Home” or “At work”.


One big aspect of iLife I love is I can utilize my images- and with “Calendars” I can make an album, select all the photos I want to add to it, then click the Calendar icon at the bottom to make a year-long calendar. I created one late last year, showed it on a few tv shows (The View from the Bay on ABC in San Francisco, and on Bay Area Focus on CBS/ CW 12) – then I gave one copy to my parents, one to my Mother-in-law, and kept one which we are using for 2010. I also put photos on specific dates in the year, using photos of family members on their specific birthday dates- each calendar only cost me $19.99 plus shipping- pretty good for a year-long gift.

BOOKS: Similar to calendars (and cards), you can create great books / photo albums using nice new themes. You can add a travel-map page, create a photo wrapped cover that matches the dust jacket, and the printing looks great as well as the professional binding often seen in high-quality books. Then, Apple ships it in a protective sleeve. You can make books in a few sizes, include a small “brag” book, and the prices are great (the small book going for 3 for $12).

SLIDESHOWS: I’ve always used this feature but now you can add Videos and Stills together to create slideshows. I’ve made iPhoto slide shows in my photo workshops for years- simple, easy, can add music, Ken Burns effects, and so on- all creating nice clean presentations.

And BTW, you can share all your images with one click through iPhoto to many social sites including Facebook and Flickr – here are my Facebook and Flickr pages:

Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Arbabi-Imagery-Sean-Arbabi-photography/122003760806

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41655671@N00/

Check it all out – Apple’s iLife goes for $79 – that’s right, under $100 bucks- and I didn’t even mention all the other programs included, such as iWeb, iDVD, iMovie, and Garage Band.


Through the Looking Glass…

I recently read this comment online and thought it was hilarious – “As someone who is new to photography, I am amazed at the spectrum of photos todays cameras and software are able to produce”.
This thought from a newbie to photography pushes me to confess something I’ve never told anyone- that’s right, I didn’t take all my photos I sell, share, and teach with – my camera did. That’s right- in fact, with the advent of digital photography, cameras now take all the photos. 🙂
Of course I’m being facetious but it does bring up a good point that so many people feel the improvements in digital technology has made it easier to take better photos. To me, it’s made it easier to make millions feel they could take better photos- for the most part, there’s just millions of more images out there being shared- not necessarily good, sometimes not bad, and on rare occasion amazing.

Since the day the first photos were being taken, painters were criticizing these image-makers as non-artists, doing something they couldn’t do on a canvas.
Unfortunately in this day and age of Photoshop and DSLRs, so many assume these new tools are making photography easier. And as much as I love Photoshop and DSLRs, they simple aren’t.
It’s funny- people throw all kinds of words at your images- “you do some great photoshop work”, “what filter did you use on that” – but most of the time (if not all the time) capturing a great image is a combination of a lot of things including hard work.


BetterPhoto’s worldwide reach

I recently finished my 39th online photo workshop course on BetterPhoto, and currently teaching my 40th – I started teaching with them in late 2006, and mainly teach an exposure course entitled “Better Exposure- How to Meter Light“. BetterPhoto.com a great online photo community, free to the public, with 4-week and 8-week photo courses ranging from $198 to $348, as well as websites you are purchase for your own photography.

But I don’t want this to sound like an ad for the online workshop company or my classes there. I mainly wanted to mention how amazing it’s been teaching people around the world – the wide reach of this online company that started in 1996 in Redmond, Washington.

When I first started with BP, I first wondered if I’d be able to teach as well online compared to what I do in live field courses. If my personality could come through in the four weeks I spent with my students (four lessons, four assignments, four critiques, with a Q&A section in our Campus Square site). And luckily it has. People get that I’m an easy-going guy that likes to make others laugh, as well as pack them with tons of good info. And although we can’t all shoot together in the field, the course offers a chance for people to learn on their own time and schedule, while capturing the subject they’re most interested in.

To date, I’ve taught photo enthusiasts in 43 US States and 37 countries – wild – countries including America Samoa, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Ecuador, El Salvador, England, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Macedonia, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, the Netherlands (Holland), Oman, Panama, Puerto Rico, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates.

I recently had my first student from Paris France, as well as Vietnam, and this month have a gentleman from Istanbul Turkey. All walks of life, from at-home Moms to traveling businessmen, retired grandfathers to college-bound teenagers excited about a new hobby.

It’s wonderful to know so many appreciate the art of photography, and have such a passion and love for it. And I truly enjoy giving these great folks some of the tools to help improve their photographic skills. Of course I’ll always have the passion to produce my own images I found interesting, to capture assignments for publications or produce shoots for ad and corporate clients- but to know I’ve had the chance to connect with so many in this amazing online medium is truly a joy.

Check ’em out if you get a chance- all kinds of courses for beginners to advanced, exposure to photoshop:


Injuries & illness- the norm for a nature/travel photographer

As I type, I refrain from itching my right shin – what I thought was a small scrape from hiking through some bushes on a recent assignment in Monterey,might be a small case of poison oak. It reminded me of all the injuries and illnesses I’ve had while on the road, capturing images for my clients – nothing compares to what some photographers have experienced – cerebral malaria, acute mountain sickness, gun shot wounds, and even death – but here’s my small list of some of the memorable ones…

Attacked by wasps, Mendocino Coast: This, by far, was the worst experience in nature I’ve ever had. While on assignment for Sunset magazine, I was capturing a mountain biking guided ride. The guide and I went ahead of the group to scout for shots, and when I found a place, I laid my bike down – unfortunately on a wasp nest (burrowed under the leaf-covered forest floor). By the time I knew it, I was stung multiple times as the guide and I ran, dropping all my gear. We had to go back for our bikes and gear and was stung numerous times- in total, I was bit 25 times and the guide about 15. For the next 4-5 hours a weird rush of adrenaline flowed through my body every 10-15 minutes. All in all, I completed the day of shooting, but in some good pain, with scars lasting a few month.

Food poisoning, Acapulco: On a magazine shoot in ’03, I drove from Mexico City to Acapulco, on my way up the coast to Mazatlan stopping at many cruise ports. My Acapulco hotel was renovating their first floor, including their restaurant, so our room service was Hooters- that’s right, Hooters. I only had one dinner (delivered by a man may I say), but the next day I couldn’t eat without it coming back up. Another day later, the heat was sweltering as I went to photograph the famous cliff divers, forgetting my water in the car. And although I was carrying a lot of gear (a 35mm backpack, large tripod, and a very heavy medium format case), I assumed I wouldn’t need much water – sure I was walking down a few hundred steps to find the angle I wanted, but my car was right there at the top, in the parking lot. Unfortunately I was wrong. After a day of not eating, the heat, and the exertion, I was soaked in sweat and very tired. I shot images for a hour or two, but as I headed back up the stone steps, I was exhausted and baking hot- my body screaming out for water. I knew as was in the first stages of heat stroke. It took me 45 minutes to hike my heavy gear to my car and as I arrived at the top, I was pale and a wreck. I tried to eat some watermelon but that too decided it didn’t want to stay in my body. Although I rested with my head between my knees for 45 minutes, I knew I couldn’t rest much more- I had to check out of my hotel and drive 7 hours to Ixtapa for my next stop.

Montezuma’s revenge in Borneo: Traveling through Sarawak for three weeks was an amazing experience- and luckily I avoided any food-borne illnesses – that was until I arrived at the coastal town of Miri, on my way back home. A day away from my flight home, my stomach began to rumble as I walked the markets looking for a few trinkets. I won’t go into much detail, but the next day was spent very close to my hotel room and the bathroom- too much information? 🙂

Headaches atop Whitney: Backpacking to the top of Mount Whitney’s 14,500 foot peak was a wonderful experience with a few friends, a 300mm lens, and my tripod. But as the highest point in the lower 48 US States, I knew we would be tested with altitude sickness, especially coming from sea level the day before – nothing compared to what Everest climbers go through of course, but enough to become serious if not monitored. Although I made it up and back, the headache I had on the summit was excruciating and that night of sleep was a rough one.

Swollen leg in Sarawak: Wasp sting: While I hiked, 4-wheel drove, and helicoptered through the jungles of Borneo, I saw many large insects and bizarre wildlife. I had cut my knee the day before my trip (broken Snapple bottle), requiring stitches (along I never got ’em). My fear was the large gouge on my knee would get infected by jungle parasites, but luckily that never happened. One day however, while in the Penan village of Patik, I was stung on my calf by a wasp- hurt like hell. Over the next few days, my lower leg got larger, began to tighten up, and was covered by a rash- I had no idea why, nor did the doctor who traveled with our group of photographers and journalists. It took a week or so to go completely away, and although it was painful, it didn’t compare to the bizarre feeling a got from taking Larium (anti-malaria medication)- that’s a whole other story.

Air cast while covering the Eco-Challenge British Columbia: A few days before covering an adventure race assignment in Canada, I torn my ankle apart and had to wear an air cast. I still traveled to Whistler BC, covered the event for about a week even though my ankle was a mess. By the end of each day it would swell up and couldn’t fit in my boot. On the second night, the whole thing was turning blue and purple, from my toes to my upper ankle, but I toughed it out – not enjoyable but that’s part of the job.

Houseboat fall, Lake Shasta CA: If there’s one thing I’ve learned with photography is that the more you get into it, the stupider the things you do. On one Sunset magazine assignment while on the third deck of a houseboat, looking through my 24mm lens and walking at the same time (I know, not smart) I stepped into the hole that was the ladder down to the first floor. Luckily I caught myself albeit half way in the hole, smashed my back, and had a nice welt for a few weeks.

Face plant in Montana: I had a mix of magazine assignment’s once in Western Montana, spread out over a 10-day road trip. Of course dealing with weather and planning each shoot meant keeping up with a tight well-organized schedule. So on this particular day near Seeley Lake, I was due to capture sunrise, meet a few people to canoe down a stretch of river, mountain bike up to a waterfall (to save time), and connect with a group for some horseback riding shots before rounding out the day at sunset. The first part of day went off without a hitch. I rented a mountain bike and rode up a narrow technical single-track trail to the waterfall, got the images I needed, and as I headed back I silently was patting myself on the back- not only for being able to make each shoot happen in that day, but also how I was handling the tough trail with my photo backpack. Spoke (or thought) too soon. A 1/2 mile from my car I hit a tree root in the trail and took a nice face plant- broke my watch and sunglasses, and although I wore a helmet, scratched up my forehead nicely, not to mention my arm as well. The bike was in worse shape forcing me to carry it back to the car. That was the end of my day.

Back spasms in St Croix: I learned in my early 20s I was born with a small case of Spina bifida – my first lumbar never forming completely leaving a large gap. In high school I injured my back and ever since then I would have my back go out from time to time. With workouts and proper posture, I’ve been able to fend off back spasms over the year, but once in the US Virgin Islands, upon arriving for a two week photo shoot, my back gave out- most likely due to carrying so many heavy bags of gear. Models were on the way as well as my client, and luckily after a day of rest, Daypro and Soma, I was able to release the spasm and get back to my job.

Homesickness in Buenos Aires: I know, not really a legitimate injury, but it does come with the territory. Three weeks after being married, I was on the road, traveling to Argentina to capture an adventure race in Northern Patagonia. Once I arrived in Buenos Aires, I felt the overwhelming feeling of being homesick. “What am I doing here” I asked myself as I tried to communicate with the little Spanish I knew. Nevertheless I was aware that I had no other choice but to find a hotel, catch my Andes-bound flight the next day and to tough it out- I needed to be responsible and knew I’d regret it if I turned back. When I was younger I thought homesickness would go away with age and wisdom, but it doesn’t – Steinbeck proved that in Travels with Charley.

Although I still get homeisck when on assignment, it’s a little easier to deal with since with age comes the awareness of simply putting one foot in front of the other- just as long as it’s not into a hole I might fall through.


iPhone 3G (the G stands for gouged and gashed)

I love my iPhone– had the first one, and now own a 3G.

I’ve used it to the nth degree- have thousands of photos on it (in a mix of albums), tons of music (love my tunes), have many apps as well- one that controls my computer like a remote, another that tells me when the moon will rise, or one app that gives me low tide times. I love Google maps (use it for my business and travels ALL the time), have some fun photo apps (PS Mobile, Gorlliacam), and have over 1000 contacts and my daily schedule- amazing device.

So when I saw my brother’s iPhone, I figured it was trashed. Just looking at it, I assumed it wasn’t working- smashed, gouged and bashed from a series of falls). Then he dropped it again….this time actually taking a chunk of glass out of it (see bottom right). I think his 3G stands of three times gashed.

When I showed it to Apple (send them an email with a photo of it), they recommended not using it since the glass my cut him- but he doesn’t care, and he still uses it- AND yes, he’s cut his thumb while sliding it on the screen.

But guess what? It still works. In fact the last time he dropped it, the main button stopped working – then self-healed itself a week later and works perfectly fine. Too funny.

And yes, the camera on it still works too. By the way, it looks worse in person (I shot these photos with my iPhone cam).

So the next time someone tells you the iPhone is fragile, or how they don’t like typing using the keyboard on the screen, tell ’em my brother uses this one just fine. Take that Blackberry. 🙂


Working on my second book

Just wanted to let everyone know I’ve been working on my second book – I’ll be done with the 45,000 word manuscript in June, it will hold over 200 images, and will be published with a division of Random House on the summer/fall of 2011 to be sold around the world.

It’s another photography how-to, deals with the outdoors, and I’m very excited about it – brings me back to some of my roots in photography, as well as one of my big loves. Recently I captured a few winter images in Yosemite National Park for potential book shots, and had a great time with a small group of photo friends.

I’ll keep you updated on it went it hits bookstores, and hope everyone grabs a copy! (I’ll have signed copies available too at that time).



My Via magazine cover

A few months ago I headed down to Monterey on assignment, to capture a cover for Via magazine (AAA’s travel publication). Millions will see the image on the cover of their January/February 2010 issue (their circulation being one of the largest of any travel magazine in the US), and most won’t bat an eye at how I came to capture the image.

Which is fine. That’s my job as a photographer. And just as we past hundreds of buildings everyday, most don’t think about all that went into erecting that structure. I know, I said erecting. I digress….into an 11-year old boy.

But seriously, if you’re curious how I came to capture the shot, here are some of the details. I was first hired in September to go down to the Monterey area, to come back with a mix of images for an article on Moss Landing and the Elkhorn Slough– from antique shops in the small town, to a famous seafood dish at Phil’s Fish Market, to a mix of wildlife and scenes in the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. I went down a bit early on a Friday (set to shoot Saturday and Sunday) and found beautiful sunset light with a group of 250 sea lions who had taken over a local pier- captured some fantastic shots. But with the weekend came the fog and overcast that didn’t let up. So I photographed as well as I could (although my editors were hoping for blue skies) and came back with a variety of images, albeit in soft white light.

I wasn’t sure I’d be given a second chance with the weather, but a month later my editors asked me to return searching for clear skies and a clear cover choice. On a beautiful blue sky Sunday morning, the day after Halloween, a warm-streak came through Northern California, normally reserved for the indian summers of early October – yet this one was spilling over into November- a rare occurrence only Al Gore could explain. As I drove back to the Elkhorn Slough, I prepped the day in my mind – half of it spent hiking the eastern side of the slough capturing birds and wildlife, the other half in a small boat on the water. I clicked off a mix of scenes creating natural blinds to hide and document bird life in the area.

Around 2pm, I headed to meet a very nice gentleman who agreed to take me into the slough on a 1950s russian rescue boat – a local kayak company owner. I only had a couple of hours left of light (due to the early late fall days) and hoped to find a sunset scene with a person and the surrounding worthy for the cover. It was a wonderful few hours photographing sea otters resting in kelp beds, the Elkhorn Slough Safari taking visitors through the area, Pelicans silhouetted by the sunset, as well as the full moon rising as kayakers headed out for a nighttime paddle. But I wasn’t sure if I had the cover.

About 45 minutes before the sun set, we headed up a small inlet hoping to find still waters and a nice scene to frame. We came to an old pier and a bend in the waterway, and I knew we had something. I stepped off the boat and had my new friend navigate the small vessel up and down the way as I fired shot after shot. It was a peaceful serene scene that felt right.

Hopefully many will like the shot, maybe it will inspire some, and thankfully my editors were pleased with the image choices from the shoot – which is always my first goal when I’m on assignment. You rarely have a scene you feel should be the cover, actually become the cover – but this time the weather, my boat captain, my eye and my editors all came in line.