Archive for the ‘Travel photography’ Category

Napier, New Zealand: A Wine Lover & Architectural Buff’s Paradise

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Napier Building by Sheree Zielke
There is no reason to leave Napier in order to have a good time; this town was designed for day visitors.  But whether you choose to just walk around for the day, or grab a cab or tour shuttle, a visitor can’t fail to enjoy their visit to one of New Zealand’s most charming port cities.

Napier is the capital of the Hawke’s Bay province; Europeans began making this Maori area their home after Captain Cook did his explorations in 1769.  By the 1850s, Napier was a bustling centre home to seafarers, businessmen, and missionaries.

Napier Sign by Sheree ZielkeIn 1931, Napier’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake, and subsequent fire.  If you are into geological history, visit the Hawke’s Bay museum on the Marine Parade (Napier’s main street) for all the details, and photographs of the event.  Following the town’s destruction, immediate rebuilding of the area took place leading to an abundance of charming homes and office buildings created in the art deco style.  Art deco guided walks, bus tours, and vintage deco car tours are offered to all architectural aficionados who can’t get enough of the 30s.  An Art Deco Festival is held in February complete with vintage cars and vintage costumes.

Marineland, New Zealand’s only marine zoo is on Marine Parade, easily reached by taxi or by walking from the Visitor’s Centre.  Open 7 days a week, Marineland houses a variety of animals and birds including seals, penguins, and cormorants.  Or, between November and February, spend the day at Splash Planet, Napier’s water park.  There’s also the Ocean Spa, with its salt water saunas, and the Par 2 Miniature Golf course.  And for the real duffers, there is the world class Cape Kidnappers Golf Course near by; it’s ranked among the top 50 golf courses in the world.

Napier is home to some of the finest wineries in the world.  Where there was once a tiny handful, only 5, there are now 52 wineries crowded in and around Napier (eastern side of the North Island), and its twin city, Hastings.  Some of the best known include the massive Craggy Range Winery and Sileni Estate.  But for charm and a more personal experience, Mission Estate and Brooksfield are absolute must-sees; their wines (try Mission Estate’s award-winning ice wine) are outstanding.

Organized tours into Napier’s wine country can be picked up from outside the Visitor’s Centre, or any taxi driver can take you around to 2 or 3 vineyards in under 3 hours ($60 per hour – per car, not per person).  And while touring, be sure to visit the TeMata Cheese Company to sample savoury feta, brie, and blue cheese, or visit the Silky Oak Chocolate Company, and its chocolate museum.Silky Oak Chocolate Co by Sheree Zielke

If you are into wildlife tours, many tours to see the gannets of Hawke’s Bay are offered right outside Napier’s Visitor’s Centre.  Choose from the Cape Kidnappers Wilderness Safaris, or the Gannet Safaris.

When arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you can opt for your cruise ship’s shuttle bus (usually about $4 per person one way), or you can jump into a cab ($10 for the car one way).  But don’t expect to walk out of this working port; like Naples, Italy, you will be stopped by local authorities.  You must leave the port via shuttle or taxi.Napier Port Sign by Sheree Zielke

Tip #1:  Leave your ship in the early morning and visit the “Olive Branch Bread Company.”  Purchase a crescent-shaped fluted loaf (they call it a croissant, but it isn’t one).  You are in for a treat when you bite into this delectable savoury bread because inside you’ll find candied fried onions.  The bread crust is dotted with black olives, rock salt and rosemary.  The bakery is easily reached from the Visitor’s Centre; it’s on Hastings Street, at the corner of Albion Street.  You’ll be disappointed if you miss this bakery in the morning because it closes in the afternoon.Napier Bakery by Sheree Zielke

Tip #2: When re-boarding your cruise ship, be prepared to have your wine taken into custody; ship management does not want you drinking locally purchased wine in your stateroom.  The wine will be returned to you on the last night of your voyage.  This restriction will vary from ship to ship; the Grand Princess, for instance, was a little less stringent about this rule than the Celebrity Mercury.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand & Australia: Are they worth a 14-hour flight?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

New Zealand & Australia – Celebrity (Mercury) Cruise January 2008

Are you feeling iffy about the possibility of a cruise off the coasts Down Under?  Does a 14+ hour plane ride sound too daunting?  If so, you are not alone.  But here I am to tell you  that I not only survived the flight, but I have had one of the best exotic vacations ever.  Read on.

We live in Western Canada so our flight originated out of Calgary.  From there we flew to Los Angeles, and from there (after 2 very warm hours on the tarmac) we flew to Auckland, New Zealand (in “cattle car” class — you know what I mean, the cheap cramped seats with minimal service).  But we had no option for an upgrade, so we accepted things as they were.

The flight, oddly enough, turned out to be not as gruelling as we had anticipated.  There is ample room on the Air New Zealand plane to move about (to ease leg swelling), and the TV in the headrest is filled with programs and recent movie selections.

The seats are crammed together, but not horribly so.  Unless, you are very large person, you should find them bearable.   We hit some rocky air pockets, but for the most part, the flight was uneventful.

We arrived to gray skies in Auckland; a crew of Celebrity cruise ship people were there to greet us.  We were escorted to a large tour coach (bus) and taken for a spin around Auckland before boarding the Mercury ship.  It was an unexpected surprise — and a very pleasant one at that.  Especially the morning tea at the Winter Garden Pavilion.

The ship’s management used the time very efficiently and did our initial boarding clearance at the Auckland museum, where we took a quick 20-30 minute tour of an amazing museum, before re-boarding our coach.  We were given a bit of a tour of the Auckland harbour and then taken to the ship, where we were allowed to board early.  It was a wonderful surprise, and so welcome after all the time we had spent on planes and in airports.

For insider tips, cruising tips, reviews on the Celebrity Mercury, reviews and hi-lights of the New Zealand and Austrailian ports-of-call, visit this blog this month. 

You will find a wealth of information — information that will hopefully lead you to a positive decision about a Down Under vacation. 

Sheree Zielke

Photographing Children While Traveling: Shoot With Caution!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

She was a cute little thing, this tiny Mexican miss, but something felt amiss.  After taking pictures of many charming waifs while traveling, this one just felt wrong.  She seemed willing to have her picture taken, but she also seemed uncomfortable. I didn’t snap the shot and instead asked the preschooler where her parents were.  Who was taking care of her?

She understood my question and told me she was with her cousin.  She indicated a ditch to her left.  At first I saw no one, but then the head of a young teen popped up.  The teen shot me a guilty smile and I realized then, with disappointment, that it was a routine.  The little girl was being exploited for photographs by her older cousin, who skulked in the ditch awaiting the exchange of her compliant pose for a dollar.  The joy of capturing a native child in her natural environment fled and I was left with a hollow ache of pity.

The poor in parts of the world like Roatan, Jamaica, and Mexico have figured out there are many tourists with expensive cameras and pockets full of money who will happily fork over a buck or two for a shot of a little native cutie.  I am content with that arrangement when the unspoken agreement is in your face like the beggar woman with her baby outside the Vatican, or the street smart boys in Roatan, Honduras, but not when it is done furtively, like the teen in the ditch.  That is too much like prostitution.  Or worse.  Child abuse.

The famous National Geographic Afghan Girl shot happened a long time ago.  Things have changed dramatically since then, with capitalism replacing innocence.  And with the high incidence of child abuse around the world, innocent photographers must be careful not to be part of the problem.  So, I usually don’t take a picture of a child unless I have some form of permission, or I am in a very public setting and the child is part of that setting.  Like on a pier or at a parade.

My concerns would end at the crafty teen making a few bucks off his little cousin were it not for his more questionable fellow natives.  While in Acapulco, my husband and I were approached a couple of times by both men and women shoving photo albums in our face filled with pictures of children.  We couldn’t quite understand everything they were saying but we were definitely not being sold a picture; we were being offered children.  We were stunned.  And I vowed that as a photographer I would not encourage the exploitation of these children.

Teaching digital cameras and photography allows me to share my views with students.  I encourage those in my class to resist the urge to snap and run.  I suggest chatting with children first, getting down on one, knee eye-to-eye with them.  I also suggest talking with their parents, if they are around.

In many cases, children will be alone, especially in the port towns.  The children who hang out at the pier are unafraid of strangers and expect to be photographed.  Many parade about like miniature street vendors with packs of gum or small toys for sale.  But they know the tourist with the camera is really after a photo.  And they will oblige.

I always travel with American dollar bills or Euros depending upon which continent I am on.  I think it’s fair to give a child, especially the poor ones, a reward for posing.  But I conduct this transaction in public places only.  And I usually do this in the presence of a parent; usually an adult woman whom I guess is the mother.  No grey area that way; your actions will be viewed as completely above board.

Sometimes, I take family pictures as you will get a better photo of a child after developing a rapport with the child, parent or both.  Avoid dealing with a child off the beaten track; stay to the more public places.  Understand that children in the heavily touristed areas are both poor and jaded; they expect to be paid, so pay them.  

And ask yourself a few questions when you meet up with those very willing children.  Are they there of their own volition?  Do they see any part of the dollars they are given for posing?  Do they stand for hours and hours waiting for the kindly ignorant tourists to arrive?  Have they been set up by a family member to obediently wait like seaside doxies the arrival of photographers?  Are they being exploited?

Now do you still want the shot?

Sheree Zielke

Digital Camera MEGA Memory Card Tips

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Oh the JOY!  And the GRIEF!

Camcorder users must have memory cards with LARGE capacity memory storage.  But the average still digital camera user—does not!  And in fact, using a memory card with a storage capacity of over 1GB (gigabyte) is foolhardy. 


With Sony’s release of its mega memory 8 and 16 GB memory sticks for videographers, can mega memory cards be far behind for digital cameras that shoot still photographs?  Apparently not.  Other camera manufacturers are peppering the marketplace with bigger faster memory cards like the SanDisk 16GB CF Extreme III.  But my caution is to think before you leap up to these massive capacity memory cards.  Here’s why…



Digital camera memory cards come under a number of titles, with the most common being:  Compact Flash, xD Card, Memory Stick, SecureDigital, SmartMedia, and MicroDrive.  And while these miniature hard drives differ widely in name, most offer increasing memory capacity.  And that’s good news for professional photographers, but a nasty temptation for the average point and shooter.


It sounds like a magnificent idea, doesn’t it?  Plug in a massive memory card and then fire away.  Select a reasonable resolution and compression level in your camera, and the average Joe photographer could load thousands of images to a 2GB card.  But it’s not the memory card’s memory size that is a problem; it’s the card’s physical size.


This weekend, my grandkids haphazardly managed to lose my Nintendo DS Brain Age game card—it just disappeared.  I could hardly blame them because the darn thing is so tiny.  So are digital camera memory cards.  Some memory cards are so tiny you could pick your teeth with them.  So, what does the average photographer do when, towards the end of his vacation, he loses one of his tiny memory cards?  Cry? Hit something? Curse?  Probably all three.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 


Keep your digital images safe—don’t put all your eggs in one basket!


1)                Buy several smaller memory cards (512, 1GB).  Split up your photographs so that if a card goes missing, you haven’t lost all your photos.  Hopefully, you haven’t lost the card with the prize-winning sunset shot.

2)                Don’t fill your MEGA (2GB, 8GB, 16GB) memory cards to capacity.  If you need the larger cards because you are saving some of your files in “raw,” fine, but share your digital images among several memory cards.  Use a memory card storage case, like the iPorter xSD or just a simple plastic storage box; turn over your used cards, inside the case, so you know they are “full.”  In an emergency, you could always grab one, and add a few more shots.

3)                Clean your camera’s memory cards every night.  Travel with your laptop, or a small external drive like a Wolverine.  I ensure I never lose my photos by loading all photos to my laptop’s hard drive, and a second set to my Wolverine.  I carry my laptop onto the plane; the Wolverine is packed in my checked luggage.  One way or the other, my digital images make it home.



4)                Re-format your memory cards (in your camera ONLY) once you have cleared them of photos.  Digital camera memory cards are tiny drives—their brains (bits and bytes) get addled just like a computer’s hard drive.  And like a computer, the cards need defragmenting (re-formatting) to keep them working properly.  Or, they will act up.  You’ll know you have card error when your digital images overlap each other.


As an average shooter, don’t be seduced by the mega memory cards—buy several cards with smaller memories instead, and a memory card storage case.  When one of your memory cards goes missing, you will breathe a sigh of relief because you still have the others.


And be sure to manage your photographs well—use a photo filing and indexing program like PicaJet to make your photographs easily accessible.




Sheree Zielke

Christmas Spirit in Short Supply? Visit This City for a Fast Fill-Up!

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

NYC Debeers dripping Are You a Baby Boomer Yearning for the Christmas Spirit?  Try the Big Apple!

Are you ready for a different way to spend your Christmas vacation? Perhaps you don’t celebrate Christmas, perhaps you don’t spend time with family during the holidays, or perhaps you are looking for a way to rekindle a remembered spirit of Christmas in your heart.  Then book a December trip to the Big Apple.

Horse and carriage rides in NYC Central Park.

As a Baby Boomer, I love New York City nearly as much as I adore my grandchildren.  Okay, I lied.  Sometimes, I love this quirky bustling city even more.  New York City can become an addiction, a craving so intense, that like some desperate junkie, I search the Internet for cheap airfares just to get back there; three weeks away can cause serious withdrawal. 

Since falling in love with the Big Apple, I determined to re-visit her in every month of the year.  So far, I have been there in October, December, January, March, August and September.  And my conclusion, having seen this wondrous eclectic city under so many seasonal skies, there is no “best” time of year to visit New York City; any time is good.  But Christmastime is not to be missed.  Especially if you are a Baby Boomer. 

Christmas in New York City will touch the child within you, sparking a joy akin to the anticipation of Christmas mornings way back in the 50s, when everything was shiny and new and oh–so exciting.

Macy's crowds on Christmas Eve day.

Treats abound for all the senses:  Giant dancing snowflakes set to classical music displayed on the Saks’ department store wall; jaw-dropping line-ups of jostling Christmas shoppers outside Macy’s store; the huge farmers market in Union Square with its crafts, local wines and fragrant spruce boughs; the tacky tinsel decorations of crowded Little Italy; the sharp scent of roasted chestnuts, sold by street vendors, in little paper cones; the ice skaters and creamy sweet hot chocolate in Bryant Park; the spectacular light display in the Bronx Zoo; the clop-clopping of horses drawing their hansom carriages, bedecked with faded plastic flowers and tinsel garland, around Central Park; the magical display of twinkled trees in the Winter Garden Room near the World Trade Center site (don’t call this place Ground Zero; this is taboo among resident New Yorkers); Grand Central Station’s laser light show; De Beers mantle of dripping diamonds; the peal of church bells on Christmas morning. 


New York City is much more thanTimes Square and Broadway theatres, especially at Christmastime.  Go at other times of the year, certainly, but visit at Christmastime, at least once.  A visit to the Big Apple during the Yuletide season will sate the yearning of the long-forgotten 5-year old in your soul, that secret part of you just aching for one more Christmas morning of innocence and wide-eyed delight.


Travel Tip:  Fly back on Boxing Day — flights are really cheap!


Filing Your Vacation Photos for Easy Recovery

Digital cameras have made the capturing of thousands of vacation images, well, a snap!  The hard part is dealing with those images once we return home. 

Have you found it nearly impossible to locate that special shot, weeks—or even just a few days–after your vacation?  No matter how hard you look, you can’t find that regal shot of Lady Liberty silhouetted against a summer sunset?  That magnificent shot of the Grand Canyon?  That romantic honeymoon beach shot?  Or that picture of Grandma Mary in her rose garden?  If so, you should try using a photo management program like PicaJet.

Misplaced vacation photos can be very annoying, but if you file and categorize your precious photos using Picajet software, you will be able to access your photos via a simple search, right there on your computer.  Then you can easily print your pictures or share them with friends and family members around the globe.



Sheree Zielke

Mystified By Your New Digital Camera? It’s Easier to Understand Than You Think!

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Are you a fairly new digital camera owner?
Do all the new-fangled, highly-technical terms make you yearn for the days when all you had to do was pick up your little compact camera, point, and shoot? Digital photography can be that simple, too, but it is so much better if you employ at least a few of the on-board features provided by most of today’s digital cameras.

As a digital camera teacher, at our local arts college, I find many students tend to ignore their digital camera’s special features, opting to leave their camera on AUTO, and thus avoiding the frustration of not understanding the purpose of unfamiliar terms like “scene mode” or “exposure compensation.” But that’s a shame because today’s high tech digital cameras offer the average shutterbug so much more than did our old compact film cameras.

Here’s a list of 5 of the most basic things worth knowing and basic features worth exploring on your digital camera.

  1. Scene modes: Many new digital camera users think “AUTO” and “Scene Mode” are the same things; of course, they are not. Represented by tiny icons like a woman’s face (portrait) or a mountain (landscape) or a palm tree (beach), a scene mode is a brilliant and complex formula contained within your camera; it’s a formula designed to help you take your best picture possible (under the conditions), with no prior knowledge of F-stops or shutter speeds, ISO or white balance. If you don’t use these modes, you are ignoring your camera’s brain.Examine your camera carefully. Usually, the most popular scene modes like portrait or night shooting (moon and star) are available as an icon on the body of your camera. If not, move your dial to “scene” or “scn” or tap your “function” button to bring up your camera’s scene mode options. You may have a very limited group or you may have up to a dozen options including “museum,” “candlelight,” “fireworks,” and “night portrait.”Scene modes don’t always work perfectly, but they work better than just leaving your camera setting on AUTO.
  2. Exposure compensation: This feature is usually represented on digital cameras as a square divided by a diagonal line, one half is white with a plus sign, and the other half is black with a minus sign. This option allows the photographer to overexpose or underexpose their picture (allow in more light or less light) depending upon lighting conditions. This affects the intensity of shadows, highlights, and mid-tones. If you have time to learn only one feature on your camera, learn to use your exposure compensation; it is so effective at improving your images.For example, while on vacation at a beach during a beautiful sunset, set your EC to the plus side to ensure humans are properly exposed instead of becoming black silhouettes against the strongly lit sky. Against a dark background, like a dense forest, set your EC to the minus side to ensure your foreground subjects aren’t overexposed on an AUTO setting. The rule of thumb is to “add light to light” (adjust to the positive) and “dark to dark” (adjust to the minus).Every camera is different, so experiment with this feature to get an idea of your camera’s sensitivity to your EC settings.
  3. Flash controls: About 85% of the students, in my Digital Camera Basics class, do not know how to use their flash other than on an ‘A’ or auto setting. But it is imperative digital camera users learn how to “force” their flash or how to cancel their flash entirely. Believe it or not, one of the most necessary times for your flash to fire is in full bright sunlight. And you can only make this happen by selecting the “lightning bolt” symbol. This “fill” or “forced” flash will help to eliminate dark shadows on human faces caused by the bright overhead sun.In addition, when taking pictures indoors of humans, or especially of animals, you don’t want to flash your subject as this discolors skin and in the case of animals, turns eyes glassy. In this case, you want to shoot in the best available natural light (near a window), and disable your flash. This is done by selecting the lightning bolt in the circle with the slash through its center. Even with your camera on its AUTO setting, it cannot flash with the flash disabled.
  4. Memory cards: Memory cards are for TEMPORARY storage only; photos must be removed and the cards formatted to keep them working properly. There are many ways to move your photos from a memory card into print or into a file on your computer including: USB cable direct from camera to computer or printer, docking station, memory card reader attached to your computer, an on-board computer card reading slot, memory card direct to printer, or memory card to drugstore kiosk printing machine. The point is that memory cards should be cleared. And then they must be re-formatted once they are cleared of any important images.Avoid larger size memory cards (2GB and larger); opt for several smaller sizes instead. The cards are so tiny and can be easily lost or damaged. In other words, “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”
  5. Begin your new digital photography venture with a plan to file your photographs right from the start. As you download your images, scrap the garbage ones, and sort the good ones into keeper files. Use a program like PicaJet which allows you to tag your images with keywords, give them a star rating, and sort them into themed categories. Later, when you need that shot of your spouse riding on a donkey’s back down the Santorini cliff, all you have to do is search the words: donkey, or Santorini, or foolish things we did while in Greece. You get the picture.

It’s really that simple. Don’t worry about all the other bells and whistles; you can concentrate on the other options later. For now, just follow the above 5 points, and you will be well on your way to a warm and rewarding friendship with your digital camera.

—Sheree Zielke—