Mini Berlin

When you’ve never been to a place, everything about it seems small and dreamlike. As a child, I used to go to Six Flags - Astroworld in Houston and was overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Flash forward ten years and walking across the entire park only took 15 minutes. Not only had my height changed, but so had my perspective of the world, even though Astroworld stayed the same.

As we prepare for our trip to Berlin later this year, that same feeling has hit me. Every bit of Berlin I’ve experienced has been second hand through books and film. The thing is, I’m eager to keep that childlike wonder about me as I roam Kruezberg and Potsdamer Platz. Sure I’ve been to other places in Europe, so the scale of the city won’t surprise me, but I want other things to.

I ran across this new video from filmmakers Efim Graboy and Daria Turetski that uses tilt-shift lenses and photography to picture a mini Berlin, people teeming about like toy models. It reminds me of watching a Wes Anderson movie and only makes me want to visit the city sooner.

You can see more from Efim Graboy and Daria Turetski here.

Slowing Down in a Digital/Analog World

There's a romanticism around old things. Film cameras. Record players. Mid-century modern furniture. Things our grandparents owned. Some of the nostalgia comes from a burgeoning digital world built on smart devices, notifications, instant gratification and whatever I want on demand. It's almost too easy.

With the advent of Apple's new Screen Time feature and even a way to track your Instagram habit, in-app of course, there's a growing feeling that maybe all the screen time we currently enjoy isn't good for us. The question is, haven't we been here before?

In his short film "Peripheral," cinematographer Casey Cavanaugh tells a story entirely through the viewfinder of a Hasselblad 500C/M camera. It touches on themes of being present in your life and the time-tested mantra of "pic, or it didn't happen."

I struggle with taking too many photos of big events, especially while traveling. There's a fine line between documenting your life and living it that is hard to straddle most days. Smartphones haven't helped the matter, but they are just another piece in a long line of addictive tech and behavior that can take us out of the world around us.

One of the reasons I like film photography is for its ability to slow down the process and make me think about what is going on around me. With only 36 exposures and the rising price of film and development, each shot seems more precious, thought out. I tend to talk more about what I'm shooting with the people around me since I can't just show them on the screen after the fact.

I’m currently reading Henry David Thoreau’s “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” (which is an excerpt from his book ‘Walden’ published in the Penguin Great Ideas series) and I’m struck by his tone of indifference to the world around him. In the chapter on the economy, Thoreau lays out his reasons for choosing Walden as his site of retreat from the world and of his mistrust of people and common life. I’ve always wanted to live a simple lifestyle but not at the cost of abandoning those around me.

I believe that the people around us shape who we are and how we live our life. Sure we may have to course correct every once in a while, but I’d rather live with people at the moment.

So whether it's an old hobby or a new-tech experience, remember that we live life with the people around us and that all the other things are meant to enhance that, not take away. When you're traveling or just out to dinner with friends, put that smartphone, old camera or whatever it is, away for a second. Live deeply. That should give you plenty to take photos of later.

Making Pictures: Street Photography

When I worked in downtown Houston, I would use my lunch break to walk around with my camera. Most of the time I used my trusty little Fuji X-T20 with an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens that is pretty small and doesn’t scream, “I’m taking your photo!”. To be honest, I’m not good at taking photos with people in them. Not really from a technical standpoint, more from an introverted one, so the X-T20 is perfect because it has a small footprint and doesn’t look like a professional style DSLR.

The fun of street photography is that you will rarely ever see the same thing twice. Cities are living beings that continuously move and change, a veritable photographic feast every minute of the day.

In his video on street photography, Sean Tucker walks around Rome (also with a Fuji X-T20) and gives tips on how to create stylized shots without being obtrusive. His use of contrast, shadow and framing really provide a good base for a beautiful picture.

He also gives practical advice on taking pictures of people and what to do if someone doesn’t want you to take their picture. I ascribe to the “delete if necessary” philosophy because the last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable by taking their photo. Regardless of the law, I would rather be respectful of people’s right to privacy, and if they ask me to not take their picture or delete the one I’ve taken, I’ll happily oblige.

Below are some of my photos from walks around downtown Houston using the Fuji X-T20.

Street photography can be a great exercise to improve your skills, as well as a great way to document a different side of a trip. These simple tips from Sean Tucker will help you develop your own street style and come home with some great new images.



Finding Peace in the Open Sound

My feet trembled as the engines turned on, slowly pushing back from the city above us. Seattle is glorious in October, the bright midday sun hanging above the hulk of buildings, cranes, and tourists. "This isn't how it usually is," my friend Katie said. No rain or fog, Rainier looming large in the distance, she'd outdone herself.

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The wind whipped my hair into a slight frenzy as we made our way from the port dock and into Puget Sound. I grew up avoiding open water. My first sea experience was a 25-foot fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico during high school. We set sail early in the morning to rig hop in search of fish that I still don't know the names of. Even though I got seasick, the feeling stuck with me. Openness. Vastness. Freedom.

The ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge is hardly open sea, but for a soul stuck in cities and cars the feeling was therapeutic. The wind mixed with passing boats, gulls, and gripped hands on railings.

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As the city sunk into the horizon, we made our way to the front of the ferry. Mothers held their children close as they cooed at the passing birds, looking desperately for the sight of seals. For barely eight dollars, the trip across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island felt like alien territory to me. The concrete jungle of Houston has conditioned me to endless strip malls, traffic, and constant alertness. Here, the water beckoned you to slow down, breathe deep, and feel the life inside your lungs.

After a summer of heat, humidity, loss, and change, the biting air coursed through my body. I donned a bright red beanie low across my ears and stood westward. This deck was my sofa for the afternoon, and I intended to empty myself and begin again. Breathe in change, breathe out life.

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The waves beneath cast fresh blue into our eyes. People filed back into their cars beneath. Children accounted for, friends made. The island opened up before us. I walked down the ramp, leaving a piece of me behind, mixed in the wind and water.

The engines rumbled in the distance as life moved on, slower, weightless. I grabbed my wife's hand tightly, as she smiled back at me. We didn't just make it to shore, we made it through the summer, together. Sometimes that's all you need.

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Hitting the Road: Away Travel Carry On Review

I’ve almost always been a backpack traveler. Ever since a long trip to England with a big, clunky suitcase, I’ve been a convert to the grab and go style of travel packing. Well, that is until I decided to try an Away suitcase. 

On our last trip to London, Kim and I gifted each other with one of Away’s “The Carry On”. I’d seen a lot of friends post pictures of rolling this neat little bag all over the world and wanted to see how it matched up against my lifestyle of carrying everything on my back. 

This is not a sponsored post. We paid full price for our Away bags and have not been contacted for a review by Away. Any links you see are Affiliate links which give us the commission to help run this site if you decide to buy anything, at no extra cost to you. 

Style

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For Kim, we picked the Limited Edition “Paris” colorway that is glossy black with a midnight blue zipper and lining. I was lucky enough to get one of the Limited Edition collaborations with Star Wars in the Hoth colorway. The hard shell is a milky type clear look with a lining of probe droids that you can faintly see through. 

After I deplaned in London, I got no fewer than four comments from people on the Tube about how cool my Away bag looked. No backpack has ever gotten that type of recognition before. 

Kim’s glossy Paris colorway tends to show scratches a bit easier than my clear one so I’d recommend sticking with a more matte color. I didn’t baby my Hoth bag at all and it really held up and still looks brand new. 

Functionality

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The Away bag’s built-in divider really helped compress and cut down on our packing. Like most people, I have a tendency to put a few more things in that I actually need on a trip and with the Away bags compression system and zippered divider, it was easy to get everything in and still stay organized. 

The front side is a zippered compartment that I opted to put things like shoes, my Dopp kit and bulkier items that might move around. The main compartment is covered by a compression pocket that I used for socks and boxers with shirts and pants underneath, cinched down to save room. 

I was immediately surprised by the amount of stuff I was able to fit in such a little bag. It's designed to make it easy to adapt to a Carry On Travel lifestyle. 

Ejectable Battery

I have a tendency to get to the airport pretty early. This usually means that I’m fighting off other passengers for the few available outlets at the terminal so that I can use my phone on the plane. This is where the TSA approved ejectable battery on the Away bag came in super handy. I was able to sit wherever I wanted while charging my phone and reading The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Once on the ground in London, it was easy to eject the battery and drop it in our day bag for a quick phone recharge while walking around the Tate Modern. I’ve never really wanted this option in a bag before but it was super helpful on more than one occasion when we spent all day walking. Definitely a plus. 

Roll, Roll, Roll

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As I carry more camera gear with me, it’s become increasingly common to carry two bags with me whenever I travel. I’ve settled into using the Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack to carry my Sony a7Rii and accessories so any other backpack for clothes and books just didn’t make sense. 

With my Away bag and the built-in luggage strap on my Peak Design Everyday Backpack, moving from car to plane to Tube to walking has never been easier. I’m less tired since I don’t have to carry anything through the airport and switching back and forth is simple. 

My first stop in London was at Blackfriars Station. I was able to get out of the Tube, slip my backpack over the Away bag’s handle and roll right on over Blackfriars Bridge. The Hinomoto wheels on the Away bag are smooth and never once posed a problem, even when navigating cobblestones and streets. 

Ease of Use

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Coming from using a backpack almost exclusively, I was surprised by how easy my Away bag made my trip. Rolling through the airport definitely made for less tired arms and it’s so compact that when I had to navigate stairs, it was light and easy. 

During our trip, we changed accommodations a couple times (Kim changed a few more since she mostly stayed with friends) and rolling through all types of terrain was simple. The divided compartments helped keep everything in place when opening and closing and the hardshell case kept everything safe and secure. 

Customer Service

On our way back from London, Kim’s compression pocket came loose from its bracket. Away has a Limited Lifetime Warranty, so we contacted their customer service and they promptly sent us a packing slip to send the bag back in for repair or replacement. It was a simple and hassle-free process. 

When I received my Away bag, the packaging lacked a British plug adaptor for the ejectable battery. A quick Facebook message to the company and they offered to ship me a replacement to where I was staying in London so I wouldn’t miss out on a single thing on my trip. 

Every step of the way we were contacted by a real person who did everything possible to make us feel like special customers. I haven’t experienced that level of customer service in a while. 

My only qualm would be that when Kim’s bag came back from being repaired, it was a bit damaged on the outside and the box it was in was barely hanging on. I imagine that was probably UPS’ fault, but it definitely could have been handled better.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a versatile bag that prioritizes ease of use and style, I’d highly recommend the Away Carry On travel bag. Its mix of functionality and style at such a low price point is hard to beat.

I look forward to traveling with mine for years to come. Away may just have converted me from a backpacking lifestyle.