Todd Hatakeyama

Mar 212014
 

The only problem with nature photography is getting yourself and your gear to the nature. There are a lot of great places to shoot that you can’t reach by car. For photo safaris where you have to lug all your necessities across miles of rough terrain, a little shoulder bag won’t do.

That’s why, on my recent trip to The Valley of Fire in Nevada, I took along the Clik Elite Cloudscape as my main camera and hiking gear backpack. The new Clik bag carried all that I needed for two days of hiking and photography. My Sony A7r with a Leica 50mm f/1.4 lens and Sony NEX-5r with a Sony 10-18mm lens both fit in the generous 20-liter (1200 cubic inch) padded camera compartment. Like the kangaroo pocket its name evokes, the backpack’s “Marsupial” lens pouch compartment offered plenty of room for both my Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar and Sony 35mm f/2.8 lens. Even with all the above gear, I still had enough space left for a Garmin Oregon GPS, some extra batteries, an SD card case, a small survival kit, a light jacket, a pill container, a backup battery for my iPhone, a water bottle, and my keys.


The Cloudscape actually had more room than I needed for this particular excursion. An independent “hydration compartment,” for example, can carry up to a 100-ounce bladder, a definite plus on treks where you can work up a monster thirst. For my purposes, the mesh side pockets fit my 24 ounce stainless steel water bottle perfectly on one side and a second 20-ounce water bottle on the other.

The pack’s laptop sleeve will accommodate most 15-inch laptop. While I didn’t carry a laptop during my hikes on this excursion, I found the slot handy for storing a lot of my accessories, making it easy and quick to find the smaller items I required.

I found the Cloudscape very easy to carry all day without any fatigue; it’s well-balanced, and the padding and vents on the back make it very comfortable. The waist strap has a convenient pocket for the iPhone and the chest straps help to stabilize the bag very well.

My only wish is that pack had a few small pockets. The big compartments aren’t as convenient for carrying small items and keeping things organized. Overall, though, the Clik Elite Cloudscape is a smartly-designed bag for when you’re shooting out in the wild, and I plan on using it for most of my future day hikes.

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Mar 102014
 

Think Tank Photo Retrospective Laptop Case 13L is a great new messenger bag that fits up to a 13” laptop and a lot of accessories. The case is compact (14.6”W x 11.4”H x 2.8” D or 37 x 29 x 7 cm) and lightweight (2.4 lbs. or 1.1 kg), and its stylish and discreet design matches the rest of the Retrospective line. It also shares many of the same features, including a rain cover, water resistant fabric, Sound Silencers and a soft padded non-slip shoulder strap.

My 11” Macbook Air fits easily in the padded laptop compartment (13”W x 9.4”H x 1.2” D or 33 x 24 x 3 cm), with plenty of room left in the main compartment for other items such as files, books, and possibly even clothing or some camera gear. The outer pocket is perfect for other accessories such as batteries, chargers, and other smaller items.

As proof of just how much new Retrospective Laptop Case can carry, I used it as my only bag for a two-day trip to Las Vegas. The 13L had more than enough room for the 11” Air, a change of clothes, toiletries, chargers, and my Sony A7r with the Leica 50mm f/1.4 attached.

I chose the 13L over the Retrospective 50 since I now shoot with Sony and Leica and the 13L has enough room in the main compartment to fit a couple cameras and lenses as long as you use some type of padding for your gear such as the Micro Lens Pouch for your lenses. The 13L isn’t as bulky as the 50 which has the padded camera compartment that fits up to DSLR size gear.

In the short time I was carrying the 13L around, several people asked me about my bag and were very interested in purchasing one for themselves. I have several messenger-type camera bags, but this one is now my favorite. I know it will hold up well over the years since I’ve been using the Retrospective 5 for a considerable time now.

All-in-all, the Think Tank Retrospective Laptop Case 13L is a great combination of functionality, durability, and value.

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Dec 182013
 

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While it’s difficult to settle on any single bag that’s a picture-perfect fit for all my photography needs, I’ve found Think Tank Photo bags a consistent and dependable choice for high-quality, well-designed products. As a longtime SLR guy, I only recently stepped into the realm of mirrorless cameras, and so I was eager to try out Think Tank’s new line of Mirrorless Mover bags that are tailored to fit these smaller camera bodies and lenses.

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The Mirrorless Mover 30i is the largest bag in the series (Exterior Dimensions:: 11” W x 8.9” H x 5.7” D or 28 x 22.5 x 14.5 cm) and is customized for compact cameras like the Fuji X–Pro 1 or Leica M, although it can also accommodate a small DSLR like the Canon Rebel. I own the Sony NEX-6, so I can cram quite a bit of gear into the snug interior (10.6” W x 8” H x 3.9” D or 27 x 20.5 x 10 cm). Stretchable, zippered pocket on both the inside and outside of the bag offer plenty of storage space for batteries and small accessories.

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A magnetic closure for the lid provides quick and easy access to the bag’s contents, and the bag includes a seam-sealed rain cover for extra protection. The grab handle, rear pass-through slot, and removable shoulder strap give you the flexibility to use the 30i as a shoulder bag, a hand bag, or a belt pack, and with the Think Tank Photo Shoulder Harness V2.0 (sold separately), you can even convert the bag into a backpack.

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The Mirrorless Movers may be Think Tank’s low-end line, but the manufacturer hasn’t skimped on the quality of materials or craftsmanship. The 30i, for example, features the same sort of durable, stylish, water-resistant fabric and metal zippers and buckles as in higher-priced bags like the Retrospective series. After considerable use, I did have a seam along the bag’s edge begin to separate, opening a gap that could widen over time due to stress whenever I pick the bag up by the grab handle. Overall, though, the bag’s performance and construction have proved admirable, particularly given its modest price.

Small tear from iPad wear

Small tear from iPad wear

Exemplifying Think Tank’s usual flair for design, the Mirrorless Mover 30i offers you an adjustable three-divider system and slots for your phone and a few lenses. But what really set this bag apart for me was the handy iPad slot, a feature I haven’t seen in many bags of comparable price and size. To paraphrase the Most Interesting Man in the World, “I don’t always carry my iPad…but when I do, I prefer to carry it in the Mirrorless Mover 30i!” I must confess that my iPad2 is a bit of a tight squeeze in this space, so I am considering switching to an iPad Mini for a more comfortable fit.

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With a great combination of features and functionality, the Mirrorless Mover 30i continues Think Tank’s tradition of providing superior value and utility. For any photographer with a smaller camera, the 30i is both an attractive and affordable option–as near to a picture-perfect fit as you’re likely to find!

Albert Evangelista
photographybyalbert.com

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Oct 292013
 

Even before I started working as a photographer, I fell in love with photography by taking pictures on vacation. After several years of venturing to many parts of the globe, I’ve found that arguably the biggest challenge of travel photography is the travel itself. By trial and error, I’ve developed some handy strategies to make the logistics of traveling easier, and I thought I’d pass them on in hopes that others might learn from my experiences, good and bad. A few of my tips:

TRAVEL LIGHT! As a guiding principle, this maxim would seem to be a no-brainer. But as a diehard gear-head, I know how easy it is to succumb to the temptation to take along too much equipment. When you’re about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime excursion to exotic places, your mind reels with all the possible photo opportunities you might encounter, none of which you want to miss. You just might want this lens or that accessory with you…and before you know it, you’re lugging a ton of gear through airport security.

That’s what happened to me–on my honeymoon, no less! My new bride and I had decided to take a two-week trip to Costa Rica, and I wanted to be prepared to capture every memorable moment. I was just getting into digital photography after a long break from film, and I read all the camera forums as to what gear I should bring along to get the best shots of the rainforest. I ended up with a Canon 40D and four lenses. Including my laptop, it added up to 35 pounds of gear, all packed into my nice, secure Pac Safe duffel, which became my carry-on. Couple that with a 26″ roller suitcase for my clothing, and I was waddling through terminals and hotel lobbies under the weight of too much stuff.

Canon gear in the Pacsafe Adventure DuffelSafe 100

A few years later, Olympus came out with their Micro 4/3 camera and lenses. I was quick to buy the new, lighter Olympus gear, and the Micro 4/3 became my travel camera, so I could leave my big, heavy DSLR gear at home. Although the picture quality didn’t compare to my Canon setup, I found it an acceptable sacrifice to save weight and space while traveling.

About a year after that, I discovered the Leica M9. After reading about it on Steve Huff’s blog, I felt certain the M9 would give me the optimum combination of photo quality and portability. With the hefty prices on the body and lenses, it was quite an investment, but the dividends I reaped in quality and convenience made it worthwhile. The more compact camera and lenses allowed me to exchange my cumbersome duffel for a small shoulder bag such as the Think Tank Retrospective 5, which fit the M9 with a lens attached as well as two additional lenses, or the Clik Elite Traveler, which can accommodate two camera bodies with lenses attached and a couple more lenses. Fully loaded with my Leica gear, these shoulder bags weigh in at only around six pounds, a huge improvement from my 35 pounds of Canon gear.

Think Tank Retrospective 5 with my early Leica and Voigtlander gear

Think Tank Retrospective 5 with my early Leica and Voigtlander gear

Having pared down my photography cargo, I have since sought ways to streamline the rest of my luggage. It became clear there was room for improvement when my wife and I took the Chunnel train from London to Paris and discovered that our 27” roller suitcases were simply way too big for the overhead racks in small European railway cars. Dragging the suitcases sideways through the narrow aisle was, well, a drag, and I did not like having to worry about whether some thief might snatch our bags from the luggage rack near the door. Determined to shrink the size of my suitcase, I did some research online and found the eBags Exo Hardside 19″ and 24″ Spinner.. These cases roll on four wheels very smoothly, and can readily maneuver through the aisles of both trains and airplanes. As an added bonus, the 19″ Spinner fits in overhead compartments with ease.

eBags EXO Hardside Spinner 19″ and 24″

Now that I’d evidently found the ideal carry-on bag, I had to figure out how to make one to two weeks of clothing fit in the small case. I consulted my friend Eric Kim, who travels the world teaching street photography workshops, and he revealed that he uses quick-dry clothing, which he washes in his hotel room. This way he can get by with only two sets of clothes and really cut down on space, plus it saves him the hassle of seeking out foreign Laundromats to do his wash.

With Eric’s advice in mind, I conducted a little research online. By reading other travel blogs and reviews of various products on Amazon.com, I came up with the following list of clothing and toiletries for traveling light during extended trips:

Columbia Sportswear Tamiami II Short Sleeve Shirt x 3
Russell Athletic Men’s Short Sleeve Dri-Power Tee for sleeping x 2
ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer x 3
Columbia Men’s Convertible II Pant x 1
Levi’s Jeans x 1 (not quick dry, but warmer than the Columbia pants)
Kohls Tekgear running shorts for sleeping x 1
Injinji Performance Original Weight Micro Toe Socks x 3
WrightSock Men’s Coolmesh II 4 Pack Double Layer Socks x 1
Vibram Five Fingers KMD Sport shoes
Sanuk waxed canvas shoes
Columbia light jacket
Travel laundry detergent
Travel clothesline (not suitable in many situations, but handy to have when usable)
Single clothespin hangers
Panasonic Single Blade Travel Shaver (actually works better than my $150 razor)
Travel toothbrush and toothpaste

All of these items would easily fit in the 19” eBags Exo Hardside Spinner, enough clothing for 7 to 14 days. The only non-quick-dry articles of clothing are the Levi’s jeans and the Columbia jacket. I can easily wash all the other clothes in the hotel sink and hang-dry them overnight. Depending on the climate, some items make take more than one night to dry, so I often have to experiment to figure out how much drying time I require in a given location.

For my current travel photography kit, I chose the Clik Elite Tropfen backpack to accommodate chargers, adapters, a travel power strip, a portable hard drive, and a 11” Macbook Air, as well as my camera gear. I was able to squeeze in the laptop by extending the length of the iPad compartment to fit the 11” Macbook Air, with a little bit of sewing and extra padded material taken from an iPad case. The Tropfen will easily fit under the seat on an airplane, while the eBags 19″ roller fits in the overhead bin. The combination makes for a quick way to get out of the airport without having to wait for baggage claim.

Clik Elite Tropfen

Clik Elite Tropfen hidden rear camera compartment

While searching for a smaller solution than the 11″ Macbook Air, I recently discovered Parallels Access, an app for the iPad Mini may do the trick. The app allows you to control a remote computer with your iPad. It does require a decent internet connection on both the iPad and the remote computer, but it works much better than similar software such as Logmein. So far, I’ve experienced pretty accurate control with the iPad Mini, and I’ve been able to work on both Excel and Word files without any issues. Connecting the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover to the iPad Mini makes the work even easier. Indeed, about the only thing the iPad lacks that would make it a fully-functioning laptop is a mouse. In order to attach a mouse, however, one would have to jailbreak the iPad, which I have not attempted yet. But thanks to my Parallels Access setup, I’ve been able to ditch the larger shoulder bag or Tropfen backpack and carry my camera gear and iPad Mini in my Clik Elite Traveler bag, the smallest option possible…so far!

Clik Elite Traveler and eBags EXO Hardside Spinner Carry-On

Clik Elite Traveler and eBags EXO Hardside Spinner Carry-On

Having suffered the effects of flat feet all my life, I’ve recently joined the barefoot shoes movement, thanks to Eric Kim. Not only does this footwear help prevent the soreness I previously endured from protracted walking while traveling, the minimalist shoes are so light and compact that it’s easy to find room for them in my suitcase. My regular shoes would take up too much space in the 19” carry-on, but the Sanuk canvas shoes or the Vibram Five Fingers compress very flat, so it’s easy for me to pack an extra pair. Also, I find that the Five Fingers remain very comfortable to wear during a flight. Even after my feet swell from sitting for 14 hours straight, the barefoot shoes stretch well, so they never feel as tight as my old shoes did.

Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sport

Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sport

Although it may be a cliche, I’ve found that, when packing for a vacation, “less is more.” In the past couple of years I’ve traveled to Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Great Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Japan, Mexico, Canada, all around the US, and with each trip, I try to carry less and less to make the traveling experience easier and therefore more enjoyable. Of all my techniques, this one is probably the easiest to accomplish, and yet it can yield some of the best results.

MAKE THE MOST OF LOYALTY PROGRAMS. In their zeal to get repeat customers, airlines and hotels can offer some pretty lucrative incentives to the savvy traveler. However, if you spread your business amongst too many vendors, it can take forever to accrue any significant rewards.

Instead, stick with one airline and hotel chain to build up your status. I have Platinum status with Delta, for example, which allows me to bypass the long lines at check in and to board the plane right after First Class and Business. Such preferential seating gives you a distinct advantage if you’re taking a carry-on, since you can place your bag in the overhead compartment above your seat. The storage space fills quickly, and passengers who board last may have to check their bags.

At Delta, Gold and Platinum status confers other benefits as well. Even if I do check a bag, it will be one of the first pieces of luggage unloaded from the plane and dramatically reduce my waiting time in baggage claim. In addition, I’m always on the list for an automatic Business or First Class upgrade for domestic flights. Although flying Business class is so much better than coach, I would never pay full price for the privilege–but it’s nice to get it for free! I also got the Delta Reserve Amex card, and while it’s not cheap, it gives me extra qualifying miles towards my Delta status, as well as access to the Delta Sky Club for me and two guests. Located in airport terminals around the globe, the Delta Sky Clubs provide a nice way to relax and enjoy some complimentary snacks and drinks before you fly.

JFK SkyClub (photo by Delta Airlines)

JFK SkyClub (photo by Delta Airlines)

For my hotel loyalty program, I stay with Starwood. Four Points Sheraton, Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridian, W, and St. Regis are all part of the Starwood group. Having Platinum status grants me access to shorter check-in lines, complimentary breakfasts, free internet access, late checkout, and occasional suite upgrades. As an added bonus, Starwood recently partnered with Delta, which means I now receive points for both programs whenever I spend on either one.

W London Leicester Square Spa Suite

W London Leicester Square Spa Suite

SPEED YOUR WAY TO–AND THROUGH–THE AIRPORT. One of the most stressful aspects of any trip that involves air travel is simply getting to the airport on time. The cheapest transportation to the terminal is usually a shared shuttle van, but a shuttle can cause nail-bitingly frustrating delays as you wait for other passengers to be picked up and dropped off. While I once used such services all the time, I swore off shared vans after enduring too many long rides and close calls. SuperShuttle offers a private van or car service which costs a bit more than a shared van, but does not require you to wait for other passengers. Its prompt service allows you to get picked up at a reasonable time, so you don’t have to allow four hours before your flight as with the shared vans.

Another attractive option is to park at the airport, which again lets you control the time you leave home. Once you safely lodge your vehicle in the parking structure, you ride a quick shuttle to your terminal, and a shuttle also collects you when you return. I usually opt for valet parking, which costs a bit more but is well worth the convenience. You simply pull into the parking garage, leave your car, and hop on the shuttle, thereby saving you the trouble of having to drive up several flights of the structure searching for a parking space and then tote your luggage back down to the bottom floor to board the shuttle. When you return, you merely call the garage and give them your ticket number. Your car will be waiting for you upon arrival–a welcome sight after a long flight!

As every traveler in the post-9/11 world knows, even if you make it to the terminal in a timely fashion, the obstacle of airport security can still keep you from getting to your gate before departure. To address this problem, the Department of Homeland Security has established the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Network, a godsend for anyone who flies on a regular basis. Becoming a Trusted Traveler requires some pre-planning, for you must file an application and submit to an extensive background check and in person interview. But you’ll be glad you made the extra effort as you breeze past the long security lines at most major airports; you can even leave your shoes, jacket, and belt on, and keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag. In most cases, I’ve been able to pass through security in about five minutes, which really makes air travel more bearable. When returning from an international flight, you are also able to bypass the long Customs lines and go straight to a kiosk, where you can scan your passport and exit the Customs area through a quick, short line.

Global Entry (photo courtesy of American Airlines)

Global Entry (photo by American Airlines)

The above techniques may take a bit more preparation as you ready for your trip, yet they can make a huge difference in your ease and comfort in traveling. Whether it’s shaving a few pounds off your luggage or reaping the rewards points from your hotel stay, these are the kind of simple travel strategies I wish someone had told me way back before I planned my honeymoon. They will reduce your stress and increase your pleasure…and, really, isn’t that what a vacation is all about?

 
 

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Oct 232013
 

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As I mentioned in my review of Clik Elite’s Pro Express Backpack, a good shoulder bag will usually hold enough gear for me to do a day’s shooting. But sometimes I want to travel lighter than others, so I like to have a range of shoulder bags with a size to suit every occasion.

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Clik Elite obviously aims to please us Goldilocks photographers who want that “just right” bag, so they have now debuted the new Schulter shoulder bag, a compact bag (External Dimensions: 12″H x 10″W x 4.5″D or 30 x 25 x 12.7 cm) tailored to accommodate a standard DSLR or a smaller camera such as a Sony NEX or Leica M. With a fairly roomy main compartment (4.25″H x 8″W x 4.5″D or 10.8 x 20.3 x 11.4 cm), the Schulter fits a DSLR with an attached lens well, but might be a bit large for a smaller camera since the shorter lens would leave some empty space near the top of the bag. The compartment would be ideal for a Canon DSLR with a 24-70mm lens, say, with space for an extra lens or an external flash next to it.

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The tablet sleeve can easily hold an iPad, iPad Mini, or similar device up to 9.75″ long. A variety of smaller compartments and pockets provide plenty of storage space for accessories and smaller items such as pens, keys, or batteries. The adjustable felt strap has nice, quilted padding for extra comfort, and at just over a pound, the Schulter is easy to carry.

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The overall styling matches that of Clik Elite’s Klettern and Tropfen backpacks. I would have liked more choices in terms of the color and pattern of the bag, since I personally favor solid colors and a less flashy design, but the Schulter looks undeniably sleek and professional. My only quibble is that the fold-over cover flap could leave a very small gap at the top left and right side of the bag through which small items could possibly fall out. A tighter closure for the top flap would make the bag more secure.

Despite these slight drawbacks, the Clik Elite Schulter shoulder bag is an attractive option for those shoots when you only need a small amount of gear. It would make a fine addition to the selection of any photographer who wants a bag that’s “just right” no matter what the situation.

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Sep 242013
 

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Although I’ve truly enjoyed dabbling in street photography, as I did most recently with Eric Kim and Charlie Kirk in Istanbul, my first love will always be landscape and travel photography. Thus, when my friend and colleague Jay Bartlett and a couple of like-minded photographer buddies expressed interest in going on a photography road trip, I couldn’t resist organizing a tour of some of the most stunning natural scenery in the southwestern US.

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We left LA early enough in the morning that we reached the Valley of Fire, the first stop on our six-day road trip, in time to get in some shooting in the afternoon and early evening. Located within easy driving distance from Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. Famous for the stratified red sandstone from which it gets its name, the park features such distinctive rock formations as the aptly-dubbed Elephant Rock and Piano Rock. We took advantage of the lingering summer days of late August to make the hike to White Domes by dusk. These sugar-frosted peaks have alternating bands of orange and white sedimentary rock that resembles a giant 50/50 bar, and the orangey sunset really brings out the contrasting colors.

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Initially, I was planning to wear the new Solomon hiking boots that Jay had given me as a birthday present for our hikes on this trip. However, I’d been intrigued by the Vibram Five Fingers shoes that Eric Kim wore during the workshops I’d recently attended in Istanbul. For those unfamiliar with this distinctive-looking footwear, the Five Fingers shoes actually resemble bare feet, featuring separated toes, a nylon upper, and a fairly thin rubber sole that all flex a good deal more than even regular tennis shoes, giving you the sensation of walking virtually barefoot.

Since I have very flat feet that can become painful after walking only short distances, I am always searching for more comfortable shoes, and so I got a pair of Five Fingers Komodo Sports to try. During our sojourn, we hiked about 30 miles over varied terrain, including asphalt, groomed trails, and some pretty rough, rocky trails. The thinness of the footbed meant I had to watch my step when there were sharp rocks underfoot, and the lack of ankle support required me to take extra care in placing my feet to avoid twisting them. But I was amazed that I was able to walk for such long treks without blistering or other discomfort. Although I brought the Solomon boots along as a backup, I was so pleased with the Five Fingers that I ended up using them the whole time. Indeed, I’ve bought a second pair to take with me on a two-week tour of Italy, France, Spain, and England next month.

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As night descended on our first day, we returned to Las Vegas, ready to feast after our afternoon of hiking. Thinking we’d need a lot of food to satisfy us, we decided to try Texas de Brazil, since all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurants are known for serving helping after helping until you beg them to stop. Vegetarians be warned: a Brazilian barbecue is all about meat, in all its juicy varieties. Ironically, as our trip went on, we found that, far from increasing our appetites, our long hikes shrunk the size of our stomachs so much that we couldn’t tuck away nearly as much food as we expected, which is probably a good thing.

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Nevertheless, we found enough room in our digestive systems the following morning for a hearty breakfast at the Peppermill, a neon-colored Jetsons-meets-Happy Days retro diner that has become a Vegas landmark. After fortifying ourselves, we returned to the Valley of Fire for a second day of shooting. However, we failed to take into account the higher temperatures we’d encounter in the desert early in the day, which topped out at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat made our 1.2-mile tramp to the Fire Wave the hardest hike of the entire trip. One of the Valley’s signature photo ops, the Fire Wave looks like an enormous, rippling flag of red-and-white stripes. It was worth braving the beating sun for the chance to shoot it…but just barely!

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Later that day, we drove on to Utah, with a break in St. George to grab a pile of 50 hot wings at Wingstop and some gear from Dick’s Sporting Goods. At last, we arrived at the next destination on our itinerary, the beautiful Zion National Park. We spent the night at the Quality Inn & Suites Montclair in Springdale, a convenient hotel that offered us both a complimentary breakfast and a stop out front where we could catch the free shuttle to Zion the next morning.

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As our group consisted of people of varying fitness levels, we split up for our day’s trek in Zion. Some of us made the steep and exhausting climb all the way up to the knife’s-edge ridge of Angel’s Landing and along the White Throne trail, while others stopped and relaxed at the lower Scout’s Lookout scenic viewpoint. Just scaling the trail to Scout’s Lookout was enough for me; it seemed to take forever, and I wondered if we’d ever reach the top. But the view was breathtaking, and judging from the pictures some of my fellow hikers took from the summit of Angel’s Landing, the panorama there was even more spectacular. Hard work getting up there, but we were rewarded with some great shots.

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By the time we descended from the peaks, we were pretty beat, so we took the shuttle back to town, grabbed some lunch, and spent the afternoon and evening recuperating at the hotel. The next leg of our journey took us to Page, Arizona, where we made a relatively short (one mile, round-trip) and easy hike to shoot the Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River makes a sharp U-turn before flowing into the Grand Canyon. Again, the striking colors and patterns of the stratified rock formations make for a surprising variety of landscape photo effects as their appearance changes with different lighting and atmospheric conditions. It’s an amazing panorama, but because there are no guardrails around the sheer cliffs, it can be perilous to get close enough to the edge of the ravine to get a good shot.

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When we returned to our lodging at the local Holiday Inn, we all had a craving for Chinese food. Unfortunately, Page is a small town, and the only Chinese buffet place was closed, so we took a chance on a sketchy-looking restaurant that claimed to serve all things Asian, be it Indian, and Thai. Mistake!!! This joint was TERRIBLE–egg rolls delivered to our table still half-frozen! If you happen to be in Page, Arizona, avoid this place at all costs, even if you’re simultaneously craving Indian or Thai food.

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For the last full day of the road trip, we’d scheduled a tour of three of the celebrated Antelope Canyons. However, it started to rain that morning and looked like it wasn’t going to let up, so we shortened our tour to only the Upper Canyon. We were lucky to be able to do even that; our tour guide notified us that they were expecting heavy rains and that the canyons would close to tourists for the next few days due to the danger of flash floods. “Slot” canyons like the Antelope Canyons are particularly susceptible to sudden flooding, for a heavy downpour miles upstream can send torrents of water surging through the narrow ravines without warning. In past years, several unfortunate sightseers have been swept away by such floods.

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Our tour of the Upper Canyon was great, however. The sculpted sandstone walls of these chasms have long been a favorite with landscape photographers from around the world. The day remained overcast, so we didn’t get the ethereal shafts of light slanting down into the clefts, for which the canyons are justly famous. But it was still an impressive natural wonder.

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On the long drive back to Las Vegas that afternoon, we passed through the Valley of Fire again with enough daylight left to enjoy some of the arches and other stone formations that we’d missed during our previous two outings in the park. Satisfied that we’d made the most of our Southwest photo tour, we retired to the Monte Carlo for a buffet dinner and a well-deserved rest. We took it easy on our last morning, savoring a swell Hawaiian breakfast at the Californian Hotel then browsing the Columbia outlet store for more gear before hitting the road back to LA. We’d seen and shot a lot, and everyone had such a good time that we’ve already planned a shorter 3 day weekend for those who missed the first trip. Hitch a ride with us–you won’t be disappointed!

Sep 192013
 

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For a single afternoon of shooting, all I need is a good shoulder bag like the Clik Elite Traveler, which is big enough to hold two camera bodies and four lenses. But for four whole days of shooting some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Pacific Northwest, I knew I’d have to take more gear. With this in mind, I decided to try out Clik Elite’s Pro Express backpack on my recent road trip with Steve Huff to the Palouse region of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

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As I’d hoped, the backpack’s spacious main compartment (16.5″ x 10″ x 5.5″) easily fit the gear I wanted: the Leica M9, a 16-18-21mm Wide Angle Tri Elmar, a 50mm Summilux ASPH, and a Sony NEX-5R with the Sony 35mm f/1.8, 10-18mm f/4, and 18-200mm zoom. All of this equipment only took up about two-thirds of the available space, so I added a pouch with six spare batteries, some lens adapters, a portable hard drive, and several protein bars and bags of snacks. I had no trouble sliding my Macbook Air 11″ into the generous laptop compartment, which will accept up to a 15″ notebook computer–a big advantage over shoulder bags like the Traveler, which will at most accommodate an iPad or other tablet.

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Given Washington’s reputation for rain, I made sure to take precautions for foul weather. The large outside pocket of the Pro Express let me pack in a jacket, a poncho, and rain boots along with the Clik Elite Cliksit folding travel chair. I appreciated that the Pro Express comes with a built-in, tuck-away rain cover. As it turned out, the weather on the trip was mild, but I had peace of mind knowing that, in best Boy Scout fashion, I was prepared.

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The Pro Express also includes a hydration compartment that can hold up to a three-liter bladder, and the pack has a tripod sling centered on the back. (I chose to strap my Vanguard Alta+ 225CT Carbon Fiber Tripod on the side, however.) About the only storage the backpack lacks are compartments for small items. There is one smaller pocket on top of the bag, but I wish there had been a few more.

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Despite its impressive carrying capacity, the loaded Pro Express still fit readily in the overhead compartment on my plane flight to Seattle. Although it was fairly heavy when stuffed with all my gear, the backpack distributed the weight well on my back and remained comfortable to carry. I didn’t experience any fatigue in shouldering the pack, either while tramping through the airport or while trekking through the wilderness.

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Unfortunately, the bag’s size is great for lugging lots of stuff through wide-open spaces but not so good for maneuvering through crowded restaurants or bars. In the urban environment of Seattle, the pack quickly became too cumbersome. The rest of the group on the Palouse trip had small shoulder bags from Billingham and Think Tank that were much more manageable but do not carry nearly the amount of gear needed for a four-day road trip. If I hadn’t wanted the rain gear and my Macbook Air along, I would probably have left one lens at home and made do with the Clik Elite Traveler rather than taking the Pro Express.

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Near the end of the trip, carrying the bag became such a hassle that I would leave it in the car after taking out my M9 and 50 Summilux. Under ordinary circumstances, I would never leave my gear unattended, since many people I know have had their bags stolen that way. But the backpack was simply too big to take into crowded restaurants.

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Overall, however, the Clik Elite Pro Express did a fantastic job of safely transporting and storing a large quantity of gear. For any extended trip that involves hiking or requires extra equipment, this is the bag I would take without question.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Clik Elite.

Sep 162013
 

Having already attended Eric Kim Street Photography workshops in Hollywood, San Diego, Los Angeles and Tokyo, I’ve now shown I will journey even farther to hang out with this street photographer extraordinaire.

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This time, I went almost exactly halfway around the globe to the legendary city of Istanbul. The heart of the former Ottoman Empire, it remains the largest city in the modern-day Republic of Turkey, ahead of the country’s capital, Ankara. As one would expect from a metropolis that dates back to the seventh century B.C., Istanbul stands as one of the world’s great historical treasures, with a plethora of cultural and architectural sights that can be found nowhere else.

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The spot is equally renowned among photographers for its “golden light,” the spectacular gilded glow the area offers at certain times due to its unique geographical and atmospheric conditions. And no one is better qualified to show people how to make the most of these remarkable photo ops than Eric, who has shot in Istanbul previously and considers it one of his favorite places on Earth for street photography.

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The trip there was taxing…or perhaps I should say “taxiing,” with takeoffs and landings for two long plane flights and then a chaotic, white-knuckled taxi ride from the airport to our hotel. Istanbul drivers are crazy, and my cab driver had to be even crazier to dodge the insane traffic. When I finally made it to my hotel room, I passed out for as long a nap as I could get before our first workshop meeting that night.

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Since Eric invited me to join him in Istanbul, I helped him out with some behind the scenes footage, rather than be an actual student. As always, Eric had attracted a diverse and enthusiastic group of photographers for the seminar. After an ice-breaking meet-and-greet, we jumped right into a critique of our “five best images” portfolios that Eric had asked to compile before the workshop. We also got the forthright feedback of special guest Charlie Kirk, an engaging and outspoken British street photographer I’d first met at Eric’s Tokyo gathering. For the initial three-day “Introduction to Street Photography” workshop, Eric and Charlie also gave us a brief introduction to the fundamental principles of the art before we all went out to dinner for a taste of Turkish cuisine.

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The following morning, we reconvened to learn some basic tips from our veteran instructors on how best to approach shooting street. A big part of successful street photography is simply overcoming the fear of offending or embarrassing the complete strangers whom you want to photograph. I can attest that this fear is compounded exponentially when you’re an obvious outsider in a foreign country where many people don’t speak English.

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News of the recent unrest in the Muslim world has only amplified this anxiety. Istanbul itself has been the scene of violent protests, some of which Charlie Kirk has captured in memorable images. However, Turkey is generally a very modern, cosmopolitan country, and other than a few pushy beggars and street vendors, the residents of Istanbul we encountered were very tolerant and welcoming.

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After the students got a few more pointers on how to spot and compose good street photos, it was time for them to hit the pavement for their first photo foray. In order to give the attendees more attention and direction, Charlie suggested that he and Eric spend an hour one-on-one with each pupil during the second and third days of the workshop, something Eric had not done in any of his previous seminars.

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Despite being at the mercy of Eric’s and Charlie’s uncompromising and often blunt counsel, the students loved the personalized instruction. The two master street photographers taught and showed the rookies how to get close to people, how to engage strangers in a short conversation to get a nice street portrait, and how to work a given scene by taking photos from several different perspectives. While waiting for their turn with Eric and Charlie, the students were free to shoot on their own or in small groups. Since the workshop required six hours of shooting per day, the down time between lessons gave the attendees a chance to grab a cold drink, relax, and recharge.

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Although I wasn’t technically a student, I still accompanied Eric and company around the city to shoot the sights, walking five to ten miles a day or about 40 miles for the entire week I was there. I have very flat feet that have pained me my entire life, and around the five-mile mark, they really start barking. Thus, by the third day in Istanbul, I’d developed a huge blister on each foot, which really put me out of commission for the next couple of days. I had to walk as little as possible, and the bandages I put on the sores made my feet uncomfortable as well.

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That’s when I became intrigued by the unique Vibram Five Fingers shoes that Eric and one of the workshop students each wore. Consisting of a relatively thin rubber sole and nylon upper, the rather zany-looking shoes actually resemble bare feet, featuring five separated toes complete with neon-colored fake toenails. Although I initially I wasn’t sure about the comfort of the Five Fingers, Eric’s endorsement convinced me to give them a try on a subsequent photo trip to the American Southwest, and I can attest that these shoes are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn–the closest you’ll get to walking barefoot while having sufficient protection to enable you to hike long distances. I was also impressed at how durable they were given the thinness of the materials. I intend to give them an even greater workout when I go for a two-week tour through Europe next month.

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During my own down time, I went out for a salted caramel shake at the local Shake Shack with my fellow Californian Ryan. Yes, the renowned burger stand has a franchise in Istanbul, and the American-style food proved a blessing when I wearied of roasted kebab meat and rice, which we ate at most every Turkish restaurant come dinnertime after the day’s shooting. However, I couldn’t complain about the service at the Turkish places: rather than a single server, they employed a separate attendant for literally every stage of the dining experience, from the condiment bar to the bathroom. At this location there were more staff members than patrons!

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On the third and final day of the Introductory workshop, the class met before dinner in order to have a group critique of the students’ five best street photos from Istanbul. Eight of the Introductory workshop’s students stayed for the Intermediate/Advanced seminar. Eric usually schedules at least a week off between workshops, but this time he did them back-to-back, with only a one-day break, and it made for a grueling but rewarding experience for all concerned. I enjoyed having more time to spend with the remaining members of the original group as well as getting to meet the six new arrivals.

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Charlie Kirk didn’t even wait for the second workshop’s official start before he began assigning challenging “homework” to the holdovers, which he gave them a day-and-a-half to complete. In one exercise, for example, Charlie instructed his students to follow one person and surreptitiously take five good pictures of that individual. (Great practice for aspiring paparazzi!) In another instance, he had each pupil remain in a fixed location for an hour to watch for that “decisive moment” when an interesting person or situation came into view that would make a good street photo. A die-hard devotee of film photography, Charlie also required one student to pretend their camera only had 36 shots for an afternoon of shooting, akin to a standard roll of film. By forcing them to be more selective in their shots, he wanted to instill in them the discipline and discernment that has characterized superior street photographers since the days of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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Charlie really pushed the holdover students to apply what they’d learned during the three days of the Introductory workshops, and they did an admirable job with their assignments. In the Intermediate seminar’s first critique sessions, while the new students showed their “five best shots” mini-portfolios, the alums shared the results of their “homework,” and overall they demonstrated a significant improvement in their photos.

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For the second day of the Intermediate workshop, Eric and Charlie took the same personalized approach as they had with the beginners’ class, giving the pupils a session of one-on-one instruction then allowing them to shoot on their own. This time, however, the instructors provided the students with more direction and specific goals for when they hit the streets on their own.

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One of the new arrivals, Marek, hails from Poland but is currently working in Istanbul. As a local, he served as our guide to one of the anti-government protests that have been dominating headlines in the city for the past few months. A relatively small group of protesters had gathered in front of a high school, only a few feet away from the thousands of tourists and families who strolled through Istanbul’s main shopping district. With so many people vulnerable to any outbreak of violence, it was disconcerting to see police in riot gear, armed with a water cannon that was ready to strike at any moment.

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Marek advised us to listen for the water cannon engine to start, followed by the turret engine. If water begins to drip slowly from the cannon, he said, one should notice what color it is: If it’s orange rather than clear, that indicates that chemicals have been added to the water. Marek counseled us to run away before the police turned the water on full-blast and to avoid fleeing down the main street, for the cannon can still hit you from hundreds of feet away. Instead, one should duck into a side street that has several escape routes.

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Luckily for us, we didn’t have to put any of these survival tips into practice, for the demonstration remained peaceful during the 30 minutes we were there. Still, I found it a bit exciting–and unsettling–to witness firsthand what I’ve been seeing on TV for the past few months about Istanbul’s political unrest and police brutality.

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The third and final morning of the Intermediate workshop gave the students one more chance to shoot in the streets of Istanbul before submitting their best photos for a concluding critique in the afternoon. I was delighted to see how much improvement they’d made in such a short space of time. They had obviously strived to put into practice all the know-how and experience they’d gained from their classroom lessons and their one-on-one tutoring from Eric and Charlie. I’d tagged along with Eric to take some behind-the-scenes shots of his sessions, and I was astounded at how quickly the students overcame their fear of approaching strangers. Within 15 minutes, they acquired a huge surge in confidence. Like rookie pilots who learn from the veterans, they were soon ready and eager to fly on their own.

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The last night of the workshop coincided with my birthday, so Eric surprised me with two–count ‘em!–two birthday cakes, so all the students could get a slice of the celebration. The company and the setting made the occasion a happy one indeed. I had a marvelous time during this short week’s stay, hanging out with old friends, making new ones, and visiting a part of the world that I’d never seen before. The “golden light” of Istanbul will linger pleasantly in my memory for many birthdays to come.

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Sep 162013
 

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In recent years, photographers who don’t want to lug around a heftier DSLR have frequently opted for lighter, more compact mirrorless cameras instead. But the smaller body of an Olympus OM-D or Fuji X series camera can tend to slide around inside the large compartments of a typical camera bag, so the brain trust at Think Tank Photo have introduced the Mirrorless Mover series of bags designed specifically to give mirrorless cameras and accessories a nice, snug, custom-tailored fit.

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The Mirrorless Mover 20, for example, fits one medium-sized body (such as the Leica V–Lux; the Olympus OM–D and E–M5; the Panasonic G3, GF5, and GH2; the Samsung NX5, NX11, and NX210; and the Sony NEX–5, NEX–6, and NEX–7), along with two or three lenses and some additional accessories. Although the bag itself is quite small (Exterior Dimensions: 8.9” W x 6.1” H x 4.5” D or 22.5 x 15.5 x 11.5 cm) and lightweight (.7 lb. or .3 kg), it offers a fair amount of storage space for its size (Interior Dimensions: 8.5” W x 5.3” H x 3.7” D or 21.5 x 13.5 x 9.5 cm).
A zippered front pocket, elastic side pockets, and a mesh pocket on the lid provide places to stash batteries and other gear, and the multipurpose interior divider has slots for SD cards and a smart phone–an ingenious example of Think Tank’s design innovation, and one that I found particularly useful.

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Consisting of durable ballistic polyester and treated with polyurethane for water resistance, the bag features Think Tank’s usual quality materials and construction. With a magnetic closure, the flip-up lid gives you quick and easy access to the bag’s contents. The removable shoulder strap, the grab handle on the lid, and the belt slots on the rear permit you to convert the shoulder bag to either a belt pack or a handheld bag depending on your need and comfort. Speaking of comfort, my biggest objection to the Mirrorless Mover 20 was the shoulder strap, which I thought could have used some padding to keep it from chafing.

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Although it did not wow me as much as Think Tank’s Retrospective 5 or Retrospective 10, I found the Mirrorless Mover 20 a convenient alternative to the Retrospective 5 for when I want to carry only one camera and a couple of lenses. It nicely accommodated my Sony NEX-5R with the Sony 35mm f/1.8, 10-18mm f/4, and 20mm, and also fit my Leica M9 with a lens attached and virtually any two additional Leica lenses,. If you have a smaller camera (mirrorless or not), the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20 gives you a dependable, streamlined option for when you’re traveling light.

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Sep 112013
 
Trail to The Fire Wave

Trail to The Fire Wave

We just returned from our 6 day road trip to Valley of Fire, Zion and Antelope Canyon. We loved the Valley of Fire so much we ended up going there 3 days! Since many people wanted to attend but couldn’t because of their work schedules, we decided to do a quick 2 day trip back to the Valley of Fire.

There will be a lot of hiking, photography, arches, caves, and amazing colors. We’ll see as much of the park as we can in 2 days. Possible locations include: Elephant Rock, White Domes, Arch Rock, Fire Wave, Crazy Hill, Pretzel Arch, El Portal Arch, Piano Rock, and more.

Fire Wave

Fire Wave

We’ll meet at our Rancho Cucamonga studio at 7am on Friday morning, Nov 15, then make the 5-hour drive to the Valley of Fire and shoot until sunset. We’ll then check into our downtown Las Vegas hotel and have a late dinner. On Saturday, we’ll head out before sunrise, shoot and hike all day and into the evening, then head back to our hotel for dinner. We’ll leave Vegas right after breakfast on Sunday to beat the traffic back home.

(If you’re not from the Southern California area, you can meet us in Las Vegas Friday at 11am)

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Arch Rock

Jay Bartlett will be our guide through the Valley of Fire. Jay and other experienced landscape photographers in our group can help out with your camera settings, lighting, composition, etc. So bring any camera you like, this trip isn’t limited to DSLR owners, but a good camera with a wide lens will be ideal. There will be models ranging from medium format digital Phase One and Leica S, Canon and Nikon DSLRs, to mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX, Fuji X100, Leica M and even point and shoot cameras.

White Domes

White Domes

There will be a fair amount of hiking, so be prepared for at least 8 miles each day through trails and some semi-rough terrain. Don’t worry too much if you’re not in the best shape. We’ll break into groups according to hiking ability. We will provide 2-way radios, bottled water, snacks and a suggested list of gear.

Click here for a map of the park.

Piano Rock

Piano Rock

Cost: $500
Includes: Round trip transportation from Rancho Cucamonga, shared hotel room, breakfast (Sat & Sun), snacks, bottled water, park entrance fees.

Las Vegas locals $350 (not including hotel or breakfast)

Email me with any questions or to reserve your space