Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mora Companion/Clipper Extended Tang

We’ve all grown familiar with the Mora Clipper over the years. Some people love it, others like me, don’t, but the incredible shortness of its tang was always a point of contention with this knife. Often it’s been given as an example of how even the smallest of tangs can make a useful knife. You can see more details about the Clipper here.

Well, it looks like Mora will be replacing the Clipper with the Companion MG knife. In all respects it appears to be the same as the Clipper, with minor changes to the finishing of the handle.

The significant change however is that it will have an extended tang. The drawing above was released by Mora, showing a tang that is significantly longer than that of the Clipper. The Mora Companion is already being sold. One location where it can be found is here. If you want a Clipper for your collection, now may be the time to get one.

New Sponsor: PhotoShelter

Regular readers of The Travel Photographer blog may have noticed the small PhotoShelter ad on the right sidebar. Yes, PhotoShelter has become a sponsor of this blog because I believe its products are tremendously useful to photographers and photojournalists and this is reflected by its impressive list of clients....some of who are friends and acquaintances.

I, too, have now joined PhotoShelter not because I needed another website, but because I wanted an online archive and lightboxing system, and a sales mechanism for my images. I know that the many photographers and photojournalists who constitute the bulk of my readership will benefit by joining and using PhotoShelter if they haven't already.

The PhotoShelter ad will appear in the sidebar of this site, any paid signups that occur through links on The Travel Photographer will generate a commission**, and I will occasionally write a post about how and when PhotoShelter has worked for me.  The site will remain editorially and fiercely independent as always.

If you’ve ever considered signing up for online archive and purchasing system, click on the link on the sidebar. It only costs $1 to get started on PhotoShelter on a 2-week trial.  You will be doing your photography business a favor.

** All commissions will be donated to the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, and aimed right back at helping emerging and aspiring photojournalists.

The Revolution Thru The Lens of Heba Khalifa, An Egyptian Photojournalist

I've started to feature the work of young Egyptian photojournalists working for the local newspapers, who not only documented the Tahrir uprisings, but who also participated in the revolution.

For why I'm doing this, you can read my earlier post The Revolution...This Time Through The Lenses Of Home-Grown Egyptian Photojournalists.

This is the second part in the series, and is the work of Heba Khalifa, an Egyptian photojournalist who started to work for Al Shorouk Al Gadeed in 2008. She holds a BA in Fine Arts from Helwan University, and worked in social programs for underprivileged children before taking photojournalism as a full time career. She's the recipient of the Mohammed Mounir Award for Visual Arts, Youth Salon, Egypt (2007), and a Scholarship to Study Graphic Art, Salzburg Summer Academy, Austria (2007), and participated in the Workshop in Visual Storytelling, Egyptian Supreme Council for Journalism (2010).

For each slideshow in the series, I chose the popular "Enta Omri" or "You Are My Life" from the repertory of the legendary Um Kulthum, the Egyptian singer who was the incomparable voice of her country. I owe the idea to a wonderful multimedia essay titled Spring by Shirin Neshat in the New York Times, who also used it as a metaphor for the revolution.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trail Blazer Take Down Buck Saw Sheath Review

Recently I ran across a product that I was not expecting to find. It is a sheath made specifically for the Trail Blazer Take Down Buck Saw. They have it for both the 24 inch and the 18 inch saws. I found it on this site.

The sheath is a basic nylon design, although the material is quite thick and robust. It has a velcro closure. The saw fits in it very well. And is held securely. It works particularly well if you have modified the saw as I did here. The sheath keeps it from coming apart in your pack (has never actually happened to me).

The sheath adds some weight and bulk to an already large saw, so I’m not sure it is worth it. The saw itself contains all the parts very securely, so the sheath might be overkill for $15.00, but if you’ve been looking for one, this one works very well.

Giovanni Savino: Misterios

"Oral Tradition is the most valuable of our possessions and if we don't lose it, no one can take it away from us." And so says Giovanni Savino.

Giovanni Savino never got formal photographic training, but practiced photography since a child, and started to work in film and television as a teenager. He worked alongside Dan Rather, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley and many others, and this career led him to witness and record unique historical events such as the fall of the Berlin wall, the conflict in the Balkans, the war in the Persian Gulf, etc.

A few years ago, he was able concentrate more on still photography and complete several portraiture and editorial projects, such as the one I recommend you watch...Misterios, which is on his website.

I was taken by many of Giovanni's still photography in Misterios, which is a peek in the complex and mysterious world of Vudu in New York, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Many of his still photographs of Vudu are dark and brooding, are of rich red and blurs...the reds of animal sacrifice and the blurs of ritual motion. It was these that I thought were the most compelling. I think you will agree with me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Finish QuantuMatic on Trial - Part 3 - The Verdict

As a member of the Finish QuantuMatic Jury I will now deliver my verdict. In a few days time there will be a link on here to a micro site, where you can see the other member's of the jury.

We have both taken a keen interest in the product and we have come up with some great ideas in our endeavours to carry out this trial, especially the one where we found a 20 year old baking tin to put in the dishwasher. We both seem to have become inexplicably bonded to the Finish QuantuMatic and it's become a race to see who can get to the dishwasher first!

The Evidence: The icing basins cleaned up with excellent results, especially as they had been hanging around for hours before being cleaned. Click here to see Trial 2. When they came out of the dishwasher, all of them were clean and they glistened. All the cutlery cleaned up superbly, watermark free and shiny, in fact so much so that you can see yourself.

Before and After Photographic Evidence: An enamelled dish in which a bread and butter pudding had been cooked, came out clean and the dish had an incredible shine. Cheese grater, 20 year old baking tin, casserole, saucepan. All cleaned up well with the exception of the saucepan which was a tough challenge because I had cooked carrots in it with water, sugar and butter. When the liquid boiled down it causes burning on the sides of the pan and I have to use a scouring cream and pad to normally remove this. The QuantuMatic removed the majority of this and left the pan shining. Large ramekins used for individual crumbles. All baked on food was removed and the ramekins were shiny.

Evidence with Non-photographic results: The first thing you notice is just how fresh your dishwasher smells when you take your pots out, also everything glistens. Forks with Parmesan cheese glued onto prongs cleaned up perfectly. Pasta dishes used for spaghetti bolognese cleaned up perfectly. A basin used to cook porridge in the microwave had just a minuscule of porridge left on the basin.

Summary of product: Easy to use. You can forget about detergent, salt(unless you live in a hard water area) and rinse aid for 12 days. No handling of detergent. Confidence in the product. Takes up the space of one large mug on the top rack of the dishwasher. More cost effective if using a large dishwasher. Cost could be an issue.

Summary of cleaning: Everything is squeaky clean. All of the dishes have an incredible shine. Cutlery is smear free and so shiny you can see your face in them! Excels at removing anything baked on. Removes tea and coffee stains.

The Verdict: Buy and try!

Inuit Man in a Kayak, c. 1929

This is an image of an Inupiat from Noatak, Alaska. He is using what was known as qajaq, constructed from a rigid frame covered with seal skins. It appears that the Inuit name for this boat is the origin on the word “kayak”.

This image can be found in the US Library of Congress.

The Revolution Thru The Lens of Eman Helal, An Egyptian Photojournalist

As I wrote in my earlier post The Revolution...This Time Through The Lenses Of Home-Grown Egyptian Photojournalists, I am starting to feature the work of young Egyptian photojournalists working for the local newspapers, who not only documented the Tahrir uprisings, but who also participated in the revolution.

The series start with the work of Eman Helal, an Egyptian photojournalist who started her career at El-Shourouk (a local newspaper) a few years ago after graduating from the College of Communications. A 25-year old, she covered the daily uprisings in Tahrir square and in Cairo, showing not only talent but also determination.

I chose a popular song from the repertory of the legendary Um Kulthum, the Egyptian singer who was the incomparable voice of her country, to accompany the series. The song is "Enta Omri" or "You Are My Life". I owe the idea to a wonderful multimedia essay titled Spring by Shirin Neshat in the New York Times, who also used it as a metaphor for the revolution.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Council Tool Velvicut 4 lb Dayton Axe Prototype First Look

As you know, Council Tool will be releasing a new line of axes called Velvicut. They intend for some of the models within that line to be aimed directly at the bushcraft community, and it appears that down the line there is Hudson Bay axe and a double bit cruiser axe in the works. The first one to be released in the line however is the 4lb Dayton axe, designed to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the company. I was given the opportunity to test and give feedback on a prototype of this axe, and I want to give you guys a look here as well. Of course there will be changes in the final product, and I’ll try to specify what I’m told those changes will be.

Manufacturer: Council Tool Co. Inc.
Axe Head Weight: 4 lb
Axe Length: 35 inches
Axe Head Material: 5160 Differentially tempered steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $170.00

The Velvicut axes will not be cheap. This one certainly isn’t. It is intended to be a top of the line production axe, and to go head to head with Gransfors Bruks. In that respect, the price is reasonable (a comparable Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe sells for about $200.00). To compete at that price level however, the axe has to meet some very high standards.

Here I will compare the Council Tool Velvicut 4lb Dayton Axe to the Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe. You can see the two of them here.

The handle of the Velvicut axe is hickory, and has the familiar Council Tool design. I found it to be very comfortable, as I generally tend to like their handle designs. The grain alignment on this one was not good, certainly not top of the line good. I was assured by Council Tool that they had a problem with this particular batch of handles, and that the handles used on the final product would be of much higher grade.

The head of the Velvicut axe is attached to the handle using a method identical to that used by Gransfors Bruks, utilizing a wooden wedge and a metal pin. The attachment was very secure.

The design of the head is beautiful. It reminds me of a vintage Kelly Flint Edge head. All the lines are clean, proportional and well aligned. The overall shape is exactly what I like to see in an axe (I am partial to the Dayton pattern). The cheeks are thin and transition smoothly into the eye. They also have a feature which is common on vintage axes, but is rare to see today-the cheeks are tapered towards the top and bottom of the head. This is a design feature used to minimize binding of the head. The smooth and continuous lines of the head, combined with the tapering of the cheeks, makes this axe great for both chopping and splitting. The head is made of high grade 5160 steel, and as with the other Council Tool axes it is differentially tempered. It will also be tempered harder than the regular line, coming in at about 52-56 HRC.

I found the edge of the axe to be thicker than I like. It wasn’t too thick, but was not as thin as that of the Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe. Council Tool assures me that on the final product the edge will be significantly thinned out. As it came, it was sharp and very durable, but on a high performance axe, I like to see a thinner edge.

The balance of the Council Tool Velvicut 4lb Dayton axe is good. It is not perfect, as you see the bit hanging somewhat low when the axe is balanced. The balance seems comparable to that of the Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe.

The axe comes with a leather sheath. I am told they are still finishing up the design, so there isn’t much I can say about what the final product will be.

Overall, I have high hopes for the final product. Obviously this was never intended to be an axe that you carry in you pack, but if the design and quality characteristics of the final product are up to par, I would be very excited to see some of the other models that will be released in the line. What you see above is just the prototype, so we still have to wait and see what the final product looks like. This particular axe should be released sometime in April.

GMB Akash: Survivors

SURVIVORS: "The invincibility of human determination to struggle and survive against all odds" is a book by Galleria di Porta Pepice of the photographs by GMB Akash.

GMB Akash is an extraordinarily gifted Bangladesh photographer, and is the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands, and received numerous international and national awards. His work has been featured in over 45 major international publications including: Time, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Geo, Stern, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Marie Claire, The Economist, The New Internationalist, Kontinente, Amnesty Journal, Courier International, PDN, Die Zeit, Days Japan,and Sunday Telegraph of London.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Revolution...This Time Through The Lenses Of Home-Grown Egyptian Photojournalists

Photo © Eman Helal-All Rights Reserved

Since the recent effort by BagNews's Assignment Egypt (Analyzing News Photo From the 18 Days Revolution) wasn't about featuring the work of Egyptian photojournalists, I thought I'd solicit submissions from young home-grown Egyptian photojournalists working for the local newspapers, who not only documented the Tahrir uprisings, but who also participated in the their revolution, for this blog instead.

These photojournalists are far from being "khawagas" (a colloquial nickname for non-Egyptians), they are not well-known in the Western media, they are -to borrow a word from the US military- "grunts"...hard-working people with little support except their own small local network, and who've been mistreated and distrusted by the Mubarak authorities. They've worked, and continue to work, under difficult circumstances. The foreign photojournalists who "parachuted" briefly into Egypt at the first whiff of civil disturbances did a great job documenting the revolution, but they were still "parachutists'...they were not indigenous to the revolution....sure, they documented it with a good photographic eye...sure, some of them were badly beaten by pro-regime thugs...sure, their photographs were plastered on pages of major newspapers and magazines...but they can never understand the revolution as these young local photographers did.

I know that featuring the work of these Egyptian photojournalists here may start the ball rolling, and could soon lead to larger venues where their talent can be better appreciated...I also know that generous photographers such as Eric Beecroft, John Horniblow and Michael Robinson Chavez are planning such venues. When I have all the details I'll announce them here.

In the meantime, I will feature the work of a handful of these young professionals on The Travel Photographer blog during the coming week.

Trust me...they are not marquee names, but their work is as good as that of the world-famous photojournalists.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

POV: My Name Is Mohammed....I'm A Driver

Tyler Hicks In Libya Photo © John Moore/Getty Images-All Rights Reserved
All of us who are connected to the world of photojournalism and photography were greatly relieved that Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Anthony Shadid. were freed a couple of days ago from their ghastly ordeal at the hands of the pro-Qaddafi military.

The New York Times featured a compelling narrative written by the four individuals, and which describes in gripping details what they went through; suffering beatings, indignities, insults and more. The most personal cry from the heart came in the following:
From the pickup, Lynsey saw a body outstretched next to our car, one arm outstretched. We still don’t know whether that was Mohammed. We fear it was, though his body has yet to be found.

If he died, we will have to bear the burden for the rest of our lives that an innocent man died because of us, because of wrong choices that we made, for an article that was never worth dying for.

No article is, but we were too blind to admit that.
Mohamed was the Libyan driver who had been driving the four when captured by the pro-Qaddafi military, and there's no news of his fate.

While the great majority of the comments made on the article were extremely supportive, a few were not. However, this is the hard core reality of conflict and war. A split second decision may mean life or death...a turn to the left instead to the right may lead one to death or imprisonment...and being at the wrong place at the wrong time means being maimed or worse. The ones at fault for whatever happened to Mohammed are not Tyler Hicks' nor his companions, but whoever killed or imprisoned him.

Having said that, I wish Mohammed had a last name. Perhaps the article hasn't made it public for fear of retribution on his family...that would be understandable. Otherwise, not to mention it is doing him or his memory a disservice. Mohammed has a surname, has a family name...Tyler Hicks and his companions should have known it.

Photojournalists would be unable to do their jobs if not for the vital support of local fixers, interpreters and drivers. And yet, little recognition if any is granted to them. Perhaps it's the nature of the local fixers to remain anonymous so that they get obtain further assignments.

I don't know for sure...but what I do know is that I felt really sorry for Mohammed to only be known as Mohammed...the driver. Perhaps The New York Times and their journalists will eventually be able to compensate him and his family.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Far Out-Heimo's Arctic Refuge

This video provides a short glimpse into the life of one of the last frontiersmen. Heimo Korth, a Wisconsin native, moved to Alaska in 1975 at the age of twenty. Eventually he build his own cabin, and married a native woman, Edna. His cabin is currently located in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Current construction is prohibited, but Heimo is allowed to live there because his property was build before the refuge was established.

There is also a book about Heimo’s journey, titled The Final Frontiersman.

John Moore: Libya, Egypt & Bahrain

The current upheavals in the Near and Middle East are providing substantial opportunities for photojournalists and conflict photographers to report on the latest battles, revolts and revolutions.

Here's a 6 minutes video interview of photographer John Moore who has just returned from Egypt and Libya as well as Bahrain, where he witnessed the uprisings first hand. This is a must-see for all emerging photojournalists and conflict photographers.

From the PBS NewHour blog: Photographer John Moore is no stranger to combat. As a member of an Associated Press team in 2005, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for coverage of the war in Iraq and he's done extended stints in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, South Africa, Mexico and Nicaragua and elsewhere in the last 20 years.

Yet despite his relative comfort with being on the frontlines, Moore told the NewsHour from his hotel room in Cairo that his latest assignment -a six-week trip that took him to the uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya - might have been his most dangerous. Moore recorded the interview for us after sneaking out of Benghazi, Libya en route back to his home in Denver.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Finish QuantuMatic on Trial - Part 2

Finish QuantuMatic is a revolutionary product and has gone on public trial. The photograph at the top of the posting shows the QuantuMatic in situ at the top left of my dishwasher rack. Click here to see a short video of how best to use the Finish QuantuMatic.

If you look at the top photograph you will see a counter and this shows the number of washes left. The automatic detergent dispenser releases detergent for 12 washes. All you have to do is simply clip the dispenser onto the rack of the dishwasher and after 12 washes, replace the refill. I have a slimline dishwasher and the QuantuMatic takes up the space of one large mug.

A photographer came to my house and captured me making a birthday cake for a birthday party. I made a lot of mess, chocolate cake and pink cake mix, icings, icing sugar and flour everywhere. I make lots of cakes and birthday cakes for family members and the dishwasher is invaluable, sometimes it seems as though I use every basin I possess. My favourite items to put in the dishwasher are the basins and spoons I use for coloured icings. I totally rely on my dishwasher to clean up all of those nasty basins and utensils so that I can get on decorating my cakes.

I have made the Finish QuantuMatic work hard and have given it some tough tests. Can it clean cake mixes and icings from bowls, forks that have Parmesan cheese stuck on them, a basin that has been used in the microwave for making porridge, cups with stubborn coffee and tea stains and pasta dishes used for spaghetti bolognese?

Also, I made a bread and butter pudding but unfortunately, for the first time ever, there wasn't much in the way of baked on stains and so I decided to pour some milk into the casserole, gave it a good swirl round and placed it under the grill to bake for as long as I dare.

So far so good, the dishwasher after cleaning smells wonderful, and the dishes are shiny. It's great to use a product that basically looks after itself for nearly two weeks and unless you live in a hard water area you don't even need to use dishwasher salt because the QuantuMatic has a built in salt and rinseaid function.

Over the next few days I am still going to challenge the Finish QuantuMatic and try and cook things that get really baked on.

I'll be back in a few days to let you know how the challenge is going.

Myths and Misconceptions About Drop-Forged Axes

I should start by saying that I am in no way an expert on forging techniques, and everything I am about to say is based on my own research. As always, take everything I say with a grain of salt.

If we look at the market today, we will see two different types of axe manufacturers. There are those who produce drop-forged axes (Council Tool, etc), and those who claim that their axes are hand made (Gransfors Bruks, etc). Because of that dichotomy, and the understandable market pressures, and perhaps sentimentality, numerous misguided statements and outright lies currently circulate in the forums and common opinion with respect to the quality of each type of axe.

The Forging Process

When we look at a forged product, there are generally four stages that can be observed.

The first is the production of the steel. Many of the famous axe manufacturers made their name because they were innovators in the field of steel production.

The second stage, and the one that distinguishes a forged steel product from a cast one, is that the steel is then taken and repeatedly folded and hammered. This process creates a lamination of the different steel layers, increasing the strength of the metal. This is a long a laborious process. As soon as automated hammers were invented, they were put to work at this stage. An automated hammer can do the work much faster and apply more force, which allows for the force to penetrate deeper into the steel, making for better bonds and stronger metal.

The third stage, and the one to which we most often refer when we speak about the distinction between hand forging and drop forging, is the process of taking the now prepared ingot of steel and forming it into a specific shape. This can be done either by hand, or with the help of an automated hammer.

The last stage is the tempering and annealing process where the steel is hardened.

Different Types of Forging

One method of forging, which we have all seen at some point on television, is hand forging. This involves a person using a human powered hammer and an anvil to shape the metal. In the early stages of metalworking, a person with a hammer in his hand was also responsible for the second stage in the forging process, i.e. repeatedly folding the metal. As soon as the automated hammer was invented, the blacksmith saved his energy for the shaping process only. You can see an example of actual hand forging here.

The second method is to use a trip hammer. This was probably the earliest form of automated hammer. It utilized a cam, usually powered by a water wheel, which applied pressure on the haft/handle of the hammer, which lifted around a pivot, and then lets it fall. These hammers remained in use well into the twentieth century.

The third method is drop forging. The drop hammer differs from the automated trip hammer in that the weight is raised vertically, usually using hydraulics, before letting it fall. There are two distinguishable forms of hot drop forging.

The first is open die drop forging. In this process, both the hammer and the anvil have a specific shape, but the metal is allowed to expand freely to the sides when struck. In this process, the ingot is usually taken through successive hammers with different dies until the final product emerges. As far as I am aware, this is the method used by all the axe manufacturers who claim to “hand forge” their axes. The reality is that this is just another type of drop forging. You can see the process here.

The second type of drop forging is the closed die or impression method. Similarly, here there is a die on the hammer and the anvil, except that the die on the anvil has side enclosures. That way the metal is more quickly formed into the desired shape. This method also requires a number of hits from successive hammers with different dies. The number of hits required is usually less than in the open die method. This is the forging method used by most large scale axe manufacturers, and just about every other part of the metal forging industry.

An Issue of Quality

So, when it comes to quality, what is the advantage of an axe made using the open die forging method as opposed to the closed die method, or even a truly hand forged one? We constantly hear about how hand forged (in reality open die drop forged) axes are much better than drop forged ones. There is no shortage of questions such as “Why would you spend that type of money on a drop forged axe?” So, what is the advantage?

I have been trying to find out for some time now, and there doesn’t seem to be any. In fact, there is a clear advantage of the mechanized method as opposed to true hand forging. By automating the second step of the forging process, the quality of the metal is improved because of the higher weight of the mechanized hammer, which causes better distortion within the layers of the metal, making it stronger.

But what about open die vs. closed die forging? I can’t find anything that would indicate a difference in the quality of each product. There have been some statements about how the smith is more involved in the open die method, and that is certainly true in most cases. That however does not make a better product. The skill of the closed die drop hammer operator is just as critical. We have all seen axes produced with both methods that have been of very low quality, and ones that have been of very high quality.

So why do people think that “hand forging” is better? Why do certain older methods of production remain? The only answer I can offer is that proposed by Henry J. Kauffman in his book American Axes: “It is often difficult to understand why old methods linger while new ones are available, but this practice in axe-making has a logical explanation. The cost of a drop forge has to be reckoned against the cost of a number of triphammers. Since the axe business in recent years has been comparatively small, with reasonably small capital involved, the high cost of a drop forge was delayed as long as possible. Besides, there has been a strong conservative tradition of holding on to old techniques-if old, ergo they are good-particularly, as long as they stay competitive with the new.”

Here Kauffman is talking about the transition between trip hammers and drop hammers, but the same reasoning and financial pressures exist when we are talking about the different drop forging methods. A company like Granfors Bruks, which produces a small number of axes is unlikely to find it financially feasible to purchase a high end modern drop forge. In that way, the older methods and technology survive, and are then marketed as desirable instead of as financially necessary.

The reality is that most of the old axes for which we fight on ebay were made using a drop forge. Certainly that in no way diminishes the quality of the product, nor is the quality of a well made Gransfors Bruks axe lowered because a different type of drop forge is used. When judging axes, look at the product, and see if it works. As always, don’t buy the hype.

POV: Size & Watermarks

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Yesterday's post with a couple of large photographs of Holi from The Atlantic's In Focus blog prompts this short POV.  I wrote that In Focus' photographs are super compelling because they are viewable either in 1280 or 1024 pixels, depending on viewers' choice.

If the 1280 option is chosen, and  the images fill virtually all of one's monitor...and give the viewers an incredible sensation of proximity to the scene...and no watermark to deface them either! It's the same feeling I get when I open up a double-truck image in a glossy large format print magazine, if not more.

I'm all in favor of large images on the web...whether it's on magazines' websites or personal websites. Another recent example is my post featuring Cristina Mittermeier's work; River People of the Amazon. Cristina's personal website has a handful of full screen photographs of these Amazonian people that are just breathtaking.

I don't think many photographers disagree with the notion that larger is better.  I've blogged about that a couple of times, and there's no question in my mind that large sized photographs are better received by photo editors who no longer have the patience to view small-sized portfolios.

The other issue is that of watermarking. I don't watermark, and instead embed my information in the photographs' metadata.  Some photographers insist in watermarking to protect their images from being pilfered on the web, and that's their prerogative. I just think it detracts from their work being considered by legitimate buyers...and it's aesthetically unpleasant. Just look at the above photographs!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Garant Snow Shovel Review/The Importance of a Snow Shovel

Well, I thought winter was at an end, and officially, we are now few days into spring, but we just got a fresh round of snow, which prompted this post.

In many areas, snow is a reality of winter camping. It is something that has to be accounted for and managed during an outing. Setting up camp directly over several feet of snow is not advisable, and is right down impossible if you will be heating the area with a fire. Life can be made much, much easier by a good snow shovel. Of course, a standard snow shovel would not be a realistic thing to carry on your back for any significant distance. With some looking around however, alternatives can be found.

The shovel you see here is the Garant Kid’s Shovel. I am yet to be able to find a Garant axe in the US, but their shovels seem to be everywhere. I bought this one for $13.00 at a local hardware store. The shovel is 33.75 inches long and weighs 1.9lb.

The shovel is well constructed. The plastic is of good quality, the handle has cutouts, which reduces weight, and most importantly, the shovel is a size which can be realistically carried while backpacking. Even though this is a relatively small show shovel, and I would not want to shovel out a driveway with it, it makes camping in the snow significantly more pleasant. The additional weight is something to consider. There are probably lighter snow shovels out there, but I am yet to find a method of clearing out a camp site in the snow that even comes close to comparing with using a small shovel such as this one.

NYT's Special: Asia Up Close

Georgetown, Penang. Photo © David Hagerman/NYT-All Rights Reserved
The New York Times featured its Asia issue this past weekend, and listed 37 Asian Odysseys to this remarkable continent, ranging from Bali to Vietnam, passing through Hong Kong, Laos and India. It's easy to dismiss these features as being tourist-targetted, but I've learned that it's not always the case.

Firstly, let's talk photographs. The feature is accompanied by over 40 images by Asia-based photographers; some of which are postcard-like but others that are real gems, such as the one above of Georgetown by my friend David Hagerman, others of China by Shiho Fukada, of Vietnam by Justin Mott and of Myanmar by Kevin quite a lot of talent there.

Surprisingly, Bhutan is not mentioned! It is in Asia isn't it?

The other reason is this: I discovered an extraordinary (and unexplored) location in Varanasi through a New York Times article, and it launched one of my long term photographic projects. So my suggestion to travel photographers is to keep an eye on all these special features...yes, the majority will be fluff, but sometimes there'll be one that may just launch you into a new direction...and success.

Naturally, such these features also provide if not outright ideas, but inspirations for photo itineraries.

The Atlantic's In Focus: Holi Too

Photo © Majid Saeed/Getty- All Rights Reserved

Photo © Manish Swarup/AP-All Rights Reserved
I predicted yesterday that there would be more submissions of this colorful festival from travel photographers and photojournalists, and featured by large photo blogs. Today, it's The Atlantic magazine's In Focus that  features 36 remarkable photographs of Holi.

The photographs appearing on the In Focus photo blog are particularly compelling because the blog allows viewers to choose between 1280 or 1024 pixels, depending of their screens.

I was tempted to feature another photograph (#12) by Kevin Frayer, but I already showed one of his yesterday, so I chose others...but as you scroll down, I bet you'll stop at this particular  absolute explosion of red!!! And you'll do the same at his #36.

Both of the photographs I feature here are by Indian photographers, and were made at the Krishna's Bankey Bihari Temple in Vrindavan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finish QuantuMatic on Trial - Part 1

As a blogger, I receive all manner of emails, in fact some of them are quite baffling not to mention extraordinary. For instance, I received an email from a lady in America asking me how many British households use a cafetiere in the morning!

However, this email was different from any other received, it asked if I would be a jury member, and would I be willing to put the Finish QuantuMatic dishwasher product through it's paces and experience using it? Some of my fellow bloggers went to London for a briefing, but unfortunately, I was unable to do this. The Agency weren't put off by this though and asked if I would still agree to take part. Of course, I will.

This evening the Finish Quantumatic has been placed into my dishwasher, easy peasy, all you have to do is clip the detergent dispenser on to the top rack and the detergent is automatically released for the next 12 washes. A wonderful thing when you have a husband like mine who forgets to feed the dishwasher.

I've always had a keen interest in using new products and I am now eagerly waiting to see how well my dishes clean up.

QuantuMatic has a Which? Endorsement - New Best Buy in March 2011 "QuantuMatic left dishes shinier than any other product we tested."

Look out for my forthcoming blog postings over the next two weeks trialling the QuantuMatic.

Wood Trekker is Open for Comments

When I first started this blog, I just wanted to create a place where I can post my ramblings about camping, backpacking and everything related. It was a way to write and publish my thoughts without having to get into conflicts with people on different forums. I never expected to have so many people read the blog, or care about what I have to say. After all, I have absolutely no claim to expertise when it comes to any of the subject about which I write.

Lately, more and more readers have been requesting that I allow comments on the blog. I have resisted it so far because I didn’t want this to turn into a place where people fight over issues. That being said, I’ve decided to start allowing comments to my posts. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to keep track of all of them, so if you need to reach me for a question or anything that is important to you, please, as always, send me an email.

SacBee's The Frame: Holi Festival

Photo © Manan Vatsyayana/AFPGetty-All Rights Reserved

Photo © Kevin Frayer/AP-All Rights Reserved

The Sacramento Bee's photo blog The Frame is featuring 45 remarkable photographs of Holi, the colorful (to say the least) festival which is currently being celebrated all over India. I know we'll soon see much more from travel photographers and photojournalists who are covering this annual festival...but The Sacramento Bee's spread is the first I've seen so far.

Holi is known as the Hindu festival of colors, and is celebrated in Spring by people throwing colored powder and colored water at each other. The tradition is based on the legend of Radha and the Hindu God Krishna. The latter was envious of Radha's fair complexion and in a mischievous mood, he applied color to his beloved Radha's face.

In Vrindavan (which is the place to be during Holi), the festival is celebrated for 16 days in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The above photographs were made at Krishna's Bankey Bihari Temple in Vrindavan. It's the most popular Hindu temple of Krishna in the city.

It's quite evident that protection for one's cameras and lenses is mandatory to photograph Holi anywhere. Perhaps an underwater camera housing or a sturdy zip-lock the shutter and back in bag it goes?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Which Colour of Wine to Choose

A number of considerations can affect our choices when buying wine. The selection available is vast and making the best choice can be a time-consuming exercise if we don’t have some knowledge behind us.

Wine drinkers with an appreciation for both red and white wine can often face a dilemma at the off licence. Wines of all varieties are readily available to suit all tastes and all budgets.

Sumptuous red wine from all over the world can be found for under £5 per bottle. French reds from the Cotes du Rhone-Villages region are a great example of this, offering full-bodied, heavy notes at brilliant prices. Occasionally, fans of Spanish Riojas can take advantage of shops and supermarkets dropping the prices below £5 and any red wine enthusiast would be well advised to join them when the chance arises.

Good white wine for less than £5 is equally simple to find if you know what you are looking for. Recently, bottles of the 2008 Marsanne, Vin de Pays d’Oc from France has been spotted on sale for as little as £3 a bottle and has been described by critics as offering “rather more sunny, apricot and almond-stashed fruit for your money”.

The final decision of red or white usually comes down to occasion. If wine is being bought to be enjoyed with a particular meal, this makes the choice significantly easier.

The basic guidelines read something like: red wine with red meat, game and casseroles, white wine with fish, spicy food, vegetarian food and pasta. For more detail on choosing the particular red or white wine to accompany your meal, the label on the bottle almost always makes some reference, or your wine merchant may be able to help.

However, wine is not only served with food and many of the wines that compliment food brilliantly might taste drastically different when tasted without food.

‘No-food’ wines are not hard to find in these days of wine being commonly purchased as an aperitif in bars and enjoyed in front of the TV with little more than a bowl of nuts for sustenance. The watchword for these wines is ‘smooth’. For wine to taste good on its own, it needs to be low in tannins, which give red wines their dry, tight flavours. Wines like Negroamaro and Rosso di Salento fit the bill here, with their softer, riper tannins and higher alcohols.

For white wine lovers, Shiraz tastes just as great on its own as it does with a curry or a Mexican banquet.

Thank you to Michael for this Guest posting and also to
Stephen Bolen for the photograph.

A Brief Look at the Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe

This is another axe from the very well known axe manufacturer Gransfors Bruks. This is a full size felling axe, and I believe is the largest that they offer. These axes are not particularly common, and for that reason I though I would put up some comparison pictures so that people can get a better idea of the tool.

Manufacturer: Gransfors Bruks AB
Axe Head Weight: 3 1/4 lb
Axe Length: 35 inches (also comes with a 31 inch handle)
Axe Head Material: Unknown Swedish steel, HRC 57 on the Rocklwell Scale
Handle Material: American hickory
Cost: $200.00

The Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe is a beautiful tool. The quality is what we have come to expect from Gransfors Bruks. There were no defects of any type and the final product was ready to use as soon as it arrived. I found the usual Gransfors Bruks design to be a lot more appealing on this larger axe than on the smaller models. The Rockaway head pattern is much more appealing to me in its full form, as seen in the American Felling Axe.

Like I mentioned before, this is a full size axe. With a 3lb head, it is probably the smallest full size felling axe that I have seen, but none the less, it is a substantial tool. Here you can see the Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe next to the Grasfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe.

The head of the Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe is very well designed. In this model we can actually see the full pattern on which the smaller Gransfors Bruks axes are based. The smaller models simply take this Rockaway pattern and cut off several inches from the top and then shrink it. I find the head of the American Felling Axe much more appealing than any of the other models Gransfors Bruks produces. It offers a good balance between length of the bit and width of the face. Also, it is hard to see from the picture, but with this model the typical abrupt transition of the cheeks near the eye is gone, making the sides of the head smoothe and continuous.

The convex of the bit is very thin for this size axe, allowing for great chopping ability. As with all Gransfors Bruks axes, you have to be careful to protect the edge, and the thin convex combined with the hardness of the metal leaves it prone to damage. The head is attached to the handle with a wooden wedge and a metal pin just like on the other Gransfors Bruks models with which we are familiar.

The balance of the axe is fairly good, but not as good as on the Scandinavian Forest Axe. The bit hangs a little low. In my opinion the poll could have used a little more weight. Overall however, this is very good balance particularly on a full size axe.

The handle is of very high quality as is to be expected. This model also comes with a 31 inch handle, and with a straight handle. My favorite is the 35 inch curved handle that you see above, but it is good that they offer variations to accommodate people’s preferences.

The axe is a joy to use, and there is nothing negative that I can say about its performance. It is certainly more axe that I would want to carry on my back in the bush, but if I needed a full size axe, this would rank among my top choices. There is nothing special or fancy about it, but the simplicity of a well made, sharp tool is hard to resist.

Cristina Mittermeier: River People of the Amazon

Photo © Cristina Mittermeier-All Rights Reserved
Cristina Mittermeier grew up just outside of Mexico City, and is a photographer, a marine biologist, a writer, a world traveler, has a 20 year-long career in conservation and raised children. She is also Executive Director of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Her passion in life is to use her photography to protect the planet’s resources.

Cristina is also a SONY Artisan of Imagery Photographer.

My favorite gallery out of Cristina's many galleries is that of the River People of the Amazon with photographs of the Kayapo people of the Amazon basin. However, before exploring Cristina's galleries, stay a moment on the main page of her website, click on Hide Menu at its bottom, and revel in her handful of glorious large photographs of the Amazon...these alone are worth the visit!

The Kayapo people are the native people of the plain lands of the Mato Grosso and Pará in Brazil, south of the Amazon Basin and along Rio Xingu and its tributaries. Their population was just over 7000 in the latest census. Interesting, they extract medicine from 650 different plants that they find in the rainforest, and have a trade agreement with Body Shop!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Work: The Sayid & The Banni

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Although I'm more inclined to photograph in a "photojournalistic" style during my photo~expeditions and/or assignments, with the aim to merge travel photography with reportage, I also do work in travel portraiture. Not to be confused with environmental portraits, travel portraiture is a simpler style and obviously can be used for stock, travel brochures and the like.

From my just completed In Search of Sufis of Gujarat photo~expedition, I feature a couple of portraits. The one on top is of a Banni woman at the doorway of her circular mud hut in the Kutch area of Gujarat. Her expression belies her capricious attitude while being photographed. She see-sawed between being flattered that I was photographing her (she's cute, after all) and asking me for money then turning away or shooing me off. She might've had success in getting paid by tourists, who walk in her village to buy handicrafts and the like. Despite her reluctance to cooperate, I managed to position her so that one half of the frame would have a black background, and the other half would be of a mud wall...but that didn't last long.

In short...a tiresome model.

The lower photograph is of a buffalo herder (or grazer). A proud man, with a regal bearing, he was herding the buffaloes back to the owners' farm. In my eagerness to photograph him with his animals against the setting sun, I tripped and went diving down on the ground...belly and chest first. I have no idea how I managed to protect my camera which, in contrast to my knees, escaped unscathed.

A Muslim, who introduced himself as a Sayid, he works for a Hindu community of farmers. He was welcoming, extremely cooperative, and patient with us. However, he was very serious during the whole of the photo shoot, only relaxing when we had finished. Those of us who've photographed in India (as an example) know the drill...the subjects are relaxed when the camera is not aimed at them, but the second the lens is directed at them, they freeze and become super-serious.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kongkrit Sukying: The Sufis of Gujarat

Photo ©Kongkrit Sukying-All Rights Reserved

Photo ©Kongkrit Sukying-All Rights Reserved

Photo ©Kongkrit Sukying-All Rights Reserved

A first time participant in my photo-expeditions, and in my just completed In Search of Sufis of Gujarat, Kongrit Sukying is a photographer from Bangkok, who was a marketing executive in the beverage business for over 10 years, but changed careers in 2009. He currently is a freelance commercial photographer who also specializes in wedding photography, as well as for books and magazines.

He's the fourth participant to send me samples of his work during the photo expedition.

The top photograph of the girl running down the stairs was made at one of the Islamic sites in Ahmedabad, while the second is of a pilgrim at one of the Sufi shrines who is supplicating the saint for a favor. The strings attached to the shrine's windows are left there by women as reminders of their prayers.

The lower photograph is of a Muslim woman at one of the Muslim mosques, probably in Ahmedabad.

Similar to Teerayut, the other participant from Thailand, most of Kongkrit's photographs in his external portfolio are post-processed, and while some may find these over-worked, it's a style which finds favor amongst many in Asia. In fact, Kungkrit emphasized the fact that he attended workshop at Digital Darkroom.