It’s time to set the record straight on the Drake Passage.

It’s the point at which the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans converge en route to Antarctica. And, to some who have never crossed it, it’s taken on mythical proportions of being virtually impassable.

To hear some tell it, making it to the other side of The Drake is akin to surviving the mouth of a dragon.

Which is too bad. Those misperceptions can keep you from taking the adventure of a lifetime. Because, the truth is, yes, it can be rough (“the Drake Shake”). But it can also be as calm as bathwater (“the Drake Lake”).

If you happen to get the Drake Lake—woohoo!—that’s a big bonus. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as the seabirds soar alongside your ship, and you eagerly watch for the South Shetland Islands to emerge as an oasis on the horizon.

If you get the Drake Shake, sure, it may leave you feeling a bit woozy. But tens of thousands have experienced it at its worst and gone on to have an experience they’ll never forget. Modern medications such as the patch or Bonine have helped many people before you!

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One of our prior guests onboard perhaps said it best:

I’m a physician and traveled with my wife and daughter to Antarctica with Muench in 2017. On our voyage, we had it a bit rough on the way down and rougher on the way back. During the rough part, some of us got a bit woozy — which took a few hours to shake off. But in the end, it passed, and the whole experience was well worth it. I’m really grateful for the ship’s physician, who took great care of those affected and had medicines to dispense as needed. So if people ask me if they should be worried about the Drake, I tell them ‘Definitely not! You can do it.
— Joseph Wu, Antarctica '17 and 10 other Muench Workshops

And the reward?

I’ve run out of ways to say WOW. Unbelievably beautiful place, sun, wind, snow, ice, mountain scenery, wildlife, icebergs, stormy seas, great people, and a voyage to remember for a long time. Bucket list check mark!!
— Kevin Bailey, Antarctica '17 and 3 other Muench Workshops
There is just no way even now to put into words the feeling of sitting in the zodiac on mirror-still icy water, in the fog, in this incredible silence among the icebergs the size of a modern-day hospital on the BOTTOM of the earth. Who gets to DO that? Who gets to feel that? When I look at the images I took on this trip, I FEEL that feeling again. It was an EPIC trip that I still am trying to wrap my head around as I go back to work and the normal routine of normal life.
— Margie Trandem, Antarctica '18 and 10 other Muench Workshops

As you can see, when you emerge from the passage and begin to see the wonder before you that is Antarctica, memories of chop and waves will quickly evaporate into breathtaking landscapes, and spectacular wildlife very few will ever see.

So if the only thing that stands between you and photographing Antarctica is the thought of crossing the Drake, think again. Talk to us – we can help prepare you to make it through with flying colors and come out afterwards with photos you will cherish for a lifetime.

Photographers are flocking to Antarctica. Here’s why.

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Not much has changed in Antarctica for tens of thousands of years. And yet, at the same time, everything is changing.

Which may explain why Antarctica is suddenly so “hot” among passionate photographers.

There are few places on earth where the landscapes and wildlife are as unspoiled as in Antarctica. There’s no light pollution, no sprawling development, no iconic viewpoints overrun by tour buses. In short, there’s a spectacular shot no matter which way you point your camera.

But, as we’ve all been reading in the news with alarming frequency—there’s also a ticking time bomb in the form of climate change, which is having known, and unknown, consequences on the Antarctic ecosystem. Will the icescapes and wildlife as we know it today still be there tomorrow, for all to see?  For sure, there’s still time to experience all its wonders—but for how long, nobody knows for sure.

For now, the opportunity to photograph seals and penguins up close and personal, to explore your creativity capturing the towering ice sculptures that rise from the water, to experience the exhilaration of spotting any one of eight species of whales breach the surface of the sea, is just too tempting to pass by.

With today’s ice-strengthened ships, modern technology, and the sheer amount of experience sailing in Antarctica waters, the journey is safer, smoother, and easier to experience than ever before. 

So, maybe that explains why Antarctica is now one of the most coveted destinations for photographers. Or, perhaps the answer to the question is even more straightforward than that: when the mystique and majesty of a faraway place calls, you just go.



Using Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop CC Offline

Note: Many thanks to Katrin Eisman of Adobe for validating these steps. Be sure to listen to our Episode 60 of the reCOMPOSE podcast where we will discuss this and so much more, with Katrin as our guest.

You’re about to head to one of the few places left on the planet with no internet, maybe a safari in Africa, or an expedition to Antarctica, and you’ve heard about some folks that have been prevented from using Lightroom and Photoshop when not connected to the internet. What to do?!

Here’s the sure fire way (according to Adobe!) to ensure your Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC work when you are offline and have no internet.

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1. Close Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop CC.

2. Right before your trip, and with internet connection, go to your Creative Cloud App and Sign Out of Creative Cloud.

3. You will get this message, don’t worry, you’re going to sign right back in and you won’t lose anything.

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4. Now immediately sign back in to Adobe Creative Cloud

5. Then, launch Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop CC, this restarts your “timer” for how long you can use the products with no internet connection.

Adobe’s Help Page on the subject.

In offline mode, if you pay annually, you get 99 days of grace period; if you pay monthly, you get 30 days of grace period. How do you get that 99 day period if you are already signed up to pay monthly? Just get on to Adobe’s help page and then call Adobe and tell them you want to pay annually not monthly What they do is cancel your paid-by-the-month plan (don’t worry) and the replace it with the paid-for-annually plan.

6. Now, before your trip, turn your computer into offline mode (no internet connection at all) and then close and reopen Lightroom and Photoshop to test them out.

One other tip: Don’t change the clock on your computer, this can invalidate your license. Adobe recommends that if you’re in an area where you’re crossing timezones frequently, turn off Automatic Date and Time and be sure to turn it back on once you arrive to your final destination.

How to Shoot Awesome Fireworks Photos

Fourth of July Fireworks at Seattle’s Gas Works Park. Nikon D810, 70mm, 8.0″, f/9.0, ISO 100

Fourth of July Fireworks at Seattle’s Gas Works Park. Nikon D810, 70mm, 8.0″, f/9.0, ISO 100

Millions of people will be taking photos of fireworks this week, and millions of those photos will be poor. Taking compelling photos of fireworks isn’t all that difficult but does take a little bit of advanced planning and gear.

Fireworks need a tripod

If you want good photos of fireworks, you need a tripod. The average firework shell may take 1-5 seconds to burst, and you simply cannot hold the camera steady for that amount of time.

Camera for fireworks

Almost any DSLR, mirrorless or point-and-shoot camera can be a great fireworks camera, provided that you have it on a tripod.

Many consumer-focused cameras even have a dedicated fireworks mode that can be useful if you are frightened away by exposure settings like aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Lens for fireworks

You do not need a fancy or expensive lens to shoot awesome fireworks photos. Fireworks are sufficiently bright that shooting at an aperture of f/8 is more than sufficient and will get you optimal sharpness from most lenses.

In general, you want a wide-angle lens for fireworks. I shoot the large fireworks show on Seattle’s Lake Union every year and I end up using a 24mm focal length on a full-frame camera. This would translate into a 16mm lens on an APS-C crop-sensor camera. I am usually very close to the show at these wide focal lengths.

Focal length obviously depends on how far away you are from the show, but every time I shoot the fireworks, I underestimate just how tall the largest shells are and find myself zooming out.

Fireworks on Lake Union. Nikon D850, 24mm, 1.6″, f/8.0, ISO 250

Fireworks on Lake Union. Nikon D850, 24mm, 1.6″, f/8.0, ISO 250

If you are feeling creative or plan to operate a second camera, zoomed in shots can also be interesting. There can be groundworks or crowd elements that can be an opportunity to try a shot with a 70-200mm telephoto lens, for example.

Groundworks on Lake Union. Nikon D810, 135mm, 1.3″, f/9.0, ISO 320

Groundworks on Lake Union. Nikon D810, 135mm, 1.3″, f/9.0, ISO 320

Boats on Lake Union. Nikon D810, 200mm, 8.0″, f/9.0, ISO 100

Boats on Lake Union. Nikon D810, 200mm, 8.0″, f/9.0, ISO 100

Focus for fireworks

Fireworks are quite bright, and most cameras would have no problems with auto-focusing on them. The challenge is that you may often trigger the camera before a fireworks burst when the sky is blank and there is nothing to focus on, so you need to set your camera to manual focus mode.

You are going to be a considerable distance from the actual fireworks. Before the show begins, find a distant light or building and focus on that to set your camera at infinity focus. Then switch your lens or camera to manual focus mode so that the auto-focus motor doesn’t change the focus each time you press the shutter. You may want to bring a piece of gaffer tape to secure the lens focus ring so that you don’t bump or change it.

If your location is very dark, here are some more tips about finding infinity focus at night.

Exposure settings for fireworks

First of all, remember to turn off your flash, if your camera has one built in. A flash will add nothing to fireworks photos, other than messing up the foreground and underexposing the actual fireworks.

If you aren’t comfortable with manual exposure settings and your camera has a dedicated fireworks mode, go ahead and use it. If you are familiar with camera exposure settings like aperture, ISO and shutter speed, put your camera into manual exposure mode.

I generally shoot fireworks at an aperture of f/8. What about shutter speed and ISO?

Shutter speed is the most important setting here. Fireworks bursts develop over time and some linger in the air for quite some time. You want a shutter speed that is long enough to capture an entire burst. Anything shorter than 1 second often will give disappointing results.

I have shot ~10 fireworks shows over the past years and have experimented with various shutter speeds. If you are in a city with a large and dense fireworks display, a shutter speed of 2.0-4.0 seconds will often be able to isolate some of the bursts.

Space Needle New Year’s Fireworks. Nikon D850, 70mm, 4.0″, f/8.0, ISO 100

Space Needle New Year’s Fireworks. Nikon D850, 70mm, 4.0″, f/8.0, ISO 100

I’ve also shot as long a 6-10 seconds which captures many more bursts in the scene. In very dense fireworks shows, this can lead to too many bursts in the shot, which may or may not be what you are after. In smaller shows, using a longer shutter speed may improve the shot by adding more bursts into one picture.

There is no right or wrong answer to shutter speed, and I encourage you to experiment somewhere in the 2″-10″ range.

Given the brightness of fireworks, it is not necessary to have high ISO settings and something like ISO 100-320 should be sufficient. In fact, you want to make sure that you don’t overexpose the fireworks. Here is a rundown of the exposure settings I’ve used for the past few shows:

1.6 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 250

8.0 seconds, f/9.0, ISO 100

6.0 seconds, f/9.0, ISO 200

4.0 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100

10.0 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100

If you know how to read your camera’s histogram, turn it on and you can check that you aren’t overexposing by checking the first few shots.

Composing your shot

It does help to arrive early at your shooting location to get setup. It is much easier to accomplish this before the place is packed with crowds of people.

Try not to point your camera directly up in the sky. This leads to boring pictures. The best fireworks photos include some landscape element, whether that is a city skyline, buildings, trees or crowds.

4th of July Fireworks over Seattle’s Lake Union 2015. Nikon D750, 24mm, 6.0″, f/5.6, ISO 100

4th of July Fireworks over Seattle’s Lake Union 2015. Nikon D750, 24mm, 6.0″, f/5.6, ISO 100

Don’t forget about the crowd. Pictures of people enjoying the fireworks can be compelling, and it is all too easy to forget to turn around a snap a shot of people’s reactions. In this photo I was annoyed by the woman in front of me who was wildly waiving the flag, but it actually made the shot more interesting.

Crowd waives a flag at Seattle’s Lake Union fireworks. Nikon D810, 24mm, 5.0″, f/9.0, ISO 200

Crowd waives a flag at Seattle’s Lake Union fireworks. Nikon D810, 24mm, 5.0″, f/9.0, ISO 200

Watch out for smoke

Large fireworks displays can create a lot of smoke. Some of the best fireworks photos will be in the first minute or so before there is too much smoke.

Fireworks and smoke over Seattle’s Lake Union. Nikon D850, 24mm, 1.6″, f/8.0, ISO 250

Fireworks and smoke over Seattle’s Lake Union. Nikon D850, 24mm, 1.6″, f/8.0, ISO 250

If the air is still, there isn’t much you can do about the smoke. If there is wind, try and position yourself in an upwind shooting location so that the smoke moves away from you during the show.

How to trigger the camera

Since you will be shooting long exposures of the fireworks, it is important that you do not shake the camera by pushing the shutter button. There are a few ways to avoid this:

Turn on a 2-second shutter delay. Most cameras have a capability like this which allows you to press the shutter button and it will take the photo 2-seconds later. This is easy, but difficult to time fireworks bursts.

Use a cable release. This allows you to trigger the shutter without touching the camera and cable releases are quite inexpensive.

Use your camera’s smartphone app. Many cameras are able to connect to a smartphone app via Bluetooth or WiFi, allowing you to trigger the shutter on your phone. This normally works well, but if you are in a crowd of thousands or tens of thousands of people, wireless networks can fail because there are simply too many other phones around. I don’t recommend this unless you test it with a crowd around.

Trying to time exactly when fireworks will burst in the sky isn’t easy or intuitive. For many years, I used a cable release and just kept pushing the shutter over and over when I thought the next batch of fireworks was coming. You will take a few hundred photos, and many won’t be great, but this maximizes your potential to capture the interesting ones.

Fireworks fall in front of Seattle’s Space Needle. Nikon D810, 70mm (cropped), 6.0″, f/9.0, ISO 200

Fireworks fall in front of Seattle’s Space Needle. Nikon D810, 70mm (cropped), 6.0″, f/9.0, ISO 200

For the last couple of fireworks shows that I shot, I simply used the intervalometer on my camera to take shots at 1″ intervals, allowing me to enjoy the show without having to press the shutter. Some cameras have this capability built-in, while other cameras may need an intervalometer accessory.

These shows are pretty short at 15-20 minutes. Take as many photos as you can. Sift through them at home and discard the boring ones, but if you are continuously shooting, there will be some keepers in the mix.

Enjoy the show

Don’t forget to enjoy the show. It is easy to get wrapped up in your camera settings, but allow yourself a few “oohs” and “ahhs.” Remember, if you don’t get the shot, there is always next year for fireworks!

~ Kevin Lisota

Create Emotion, Don't Just Take Snapshots

The way I capture and process a photo may not be the way someone else would have done so. My image represents the way I saw it and how I felt at that moment. Looking back now, it’s when I started worrying less about how others might create an image, and started taking photos for me, that the quality of my images started to increase. The reason? My emotions started showing through in my images. I was telling a story and creating a memory, not just taking a snapshot.

Every scene can be photographed a hundred different ways, and an image can be edited a thousand different ways. You have been there, standing with friends, all photographing the same scene, and each of you creating different images. At the end of the day, the only image that matters is the one you took and edited. It’s your interpretation of the scene. It’s your art.

Don’t get caught up comparing your images to someone else’s, it’s not a competition. It is a personal expression of art and emotion.

Allow me to share three of my favorite images. Each from one of my favorite countries to photograph in.

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This is one of my very favorite images ever! It’s a simple photo, and I am sure if you have followed me on social media, you have seen it a hundred times. But it really speaks to me personally. It transports me right back to my many conversations with Buybelot at his home outside of Sagsai. I remember our conversations on how he captured this female Golden Eagle 9 years before my first visit. We discussed our families over Airag and our mutual realization that no matter where we come from, we have the same hopes, fears, and dreams for our children. We bonded and became friends.

It is because of this friendship that he trusted me enough to bring his Eagle into this setting. To show me his love and affection for this beautiful bird of prey which is a member of their family.

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This photo is also one of my all-time favorites, our first photo shoot of the workshop with a family of camel herders in the Gobi desert. I vividly remember standing there with Andy, Kip, and Larry before the sun rose over the dunes. The family was riding towards us, smiles on their faces, and we greeted them warmly.

The day before we had the opportunity to go into the family’s ger tent and get to know them all. Together we shared vodka, some good food, and a lot of laughs. We became friends, and I knew then that I would come back to visit them in subsequent years.

As I took this photo, I remember the warmth of the sun on my face, I remember hearing Andy talk to the camel herder how beautiful the scene was. I remember the hug from Larry because he was having so much fun. Kip was flying his drone over the whole scene to get a completely different, artistic capture of what we were witnessing.

The end result was a serene image that conjures the feeling of the warmth of the sun’s first rays.

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I have traveled to a lot of places and met a lot of amazing people. But this image of Aisholpan and her father, Nurgaiv, represents a lot of great memories for me and a strong sense of family and trust. These feelings are not just because of what you see in front of the camera, but also for what you can't see behind the camera—what happened leading up to this image.

To start, I am honored to have the trust of this family on that day. They allowed us to pick up their daughter, Aisolphan, from school and take her to the family home. That gave us two hours to talk and get to know Aisolphan as a person. She is such an incredible young woman—grounded, and mindful of what she has accomplished. She does not let her success go to her head.

What you also can't see in the image was the time we spent inside their home, talking and laughing. Her mother, Alma was making sure we were fed. This was an opportunity to continue to build on the foundations of the relationship that I had started forming with them years earlier.

The end result, a photo of a caring father that was giving tips to his daughter on how to ride to give us a better image.

It is because of all these memories that Mongolia has carved out a special place in my heart. I return each year with different workshop groups to create even more memories of the friends I have made. I take new photos that I can look back on with fond memories—images that keep getting better because of the emotions that get conjured up each time I visit.

The next time you are out taking photos, take images for yourself, capture the special moments, create memories. Create a personal connection to the people and the location. Let that show through in your images. Your passion will show through, your art will start to be something you're proud to show off.

I hope one day I can share an authentic Mongolia experience with you.

Happy shooting everyone!

~ Kevin