Mongolia Holds a Special Place in My Heart

By Kevin Pepper

From my magical first visit five years ago, I remember driving through the rolling countryside headed towards the ancient city of Karakorum along country roads dotted with nomadic families that had come down from their winter locations. It felt surreal, as if I was stepping further back in time the more I travelled from Ulaanbaator. No roads, vehicles became scarce, and families living as they have for thousands of years… yet there I was, transporting myself back in time.
As a history buff I had read about Mongolia, often wondering what life would have been like when Ghengis Khan ruled most of the world from the city that would be my destination, Karakorum. Now, here I was, seeing and photographing life as its been since Genghis Khan founded this city in the year 1220. On that first visit, I wasn’t sure if it was the heavy weight of history that filled the air, or was it the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia , the Erdene Zuu Monastery? Regardless, the photo opportunities were special, and the memories still exist.
From Karakorum it was time to head west. My destination was Ulgii, a small town in Western Mongolia that hosts the annual Golden Eagle Festival every October. The Golden Eagle Festival is a celebration of the ancient art of Falconry on Horseback. The earliest recordings of hunting with Golden Eagles on horseback I could find come from the 12th Century. Today, approximately 250 Kazakh men live in the western Mongolia province of Bayan-Olgi and carry on a tradition known as “horse riding eagle falconry”. The skill of using a Golden Eagle to capture prey while riding through the mountains. 
I have had the pleasure of witnessing and photographing the synchronicity between man and eagle. Both hunter and eagle showing off the skills needed to once tip the scales between starvation and survival, now showing off the skills to feed a family, but more to embrace the long standing heritage and show off the prowess of the art of hunting fox. As I sat there and watched the two work in tandem, I couldn’t help but wonder how close the bond had to be between a wild golden eagle that was taken after birth from a nest, and the Mongolian Eagle Hunter. Was it a skill that the two mastered together, or was it some pavlovian genetic instinct of the eagle to hunt, combined with man’s superior mind. Was the hunter using training methods of reward so the eagle would hunt?
My answer came to me after closely watching both men and bird during my time living with a Kazakh family in Western Mongolia. There, immersed in the ways of the past, watching the eagle live with the family, I spotted the first of many first tender moments of man and bird. The bond did not spawn from the birds need to hunt, nor did it come from training, it came from creating a special and unfathomable respect between a wild bird and a simple man. The man would command, the eagle would listen, instinctively hunt as it has done for centuries, then wait for the hunter to arrive with prey in its talons.

This was that moment that made the trip for me. That tender moment between an eagle and a man made this trip more than a visit to a festival, it made this trip an eye-opening experience that two beings, normally hunting to survive as competitors, can learn that working together, producing a better life. 
For me, trips to Mongolia are not just about the photography. While the photo opportunities are ones that are some of the best I have ever had, it’s the people, the cultural and the jaw dropping landscapes that you drive through to get to the destinations that I love. I would love to share this with you in 2018 as I lead another workshop for Muench Workshops. I am taking a group of 8 to three amazing experiences… the Kazakh Eagle Hunters, the Naadam Festival and the Reindeer Herders. 


See you in Mongolia,

- Kevin Pepper

The Photographer's Guide to the Airline Electronics Ban

There are already restrictions on carrying electronics larger than a smartphone in the airplane cabin if one is traveling to the US from one of ten different airports in the Middle East and North Africa. The UK has a similar ban in place. Based on the latest news reports as of this writing, it seems that the US Department of Homeland Security electronics ban (aka “laptop ban”) could be implemented for all flights into and out of the US. What is the the traveling photographer to do? In this article we will present solutions and give ideas on how to travel successfully and safely with laptops and photographic equipment.

Because “we don’t know what we don’t know” we are going to make the following assumption: “any electronics larger than a smartphone” not only means laptops, tablets, e-readers and the like, but also includes camera bodies, lenses, hard drives, drones, power bricks, and spare batteries. If and when the extended ban happens, you should expect that rules will be difficult to understand and not consistently enforced from one airline to the next, from one airport to the next, or from one country to the next. Anticipate the most stringent rules, assume you will deal with confused security personnel and airline staff, and prepare for both.


Now more than ever before, you should be covering all your gear with an insurance policy. For some, this might be your homeowner’s or other existing insurance, but you should check the policy carefully, and call your company. Ask specific questions, since many policies exclude things like expensive camera gear and air travel. Also, your insurance company can deny your claim if they feel you are working in any way commercially or in a professional capacity. Anyone doing commercial or professional work (even part-time!) should really have an insurance policy that covers you as a working photographer. It’s easier now than ever before to get coverage, so just do it. Make sure you are getting the right amount of coverage, that it works internationally, and that it covers you for theft, damage, and delays. Make a photographic record of all your gear, including the serial numbers. Insurance is critical since the risk of loss, damage and theft is much higher.


  • Get a hard, lockable case (such as a ThinkTank Hard Case) that fits your camera backpack.

  • Carry your gear in your backpack on board your flight as normal and as allowed.

  • Pack non-electronics in the ThinkTank Hard Case and check it in with the airline. You should also bring a soft-packable duffel bag to put clothing in if you need to use the hard case for your trip home. Include a roll of packing tape and a good amount of bubble wrap.

  • If you can travel with the hard case while on your trip, great. If it’s too bulky, store it in an airport locker, or with your hotel. Make a plan for this. If you’re on a photo workshop with Muench Workshops, don’t worry, we’ve figured that out for you.

  • If the rules change while you are on your trip, put your camera backpack with all your gear in it inside the hard case, stuff clothing around the edges to make it safe and secure. Inventory and photograph all of your gear. Fill the soft duffel with your clothing and non-breakable items. Check your duffel and hard case.

  • Important: your SD/CF cards stay with you, on your person, safely stored.


  • Time to invest in a ThinkTank Hard Case or similar case (there are alternatives, check Amazon). This case should be large enough to hold all of your camera gear, hard drives, power supplies, laptop, tablet, kindle, everything. They come with foam interiors that can be customized to safely secure and hold your specific gear.

  • Pack everything carefully. Make a detailed inventory and photographic record.

  • You might have to store your hard case somewhere during your trip. For example, there’s no room on the small charter aircraft used in Africa for these cases. When traveling with Muench Workshops, we already have this figured out for you.

  • If you are worried about your laptop getting damaged, and also about your personal or business data on that laptop, then consider getting a cheap “beater” laptop that will just run a browser, your cloud service(s), and Lightroom CC, or the editing program of your choice. You’ll be surprised at what you can get for a few hundred bucks! Tip for Mac lovers: check out the Apple Refurbished store for good deals.


  • Get a portable hard drive that has built in card reader and WIFI. Western Digital makes a couple different models with huge capacities (find them on Amazon, here. They allow you to copy files directly from your card to the hard drive, no computer needed. The integrated reader is for SD cards, and there’s a USB-3 port as well for your CF card reader. Backups will be slower than you’re used to with your laptop, but at least you’ll be able to make copies of your files.

  • When flying, this device will need to be in checked luggage, still not ideal. But you will be keeping all of your SD and CF cards on your person with you at all times.

  • Travel with enough SD or CF cards so that you do not have to reformat them while on your trip. Figure out how many you will need, and then pack a few extra.

  • Another option, if you have a camera that has dual card slots, write your photos simultaneously to two cards at once. This is certainly the easiest method to get redundancy, as you’ll have two copies of every photo from the moment you shoot. Just remember to keep your cards and card copies separate from each other in two different card cases, and store them in different locations while traveling.


  • Upgrade and upsize your smartphone. Get an iPhone 7 Plus or any of the newer, bigger Android phones, and max out the storage.

  • Download your favorite movies/tv/music/books ahead of your trip. Get the Kindle App for your phone and sync up your favorite books.

  • Learn and practice how to transfer files from your SD/CF cards to your smartphone, so you can use use Lightroom Mobile or Photoshop Express or Snapseed on your smartphone. You’ll be amazed at what you can do as far as editing goes! There are card-reader dongles for your phone, and many cameras also can transfer files via wifi or bluetooth.


  • Yes, both DHL and UPS offer worldwide shipping options, but the costs are pretty high. You can pack your gear in a hard case and ship safely. You’ll have to arrange for receipt of the delivery, by a friend, an agent, or hotel. And you’ll have to arrange for return shipping as well, leaving time for that at the end of your trip.


Certainly this is a choice you can make, but with a little extra planning and preparation, you can deal with this new way of traveling with your gear. With a bit of advance thought and planning, your gear properly insured and carefully packed in a hard case, you should be safe. If you’re reading this far, you are passionate about photography and travel, so don’t let the electronics ban get in the way.

We will stay on top of any changes to the rules and regulations, and update this post as needed. Got questions? We’re available to help, contact us anytime by email or phone.

Yellowstone, Our First National Park

What’s the first thing you think of when you consider Yellowstone? Old Faithful, of course! What's amazing is that there is so much more to Yellowstone. I recently spent 7 days in the park and never even saw Old Faithful. After all, there are over 3,400 square miles of subalpine wilderness with the largest high-elevation lake in North America as well as herds of bison, elk, pronghorn, and rocky mountain sheep, making it the largest, most natural ecosystem in the northern temperate zone. 

 Bison, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Established March 1, 1872 as the world's first, Yellowstone National Park has become an example of what can be done to preserve a wild location in perpetuity through the National Park system. This may sound like a lofty ambition, but thus far it’s working. Whether or not the land will be preserved forever is something we’ll never know, but in the meantime we are fortunate enough to have lived in a time when this valuable resource is cherished.

It’s been 18 years since I was last in the park and I was excited this past month to rekindle my fondness of the place. I was very pleased to see that many aspects, landscapes, and visuals were just as I had remembered. In fact, I found the exact location and the very same rime covered trees where I had captured one of my favorite winter wildlife images 18 years ago on film. Back then the park was teaming with snowmobiles, snow coaches, and some other privately run tours. I recall hundreds of snowmobiles at times filling up the road with untrained drivers, and very loud engines that echoed off the canyon walls in many areas. While the privately guided snowmobile tours can still, at times, become congested, we were mostly by ourselves while on our private snow coach, cruising though the winter wonderland. Now the snowmobiles are controlled and special quiet engines are used to keep the noise level down. This, in conjunction with more strict guiding rules makes for a better environment for the visitors as well as the wildlife. We were constantly mesmerized by the ancient looking beasts, we now call bison. Their large heads and necks are used to brush away the deep snow, up to one meter deep. This year was a bit special for us photographers, since there was more snow on the ground than Yellowstone has seen in the past 10 years. This made it magical for landscapes and wildlife scenes, but a bit frustrating for the snow coach drivers who were getting stuck left and right. Fortunately, we had veteran driver Doug Hilborn, who has worked us for over 10 years. Doug knew where and where not to drive the coach, preventing us from ending up in a deep snow bank like many we passed. 


The wildlife was distributed slightly differently than recent times, as the deep snow made it difficult for many of the animals to feed. There are vast regions of the park where little wildlife is spotted in the winter because there is no geothermal heat to melt the snow and provide adequate warmth to keep the food growing throughout the winter. This year, even certain normal feeding locations were covered in snow, making the wildlife scarce in some regions. The payoff was encountering more unusual sightings that were quite photogenic, such as this red fox sleeping in the middle of a snowfield. 


What sets Yellowstone apart from many of the other National Parks is its large size, which can sustain greater numbers of wildlife and in a temperate climate where most thrive. The vast meadows near Hayden Valley are said to sustain one of the larger populations of brown bears in the lower 48 states. This combined with the alien looking geothermal features breaking up an already beautiful landscape make the park lands unique. In fact, there is no greater concentration of geothermal activity on the planet. The ongoing volcanism maintains these features and constantly updates the landscape with visible changes. Earthquakes change the plumbing of the geyser basins, forcing hot water and steam to change course. 

 Black Pond, West Thumb Geyeser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

While walking around the Fountain Paint Pot trail we were shocked to see that something was very different. Throughout the year, day in and day out, Clepsydra geyser erupts with very few interruptions. On the day we visited, Clepsydra geyser was not erupting. It was not much of a photo op, but fascinating to witness. 

 Clepsydra geyser, not errupting, Yellowstone NP Wyoming

I’ve been to Africa many times in pursuit of wildlife and landscapes and each time am amazed by the variety of both. What I have recently learned is that the same flourishing variety is right here in my home country, and with many years of struggling stewardship behind us, the odds are ever greater that this ecosystem will last. 

Life is short, create pictures!

Marc Muench

The Mighty 70-200 f/4

We photographers are constantly moving, not just to various locations but different countries in different climates and conditions. When we travel so much it’s much better to become familiar with a particular camera system and the focal lengths. For example I am now able to pick out with my minds eye a composition and know about what focal length I need. This comes after years of working with certain lenses and formats. The one lens with a useful variety of focal lengths I really enjoy is the 70-200 range. I always want it in my bag at all times. This means I need to carry this lens everywhere I go. And for that reason I don’t want it to be heavy. My choice for this focal length is the f/4 version rather than the f/2.8 which weighs in at 30 to 40% more. I do not utilize the shallow depth of field nor faster focusing potential in low light so the slightly slower ( 1 full stop ) aperture works just fine. The sharpness is no longer an issue as I have found the Canon, Nikon and Sony f/4 versions are all extremely sharp and just as sharp as the f/2.8 versions. 

Here’s a great way to use these lenses in the landscape. Find a distant view in the right light and zoom in to obtain more compression in the scene. This creates 3 or more paned shots that you can merge together in Lightroom or Photoshop. This gives you the amazing focal length at whatever field of view you choose. 

The majority of the time I’m composing subjects or elements of a subject that falls into the same plane of focus, infinity. This allows me to utilize the best part of the f/4 characteristics. I’m not looking for shallow depth of field nor bokeh when using the lens in this way, but rather using shape color and atmospheric haze to create the interest. 

Another great use of the 70-200 f/4 is to do a stitched panorama. After you've shot with your wide angle lens, think about a high-res panorama. Without foreground elements you can easily shoot without any special gear. Just get the base of your tripod (the part under your ballhead) as level as you can. Mount the 70-200 and zoom in and compose. Orient the camera in portrait orientation, to get more resolution top to bottom. Expose manually for the brightest part of the scene, and leave the exposure alone. Go ahead and autofocus once, and then switch to manual focus so the focus doesn't change when you move the camera and lens. Shoot a single row, left to right, overlapping each shot by 30-50%. A bonus is to do a double-row! point your camera up a bit for the first row, and then down a bit for the second, overlapping each image top and bottom by 30-50%. Putting them together in Lightroom is super easy, and something we teach and demonstrate on our workshops! Here's an example from the Dolomites in Italy, it's approximately 700 megapixels, 20 Sony a7rII shots in two rows.

Enjoy (70-200 f/4) photography!

- Marc & Andy

Photographing Newfoundland


Newfoundland is the kind of easygoing place where unique and memorable experiences very often crop up to surprise us on every trip. This is a vast and diverse province covering 400,000 square kilometers of land. The nature and wildlife here never fails to surprise us—an iceberg runs aground in a bay, a pod of whales feeds and breaches off the coast, a local invites us into their house to show us their personal museum of the local fisheries and feed us with coffee and freshly made scones. Heck, we’ve even had the pleasure of witnessing the aurora in the skies above.

We visit Newfoundland is to see one of the largest and most accessible Northern Puffin Colonies in the world. Elliston is among the best places in Newfoundland to observe a natural puffin habitat. Observers can often get close enough to the puffins to not need binoculars.

The Atlantic Puffin is one of four puffin species and the only one that lives on the North Atlantic Ocean. The Latin term is Fratercula arctica, which can be translated as "little brother of the north." The puffin is also known as the "sea parrot” due in part to its interesting coloring. Elliston has hundreds of nesting pairs and there are more on North Bird Island.

And if one of the largest Puffin Colonies isn't enough reason, Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve is a wonderland for photographers and explorers alike. This captivating area is protected by provincial legislation, and is the most accessible seabird rookery in North America. Its natural beauty makes it perfect for nature walks and family adventures. 

Cape St. Mary's is the southernmost breeding area for thick-billed murres, and the southernmost major breeding site for common murres in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. In the winter you’ll see 20,000 scoters, oldsquaw, harlequin, dovekies, thick-billed murres, and kittiwakes. Thousands of gulls, razorbills, common murres, black-legged kittiwakes, northern gannets, and double-crested and great cormorants also nest here.

Bird Rock is the third largest nesting site and southernmost colony of northern gannets in North America. This site is overflowing with perching, diving, and scrambling birds from edge to edge – melding together into an awesome moving, breathing spectacle of color and sound.

The stunning, majestic scenery of the Cape, with its rugged cliffs, is perfect for a relaxing walk or a challenging hike. Mosses, lichens, low-growing shrubs, and alpine wildflowers blanket the plateau and nearby Golden Bay is seasonally rich with wild bakeapple berry pickings. 

During our Newfoundland photo workshop, Juan and Kevin will work with you at these sanctuaries to teach the best way to capture these magnificent bird species— finding the best angle of the light, backgrounds, depth of field, and how to best capture bird behavior.

But amidst all the bird activity, there are the icebergs…

When it comes to viewing icebergs, this is one of the best places in the world. On a sunny day, view these 10,000-year-old glacial giants from many points along the northern and eastern coasts—in every shape and size—with colors ranging from snow-white to the deepest aquamarine. Despite their arrival from the Arctic every spring, our awe of these icebergs remains new, year after year. Their sheer size sends the mind racing, and that's not even counting the ninety-percent still unseen below the surface! 

You’ll be able to enjoy the icegergs on our boat tour—you could even paddle alongside our boat tour in a sea kayak—or enjoy one of our many easy hikes along the 29,000 km of coastline to see the icebergs that have run ashore.

What makes the Newfoundland workshop special is not just that will we explore some of the largest bird rookeries in North America, but we will also bear witness to some very unique and picturesque communities and landscapes, as well as experience the thrill of getting up close to and photographing ancient icebergs.

What are you waiting for? Come and join us on this unique adventure to Newfoundland!