Summer Dreams 2014

coming soon

Granada Nicaragua

In Search or the Perfect Ceviche and other adventures out soon in my TravelOkcity column, Leisure+Adventure Magazine, and here.

Marshall Islands

Got Wasabi? (A deep sea fishing adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Prairie Dog Town

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Hefner Lake Park

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Huahin, Thailand

The warm hospitality of a boutique hotel in the beach resort town of royalty in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Visiting the Forgotten (Ghost Towns of Oklahoma)

From my TravelOKCity column, 2011

Forsaken and forgotten but still standing tall.

Every little boy has that intrepid adventurer in him. I am all for cultivating that sense of adventure and imagination in every young mind. The problem is that little boy still resides in my husband’s head. Sometimes he still fancies himself an Oklahombre robbing the Santa Fe train for some silver.

If you stand perfectly still, you will hear ghosts lamenting their past.

So one day, we went searching for ghost towns, so he can live his illusions of being an Oklahoma Long Rider, using TravelOKCity as an excuse. “It’ll be a good story,” he said with a straight face. We headed towards the east from Stillwater, expecting to find forgotten towns inhabited by shadows of former glories. Instead, we found proof of life, albeit slowed down like the old lady manning the little service station at Blackburn in Pawnee County.

Waiting for a vacancy at the very posh Ingalls hotel.
The Waltons was playing on a small television by the door when we walked in. The owner greeted us cordially and asked where we’re from. We’re from the city, we said. My husband stammered a bit when he revealed that we were looking for historic places of interest, groping for a better term than “ghost town”. “Ghost town, you say” she offered kindly with humor evident in her tone. It was as if she knew that she was living in a place that had somehow lost its place in the map. She took out a book and offered it to us. It was a book on ghost towns of Oklahoma, featuring her town. 

sweet little church
We needed to see the United Methodist Church, she said. It was built in the early 1900s. And without looking, as if she had done this numerous times, she offered us a key so we could take a look inside. We took it with reverence as if we were handed the key to the city.  The quaint house of worship had beautiful stained glass windows that were crafted by her daughter. The register of attendance plaque said that last Sunday’s attendance was 15. 

The baby in the manger sheds some light.
Walking back, we came upon a brick building with a weathered sign that said “Oasis”. It had yellowed palm tree cutouts against peeling wall boards. It was far from what we imagined as a refreshing retreat but we figured it used to be the town’s popular watering hole. The rest of the town center was lined with buildings with pretty much the same condition. They however stood impressive, perhaps owing it to the sturdy brick that still stubbornly held their frames as shadows of their former splendid state, when Blackburn was once a bustling whiskey town in Oklahoma Territory. Incorporated in 1909, it once boasted two banks, a public school, and three churches. 

glimpses of the forgotten
Today, the little lady selling candy bars and soda remains as one of the 15 who keep the church and maybe even the whole community busy.

On our way out, we saw a makeshift sign that said:
Things to do today:
1.    Get organized.
2.    Talk to spouse.
3.    Get re-organized.
4.    Talk to spouse.
5.    Abandon entire idea.
6.    Talk to self.

We wouldn’t be surprised if she made the sign herself.

signs of the living
There were no signs of outlaws, so we moved on to Ingalls where the famous Battle of Ingalls once happened. Here, gunshots were exchanged between the U.S. Marshals and the Doolin Dalton Gang, the Oklahombres notorious for bank and train robberies.  During the shootout, three deputies and two townspeople were killed while the Wild Bunch escaped. 

I am so pleased with how my Pentax poin-and-shoot performed during this trip.
Today, not even echoes of the guns could be heard. The dust and the smoke have long settled on the few remaining buildings, dilapidated and withering: the R.M. Salon, the Wilson general merchandise store, and the Ingalls Hotel. Vacancies? Yes, a look inside showed nothing but vacancies.

This image called out to me, begging me to tell its story.
A red chair behind the hotel sat empty, facing a swing long abandoned, pushed slowly back and forth by the breeze.  We continued, passing condemned bridges along the way, allowing us to quietly enjoy the river and the colors of the changing season. 

Traversing abandoned bridges.
At Skedee, another town in Pawnee County, we found the Bond of Friendship, memorializing the truce between European conquerors and the Native Americans. The monument towered over a crumbling food market, an abandoned auto garage, and a service station that sold gas for 49.9 cents a gallon. We only wished we could fill up there, instead we pressed on along highway 16 to our final stop - Shamrock, six miles south of Drumright.

A steam engine, my shadow, and my trusty point-and-shoot.

The once booming oil town of 1,000 denizens is slowly fading into a community of about 100 remaining residents. Not a majority of them are Irish or even of the Emerald Isle decent but the spirit of the “Saints and Scholars” comes to life through Ireland Street every St. Patrick’s Day, passing along the Shamrock Museum, a sad little institution that displayed baubles coated with dust and disregard. Most of the buildings were in the same state. A little red tractor parked by a school in decay and nothing much else.  Before we pulled out, a man in a truck drove up to us, asking if we were visiting. He gave us a pocket history about the town and invited us to his home where we could see pictures of Shamrock when it was once alive. We didn’t need to, we thought. 

Stories stay alive in these dead towns.
We only had to look at his friendly face to know that Shamrock is still the home of the living.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Photography Lessons from a Cam Whore and a Rebel (EOS)

Published by Speed Magazine, 2008
(An excerpt and slightly revised)

Don’t get too excited. By no means do I get paid to have my picture taken (although that wouldn’t be such an unpleasant thought) or undress in front of a webcam with or without a reward, but I love the camera. If I sense a flash going off from somewhere, I’d smile. Just a reflex.  I also like breaking rules.  This assignment is therefore a delicious thing to do. Since I love taking pictures so much, I’ve been planning to take photography lessons. Then again, I only like pictures of myself, so I figured I didn’t need photography lessons, I needed a photographer.  Sometimes though, when I travel alone, it’s just me and my timer (note to self: get a tripod).  Left to my own devices, I’ve self taught and learned some of the rules and broke most.

Granada, Nicaragua

The do’s and don’ts of photography are actually just guidelines or design principles to assist photographers in the composition of their work. But as artists, photographers have the right to present their images according to what they want and based on their own interpretation. If these rules are hard and fast, and if every violator of these rules would be penalized, then we wouldn’t have the likes of Andy Warhol or Ansel Adams.

I have no ambitions of being the next Andy or Adams, but breaking the rules have once in a while given me great results, not the kind that would win me an award for photography, but still the kind worth sharing. Here are some of the experiments I’ve done, some with the help of friends, some with my trusty timer. As you can clearly see, I am not a pro at this art (well not yet, although as of this posting, I already have a few paid gigs to my name), so I don’t need professional photographers telling me to learn the rules first before breaking them. I just like to have fun with my camera and my moments. I hope you will too.

Dead center

Taken with my Pentax point-and-shoot in Bintan, Indonesia years back.

Just when I’ve gotten used to the rule of thirds, somebody tells me of the power of taking pictures of my subject dead center. According to the rule, centering your point of interest will make your photo look unimaginative and amateurish. Think out of the box and reposition. Place your subject right at the middle of the frame. 
This works best when the scene presents perfect symmetry like a long winding road in the middle of a picture or a sitting duck at the center of a pond. The water ripples circling the subject presents an arresting effect.  A portrait wherein the subject is looking down the barrel is also a confronting image.

I’ve learned that taking pictures from different angles presents varied moods. Each perspective tells a different story.
Midday myth

Photography basics will tell you that midday is not the best time as the sun is high up and will give you stark and washed out images.  Early morning and late afternoon are the safest time, although there are exceptions.  Mornings are best for landscapes, portraits and wildlife. High noons are for treks in the forests when the sunlight escapes through the dense foliage.
My fall find for 2012.

An overcast setting for high noon is great, but if you're working on a sunny day, go under the shade. Look for shaded settings that allow a little bit of the sun to provide some accent. Shoot scenes slightly underexposed so you can recover the highlights during processing. And always mind your ISO- the lower the better.
Space to move

Taken by a friend during a trip to Batanes, again with my compact camera.

I’ve been taught to give my subjects space to move.  The active space rule requires room in front of a moving subject to give the viewer an idea of where the subject is headed. This rule also gives the image a sense of anticipation.

Since we’re breaking rules here, let’s go the other way.  To add tension and intrigue to your photo, try leaving space behind your subject. This will give the viewer a sense of where the subject has been. The effect is almost dramatic. A trail of smoke or footprints behind the subject gives a nostalgic feel as it subtly evokes the past or an event that has just passed.

Room to breathe

Taken with my Canon EOS

This rule breaker is similar to the previous violation. This time, instead of giving your subject space to move around, give your subject room to breathe or look around. The rule states that you should give room for your subject to look into. So if your subject is looking off to one side, move the camera in such a way that there is space in front of him.

The Pentax and I have had some good times, this time in Palawan.

Again, consider going the other way. When taking a portrait, experiment by leaving a gap behind your subject. Play around with different poses and framing. Have your subject look directly in front of the camera and leave space behind or opposite the direction where the subject is looking at. Try taking your portrait from above or even from below.

About face

I know you're not supposed to cut off your subject’s feet on a full shot, but I took this with a
 timer and my Pentax propped on a post. So maybe I can be excused this time?

The light in your subject’s eyes can tell a thousand stories. But why tell all when you can create some mystery? Consider shooting your subject looking into the distance. This is one of my favourite techniques. I like the feeling of nostalgia the image creates as if the subject is looking at his future or contemplating on the past. It makes the audience want to know what is going on in the subject’s head.

Nica, Granada. Canon EOS. Fave travel buddy.

You may take a picture of your subject looking at another direction, and still reveal his eyes, or you may totally conceal them.  Shoot your point of interest from the back and see just how that image can be as powerful as a picture of a pair of piercing eyes staring right back at you.

Psychedelic photo

Taken by a friend at Sticky Fingers in Makati with the Pentax still.

At the risk of being accused of having the shakes, move your camera while shooting to create motion blur. Camera shake is a big no-no for photographers, but experiment and you might be pleased with the results. Motion blur can create energy in the picture, especially during a night scene at a bar where the feel is exciting. This rule breaking technique can make an action shot more dynamic or make the viewer feel like he’s high on something.

Toss out your tripod and select a shutter speed that is slightly slower than the normal setting. Move your camera during the exposure.  Panning your camera in time with a moving object may also give you an interesting result. If done right, your subject will look sharp against a blurry background. If you feel adventurous, toss your camera just before it goes off. I’m not kidding. Camera tossing is a technique that requires a lot of practice, courage and an extra camera (in case you break one in the process).


More on my photography here.