Tbilisi, Georgia

Let me just start by saying that Tbilisi was one of the most amazing and beautiful cities I have ever been to. From the moment I got off the plane to the moment I left I was just blown away by this place. Everything from the people, the architecture, the public transportation, the language, the weather, it was pretty much everything I was looking for in an off the beaten path photography-driven travel adventure. I’ve never been to a place where so often random strangers would just randomly strike up friendly conversation with me as I was wandering around. I’ve never felt safer walking around a city with my camera gear taking pictures at 3 o’clock in the morning. Everywhere I pointed my camera was just filled with beautiful buildings and scenery. And to top it all off it was one of the cheapest places I’ve ever been to. The entire 8 days I was here I spent under $250 for everything, including my hostel. If Tbilisi was not on your list of places to go, do yourself a favor and put it right at the top of that list.

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Layover in Paris

So this is going to be a really short post. I was booking my flight for a small trip to a location which unfortunately didn’t have any non-stop options from Boston, so I took that opportunity to book myself a flight with a long layover in Paris. I didn’t even shoot an entire roll of film here as I was only in the city for about 6 hours and just got off an overnight flight which I got zero sleep on. Most of my time was spent visiting the typical tourist spots and getting lost looking for metro stations.

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Chicago

I’ve been wanting to get out to Chicago for years now. I’m not entirely sure what took me so long as it’s really not that far away, but at the ripe old age of 33 I finally made it.

After my trip to Europe a couple months ago I’ve been really into shooting Fuji films, namely Superia 200 and 800, and now with this latest trip, 400 as well. I still prefer Portra for medium format (especially with Fuji not even making Superia in 120), but I did take this opportunity to try out a couple more new films I’ve either never shot, or haven’t shot in a very long time. These first three shots were all on 645 Portra, but I also have a few shots mixed in down below from a roll I shot on Provia 100F. This was the first time I had ever shot medium format slide film. I did like it in 120, but I also shot a roll of it in 35mm and really disliked it. I just don’t think slide film lends itself to what I’m generally going for and how I like to shoot. I especially really missed the extra exposure latitude I get out of negative film.

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Holland, Antwerp, Cologne, and Copenhagen

I had the opportunity recently to spend some time over in Western Europe on a business trip. Most of my time was spent in an office in Rotterdam, but I’m not one to pass up an opportunity like this, so pretty much every free second I had was spent checking out all the interesting spots I could find within a reasonable train ride. I also took some liberties in booking my flights so that I was able to bracket my work week with some fun weekends, including a 12 hour layover in Copenhagen to start off my trip.

I arrived around 6 AM after my relatively quick flight from Boston. Technically I guess it was an overnight flight, but it left Boston at 5:30 PM so I didn’t get much sleep on the plane. Luckily Copenhagen has some pretty good coffee. So I hopped on the train and headed into the city. I probably got there around 7, and with it being Saturday morning, that meant I pretty much had the entire city to myself for a few hours.

Photography-wise I decided to switch things up just a little bit. I have been shooting Kodak Portra pretty much exclusively for the past 6 or 7 years now. It’s a great film, especially for scanning and printing, but I wanted to try something different. On this trip I decided to shoot Fuji Superia film in both 200 and 800 speeds. I was very pleasantly surprised with the results and think I’ll be sticking with these films for the time being. I’m also planning on trying out some 400 speed Superia, and maybe even a couple rolls of Provia here and there.

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Hong Kong Part III

So you may be wondering to yourself, “Dan, didn’t you just go to Hong Kong last year?” Well, yes, but my trip here last year was more of just a fun weekend stopover to get over my jet lag and get ready for the main focus of my trip, which was Tokyo. That trip really reignited my passion for travel in general, but also more specifically for the city of Hong Kong. Even before I left I knew I’d have to get back here soon. And I did, less than a year later.

This time I not only devoted about a week and a half here, but also came here after spending a week in Taipei, so by the time I arrived I had already gotten over my jet lag and was ready to make the most of my time in this awesome, gigantic city.

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Taipei

Taipei is the first new city I’ve been to in years. My last trip was more of a vacation than anything, as I had just revisited my two favorite cities and even stayed in a couple of the same hotels as I had previously. As fun as that was, I knew for my next trip I was in need of a bit more adventure.

Now Taipei is a city that’s always intrigued me. I never had a really good idea of what it was like. With a place like Tokyo or Hong Kong, there’s a fair bit of popular media I can draw from, with movies like Lost in Translation, Enter the Void, any of Wong Kar-wai’s films, and some fairly prominent photographers making their careers shooting in them. But Taipei was always a mystery to me. I figured this to be a good thing, as it would allow me to go in with a fresh set of eyes.

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Return to Tokyo

Ever since I left this city five years ago I’ve been dying to get back. I’ve never traveled to the same place twice, always figuring that there’s so many new places out there to explore that I’d be doing myself a disservice by revisiting places with so much left out there I haven’t seen. Tokyo changed all that. I’ve tried visiting new places since then, but my mind was always bringing me back here. Even before this very trip I was seconds away from booking a flight to the Balkans, but a last minute impulse forced me to check flights to Tokyo before I clicked that button. And well, here I am.

I was afraid for a long time that if I came back here it’d just feel like I was trying to relive my past trip, and would ultimately leave feeling unsatisfied. I can happily say that was not the case whatsoever. I had such a great time here, and Tokyo is so huge I was even able to spend maybe half my time exploring completely new parts of the city.

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72 Hours in Hong Kong

Four years. It had been four long years since I last left the country. I sort of went into why in my last post, but the short of it is that the travel bug had just inexplicably left me. It didn’t stay gone for too long though, fortunately, and I just got back from a 2 1/2 week trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Sort of a re-tracing of a portion of my 2012 trip, mostly to focus on some photography and just spend time hanging out in the two coolest cities I’ve ever been to.

On this trip I brought three cameras with me; two film and one digital. The film cameras I brought were essentially the same ones I brought on my last trip to these two cities. My Fuji GS645S medium format rangefinder with its built-in 60mm f/4 lens was used sparingly (mostly for nighttime tripod photography), and my Minolta XG-M (which I had actually purchased at a used camera market in Hong Kong back in 2012 after the shutter died on my X-570 in Bangkok) with its 50mm f/1.2, which I regrettably didn’t use at all this time in Hong Kong, but was my workhorse in Tokyo. My third camera, the digital, is a Ricoh GR I’ve found myself shooting with more and more, as it’s just so convenient since it fits right in my pants pocket and is with me pretty much wherever I go. Not to mention the fantastic results it produces. Dare I say they’re almost film-like.

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Spain, Holland, Belgium and London

So I took this trip almost 4 years ago. I wasn’t too happy with my pictures so I had been dragging my feet in posting them. At this point it’s no longer all that fresh in my memory, so I’ll do my best but I may miss a few things here and there.

First up is Madrid. I had arrived in Spain late at night after taking the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier, Morocco. I arrived in the port city of Tarifa, where I hopped on the next bus to Algeciras to spend the night. First thing in the morning (actually, knowing me.. probably closer to noon) I hopped on a train to Madrid and started exploring.

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Morocco

This post has been a long time coming. In January of 2013 I flew into Tangier, Morocco. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was doing, or even where I was going on this particular trip, I just knew I wanted to be somewhere different.

I arrived in Tangier’s relatively tiny airport though a connecting flight in Madrid. As much as I’ve flown in my life, I can never seem to remember to bring a damn pen with me to fill out customs forms and whatnot. Luckily I sat on a bench in the airport with about a half-dozen other people, all Moroccan, who were all in the same boat, waiting our turn for the lone pen being passed around. I had actually noticed that everyone I had seen getting off my flight appeared to be Moroccan. I knew I was traveling in the off-season as it was January, but I thought there’d at least be another traveler to talk to, maybe explore the medina with.

After making it through and getting outside a little before noon, I decided to put my contacts in. My eyes were super dry after the flight, and I was sitting outside on the ground having a pretty tough time when a nice Morrocan girl came up to me and offered me some eye drops out of her purse. She smiled and nearly ran away after she had given them to me, but I think (I hope) I was able to thank her in broken Arabic before she left.

Once I hopped in a cab outside the airport and told the driver to head to the medina, I was in for a fun ride. The painted lines in the road didn’t seem to have any meaning here, and every time a light turned green, my cab driver bumped the car in front of us to alert him it was time to get moving. I arrived at the entrance to the medina about 15 minutes later, dusted myself off, and from there it was a mad dash to find my guesthouse so I could drop off my backpack and go exploring.

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Japan Part 2 – Tokyo, Kanagawa and Hakone

I arrived in Tokyo via bullet train, or Shinkansen, from Kyoto. I had toyed with the idea of taking a more budget-oriented approach towards getting here but I’m glad I didn’t. Seeing the countryside whizzing by me at 170 miles per hour inside my whisper-quiet cabin was an experience in itself, not to mention all the time I saved over taking the much slower, local trains.

So ¥12,000 and 2 hours later we pulled into Tokyo Station, and I strapped on my backpack and headed out. I felt like a kid again, ready to start his first day at a new school.

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Japan Part 1 – Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto

Arriving in Osaka was a very odd experience for me. I had never been to Japan before in my life, however for some strange reason I was hit with a strong and persistent sense of nostalgia. From the moment I stepped off the plane, for the next 24 hours or so I felt like I was revisiting someplace from my distant past. I’ve come to the conclusion that either Osaka is a great representation of what America was like in the late 80s, or I was Japanese in a former life.

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Hong Kong

I had arrived in Hong Kong right around sunset. Now the airport was pretty far from the city, so by the time I had arrived in Mong Kok it was already dark. I’ll never forget stepping off that bus into the streets of Kowloon for the first time; I can only describe the experience as feeling as if I was on a movie set. The narrow streets walled in by towering concrete buildings, thousands of people lit by a sea of neon lights, cars and buses whizzing by on this calm, 70 degree night. It was one of the most surreal things I had ever experienced. My camera had died a few days earlier in Bangkok, but taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. Over the years I’ve found that in times like this, it’s best to just take everything in and live the experience rather than trying to capture it, as no picture I could have taken would be anything close to how I’d remember it.

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Thailand

So after about a 20 hour overnight train ride from Penang, I had arrived in Bangkok. Now, Singapore and Malaysia were hot, but there was just something a little more oppressive about the heat in Bangkok. I had arrived at around 10 AM and I’d soon come to find out that the mornings in Bangkok are incredibly humid, even in January. By around noon though it eased up quite a bit, and by early afternoon the humidity was almost non-existent. Luckily this wasn’t really much of a factor for me after the first day or two as I’m much more of a night person. In fact even while traveling I could probably count the days I was out and about before noon on one hand. On the other hand, getting to bed at 3 or 4 AM was much more likely.

After getting out of the station, I started to make my way to the infamous Khao San Rd with a few new friends I had met on the train. After a relatively short bus ride we found ourselves in the midst of what is apparently party central for backpackers on a budget. We found a couple of rooms pretty quickly for about 7 bucks each (with air conditioning), and spent the next few days generally just lounging around being bums. We did check out a few of the temples in the old town of Bangkok, but public transportation is rather limited in this area so we mostly just hung around Khao San and lived it up amongst the melange of bars, restaurants and massage parlors. This may sound counter intuitive for someone on a budget like myself, but keep in mind that a one hour massage in Bangkok will run you anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars. It wasn’t hard to convince myself to find a way to work them into my daily budget.

There were temples scattered all over the place here in old town. I didn’t end up touring the grounds of the Grand Palace, but there were dozens of other equally impressive temples, or ‘wats’ everywhere you looked. Here are just a few.

This is a view of the Grand Palace from inside the grounds before the entrance gate. I had planned on going in, but the entrance fee was a little steep (with most of the other temples being free), and they didn’t allow medium format cameras inside, which I found a bit odd.

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Malaysia

After I left Singapore I made my way through Malaysia. I only spent about 4 days here, with my time divided between Kuala Lumpur, several overnight trains and a stopover in Penang. After hopping on a night train from Johor Bahru across the border in Malaysia, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur just as the sun was rising.

The Petronas Towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Each one of these towers is taller than the Empire State Building, and they were the tallest buildings in the world when they were built. They’re currently ranked at 6th tallest, and are just over half the height of the new tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

My time in Kuala Lumpur was spent mostly in the Chinatown area, although I did walk around the city quite a bit during the day. Chinatown was filled with curbside food carts serving satay, clay-pot chicken and a variety of other Malay dishes.

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Singapore

First up in my upcoming series of posts will be Singapore. For those of you that don’t personally know me, I spent this past winter backpacking around Asia. I started right after New Years in Singapore, spent about a week there before traveling up to Malaysia for a few days, and then spent about 3 weeks in Thailand between Bangkok and the Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai area. After that I took a quick plane ride out to Hong Kong where I spent a couple weeks, and then flew out to Japan to finish off my trip. I ended up spending 5 weeks total in Japan, starting in Osaka, hitting up Kobe, Kyoto, Hakone, Yokohama, Kawasaki, and finally Tokyo. I figured I’d start out in the hottest places, and slowly move north to the colder areas as the season ended. This ended up working out great because Singapore was an excellent place to get my feet wet in Asian culture. Most people in Singapore speak English, nearly all signs are in English and the city itself even had a very western feel to it. As my trip went on I got into progressively more eastern cultures, ending in Japan which probably would have been very difficult to start out in due to the severe lack of English-friendly amenities. Overall I couldn’t have been happier with the way everything came together.

Before I left on my trip I met a fellow photographer by the name of Rizal on flickr. We talked a bit before I left and planned to meet up once I got over there. Originally we had just planned to go out for a quick shooting session around Singapore, but between Rizal and his friends he introduced me to we ended up getting together almost every day I was there. He even brought me into the Arab Quarter to find a hookah lounge after I mentioned my affinity for shisha. Read on a bit for more on these guys.

I brought three cameras with me on this trip; two main cameras and a backup. The two main cameras were my 645 medium format rangefinder, the Fuji GS645S, and my Minolta X-570 SLR with a few lenses. The Fuji 645 has a fixed lens, being a 60mm f/4, and for the Minolta I brought my 50mm f/1.2, 28mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/3.5 lenses. I brought a little over 100 rolls of film with me, 72 being 35mm and 30 being medium format. I actually ended up running out in Japan and had to purchase film there for almost double what I paid back home. My entire film stock was Kodak Portra, with the 35mm split almost evenly between 160 and 400 speed, and the 120 split between 160, 400 and 800. I also brought a mini travel tripod with me which served me alright in Southeast Asia for the few times I wanted to use it, but once I started getting into more serious night photography over in Hong Kong I ended up purchasing a much larger and sturdier tripod over there. Oh, and my backup camera was a tiny little 35mm rangefinder, a Yashica Electro 35 CC with a 35mm f/1.8 lens. It came in handy a few times when I didn’t want to bring one of my larger cameras out with me, and for a few days when my Minolta’s shutter died in Bangkok. Well, that’s enough writing. On to the pictures.

The Singapore Artscience Museum, in front of the downtown skyline and Marina Bay.

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Austria and Switzerland – Melk, Hallstatt and The Swiss Alps

If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1 of this trip before reading on.

After Prague I decided to head back to Austria, to a city called Linz which was situated perfectly to give me relatively quick access to the cities of Melk and Hallstatt. I only spent about 12 hours in Linz, but from what I saw it looked like a very nice city. In 2009 Linz was voted as the Cultural Capital of all of Europe, so apparently it is. When I make it back to Austria someday I’m definitely going to stop by and really check this place out.

These kids were just sitting on the steps with a pile of empty pint-sized bottles in front of them. Keep in mind it was roughly 10 AM at this point.

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Austria and the Czech Republic – Innsbruck, Vienna and Prague

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated this site, so I figured it was time for a redesign. I had pretty high hopes for Photosomnia back when I created it, but unfortunately it’s taken a backseat to my daily photoblog over at www.shuttermaki.com. Hopefully this will help breathe some new life into it, and motivate me to update it a little more often. To be honest, this site has taught me that while I still love the art of photography more than ever, my desire to write about it isn’t as great as I had hoped.

Now, on to the pictures. I recently took a trip to Europe spending about a week in Austria, a few days in Prague, and then ended up hiking around the Swiss Alps for a few days. This was quite the trip, and as you can imagine I have a ton of pictures to share. Normally when I go on a trip I’d just post the dozen or so images on my photoblog, but considering I have over 100 I needed to find a more efficient way to get these out for everyone that wants to see them.

All of these were shot on my Leica M6, the vast majority with my Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon, and a handful with my Leica 90mm f/4 Elmar C. I brought 3 different kinds of film on the trip with me, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 400VC and Ilford HP5+. I’ll take you through my trip in chronological order as best I can remember, so without further ado here are some shots taken at the JFK and Zurich airports at the very start of my vacation. These were shot on HP5+ at ISO 400.

I always shoot the first frame on a roll as a ‘throw away’ shot, just in case I haven’t wound it far enough to get past the burn, but I rather liked this shot for some reason.

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Return to Iron Horse

Since my last Iron Horse post I have made two more trips, shooting mostly black and white film with a little digital thrown in. These trips were much more successful than the first, as I’m sure my results will show. It was a little disappointing however to find that they had removed all the buses from the repair yard. Despite this, some great new pictures were had in exploring parts of this complex that I had skipped the first time around.

I only used 2 lenses for these trips, my Canon 24mm 2.8 and Sigma 50mm 1.4 primes, which I would interchange between my Eos-1 and my 5D. First I will display a few of my digital shots from my first return trip, all of which were shot with the 50.

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Sakura Zensen

Well, the cherry blossoms are currently blooming, and I figured, what better time to photograph them? They are only in full bloom for a couple weeks, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, they are quite beautiful. I tried a couple different techniques here, the first of which was using my Sigma 50mm with a very shallow depth of field, so most of these shots were taken between f/1.4 and 2.8. My 5D was also used for all of these. I had contemplated using film, but I didn’t, so here are the first of the digital shots with the Sigma.

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