Veterans Returning to Old Battlefields

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I recently came across this video on YouTube. It struck me as poignant because it was so similar to my experience. I served in Vietnam as a young Marine Corps Sergeant from January 1967 through February 1968. I returned with my son Shawn in 2004 to face my demons. It proved to be cathartic.

I again traveled through Vietnam in 2008, this time with my brother Joel. I think our trip foreshadowed our current world adventure—we’ve been on the road since early 2012 with just our rucksacks and my camera gear. War changes you—I arrived in Vietnam as a naive 19-year old and returned as an old man of 20.

My war is rapidly fading into history as new wars have taken its place. We’ve learned nothing—we’re still sending our best and brightest to be slaughtered on foreign soil. Not every veteran feels and thinks the way I do but large numbers of us do. I am cynical, jaded, and distrustful when it comes to our government and our politicians. I am also angry. Ten of my comrades never made it home—and for what? Over 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and we gained nothing. NOTHING.

Photography 101: Biggest Mistake When Photographing Wildlife

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Wildlife photography can be an extremely challenging genre. If a photographer comes away with a good shot they’ve usually earned it. Just taking a photo of a critter isn’t really wildlife photography. What can you do to improve your shots?

The number one biggest mistake most new photographers make when  attempting to shoot wildlife is subject position. Poor fieldcraft (the ability to successfully stalk wild critters) results in the subject being disturbed and fleeing pursuit.

This means the photographer typically captures only rumps and in the case of birds tail feathers. Not very satisfactory. The best photos capture the subject looking at the photographer, or at the very least a clean profile shot. Head-on  to tree quarters is the best subject position but sometimes a good profile shot works too. Animals looking away with their heads turned, or rapidly fleeing, are not interesting photos no matter how difficult they were to take. Assuming technical proficiency the best shots focus on the eyes and that means the critter has to look at the photographer—fleeing animals don’t do that.

My Portrait of an African Male Lion

Photography 101: Don’t Dismiss the Fundamentals

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photography is about rules. But rules aren’t cast in concrete. Youth screams: Screw the rules, I’ll do it my way. I was young once and I understand the temptation. It typically springs from impatience but increasingly it comes from laziness.

Rules come about for a reason and reason is the operative word. Learn the rules, the fundamentals, and it will become obvious when to break them. Pablo Picasso wasn’t always an abstract modernist artist—first he mastered realism. That is the key.

To truly master any craft you must first learn the fundamentals—through mastery comes innovation. In this digital age there is often a tendency to dismiss fundamentals, rules, and mastery out-of-hand. Apprenticeship has gone the way of the dinosaur and is all but extinct. In the olden days an aspiring craftsman worked through the various stages of mastery: apprentice, journeyman, and finally master craftsman. It took years of dedication and hard work but it paid off in the end. Today’s cultures demand immediacy—we want everything NOW. But it doesn’t work that way and it never has. Learn the rules before breaking them.

A Budget Traveler’s Nirvana

Stephen F. Dennstedt

North Macedonia is a real treat for the budget traveler. We arrived in Bitola yesterday afternoon at about 1 p.m. and checked into our small hotel. It’s a big room with a luxurious walk-in shower complete with a waterfall ceiling shower head—wow.

The room has a double bed and a twin bed, air-conditioning, free in-room coffee, free in-room wifi, and access to a courtesy washing machine. The hotel is also centrally located to everything—all this for only $14 USD pp per night—WOW!

We had a tasty breakfast just a few yards from our hotel this morning—and, again, it was very inexpensive. For only $1.79 USD pp we got three fried eggs, a mound of lean bacon, bread, and water. For an additional $1.06 USD pp we got two robust Espresso Amercano Catés. Our entire breakfast bill, for two people, came to a whopping $5.71 USD. On the whole North Macedonia is less than half the price of Greece its immediate neighbor to the south. I’ve included some photos from our one-week stay in Gevgelija and will have some photo of Bitola soon. The good news? We still have over two months in North Macedonia.

The Price Is Right and so Much More

Stephen F. Dennstedt

North Macedonia is a godsend for the budget traveler. We lost an hour crossing into North Macedonia from Greece but gained a fortune. Well, maybe not a fortune but certainly a big savings on our overall expenses. Food is just one such savings.

English can be problematic at times but we manage to get our point across. Our breakfast this morning came to a total of 360 MKD or about $3.25 USD pp: 3 egg omelette, fresh tomatoes & cucumbers, bread, and double espresso Americano café.

The weather has also improved in our favor—for instance today’s high temperature will be 24°C/76°F with a very slight chance of rain later in the afternoon. The forecast for the next week predicts high daytime temperatures in the 27°C/80°F range. This is only day two but already we’ve found the prices, people, food, drink, and weather to our liking. We will be in Gevgelija for a total of ten days before moving on and in North Macedonia for three months. Gevgelija is our kind of town: small, quaint, friendly, inexpensive, and authentic. I think our three-month stay in North Macedonia will pass quickly and pleasantly.

We Arrived in Gevgelija, North Macedonia

Stephen F. Dennstedt

A short bus ride from Thessaloniki, Greece brought us to the small border town of Gevgelija, North Macedonia. With a population of only 15,000 Gevgelija is quaint and CHEAP. Emphasis on CHEAP—expensive.

Prices have immediately dropped by half: lodging is $11 USD pp per night, tonights dinner totaled $6 USD pp including two large beers each, and our taxi was only $1 USD from the bus terminal to our hotel. I think we’ve found Nirvana.

Our bus trip was only 1½-hours and our border crossing was easy and uncomplicated. The folks in North Macedonia seem to be friendly, the food and beer is good, and the prices suit us to a tee. We will spend ten nights in this small border town and a total of three months in North Macedonia. Things might change of course but first impressions are EXCELLENT. Anytime we can cut our traveling expenses in half is a good time. We will be out & about first thing tomorrow morning to explore this little town further but so far things are looking really good. Hopefully I will have some pictures for you soon. Currency: 55 Denar = $1 USD.

Photography 101: Practical Advice From a Pro

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Professional photographers rarely buy the latest and greatest photography kit. Professional photographers prioritize robust and reliable equipment (cameras, lenses, and accessories) above all other considerations—proven gear.

In this video professional photographer Daniel Norton talks about shooting requirements versus simple gear acquisition (GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I’ve written a number of times before about this same subject—GAS is addictive.

It Can All Go South in a Heartbeat

Stephen F. Dennstedt

So the Muppet Brothers are back in Ioánnina. We’ve been here before. Since we left the Greek island of Kefalonia we’ve been backtracking. Not something we’re fond of doing for various reasons but sometimes it’s necessary—like now.

We boarded our bus in Patras (another repeat I’m afraid) at 9 a.m. local time and arrived in Ioánnina about 3½ hours later. Ever since we determined we were returning we’ve been looking forward to revisiting one of our favorite breakfast places.

One of the reasons we hate to backtrack is the time element—we’re old guys so we hate to waste time seeing things or places for a second time. But the biggest reason is few places holdup to a second visit. Nothing quite matches seeing or experiencing someplace or something for the first time. This morning we walked down to our favorite breakfast place, with one of our favorite food servers, only to find it will be closed for a month—DAMN. So why are we backtracking? Because our original travel plan called for visiting Albania next but that proved to be problematic so we changed our next destination to Macedonia. Onward.

Secluded Alleyway in Ioánnina, Greece


Roaming the Greek Island of Kefalonia

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Our three-week stay on the Greek island of Kefalonia has passed quickly and we will be leaving by ferry early on Thursday morning. Once we’re back on the mainland we will be backtracking on our original route to get to Macedonia.

Macedonia in the Balkans is our next travel destination and we will be there for the next three months. However, crossing mainland Greece (again) to get to Macedonia will take us about two or two and half weeks—but we’re in no particular hurry.

Last week we spent over six hours driving around the island seeing the sights—and at over 300 mi² it’s a big island. We were originally scheduled for Tuesday but a Sirocco wind blew in from North Africa (Sahara Desert). The Sirocco wind carried a lot of Saharan desert sand with it obscuring the sun and casting an orange glow over everything—much like a large, smokey fire will do. The next day, Wednesday, the wind had subsided and the sky had cleared—our driver picked us up at our hotel at 9 a.m. and we were off to explore. First stop was an old graveyard (Circa 700 BC) and then the 11th-century Castle of Saint George.

Castle of Saint George – Kefalonia, Greece

Crossing the island of Kefalonia (up and over the island’s mountains) towards the small coastal town of Sami (our arrival port of entry) we passed a winery and stopped at a Greek Orthodox monastery. In front of the monastery we saw a local shepherd grazing his small flock of shaggy sheep. He had a very interesting face that I wanted to photograph but he didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Greek. I used my international photographer’s pantomime gestures to communicate my request and he readily agreed—as long as I also photographed his sheep. My time with Demetrius was the highlight of my day.

Demitrius the Greek Shepherd – Kefalonia, Greece

We also toured two caves, one dry and one wet. The first cave was Drogarati Cave (the dry cave) about 3km from Sami and the second cave (the wet cave) was Mellissani the Cave of the Nymphs (nope we didn’t see any nymphs—and we looked). Mellissani was very much like the cenotes we found in Yucatan, Mexico but much larger—like a cenote on steroids. We toured Melissani by rowboat before heading to the coastal village of Assos (Population: less than 300 residents). Assos was both quiet and beautiful and in our minds representative of the quintessential Greece we’ve been looking for. We’ll soon leave Greece for Macedonia.

Assos – Kefalonia, Greece

Field Notes: I photographed all the images in this post with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR and Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. My Canon 24-70mm lens is an excellent travel lens because of its versatility even if it’s a tad bit boring—it’s not excellent at anything but is reasonably competent at everything. Photography is all about compromise and tradeoffs and my 24-70mm lens is representative of that paradigm. In dense urban areas I will often trade my 24-70mm zoom lens for the more dramatic Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM ultra wide-angle zoom lens. I shoot RAW and process with Adobe ACR & PSE15. SFD

Photography 101: Nine Photo Tips to Ignore

Stephen F. Dennstedt

This YouTube personality bugs me a bit. I’m an old dinosaur and he’s a millennial—hence the divide. Despite the fact I often disagree with him on many things photography related, he is entertaining—and quite often right. I hate it when kids are right.

I mostly agree with what he has to say in this video—the possible exceptions being his views on mirrorless cameras and shooting JPEG versus RAW files. If you’re young you will like his presentation style—if old keep an open mind.