Big Sur Morning

SmugMug up to 27 Million Views!

I’ve gotten so many nice notes from SmugMug converts. I wrote my SmugMug Review about a year ago, and I’m still very happy with the transition. Already (and thanks to you!) we’ve gotten over 27 million views on SmugMug!

The SmugMug people have been very nice and seen the thousands of people we have sent over there. They gave all of you a SmugMug Coupon of “STUCKINCUSTOMS” to save 20% on all the packages. Pretty good stuff I think… it’s a family-run company that loves beginner and pro photographers, so if you’ve been thinking about a new way to share your photos, give them a good look!

Daily Photo – Big Sur Morning

I had spent the entire previous day at Hearst Castle in California — all the way until the sun went down. That messed up my plans a bit to drive up Highway 1 and take in the sites with my camera. So I drove just about an hour or so north and found a little lodge right on the rocky coast. It was one of those mysterious late-night checkins where you can’t see what’s around you, but you have a feeling it’s kinda awesome. The next morning, I woke up early to see this! I hopped over a fence and hiked along the top of the cliffs to see the various views… Just as the sun was coming up, I grabbed this one from under a tree.

High Dynamic Range Photo

Army Men

Speaking of Christmas Toys…

Any great Christmas toy suggestions this year?  I’ve collected some unique toys from various countries (like, for example, these Chinese Chain-Puzzles) in my recent 80-day-around-the-world trip… but I was wondering if there was something else unique out there you all have stumbled upon?

Daily Photo – Army Men

We were walking around near some of the roller coasters in Disneyland when these army men came around the corner issuing a bunch of orders through the megaphone. Ethan and I were so surprised — I hardly had time to pull up the D3S for a quick shot!

Some of those days in Anaheim can get pretty hot… I don’t know how all these people in costumes can handle it. I guess it’s better than being one of the dress-up people in Orlando, though!

HDR Photo

Santa Monica Boulevard

Daily Photo – Santa Monica Boulevard

You know those images we all have of Los Angeles, California?  Pretty roads, lined with palm trees, people on roller skates, and convertibles driving by without a care in the world?  Well that is only about 1% of Los Angeles.  The rest, sadly is not terribly exciting.

But, why not go ahead and take photos of the top 1%?  Yes, that’s what we do as photographers.  So, this is one of those pretty bits, right near the beach in Santa Monica, one of the prettier areas of Los Angeles.

HDR Photo

The Private Library

Long-Exposure Article

When I was in Iceland with Rebekka, she set up for one of these long-bulb jobs. There was a light rain and a few drops kept getting on her lens, and the frustration ended with a wholesale slaughter of all nearby mountain-elves.

She’s gotten over it and recently posted an article on Long-Exposure Photography over at Pixiq. Follow that link to see more of her work!

Daily Photo – The Private Library

Here we are again, continuing the Hearst Castle thread. We have so many threaded stories here, yes? It’s a bit like Lost, in that there are so many story-lines that never really get resolved. Maybe at the end, we’ll all end up in a generic church together, staring at a white light out of the doors as the camera pans up and away…

There are a few libraries inside Hearst Castle, and this is the biggest. I’ve always wanted something a little like this. Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite this large, but I’d settle for a few warm shelves full of books, a reading table, and a few servants to bring me coffee.

HDR Photo

The Grand Pool

Great PhotoWalk in London

We had about 75 people show up and had an amazing time. Thanks everyone who came out! We totally overwhelmed security at Westminster, Parliament, and The London Eye — they had no choice but to leave us be! 🙂

Before the walk, I gave explicit instructions to the crowd on what to yell in case they are accosted by the police: “Help Help! I’m being repressed!” Then, we would all work together to tweet it out and make a big deal of it… but, in the end, no one was bothered… it’s intimidating to see 75 tripods coming your way!

Below is a shot from Steve Graham (iboogaloo on Flickr).  You can visit his blog here.

Trey Ratcliff HDR Photographer at the London Photo Walk in front of Westminster

Reminder about Categories and Previous Pages

There is a lot of content here on the site! I wanted to remind you that I do “categorize” every photo. At the bottom of this one, you will see it says things like “California” and “Hearst”. Clicking on any of those will take you to more of the same.

Also, the blog is only set up to show about 10-15 of the latest posts. With many categories, there are a lot more than that! So you can click “Previous” at the bottom to see more.

Daily Photo – The Grand Pool

I’ve already posted a few photos of the fabulous Hearst Castle indoor pool. This is the one that it is nearby, just outdoors. The thing is enormous and perfect.

I wonder if it ever gets used. So sad. Maybe they put on little pool parties here and there for the elite. Or maybe rappers rent it out and bring in a bunch of rap-video-girls to gyrate around the edges. I don’t know.

HDR Photo

Play in Beverly Hills, Shop in Beverly Hills

Hollywood Adventure Redux

I did take this bigger HDR photo below during that period I mentioned in the long-form story. In case you are new to the site, you might enjoy that much longer, 3-part story from last month. To get there, just hop over to “My Hollywood Adventure.”

Daily Photo – Play in Beverly Hills, Shop in Beverly Hills

Well, those signs pretty much say it all. The city council voted down the less-popular alternatives, “Get Mugged in Beverly Hills, Get Ladyboy Hookers in Beverly Hills”. Those were right out.

While I was shooting this, a stretch limo pulled up beside me. The driver and I had a nice conversation… He had someone in the back, but the screen was up to keep out noise and wandering eyes. The driver was cool… I don’t even remember what we talked about. He was doing his thing, and I was doing my thing.

As he drove off, we exchanged the nods that two men sometime exchange when acknowledging one another’s jobs with respect.

HDR Photo

The Ultimate Carnival


I did not include this photo below in my most recent eBook, but maybe I should have! It’s a pretty good example of setting up a composition on the scene… you can only do some things while there, and no amount of Photoshop can save a bad placement of the camera.

In this case, there was actually a big boring block of space in the sky. I kept moving my camera around until the string of lights ended up bifurcating the sky. Also, this gave us another leading line that stopped at a phi point, to help the eye travel around.

Frankly, I don’t like to over-analyze photos too much in text… it makes them lose their magic a little, don’t you think? But, on occasion, I will provide a little bit of play-by-play analysis!

Daily Photo – The Ultimate Carnival

I’ve been to Disney World many many times, but this is my first time as a grown-up to Disneyland. I always feel strange, by the way, calling myself a grown-up!

Disneyland has two parks on the premises. This one is from California Adventures, the second and newer park. Towards the backside, there is this perfect street, full of carnival-like activities. As most of you know, I’m a big fan of graphic design, so it was great fun to look at the delicious details in all of these signs.

HDR Photo

Isabella’s Jewel Box

Thanks Again Community!

(BTW, it sounds strange calling us a “community”.  I never really liked that word… it’s like we meet for Bingo at the sad community center that smells like old tapioca pudding or something…  maybe you know a better word?)

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you again for all the support, encouragement, and enthusiasm! I really enjoy reading your comments, getting your emails, tweets, FB comments and more. I feel bad I can’t respond to all of them, but I still do read them all. There is a lot, but the reading is not yet overwhelming. The responding is. Something maybe people don’t realize is that comments appear all over the site every day, even on posts that are several years old. For example, someone just dropped a note on a 2-year-old post “Girl in Qatar” looking for a penpal.

I also quite like it when people post links to their websites, their photos, or whatever they find interesting. I encourage it, and it helps YOU get to know OTHER nice people here in the community here too. I know my mom will track you down (like she did Gail) whenever you suddenly stop leaving comments. She gets worried (she called me one day and said, “Do you think Gail is sick or something?”)

If you have more ideas on things you’d like to see around here to help this process, let me know! 🙂

Daily Photo – Isabella’s Jewel Box

Up high, in one of the tallest towers of all the land, in the highest castle by the sea, sits a perfect bedroom, and it shines like the inside of a floating jewel box.

This amazing place is in one of the two peak towers atop Hearst Castle. Getting up into these rooms via tiny, twisting stairways is not the easiest thing in the world. The paths in and out of these bedrooms are almost so serpentine that they seem secret. When I was inside, I felt like I was one of the few people in the world to ever experience it.

HDR Photo

Relapse Photo – The Castle From Below

I’ve included a second photo from the outside of the castle. Towards the top, you can see the two towers, each of which contains one of these little slices of fantasy.

Hearst Castle

My Hollywood Adventure, Part 3 of 3

And now the last section of the three part story. Perhaps I have built this up too much to somewhat of a Lost Finale ending that confuses people. Maybe it has already become tiresome by now? Yes, probably… In that case, you can just enjoy the photos… !


A 3-Part Story…


And then I went inside.

Can you even take photos in here? I really doubt it! But I take some anyway…. being the “beg for forgiveness” sort of guy. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t beg for forgiveness – I feel like I have an in-born right to record my life.

Am I wrong there? No… of course not… I take photos of things with all the confidence of a man who knows how natural an in-born right can feel.

However, I do respect the privacy of things that deserve it, so I won’t be posting any photos of the inside.  Perhaps leaving it all a mystery makes it more intoxicating; it is something quite like JJ Abram’s idea of the “Black Box”. You’ve seen his wonderful TED speech about that, by the way? I have it here on my “Best TED Speeches” page.

I end up having a variety of meetings about this and that. Anything interesting? Yes. Anything I can talk about? No. Will anything actually happen? I have no idea… When anything becomes solid, I’ll be sure to share it!

The only thing announced thus far is CAA’s representation of me, and, among other things, my agents there handle speaking engagements. Look there I am in the “R’s” between Sally Jessy Raphael and RuPaul. You go girl.

By the way, the next time I am speaking is in Dallas at My friend John Poz from OneMansBlog put together a cool thing where three of my Limited Edition Prints will be given way. This is a New Series on Metal. It’s printed on high white gloss aluminum and you just gotta see them. So, besides a chance to win those, I’ll be speaking on all sorts of subjects… and be sure to come over and say hello if you see me around!

Back to my meandering story… I exit the building out the front. Many drivers & bodyguards look at me and then at one another. They must be wondering, “Why is ‘the help’ using the front doors?”

The walk back is nice, I think. I stroll along and then suddenly remember that I should go visit the Annenberg Center for Photography. It a great space in the courtyard of CAA that has different special photography events. I saw a great exhibit there early on sports photography and was excited to see whatever new event was currently happening.

But, I lament, I would have to walk through the lobby and all these drivers again, who were already quite sure I was lost. Who cares, I thought, walking back in the way I had just come five minutes earlier. I got to the Annenberg. It was closed. This meant immediately walking back out again past all the drivers. They had already established that I was lost and clueless before. Now it was just plain sad to them.

I begin capturing a few more photos as I walk. I think about “obviousness of the shot” and Clyde Aspevig, one of my painter friends. You may remember my reference to Clyde in my latest book (and my Clyde Aspevig video interview here). Here’s the thing about the obviousness problem — I’ll do my best to explain.

Once you are in a location for a while, let’s say a day or so, it all becomes quite familiar. It can reach a point of familiarity that makes everything a bit obvious, and you just don’t feel like taking a photo. Standing there, looking at the scene, it can be thought of as dull. But if you force yourself to muscle through and take the shot, forget about it, then review it again later back at the studio, there can still be magic there. It’s almost impossible to appreciate on the scene, and time will give the shot more perspective.

Clyde goes through this with his paintings. At times, he has his easel set up in a field, makes a painting, then finds it all dreadfully boring when he is done. He resolves to take it back to his studio later to give it a second look, and often sees the finished product of his original vision. This seems like a nice way to go about things… and I decide to follow the lead of Clyde once again.

I begin to wonder why I am so much more fascinated with painters than with photographers. That’s not to say that I don’t find other photography and photographers interesting — but only interesting to a point. The mystery of skilled painters is what I find most intriguing. Why is this?

In interviews, I’m often asked “Who are your favorite photographers?” I’ve got a few, sure. In fact, I have a little Tribute Page here to Edward Curtis. That guy is amazing… and then nerdy photographers have the gall to leave comments amounting to, “You know he’s a disingenuous hack, who willing clone-stamps out modern conveniences like clocks from the Indians’ tent, right?” Yes – so what? He’s incredible.

I’m also inspired by the generic, yet individual “Internet Photographer”. I have several on the “Things That Inspire Me” page. There are so many great photographers out there nowadays… after a few moments flipping through some of my favorites, I’m instantly inspired. And we have a great many of them that are regular readers of Stuck In Customs. I do enjoy it when they post links to their work, and I wish I had a better way for everyone to share. That is part of the reason that we started — but that only solves a subset of the problem of sharing.

While going down the road, I spot something I missed when going the other direction. The Church of Scientology in Beverly Hills! I should stop by to have them check my electro-levels or whatever the hell they do. This building is kind of run-down and scary-looking. I take a quick picture and move on… since I worry a little about someone in all black jumping off the roof to grab my camera.

Then there is restaurant after restaurant, each with outdoor seating filled with dynamic-looking people. I look at them all, and they don’t seem to mind. LA isn’t a place where people are surprised if you look at them. It’s a place where they expect to be closely examined. And since I like people-watching, it’s just about perfect. I take pictures here and there of people and they’re all cool about it. Of course they’re cool about it – it’s LA.

It’s getting a little later in the day by now, and the streets in and around Rodeo Drive are getting even busier. Nicer cars are rolling in and the tops are going down. I’m getting a bit tired, but I power through and keep weaving through the streets to find interesting bits.

I think fatigue becomes more and more relative compared to the day before. Hiking day after day through the mountains on a photo adventure is not too tough after a while. So, I wonder why a leisurely walk around flat LA is getting tiresome. It makes me feel even more wimpy, and I resolve to keep searching about for shots. I know that I may end up throwing out most of the shots, but I feel soft pressure from within to experiment. Sometimes I’ll feel like experimenting for fun and without any effort. Other times, I have to force myself a bit. Nothing is easy when it comes to this sort of thing.

Finally, I make it back to my hotel. Even though it’s afternoon, the lobby is fairly dark. A nice woman of indeterminate origin is behind the bar, busy lighting candles to set around various rooms. She smiles and offers me a drink. I’m too tired and graciously say no. I head back up into my room, set all my equipment down on the floor, undress and get in bed for a nice afternoon nap. I feel a bit lazy, but don’t really care after my head presses into the pillow.


After you go inside these doors, anyone caught with a camera is killed in a dramatic Hollywood action-scene.  So I won’t post any photos from the inside.


Just outside, nearby The Annenberg Space for Photography, two enormous skyscrapers shoot up into the sky. The left one is filled with lawyers. The right one is filled with attorneys.


Graffiti artists have a good time decorating the edges of Beverly Hills. And who doesn’t like seeing the shocked monocle-millionaire from Monopoly?


This place was creepy. The building was not really in the best condition, which was surprising in its high-toned location. Maybe I saw a few famous stars running in and out of this place. And maybe I didn’t. It’s all a blur after Tom Cruise glamoured me.


The street side bistros and cafes are filled with colorful sorts. I saw this guy and gave him the universal sign-language for “Is it okay to capture your awesomeness?” He gave the universal nod, meaning, “Yes, you can capture my awesomeness.”


To show you how awesome my agent is, this is not even her car. It’s the car of her assistant, Michelle. Actually, it’s her backup-car.


After a long day of apparently aimless wandering, I arrive back at my little hotel. The friendly gal at the bar is lighting candles to help make things as homey as possible.

My Hollywood Adventure, Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of 3


I’m getting closer to the CAA building, but still taking my time with my 50mm to poke about.

I feel prepared to deal with strange bits and pieces that might crop up while I am here. Maybe there is something about being a photographer. I feel like I can grasp meaning from ambiguity. Or, I can take that ambiguity and make it more tangible.

Has anyone here read Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer? I feel a bit like I had read it to prepare me for these sorts of events.

Of course, Beverly Hills is a redonkulous place. Personally, I’m not much of a shopper, but I do know this is quite the mecca for people that are really into this sort of thing.

I felt a bit like a redshirt on an away mission, studying the peculiarities of the local inhabitants. The women would walk from one store to the next with a sense of purpose. Of real purpose. In fact, they had as much seriousness in their movements as I did taking photos of the scene. So I try my best not to be too judgmental, since I figure it doesn’t matter what the heck you do with your life, as long as you do it with a sense of purpose.

Everyone needs a hobby, and I guess shopping ranks right up there with other “gathering-esque” ways of spending your time. I’d argue that photography is a better and more fulfilling hobby, but maybe that is me. Of course, I am writing all of this now because I was thinking of it at the time… And I also made a mental note that I should write an eBook entitled You Need A New Hobby: It’s Photography! and then lay out inside all the goodies and the first few steps to getting started in a productive and enlightening new hobby… But who has time to write all these eBooks? Anyway, I decide to put it on my to-do list and keep moving about.

But then I am still thinking about it while I am walking about, even though I tried to get it off my mind by resolving to put it on the to-do list. I was reminded of some quote… I could barely grasp the edges… something to the effect of, “You cannot find yourself; you must create yourself.” I think that sounds nice.

Then I was thinking of another quote from Buddha that I have always liked, “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.” It’s quite tranquil, and I need to figure out a way to work that into the blog or the Stuck In Customs thing in some way. It’s a very nice little saying… maybe I’ll squeeze it in somewhere? Don’t want things too cluttered… maybe replace “Daily Photo Adventure” with that nice little quote? I don’t know… I resolve to let it simmer in my subconscious for a few more months before making a decision.

Sometimes I force decisions and sometimes I just let things work themselves out. Making decisions in the flow of time with many other moving variables can be tough. I’m not sure the human brain is great at dealing with this. I believe I grasp at the shadow of time and place and do my best to bend it around to my will. It only sometimes works.

Seeing the cars driving around the streets, I remember an interesting analogy about decisions and time and variables. I’m sure you all have experienced the following. Sometimes, you’re driving along on a pretty crowded road. You need to pop over one lane because your exit is coming up. It’s not immediately coming up, but in a few miles. But there is a car hanging out there in the perfectly wrong place. You can’t get over naturally. Then he moves along and is replaced with another car. And then that car speeds along and another car swoops in to block you. It is almost a perfect symphony of things getting in your way… as if the universe is conspiring against you. So, you begrudgingly decide just to wait a minute, perhaps change the radio station or direct your attention elsewhere for a short bit. And then you remember you need to pop over one lane. You look, and it’s wide open. It’s hard to remember exactly what made this so difficult before.

Sometimes I go ahead and force the decisions through anyway — and other times I just let them drift along until the move is obvious, calm, and almost Zen-like in execution. I prefer the latter, of course, and I do my best to help things flow in that direction.

As I’m walking through the streets, it’s beginning to get a little warm. It must be about 75, which is not traditionally warm, but I am wearing some blue jeans and a button-down shirt. It’s fairly heavy, made of one of the thicker Robert Graham designs. I have a messenger bag thrown around my back with my laptop and an extra lens. I unbutton one more notch to keep it cool.

I take photos of interesting bits, happy that I have decided on a “square” composition for everything. I think to myself I should do it more because it’s different and challenging. It’s quite tough because the viewfinder itself is a rectangle. I have to ignore what I see on the edges… this is harder than it might seem.

There is a strange sense of beauty here in Beverly Hills. Very strange. Everything is manufactured and hyper-planned to the point of undeniable beauty. No matter the store, the shrub, or the sign, the viewer is meant to be left with a feeling of awe. And it is all quite nice, but almost in an overly-manufactured manner. Like Stepford Wives. Or like a snow globe of a perfect village. People glide around inside the bubble, mimicking the beauty.

But around and through this bubble, I think there is perhaps real beauty. Bits if it here and there, and it’s as elusive and surprising to find as happiness.

I think of that wonderful promo ad made by the Discovery Channel. Have you seen it? Here is a link to the video of “I Love the World”. It is both cheesy and spot-on… smart.

I turn onto “Avenue of the Stars”. How can a road with such a silly name actually exist? More importantly, what is someone like me doing on it?

I’m just about the only one walking around. LA is a driving city. It’s pretty much just me walking around, the occasional homeless person, and drained-looking people who are walking from huge buildings to bus stops.

Soon enough, I approach my quarry: the CAA building.

The front of the building has a long driveway, filled with fabulous cars, scary-looking body guards, security personnel, drivers, and lots of black suits and dark glasses.

This is the vaunted spot where countless stars are whisked in and out of their cars for meetings with the agents inside the CAA offices.

It suddenly occurs to me that security will assume I am paparazzi, since I am walking up to star-central with a giant camera.

They don’t.

I get several sunglass-ed nods. I don’t know if it is because CAA knew I was coming or because I did not look the part. Either way, they did not bother me… My spidey-sense is always on high alert around people that are ready to hassle you for taking photos. Just in case, I have a rich array of oratory comebacks, ready and armed for full frontal assault. But, alas, I did not get to unleash the salvo.

What good is it to think about this stuff? I have no idea, I think to myself, as I walk in the doors…

This was Part 2 of 3


Walking through the streets of Beverly Hills is filled with just the sorts of things one might expect to see.


The entrance to the CAA building, which I would soon reach, made for interesting subject matter.  The staff there figured out I wasn’t paparazzi once I started taking photos of the building itself.


The buildings that tower around the edges of my walk could be seen as rather mundane.  In fact, they were quite mundane.  So to find their proper edges within a frame was challenging.


Jane Goodall would be proud.  I observed the youths from a safe distance.  These young females, now of the age of mating, mimicked the gathering patterns of their mothers.  Nearby, a richly festooned elder female sat, attended and cooled by mechanical horses.


The famous street in Century City, which lies on the southern edge of Beverly Hills.  The name of the street is more interesting than the actual street itself.


Many architectural designs from 20 years ago can be eyesores.  This building had a feeling of 50 years old, so it kept a certain charm.   Certain designs have a timeless feeling to them, while others fade in and out of fashion… I don’t know why things are this way.


As I approach the CAA building, the drivers and cars align the driveway, waiting to whisk Hollywood stars to and fro.  I’m clearly not one of those people, so they largely ignore me and give me a vibe of general disdain.

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