The Gate in Malibu

Live on TWIT today (Tuesday)

I’ll be on live with Leo and Lisa today at 1:30 PM PT. Tune in live at I’m not sure what we’ll be talkin’ about… but something cool, no doubt.

HDR Tutorial now in SIX (!!!) Languages

Thanks again to the amazing community that has helped to get this translated far and wide. Awesome!

Welcome to the International HDR Tutorial!

Daily Photo – The Gate in Malibu

On my recent trip to California, I decided to stay in Malibu. I’ve stayed almost everywhere in the LA area, but never out here. I found a really cool place on the beach using I’ve used that three or four times now – always with good results. The other places I used it for was London and Ibiza, and both were outstanding hotels.

One sunset, I walked over to the Malibu docks at sunset. They were pretty empty, with just a few people strolling around. And there was this nice painted gate looking so nice in the evening lights. It made for such a good pic that I took one with my phone and my D3X!

High Dynamic Range Photo

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.

Newsletter Sign Up

The most beautiful newsletter ever!