A veteran I met in my travels

A few years ago while on assignment in Southwest Florida, I wandered around Sanibel Island and J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge one morning, in search of some images, and met an older gentlemen fishing. I thought he might make a nice subject fishing in the mangrove-lined refuge, and approached him.

Lee McMichen was in his early eighties, open to chat since he had been fishing for three days, casting his net without a catch. We talked a bit as I tried to figure out how I could capture a decent photograph in the harsh mid-day light. My first thoughts were all about creating an image, but as we spoke more, he shared a few stories of his life, and it became more about our personal interaction instead of producing an environmental portrait.

Sometimes, even when I’m on assignment, I stop, put down the camera, and listen. Although I might not create photos at those moments, and maybe miss memorable scenes, I believe this process brings me closer to the area I’m documenting, and in an indirect way helps me produce better overall images.

As we continued our conversation, he began to tell me about his experiences in war, and his time stationed in Pearl Harbor. You see he was on one of the four battleships bombed that morning, Lee deep in the hull when the explosions crippled the ships and the alarms to abandon ship sounded. He described his rush to escape from down below, only to have the main hatch be closed off in front of him and three others. Panic ensued as all four seamen realized the fate had been sealed, yet only seconds after the hatch closed, it reopened, and they were able to get out before the ship sunk.

After sharing this information, he didn’t talk of the joy he had at that moment, his life saved. He only spoke of all the others who weren’t able to get out. Yet because of the few seconds in his life where one sailor saved four others, he was given over sixty more years on this earth.

As we stood along Wildlife Drive, me fumbling through my camera bag, I heard him yell out – he had caught a large mullet, the first of his trip. “Looks like you are my good luck charm young man”, he said to me. I smiled, yet could only think of who his real good luck charm had been years before. You see, it’s not always the locations you dream of visiting, the adventures you hope to take, or even the images you produce as a travel photographer – it’s really about the people you meet.

Here’s to the men and women who served our country in all of our wars on Veteran’s Day. Although I prefer to follow the anti-war beliefs of many leaders such as the Daila Lama or Mahatma Gandhi, I will always honor and support our troops – those who do a job where so many lives are lost. To those who weren’t able to be saved, rest in peace, and thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.

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46 seconds about my book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure

Just a quick video message from about me and my exposure book – if you’re looking for a book to improve your photography, check it out!


To buy the book or get more info, go to: http://www.seanarbabi.com/book_exposure.html


Happy Holidays everyone!

Signed copies of my book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure

For anyone interested in improving their photographic skill and learning more about exposure, you can order a signed copy of my book directly through us by going to this link:


Click on the “Buy Now” link and pay using any credit card through PayPal. We’ll mail out a signed copy, and if you’d like me to sign anything specific besides my name, let us know.

The book remains in the top 50 photo books since January, has received a number of great reviews on Amazon as well as other websites, is packed with solid info, over 250 images, fun assignments, and more.

Photo of the Week

I’m starting a “Photo of the Week” section of my blog, to display an image, describe how I shot it, and what my thought process start to finish – here’s my first:


USA: Nevada: Clark County: Las Vegas: Visitors watch the amazing Bellagio water show at night along Las Vegas Boulevard

This image was part of a week-long assignment to capture Las Vegas for a photo essay for Endless Vacation magazine.  I prepared the job by contacting dozens of casinos and resorts, acquiring permission to photograph on various properties, submitting my million dollar liability insurance (which is required for many different types of photo shoots, especially resorts, casinos, and large corporations), then driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas (just to lug more gear without the airport hassle since I was on my own for the week).

This evening I went out with my Fuji 680 III camera, a bulky medium format beast that I love, with a large tripod and walked along the Strip.  I shot many angles of the Bellagio water show but this one was one of my favorites.  The first thought I had while finding a spot to shoot was incorporating all the elements of the show- the water, the glow at night, Bellagio Hotel and Casino, and the visitors gathering around to watch it.  I backlit the entire scene using the tree to help frame my composition hoping it would be outlined by some of the high shooting water.  I metered the front facade of the building to get a reference, took other meter readings around the scene, and used my best guestimate for the shot (shooting film, I wouldn’t see my results until a week later). The lights on the tree and the nice spacing of the people was a nice small addition.

Once I received my film and picked the top selects, I scanned them in with my Nikon CoolScan 8000 (not available anymore- today Nikon makes the CoolScan 9000, they turned digital in a 300MB file, and a tiny bit more detail was pulled out to stretch the contrast ratio to fit what I saw – for the most part, 99% of what you see is in the film.

My editors thankfully loved the shots I captured that week.  It ran as a cover story and feature spread, and some of the work now rests in my files as well as my stock agency’s files.  I’ll be back in Vegas in March to capture new images of the ever-changing resort city.

When it comes to digital photography, exposure, technical details, and photographer theories, many feel you simply can’t lose your highlights in the shot – you can’t cut them off on your histogram, have ‘blinkies’ (showing you in your digital image where the detail is lost) etc, etc.  I don’t necessarily believe for all instances.  To me, photography is also about capturing mood, a feel, a glow, a moment, the heart of something – that’s when technical aspects are important but throw out a bit- it’s about the final image.

Photo of the Week

I’m starting a “Photo of the Week” section of my blog, to display an image, describe how I shot it, and what my thought process start to finish – here’s my first:


USA: Nevada: Clark County: Las Vegas: Visitors watch the amazing Bellagio water show at night along Las Vegas Boulevard

This image was part of a week-long assignment to capture Las Vegas for a photo essay for Endless Vacation magazine.  I prepared the job by contacting dozens of casinos and resorts, acquiring permission to photograph on various properties, submitting my million dollar liability insurance (which is required for many different types of photo shoots, especially resorts, casinos, and large corporations), then driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas (just to lug more gear without the airport hassle since I was on my own for the week).

This evening I went out with my Fuji 680 III camera, a bulky medium format beast that I love, with a large tripod and walked along the Strip.  I shot many angles of the Bellagio water show but this one was one of my favorites.  The first thought I had while finding a spot to shoot was incorporating all the elements of the show- the water, the glow at night, Bellagio Hotel and Casino, and the visitors gathering around to watch it.  I backlit the entire scene using the tree to help frame my composition hoping it would be outlined by some of the high shooting water.  I metered the front facade of the building to get a reference, took other meter readings around the scene, and used my best guestimate for the shot (shooting film, I wouldn’t see my results until a week later). The lights on the tree and the nice spacing of the people was a nice small addition.

Once I received my film and picked the top selects, I scanned them in with my Nikon CoolScan 8000 (not available anymore- today Nikon makes the CoolScan 9000, they turned digital in a 300MB file, and a tiny bit more detail was pulled out to stretch the contrast ratio to fit what I saw – for the most part, 99% of what you see is in the film.

My editors thankfully loved the shots I captured that week.  It ran as a cover story and feature spread, and some of the work now rests in my files as well as my stock agency’s files.  I’ll be back in Vegas in March to capture new images of the ever-changing resort city.

When it comes to digital photography, exposure, technical details, and photographer theories, many feel you simply can’t lose your highlights in the shot – you can’t cut them off on your histogram, have ‘blinkies’ (showing you in your digital image where the detail is lost) etc, etc.  I don’t necessarily believe for all instances.  To me, photography is also about capturing mood, a feel, a glow, a moment, the heart of something – that’s when technical aspects are important but throw out a bit- it’s about the final image.

Acorns and memories


I love acorns- they remind me of my childhood walking around on Albany hill (overlooking the San Francisco Bay surrounded by Eucalyptus trees) or up in Tilden Park overlooking the entire Bay Area.  The smell of them brings back memories of the days of old, and their shape and design is a thing of beauty.


I was playing around one day after collecting a few in Tilden Park while my girls rode the historic carousel, and took a few shots back at home.

Here they are just to share…..I’ll probably have more to come someday.

Acorns and memories


I love acorns- they remind me of my childhood walking around on Albany hill (overlooking the San Francisco Bay surrounded by Eucalyptus trees) or up in Tilden Park overlooking the entire Bay Area.  The smell of them brings back memories of the days of old, and their shape and design is a thing of beauty.


I was playing around one day after collecting a few in Tilden Park while my girls rode the historic carousel, and took a few shots back at home.

Here they are just to share…..I’ll probably have more to come someday.

Acorns and memories


I love acorns- they remind me of my childhood walking around on Albany hill (overlooking the San Francisco Bay surrounded by Eucalyptus trees) or up in Tilden Park overlooking the entire Bay Area.  The smell of them brings back memories of the days of old, and their shape and design is a thing of beauty.


I was playing around one day after collecting a few in Tilden Park while my girls rode the historic carousel, and took a few shots back at home.

Here they are just to share…..I’ll probably have more to come someday.

Acorns and memories


I love acorns- they remind me of my childhood walking around on Albany hill (overlooking the San Francisco Bay surrounded by Eucalyptus trees) or up in Tilden Park overlooking the entire Bay Area.  The smell of them brings back memories of the days of old, and their shape and design is a thing of beauty.


I was playing around one day after collecting a few in Tilden Park while my girls rode the historic carousel, and took a few shots back at home.

Here they are just to share…..I’ll probably have more to come someday.

Sean’s Podcast interview with The Candid Frame


During my time in Chicago last September lecturing at the BetterPhoto.com summit, I was interviewed by a fellow BetterPhoto instructor and photographer Ibarionex R. Perello- an experienced pro who produces wonderful images of people.

Ibarionex interviewed me for his Podcast “The Candid Frame” and did an outstanding job creating a free-flowing 36 minute discussion about the photo business and my career in it!  


We did it in my hotel room after a long day of lecturing, it turned out great, so listen to it.  In fact, all of Ibarionex’s interviews are interesting, so enjoy them all, either at The Candid Frame: http://www.thecandidframe.com/

Or on iTunes in the Podcast section- here’s the direct link:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=127842171&s=143441


I also added two images I shot while in the Windy City – one looking over Chicago from the John Hancock building’s 93rd floor, and the second image of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on my way to my terminal as I head home.  I had a great time in Chicago hitting a Cubs game, a riverboat tour, and the Navy Pier- gotta go back soon!