China: Behind the Curtain

To this day China remains a bit of a mysterious place. Much of what we see from outside is heavily controlled by the communist government and state controlled media.

That’s why in addition to the DriftwoodFoto Snapshots gallery from our last newsletter + recent extended gallery blog post, we’ve taken the time to create this gallery, China: Behind the Curtain.

While these photos could indeed fit into our Snapshots gallery/post, at DriftwoodFoto we see them as representing more of the day-to-day reality of China, which perhaps the communist government doesn’t want everyone to see.

Tours and tour guides carefully sidestep questions relating to poverty, wages, pollution, and life outside the major cities. China is very clearly crafting the image with which they would like the world to see them.

Yet to us, this other side of life is as important–maybe more so–to the overall travel experience, culture, and understanding of China.



Picturesque China gallery
China Snapshots gallery

Snapshots from China

At DriftwoodFoto we love travel and travel photography. So much of traveling is about the things you find along the way, people you meet or whose paths you cross, as well as the sights.

There’s never enough space to share all the great travel photos from every trip. Some end up in travel guides or books, some end up on social media, others get listed for stock sales. It’s certainly hard to track down all of them in one place.

If you’ve read our end-of-the-year newsletter on our tour of China, then you’ve gotten to seem some fantastic shots already.

Here are a bunch more.



Picturesque China gallery
China: Behind the Curtain gallery

Picturesque China

Here at DriftwoodFoto there’s always something going on, and so many photos to share.

Yet we don’t want to bog you down with too much in each newsletter. So … we’re launching these supplemental posts in our Blog, where you can see even more photos and order your favorites from our print galleries!

It’s hard to believe it was only this past October we traveled to China and toured the country.

Our journeys took us from Beijing to the Yangtze River, including the Three Gorges, Shibaozhai Red Pagoda, and the Three Gorges Dam river locks; to Hangzhou and the iconic Yellow Mountains; Huangshan and the beautiful West Lake plus green tea plantations; and finally to Shanghai. Through it all, we saw some amazingly varied and beautiful landscapes and cityscapes.

So to start us off, here is our extended Picturesque China gallery.



Snapshots from China gallery
China: Behind the Curtain gallery

Drone Baby Drone

Finally got a drone.

I’ve been obsessed with aerial views since flying with my family as a little kid. The advent of google earth in 2001 helped fuel my interest–satellite views on maps and apps are taken for granted now, but back between my freshman and sophomore years of college, it was revolutionary. I took my first flight in a Cessna to take photos back around 2004, which led to skydiving and helicopter rides starting in 2005…

So now I’ve got my own drone.

It’s a bit of an out-of-body like experience, knowing I’m grounded yet peering down on the world. I don’t know if anything can quite replace getting up in the sky yourself, seeing the ground below through your own eyes, whether to photograph or just marvel at…

But yeah, this is going to be fun.

2016 Red Bull Illume Image Quest

There are just under 24 hours left to submit to the 2016 installment of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest, and I highly encourage everyone to do so.

If you don’t already know about the Illume contest, it’s a free; once-every-three-years photography competition specific to highlighting the very best action and adventure sports photographs and photographers in the world. There’s really nothing else like it out there.

Out of nearly 30k submissions back in 2013, I was honored to be selected a top 50 overall/top 5 category finalist. I was definitely a little fish in a big pond, going up against names that have all but defined the industry. But as a relatively unknown I made it; that’s why I’ve been encouraging so many photographers to submit this year.

I was only shooting “professionally” for a couple of years when I heard about/decided to submit to the 2013 contest. My photo that made the finals was actually captured in what I suppose you can consider my second year of shooting. You can imagine I was beyond thrilled.

Nowhere else can a local, up-and-coming surf photographer rub shoulders as equals with the 10-years senior staff photographer for Burton, the staff photographers for your favorite magazines, or photographers who spend 300+ days a year on the road contracted with some of the biggest companies or names in media.

There are very few other forums where top photographers from so many sports get the opportunity to interact with each other, share stories, ideas, and techniques. You’re not likely to find a photographer taking ski or snowboard photos in the Alps shooting on the beach on the North Shore, or a photographer covering kayaking also in Joshua Tree shooting bouldering; but the Illume contest puts everyone next to each other on a level playing field.

This year is going to be insane. The bar is so unbelievably high, not only in surf but all of action sports photography. You’ve just got to put your best photos forward, and hope they align with what the judges happen to be thinking/looking for on that given day when they’re considering images.

The Illume contest has opened so many doors for my career and myself. I still look back at all the finalist photos from 2013, across multiple sport disciplines, as a source for inspiration in my current projects. There’s not much of a difference in those that made the first round (top 250) and the top 50 finalists. I’m still in awe of all those photographs.

I just wrapped up my submissions for this year, and it looks as though many photogs are as well—in the past 30 hours submissions have nearly doubled, and I expect to see many more flood in this last 24 hours. If you’re thinking of submitting… all entries must be submitted by midnight CET (Central European Time) on March 31, 2016 (that’s 3pm PST!).

Head to for more information and to submit.

Your feedback will help in creating future posts. Please keep visiting/reading for new amazing images and write-ups, as well as photography techniques and tips from Benjamin Ginsberg and Driftwood Photography Studios, and be sure to follow on Instagram/Twitter at @DriftwoodFoto.

Super Bowl Beef

I’m a huge football fan, but I’ve got a beef with this year’s Super Bowl.

No, it’s not with the Panther’s or Cam Newton. Despite widespread dislike for both the team and their QB leader, it’s unfounded. Neither are doing anything outrageously unsportsmanlike. Cam Newton’s emotional highs and lows are public, but he’s never taken a Sharpie out of his sock to sign a football, spit in anyone’s face, or make shooting or chocking motions towards the opposing team (all of which have been done by other players in the league…).

A big part of this team, who despite their recent dominance has an overall losing record since they joined the league as an expansion team in 1995, is they celebrate as a team as opposed to a single or small collection of players. Even more so we’re not used to a quarterback, who’s traditionally the strong, reserved, dominating leader in the NFL, leading the emotional charge.

I’m excited for the game, as much for the energetic Cam Newton as the potential last game for such a storied QB as Peyton Manning. I’m torn who to root for: the record holding, future Hall of Famer who will become the oldest QB to start a Super Bowl in what most likely will be the last game of his storied carrier; or the Heisman trophy winner and first overall draft pick who in a few short years brought an overlooked team to dominance.

My real problem this Super Bowl is with the NFL…. Super Bowl 50? WTF.

I’ve waited years for Super Bowl L. What, is “L” not flashy enough for the NFL marketing team? Why abandon Roman numerals after 49 (XLIX)? The realty is no, “L” is not flashy enough. Supposedly they’ve gone through 73 versions of a logo since 2013, but you know what? -I don’t care.

I find it hard to believe that with the combination of money and branding power an organization like the NFL has that they cannot figure out a logo using the Roman numeral L. I know I’m not the only one in grade school who had to figure out how to write things like XXVIII. I feel jipped. In fact, I’m a bit pissed.

Long live Super Bowl L!

Your feedback will help in creating future posts. Please keep visiting/reading for new amazing images and write-ups, as well as photography techniques and tips from Benjamin Ginsberg and Driftwood Photography Studios, and be sure to follow on Instagram/Twitter at @DriftwoodFoto.

It’s Always Sunny goes Ski School

Last night It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia did their take on the 1990 cult classic Ski School, and it was just beyond epic. I mean this episode won big time. They absolutely nailed it. Add extra points for the seamless morph with Better Off Dead.

If you’ve never seen it, nor any late 80’s/early 90’s John Cusack films, your first reaction might have been, WFT??? You can be forgiven if you weren’t a skier in the 80’s/90’s and never saw Ski School (though you should have anyways), but let’s be honest here…your life is severely lacking if you don’t know John Cusack in Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, Say Anything, etc.

Every great sport has their absolutely amazing yet horrendously awful movie we latch onto. For the surfers who I work with nearly every day compare it to The North Shore. We love it, but it’s hokey beyond belief. Well, Ski School is the ski equivalent (keep in mind snowboarding was just in it’s infancy here), just 1000x raunchier, because what’s a weekend ski trip without après ski? Still not on board? Think Hot Tub Time Machine. That’s right! -ski rivalries, parties, and sex have been a long tradition, and who better to bring it to the general public in two centuries than John Cusack.

Throughout the episode we’re confronted with the reality of Mountian Life and Mountain Rules, which everyone instinctually understands but poor ole Charlie, who acts as our weathervane throughout the episode. By the end he gets it, but Frank slaps us back to reality in a gloriously f’d up Sunny way.

The gang didn’t just transplant themselves into the mountains and recreate a cult classic–throguhout the episode everyone’s attire slowly morphs from modern day to outrageous early 90’s neon. They brought in Dean Cameron from the original Ski School, but a washed up version who they restore to his glory days, only to have him suffer the consequences of his party-guy actions in today’s world–getting arrested for various lewd sexual acts on the mountain. Amazingly it’s not just Dean, but they also bring in Courtney Gains from Can’t Buy Me Love and Back to the Future–amazing!

One thing’s for certain, the reach of It’s Always Sunny knows no bounds, and will gladly shock, offend, and push our limits to entertain.

The Gang Hits The Slopes
It’s Always Sunny: The Gang Hits The Slopes


It's Always Sunny: The Gang Hits the Slopes
(Dean Cameron reprises his role from Ski School)


It's Always Sunny: The Gang Hits the Slopes
(1990 morph)


It's Always Sunny: The Gang Hits the Slopes
What’s more late 80’s/early 90’s then apres ski, sex, and a saxophone?


It's Always Sunny: The Gang Hits the Slopes
(Back to reality)


Your feedback will help in creating future posts. Please keep visiting/reading for new amazing images and write-ups, as well as photography techniques and tips from Benjamin Ginsberg and Driftwood Photography Studios, and be sure to follow on Instagram/Twitter at @DriftwoodFoto.

Water Quality Issues

This is both disturbing and upsetting…all these little yellow dots in the above screen shot from the Orange County Heath Care Agency’s website ( represent ocean water bacteria levels tested after the recent rains to exceed state health standards and may cause illness. It’s our whole OC coastline!

I’m both angered at the general populous for dumping so much of their trash, recyclables, syringes, and who knows what else into our drains and waterways (or just onto the street where they eventually wind up in our storm water system), but also at the State of California.

Many other states have strict requirements that all storm water be sieved and filtered before being discharged, both for particulates and things like heavy metals. There are numerous products in the AEC industry that fit right below a storm grate or manhole, in-line or at the end of a line, used across the country which have been documented do just that. Yet in California we get a little stenciled fish that tells us “drains to ocean.”

In a state where we do so much for the environment, and claim to do more than the rest of the country, how are we so far behind on this? Save the paint, buy and install the proper infrastructure.

Our own Laylan Connelly Perino of the OC Register wrote a terrific article calling attention to the storm debris/trash now accumulating along our coast, but we need a proactive solution.

Your feedback will help in creating future posts. Please keep visiting/reading for new amazing images and write-ups, as well as photography techniques and tips from Benjamin Ginsberg and Driftwood Photography Studios, and be sure to follow on Instagram/Twitter at @DriftwoodFoto.

2015 US Open of Surfing

(you can skip to the gallery at the bottom…I won’t be offended, just don’t expect a xmas gift)

It always amazes me how many surfers say they hate competitive surfing. This goes for surf photographers as well, who often loath a day–or god forbid a week–at a contest venue. It’s especially true of how people bitch about the US Open of Surfing. Yet consistently world tour live webcasts get more viewers than the Super Bowl, and the US Open pulls in hundreds of thousands of bodies to the beach, not to mention the masses also watching live online, making it the biggest contest in the world.

The biggest complaints? Small or bad waves. Here’s the thing: competitive surfers GET to surf the best waves in the world, but they also HAVE to surf the worst conditions as well. It’s a reality from the very top on down to the smallest local competition. So what does this mean? It means that while you’re sleeping in, or playing a round of golf, or hanging on the beach with your girl because the waves suck, these guys are out there grinding away. Despite people bitching about bad waves at contests, dreaming of living their lives as free surfers, the best surfers in the lineup are going to be the contest surfers.

Bullshit you say. Look, I’m not claiming the best waves ever ridden have been or will be in a contest heat (though look at this year’s Fiji Pro at Cloudbreak and tell me the best waves this year weren’t ridden in 2-on-2 man heats). What I am saying is the best, most well rounded surfer, who can ride the best barrels, launch the biggest airs, and carve the best turns will be able to tear apart waves whether it’s the best conditions imaginable or knee high waves you might be struggling to even stand up on, or might not even bother paddling out for. How? Grinding it out for years in all conditions as they’ve been training and competing in the best and worst conditions imaginable.

What about Dane! Damn right, he’s unquestionably one of the best free surfers in history. A surfer who’s publicly denounced competitive surfing. Oh, what’s Dane doing now? Working his way to re-qualify for the CT. Yes, RE-qualify. Let’s not forget he battled his way as a grom through the scholastic, regional, and QS competitions, making his way to the tour before going the free surfer route. He wouldn’t be the free surfer he is without the hard work he put into qualifying for the world tour.

Here’s the paradox in surfing…most of us around the world are stoked to surf waist to chest high waves at our home breaks, yet for contests we get all pissy if we don’t always see the best, at their best, in the best conditions possible.

When a big contest comes around, we conveniently forget surfing is entirely subject to the whim of mother nature, who doesn’t always play nice with our scheduled and permitted event calendar. Hell, the currently running Billabong Pro Tahiti, which has indeed had some of the absolute best waves ridden ever (contest or free surf) in years past, has been on hold for 7 consecutive lay-days, with only 2 days left in the contest window.

Could it be we’ve gotten gotten spoiled always seeing our favorite surfers on the pages of our favorite magazines tearing apart the best waves the world has to offer? Have we become overly accustomed to a constant barrage of mind-blowing video clips spewed up every day online? CT events have the luxury of a contest window and lay-days to account for less than ideal conditions, but even then mother nature might not put out. QS, regional, and scholastic events often have a hard lined schedule, waves or not.

So if we know mother nature can be fickle, even at spots like Chopes, why hold the US Open in the summer months? Summer crowds, obviously.

Those of us who live here on the coast often overlook (except when we’re bitching about tourists) that we’re a vacation destination. Whether it be people flying across the globe to Disney World and mixing it up with a beach day, to summer renters, or just those who live inland coming down to the ocean for the day, we’re a destination. People want to be here.

One major reason why is that southern California, especially OC, is unique in that there are almost always surfable waves. No, we frequently don’t have epic conditions. In fact we rarely get those days worth writing home about or blasting across the interweb–though we do have our days in the spring and fall months. The summer months can be pretty average at best, with flat spells and the incredibly rare storm like we had last summer (which by the way despite begin Pipeline-like in Newport wasn’t even contestable conditions at the HB Pier where they hold the US Open…). What we do have is consistent, surfable waves all year round. It’s harder to find a day here when you cannot go surf than counting the days you can.

There I just said it–and you feel validated I admitted it! The waves in southern California are better during the spring and fall, so why not hold the such a big contest then? At the risk of begin repetitive because I can’t stress this enough…summer crowds. Small waves or not, there’s going to be waves, and there’s going to be a lot of people watching.

This year was no exception. We had the two required elements of a successful US Open: people watching the contest and waves. Need I say more? Well maybe a little. A few really big names were MIA this year-names like Kelley Slater, John John Florence, Mick Fanning, and Jordy Smith. Even without them, there was plenty of action, and plenty of drama.

All eyes were on Brazilian phenom Filipe Toledo (who just happens to also be the defending champ and at the time of writing current world #4), and local Huntington Beach junior charger Kanoa Igarashi, who looks good to qualify for the world tour this coming year. As the field struggled, Filipe continually found waves, grinding through to the inside launching massive airs and blow-tail turns in the shorebreak. Likewise local knowledge played a strong hand for Kanoa, who earned himself a second in the Jr. Men’s comp, and made it through to the semi-finals of the main event (combined with a recent win in Virginia at the ECSC he’s now ranked third on the QS; look for him soon on the CT). Despite the attention and standout performances, neither took the win.

The drama. Relatively unknown on the international scene, unsponsored Hawaiian charger Tanner Hendrikson took out the seemingly unstoppable Toledo in the semi-finals. Brazilian passions run high, and more upset at himself for not landing airs he’d been making all day long than anything else, Filipe denied Tanner a post heat handshake. A quick board bashing later to vent and cooler heads prevailed as Filipe found Tanner, still soaking in some fresh water in his amazement at making the finals, and offered a heartfelt hug and congratulations. Sportsmanship won out the day (although Toledo was quick leave the contest arena afterwards).

Showing respect to your fellow competitor is paramount, but we all need times to just yell “FUCK” at the top of our lungs, or bash a surfboard against the scaffolding after a big loss. These guys give it their all out there, and deserve a moment if they need one. Even Slater has shot the pier to escape talking to anyone after a loss, or punched his board in frustration. The takeaway from here is not that Filipe snubbed Tanner immediately after the heat, but took the opportunity to offer his sincere congratulations despite the torrent of emotions running through him.

To many the win was as shocking as the perceived drama between Toledo and Hendrickson. Japanese junior surfer Hiroto Ohhara, small in stature but large in skill and power, dominated the final. Hiroto had a hell of a month in Orange County. Despite the smaller summer conditions he decisively won the VANS US Open of Surfing, grinding it out with highly technical surfing, and jumping all the way up to 14th on the overall QS rankings.

The icing on the cake? A couple weeks prior Hiroto won the Hurley Pro Trials, earning himself a coveted spot at the upcoming CT event at Trestles. He’s home in Japan now, but all eyes will be on him when he hits the water at Lowers come September. Even a 3rd round elimination at the CT event could earn him enough points to be in qualifying position for next years tour. So do you really have cause to bitch about the US Open now?

(Photos below all published by either or Surfing Magazine…enjoy!)

Your feedback will help in creating future posts. Please keep visiting/reading for new amazing images and write-ups, as well as photography techniques and tips from Benjamin Ginsberg and Driftwood Photography Studios, and be sure to follow on Instagram/Twitter at @DriftwoodFoto.

Joshua Tree NP Night Skies

Last minute trips can be as good as ones you plan months in advance. The other night was supposed to be the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, so I hopped in the car and drove solo out to Joshua Tree National Park. There were only a few meteors, not nearly the 100 per hour predicted, but the night skies and Milky Way were still amazing. I setup at Arch Rock, a formation I had yet to visit but managed to easily find with a headlamp. A number of people came and went throughout the first part of the night, but by 3am it was empty and glorious. Can’t wait to go back.

Your feedback will help in creating future posts. Please keep visiting/reading for new amazing images and write-ups, as well as photography techniques and tips from Benjamin Ginsberg and Driftwood Photography Studios, and be sure to follow on Instagram/Twitter at @DriftwoodFoto.

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