20 Perfect Things

In GEAR, Just For Fun, Travel by David79 Comments

Perfect Thing #19. Shooting What You Love. Shot this on the island of Goree in Senegal last month. A day to wander, shoot, and hang out with a friend. Life is about these kinds of moments.

I should be slaving away on a million things right now but I’m feeling a little sheepish over the neglect this blog’s suffered recently. This month’s Outside magazine has a feature called 51 Perfect Things and I keep coming back to it;  I think what most resonates with me is that in a time when it seems critical reviews and nit-picking get all the page space, it’s nice to see something so celebratory of simple pleasures. Might be overstepping it call them perfect, but in a world where perfection so seldom comes, these are as close to it as I’ve ever found. These are the things in which I’ve taken particular pleasure over the last year or two.

#1. Chai at the summit of Khardun La, the highest motorable road in the world. For extra points get there on a Royal Enfield Thunderbird.

#2. Film. Digitial gets the glory. But having recently returned to shooting film in an effort to stay fresh and creative, I can’t believe I stayed away for so long.

#3. A steaming bowl of Pho ga in Vietnam. Vietnam is colourful and friendly and I’m dying to go back. Put the camera down and enjoy the local food. On a cold day nothing beats hot noodle soup.

#4. Hasselblads, Leicas, and Carl Zeiss. We’re surrounded by plastic these days. Getting your hands on some old-school engineering makes shooting such a pleasure. Walking around with a 1980’s Hassleblad 500 c/m and listening to the clunk of the mirror return, and feeling the sure mechanisms of the focus and aperture rings reminds me of the joy I took when I was a kid discovering the tactillity of this craft.

#5. The Moleskine Notebook. My shelf is lined with them, full of thoughts and checklists and little pieces of paper I tucked away in the back pocket. They have travelled the world with me.

#6. Blundstone Boots. They don’t come better than this. Ever. After going around the world in them for a few years they feel like slippers. Manly, rugged, slippers.

#7. Shooting at dawn or dusk. Just being awake at this hour seems to have a calming effect, and for me the paint seems to stir easier when things are calm. Also? The light ain’t bad.

#8. My Saddleback Leather satchel (they call it a briefcase). I don’t travel internationally with this, it’s just too heavy, but for domestic travel and every-day use for tossing in the laptop or Hassleblad, this bag is amazing. And as they say in the ads, your kids will fight over it when you’re dead. It doesn’t come cheap, but this’ll outlast a hundred others and gets better looking with every rainstorm and accidental scar. Absolutely perfect.

#9. The Leatherman multi-tool. The original and still awesome.

#10. Arbeg Uigeadall Single Malt Scotch Whisky. If you like single malts from Islay, this one is hard to beat. Amazing.

#11. Michael Kennsa’s Hokkaido series. All his work is stunning, elegant, but his Hokkaido series in particular captivates me.

#12. Being there. We talk and talk about all the places we could shoot, but being there – in mind and body – is a gift. Want to be there this year but don’t want to plan it all yourself? Want to come with me? There are spots left on Lumen Dei Tibet (July) and Lumen Dei Kashmir/Ladakh (September) and I’d love to travel with you.

#13. Gitzo Ocean Traveler Tripod. It’s a particular person who will buy one of these. They aren’t cheap. But they’re amazing. Like all the Gitzo Traveler series, they’re light, strong, and beautifully made. Add stainless steel and sealed mechanisms and a ball head you can field strip and you’ve got a really sexy thing. Price aside, this is the perfect travel tripod.

#14. Waking up in a luxury tent camp as the sun rises into a solar eclipse over Mt. Kenya with the Serengeti between you. Unbelievable. One of the most beautiful moments of my life. The best moments are unrepeatable. I did my first African safari this year; it won’t be my last. A perfect way to spend 10 days

#15. My 13″ MacBook Pro. The perfect travel machine for me.

#16. Icebreaker merino wool socks and underwear. I swear I’ll never travel with another pair of underwear and socks if they aren’t Icebreaker. Amazing. They keep you warm when it’s cool, cool when it’s warm, and they’re comfortable and durable.

#17. The Nifty Fifty. Canon’s EF 50/1.8 lens is cheap, made of plastic, and has nothing whatsoever to recommend it other than that it’s just that – cheap, made of plastic, and for the money delivers great images with a fast aperture and a short mininum focus distance.

#18. The ScotteVest Travel Vest, in black please. I don’t travel without it. Love it. It’s warm, so forget wearing it all day in Delhi this July, but I still travel to and from locations with it. Even in Senegal where it hit 40 degrees C during the day, I’d wear it in the cooler mornings. Functional, comfortable, and far less geek factor than a classic photography vest ever had. And pockets? Only the Gitzo Fleece can compete.

#19. Photographing what you love without regard for what anyone else thinks. Sure, it’s nice to hear people rave about your images, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matter is that you love them and loved making them. Being a so-called amateur has this strongly in its favour. Don’t ever forget why you do this.

#20. This one’s yours. Comments are open. What would make it onto your list of Perfect things?


  1. Re Michael Kennsa, I recently stumbled across Vincent Munier’s work. I’m not sure how well known he is in these circles, but if you haven’t seen his stuff, check it out at vincentmunier.com He also has a stunning Hokkaido series, among others…a similar and captivating style.
    Thanks for the list!

  2. I had to return to inform you:

    Its all your fault. Now have my first pair of Blunnies. I never take them off. Wife complains… Thanks David!

  3. Can you share the name of the luxury tent camp in #14 please? Thank you! Turning 40 soon and think that sounds like just the place to be… have been searching for just the right thing for a while now.

  4. My #20 – being on the side of a creek in the Great Bear Rainforest in BC with a Spirit Bear salmon fishing, within a few meters of you, awesome.

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  6. backpacking alone in europe. The sights and sounds of europe were amazing, but the lessons I learned as I got to know myself for those few weeks, and had no one else to rely on are the things that couldn’t be photographed or faded from my memory.

  7. My #20 Just one hour in Lightroom without my wife nagging me about decorating

  8. My #20? Utterly immaterial. Sitting at the side of the road with a flat at 3.30 in the morning, calling your best friend for help, and know s/he’ll be there in half hour, regardless of the time.
    The essence of friendship, to me.

  9. thanks for this great list.

    ….never had the pleasure (and money) to own a hasselblad or leica when I was younger, and I start to miss this experience… but I will not mourn, I love my nikon.

    best thing for me is the diversity and beauty of light – isn’t it awesome?

    …great fun for me to read about the “right” underwear in this blog ;-)) – but I am sure I will regret wearing the wrong one on one cold winter day…

    greetings from snow-covered austria

  10. Sailing along the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay at dawn on a fall day; feeling the breeze, listening to the near silence and watching the sun paint the fall colors.

  11. Ok, i’ll bite:
    20) enjoying a drink after an incredible powder day, and realising you were too stoked to take pictures. Not everything in life is about pictures.
    Regarding Merino, i agree, but there are also many other good providers, Smartwool and Patagonia being as good as Icebreacker. And btw, why limit oneself to just the under garments… i have a great 320 Icebreacker jacket and a Patagonia wool 4 hoody. i practically live in them, even at home where i am cheap on heating (good that they don’t stink).
    21)Reading a good book while enjoying a drink after an intense activity day in the cold
    22) managing to ride your first wave ever…..probably the same with your first tube, but i guess i’ll never get there…

  12. I totally agree with #11, #2 and #4 (though for me its my old Canonet and QL).

    One thing that never gets old for me is when I give a shot to friends or family and see them light up. Doesn’t matter if its big or little they are happy that I was thinking of them, and I was happy that they love the print.

  13. #20
    When shooting out in the back-country just after dusk and still a good 20 minutes back to the road, where would I be without my Petzl TacTikka Plus 4-LED Headlamp? Don’t leave home without it.

  14. #13 – A real wooden tripod. Damn the weight; nothing’s as pretty and as stable simultaneously.

    #20 – Shooting in the blue hour when the natural light goes cool and perfectly balances with the colorful artificial lights.

  15. # 20—Waking up in New Mexico, at the Ghost Ranch during the fall season, with no money or time constraints and all of my photo gear 🙂

  16. #2 Sadly I don’t have any film camera nor have any experience with them (would like to), nevertheless I love my EOS.

    #19 – So true it was not until recently i realized that I actually don’t like lots of my pictures, so I’m shifting my approach at photography shooting less frames and trying to express art/emotion instead of making a postcard

    #20 – My girl, friends and my island

    btw I’m new here although i have read most of your work David praise your skill.

  17. True, but Corner Brook, NL has far less options. I was just in Ottawa and they didn’t have any in stock, they do have the 10yo sometimes. I’m sure I’ll find ways. If you’re ever headed to NL I’ll get you to bring me a bottle. 😀

  18. @Pete – You should have no problem getting almost all the Ardbeg whisky’s here in Canada. Place around the corner from me in Vancouver sells Uigeadall. 🙂

  19. Oooooooogeadall….mmmm buttery peat. So so so good. I was lucky enough to visit this past summer and brought that bottle home with me. Alas I can’t get any more here in Canada but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for any opportunity to get another. Oh, Islay can be my #20 be on your list…what an island.

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  21. My pick? New Zealand of course, especially my bit – Mercury Bay. I imagine the challenge of caturing the beauty will last me a few years yet. But living here, sharing it with family, best of all.

  22. Thank you, particularly for #19. After 4 years as a working wedding & portrait photographer, I’m taking a break to recapture my love of craft and art. Open road, here I come…

  23. One more….!

    Learning just a minute ago that Canon is releasing new firmware for the 5D Mark II that includes BOTH 24p/25p AND manual audio gain control.

  24. Giving my daughters (each one) a hug and getting an even better back.

    BONUS: Garlic (nothing to add to that)

  25. Ahh Kardung La….still rueing passing up on the Enfields..

    A few candidates for my #20

    Langkawi sunsets, satay from a roadside stall in Jakarta or Malacca, the scent of Frangipani, Newcastle winning the premiership, Raspberry Pavlova, UK Public Libraries, a glass of Malbec, a lively and challenging summer evening church service, a pint of Theakston’s Old Pecculier, Think Tank Speed Racer (thanks Jon), Rhogan Josh with old friends, the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, the Northumbrian coast, most of Switzerland, roast parsnips, Vaughn Williams, Handel, Simon and Garfunkel, the 11th Hour Ceilidh Band, Szchechwan cooking….

    …but the winner is….coming home to my wife and kids with a pixel pocket rocket full of satisfying images of new friends and memorable experiences.

  26. #20 Friends. New and old and those I’ve yet to meet.

    #21 Chocolates bundles for breakfast in Samburu 🙂

  27. #10…I’ll make mine Poit Dhubh, a single malt from the Isle of Skye. Nice bit of peatiness to it. Perfection would be enjoying a dram (or two) after spending the day capturing the beauty of the surrounding land and sea.

  28. The weight of my son in my arms the first time I held him and realized it really would be ok.

    Standing on an overcast beach in Scotland feeling the waves smooth away the rough spots in my spirit.

    Seeing an old picture of myself and remembering what I was thinking at the moment it was taken.

    Reading your list and remembering not so far off memories of eating pho for breakfast and again for dinner as long as I sat in a cool breeze. Eating at a Pho24 restaurant in HCMC while teenage boys argued over who could hold hold my infant son so I could eat.

    Island hopping in Hong Kong at the age of 15 reveling in the feeling of absolute freedom and realizing that I was adult enough to be alone in the world.

    Bearing witness to life entering the world and leaving just as swiftly and the beauty and anguish intertwined in both.

    Learning that my body and this life are only temporary and learning to enjoy and cherish every day and every moment possible.

  29. Driving up Zia Road in Santa Fe, NM, heading to the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops! I get excited seeing that familiar road, knowing that it leads to another week of learning new techniques, meeting like-minded photographers who are as passionate as I am about learning more and knowing I’ll leave at the conclusion of the workshop with a great sense of personal renewal and inspiration!

  30. What a great list – I might steal this idea for my blog (with credit to you for the idea of course!) if you don’t mind. 🙂

    My #20: Standing on a wooden basketball court floor from 1940, in the middle of the forest off the shore of Green Lake at Whistler in June with the smell of sun warmed pine needles and silence surrounding me and marveling at the fact that there is a basketball court in the middle of the forest and not a single soul around!

  31. Returning to far away lands, years later, to see photos that you had taken previously and sent to “strangers” hanging in places of honour.

  32. Great list David!!
    My #20 is your fantastic VISIONMONGERS. I just bought the book few days a go and it has become my main source of inspiration and motivation. Thank you.

    Best regards from Catalunya!!

  33. You forgot to mention about Icebreaker clothes that they don’t stink… at all. Therefore the perfect travel gear!

    One of my faves this year was a daybreak hike at Horton Plains, Sri Lanka, where we made it to the End of the World to see the view just before the fog rolled in.

  34. Great list, Dave.

    For me, a few simple things: 1) a great book that inspires and some time to read it. (I just bought 4 from Craft and Vision 🙂

    2) a wife and child that understand my spirit’s need for creativity.

    3) a Cafe au Lait from Cafe de la Presse in San Francisco. Just like France only a lot closer.

    4) the kind of light that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me go “oh, oh….” and forget to lift my camera up because I’m so enraptured.

  35. yeah – gotta say – Chai on Khardun La was pretty epic. I take issue with the blundstones though – if you’re looking for the “real” australian boot grab yourself a pair of RM Williams!

  36. Springtime in Kashmir when the flowers at all the gardens start to bloom, the air is clear, and you can easily see the snow capped peaks of the Pir Panjal mountain range to the west of Srinagar.

    Having 24/7 electricity and a good broadband connection is pretty nice in Kashmir too!

  37. my #19/20 is spending the day with my 3.5 year old granddaugther exploring sydney and its harbour foreshores – enjoying very much being together, talking and giggling and of course taking photos of her and encouraging her to take some as well – a little bit of heaven 🙂

  38. #20 on your list but #1 on mine. Unforgettable full moon walk at Iguazu Falls (Brazilian side). Moonbows and mouse-size spiders. Magical.

  39. This will probably sound rather cliche’, but I’m going to have to say my top 2 right now are my incredible wife Jackie, and our new baby, Tessa. Jackie is my personal hero for enduring a rough pregnancy with the grace of a saint, and life threatening complications afterwards. Tessa, on the other hand, is just heartwarming to behold.

  40. I actually bought a moleskin over the weekend for the very purpose of which you wrote about: a keeper of ideas and thoughts.

  41. 20a) dark room, headphones on, “kind of blue” from start to finish. 46 minutes of perfection
    20b) The view from the top of Clouds Rest, 6000 feet above Yosemite Valley. Nature’s perfection in every direction
    20c) Waking up next to my wife every morning. Life doesn’t get any better

  42. I’m so with you on #5, I love Moleskins and use nothing but them. I have one that is my journal, one that I use for keeping photography notes when I shoot, one that I use in the darkroom to record notes for each print I make… they’re just the best.

  43. Film, Hasselblad and Moleskine in the top 5, definitely!, think i would just have to add Travel in General, and that addictive sound of a camera shutter.

  44. Having just read “the war of art” I think I’ll pass on the perfect “gear” thingie – though my Pelican 1510 case is pretty “Perfect” for looking awesome, keeping baby & baby puke out and off of my gear, and for rolling – I’d say a perfect moment is when we overcome resistance, are struck by the muse, and we create.

    Some will call that being in the zone, others will just differ it to talent and experience (all true). It’s a great feeling, and about as perfect a moment as you’re going to get when you’re creating.

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  46. Blundstones, Scottevests and Moleskins are right up there, but it is hard to beat a 2 wt. rod on a small stream filled with brookies willing to take a dry fly, and a bed warmed by your Labrador.

    Thanks David – JI

  47. Great list.
    Something that I was recently reminded of is the sunset over the Indian Ocean. I just got back from a trip over to the west coast of Australia. A wonderful place for sure. Something about the Indian Ocean somehow seems “wilder” then other oceans for me.

  48. Wow, what a list. You are a romantic man, David.

    #1. Chai at the summit of Khardun La – did the same on the highest motorable road in the Alps. Was very nice at sunrise.
    #4. Hasselblads, Leicas, and Carl Zeiss – Agreed, love my rangefinders.
    #5. The Moleskine Notebook – I like them in small and medium size, one is always with me.
    #7. Shooting at dawn or dusk – no matter where, you are so right.
    #14. Waking up in a luxury tent camp as the sun rises – so true, I enjoyed that experience immensly.
    #19. Photographing what you love without regard for what anyone else thinks – I totally agree again.

    My try for some more . . .

    #20. Cooking for family or friends – like meditation for me. I can totally relax while cooking and am in good mood because I look forward to the meal and quality time.
    #21. Lodging in a great hotel – in several cities I return to favorites again and again because I like the atmosphere, the surroundings and the staff. Especially having a great breakfast after an early morning shoot is very cool.
    #22. Discovering new cities and places with special carisma – this is so special and a privilege.

    Thanks for your list, it’s reminding me how many things in everyday life are worth appreciating.

    Greetings from Germany,

  49. Discovering a new (to me) photographer whose work moves me…especially in the middle of a long afternoon.

    Michael Kenna is amazing. Thanks for introducing me!

  50. My #20: 9 day canoe trips through Algonquin Park in Canada, minus my camera. You’re forced to soak in everything and enjoy every moment because you’re not trying to capture it in pixels. Being alone in the world in your canoe and watching a passenger jet flying over head. The weirdest, best feeling ever.

  51. 1,3,7,12,15,19. All brilliant. Perhaps I’d add the perfect cup of coffee and a great breakfast after that calming morning. Glad to have shared #1!

  52. #12 is a tough one for me! It seems I either don’t have my camera with me when I want it, or I carry it with me when I should be putting it away and just enjoying the moment – the place, the people that make it special! Good list!

  53. Winter in Yellowstone with Moose and Joe?

    A photographic workshop at “an intimate seaside cottage”? (ew)

    Hmmm… no.

    Liguria, Italy in April with you, Jeffrey Chapman, and seven other comrades? Yeah, that’s it.

  54. Great list, but if we wear our #6s and #18s at the same time we’ll look like dorks. #3 is a definite favorite – even if it does mean dining on children’s plastic play furniture. Anyhow, my added #20 (but #1 on my list) is, without a doubt, dinner at home with close friends.

  55. “Capturing the Moment” – I think with the advancements of digital photography, everyone seems to have the ability to take photos these days. But I think there is a difference to snapping a photo and taking a photograph. I think it is truly magical when one can perfectly (or as close as you can get) capture a moment in time. While a photograph can never replicate an emotion, feeling or even smell of an experience, it can invoke a personal connection with the viewer that goes beyond words.

  56. a very interesting list. here is something from mine: lensbaby. any version, regardless of the quality of optic will do. what excites me about it is the abstracted, selectively focused view of the world. sometimes helps me see better, by helping me see differently. shows me new possibilities on familiar views.

  57. Standing on the roof of a building in a small town in the Himalayas during a blackout, looking up at the countless stars and galaxies.

  58. One of my favorites is looking out a plan window, down at a new place in the world I’m about to visit. I know, I know, plane travel is soulless compared to the old days of trains and horses and everything, but I still get a chill down my spine with anticipation. After all the reading and dreaming and planning, I’m almost there. For me those are perfect moments.

  59. How about:

    The absolute “knowing” that you nailed the shot that you had in your minds eye.

    Putting the camera down and just enjoying the moment.

    The knock of the FedEx person with a package from B&H

    A truly great lens – one that makes you go “wow”.

    Coming across people that are so unique that you’ll be telling stories of them for years to come.

    Traveling with someone who “gets it”

    An ice cold beer in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long, hot day.

    A really good cheeseburger after being away from home for too long.


  60. Oh man. Mine goes to the first time I saw Everest from 100+ miles away. It was almost 60 degree’s in JANUARY on the plateau (unheard of). I could see the snow tail blowing off the summit and immediately thought back to all those topo maps you see hanging up on alpine junkies walls and mentally I put a “I’m Here!” mark on it.

    Sure beats a beach!


  61. You hit the nail on the head with the classic cameras. Nothing better than the weight and sounds of those beautiful cameras.

    I gotta say my MacBook comes in a close second!

  62. Waking up by the side of Lake Päijänne at 3am in August to find the sun just stretching itself over the huge expanse of the lake and listening to the fish jumping up to catch the first flies of the day.

    Though I’m not sure which number i’d put it at, certainly top 5

  63. It would be spending a weekend in Paris with Simon. What he promised me four years ago but that was the last I saw of it 🙂

  64. What a great list. For me my #1 would be working as a photographer with my sister. She is a great makeup artist and I love the energy and creativity that is generated and fostered between us. Though we are 30 and 29, we giggle like little girls when working together. Our last project together was Sunday night and it was one of the best nights of my life in a while. I am thankful for her being my friend and family and teammate on this creative journey.

    Thanks for sharing your list and opening up the comments for ours.

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