Tag Archives: tim baker

smartphone taking picture ocean beach

How to Take Better Travel Photos with Your Phone

Photojournalist Tim Baker has been Wendy’s personal photographer (not to mention her husband) for decades. Not only has Tim shot emotive portraits and gorgeous landscapes all over the world, he’s also covered the action in war zones and pro football stadiums. But even with all that professional experience, Tim stands by an old saying in photography: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And for many travelers these days—Tim included—that’s their smartphone.

So for our closing Travel Talk of WOW Week 2024, on February 9, we asked Tim to share his tips for getting great photos from your phone’s camera. Watch the full video below, and scroll down for Tim’s most important pieces of advice.

Clean your phone’s lenses. Tim cleans his before almost every shoot, especially when around salt water or sunny weather. (You might be wearing sunscreen and accidentally brush your arm up against the lenses, giving them a coating of SPF 100 and your photos an unwelcome misty quality). You can clean the lenses with anything you would use to clean your glasses.

Take action shots. Ask yourself: What is the verb in the picture? Rather than having people pose for every photo, try to capture interaction and movement. For instance, shoot your family taking part in a cooking class, interacting with local people at a market, or bobsledding down a mountain—not just standing beside the chef, the fishmonger, or the bobsled.

Instead of using the flash, use a flashlight. Since the flash on phone cameras produces horrible results, borrow someone else’s phone and use its flashlight feature to light the backlit subjects. (Watch the video above to see a few examples of the pocket-sized lights that Tim also carries.)

When shooting a food photo, light it up. Food pictures should look delicious! Use someone else’s phone in flashlight mode to light the dish. Food often looks the best with backlighting.

If a group of people is posing, take multiple photos. Often one person in the group will have their eyes closed or won’t be smiling at the exact moment when you snap the photo. Shoot several times, then choose the shot where everybody in the group has their eyes open and is smiling.

For portraits, turn the subjects away from dead center to the camera. Have them point their feet an eighth of a turn away from square to the camera. Their shoulders will naturally turn too, giving a more pleasing, less driver’s-license look.

Use the phone’s camera grid to follow the “Rule of Thirds.” The rule basically says: Don’t put a horizon line or subject in the dead center of a frame. Turn your camera’s grid on and place the subject at any of the four points where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.

Use the sun-icon slider to adjust the light. Learn to use the exposure compensation feature (which you can pull up by simply tapping your phone’s screen while in camera mode). The exposure of a subject can be “fooled” by very bright or dark scenes. Using exposure compensation can improve the photo; it’s especially useful with scenic shots.

When shooting close-ups, tap the screen to select the part of the image that you want to be sharpest. When shooting foods or busy scenes, the camera may pick one focus point, whereas you want another. Tapping on the specific focus point that you want tells the camera to focus on that.

Take horizontal photos. We naturally orient our phones vertically, but many shots are best composed horizontally, in what’s called “landscape.” Try both orientations—unlike in the days of film, it’s free to shoot, and you can delete what doesn’t work. (Also, if you’re planning to submit photos with your trip review to post on WendyPerrin.com, keep in mind that we can only publish horizontal images.)

Avoid using the zoom. When you zoom, all you are doing is cropping the original image, which can result in blurry photos because of their small file size. It’s better to walk in closer to your subject instead. (But if zooming is the only possible option, go ahead and try it.)

Use burst mode for shooting fast-moving action. Say your spouse is in the Tour de France and they will pedal by in a heartbeat. Using burst mode (approximately 10 photos per second) will greatly increase your chances of getting THE shot. Once you decide which shot was THE shot, you can delete the other nine to save space.

When shooting video, know that you can take still photos at the same time. Videos are great when you want to capture sound or action. Once you start recording a video, a white button will appear above the red record button; that is now the shutter button that allows you to take still photos while still recording.

Don’t oversaturate. If you’re using the in-phone editing tool, experiment with moving the various sliders around, but don’t boost the saturation too much. It can give your photo a phony Chamber-of-Commerce look.

Last but not least, overshoot and overedit. Don’t hesitate to shoot a lot of pictures, since this will give you more options when you’re ready to edit them. But then make tough editing choices, so that you show people only your very best. Everyone will think you’re a great photographer!

To see some of Tim’s work—and get inspired to shoot better photos on your next trip—click to these articles:

Farm Visits: WOW Trips That Get You Back to the Land Around the World

A Private Gulet on Turkey’s Aegean Coast: Wendy’s Family Trip

How to Know if a Barge Cruise in France Is Right for You

What the Right Local Fixer Can Do For You in Israel (or Anywhere)

Wendy’s Romania Trip Photos and Experiences

Staying Safe in a Global City: Wendy’s Trip to Istanbul

What Made Uzbekistan Special


Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Giant dancing bears delighted young and old.

Bring Your Dancing Shoes to Uzbekistan. You’ll Need Them. We Did.

The ballroom of the “wedding palace” could hold its own against any European palace.
Our guide called this a “wedding palace.”
Men sat at tables on one side of the room, women on the other side.
Each table had its own banquet.
Wendy and a new friend toast each other.
Our boys try a shot of brandy.
Our boys try a shot of brandy.
Charlie on the dance floor.
Charlie on the dance floor.
Giant dancing bears delighted young and old.
Giant dancing bears delighted young and old.
The polar bear leaves the dance floor.
Unibrows are considered a positive fashion statement in Uzbekistan.
Goodbye hugs for the three celebrants.
At the Registan in Samarkand, wedding couples pose for photos.
A couple in traditional wedding garb at the Registan
Wedding parties are a common sight in Uzbekistan.


It was one of the craziest hours of my life.  An hour in which I dined, danced, and drank with strangers, superheroes, and a pair of 10-foot bears. It was totally unplanned. Yet, somehow, Uzbekistan had prepared us for it.

It started simply enough: Walking with Wendy and the boys from dinner back to our hotel in Samarkand, we passed a large building that looked like a cross between The White House and a university library. A crowd of men loitered outside, and loud party music came from inside.

Earlier in the day we had been told it was a wedding hall. Since weddings happen every day of the week in Uzbekistan, we had seen—at every monument and national shrine we’d visited—numerous brides, grooms, and wedding parties posing for photos. At the Registan alone, we’d seen five bridal parties, with the brides in floor-length, white, poofy, western-style wedding gowns and silver tiaras. The grooms wore simple, classic dark suits, white shirts, and black ties.

As we passed the wedding hall, some of the men out front beckoned us inside. Since the boys and I were extremely underdressed for a wedding reception—we were in shorts and T-shirts—we quickly agreed that Wendy should go in alone to squeeze off a few photos for her stories and then report back to us. Next thing I knew, we were all being ushered inside by several men. I wasn’t afraid because I had come to learn that Uzbeks are some of the most hospitable people on the planet. In our two weeks in the country, we had already been invited into numerous private houses and parties. In fact, the “prophet age” party for a 63-year-old woman in Khiva was a close second for the craziest hour of my life. But that’s another article….

The scene inside the wedding hall was like nothing I had ever seen. The ballroom was the size of a high school gym and as elaborate as any ballroom in any western palace. There was gold everywhere, a giant chandelier above the dance floor, twin curved staircases, and a band playing between them. It was out of a fairy tale. Cinderella would have been right at home—and Disney would have been hard pressed to make it look more opulent.

The dance floor was about the size of half a basketball court and was filled with kids and women, all dressed in their finest. The men, by contrast, were seated and casually dressed. The band played the high-energy, never-stopping music that we’d heard throughout our trip. Above the band, a giant TV screen showed live video of the party fed from multiple cameras.

On each side of the floor were 20 tables, each seating 14 people. Women sat on one side of the floor, men on the other. It wasn’t clear whether this was official policy or just basic self-selection. Each table was heaving with platters of food; on the men’s tables were bottles of both clear and dark brown liquor.

The only thing missing was a bride and groom. I thought maybe they were in another part of the hall or off signing documents.

As I was shooting photos, I got dragged onto the dance floor. That is a very normal thing in Uzbekistan. Dancing is a huge part of Uzbek culture. My advice to anybody going to Uzbekistan is to pack your dancing shoes. We were invited to dance almost daily, either at some sort of celebration or just because music was playing.

From the dance floor, I could see my two teenaged sons being handed shot glasses of clear liquid and toasting a group of men. They looked at me for approval. I grimaced and shrugged and thought, it’s cultural?!?

It’s rare when I get up and dance at any function, and—yes, I’ll admit —alcohol may have played a small part in my dancing at this one. While I turned down dozens of offers of vodka shots from party guests wanting to toast international friendship between our countries, I did drink my share.  Enough that I flat-out don’t remember the party host handing me the microphone and asking me to give a speech. Which apparently contained my views on world peace through travel and a tribute to the bride’s and groom’s health and future. Fortunately, only a handful of the guests spoke English.

The dance floor was packed with women and kids and, while I was doing my best to dance in flip-flops and with two large cameras hanging off me, a woman danced up next to me and gave me a 500 Uzbek som note (worth about 50 US cents). Not sure why? I figured I’d dropped it and she’d picked it up and returned it. Turns out, if you like how someone dances, you give them money.

Also on the dance floor was an attractive woman with a fist full of 500 som notes and a couple of men in Power Ranger costumes encouraging the kids to dance. Then entered a pair of 10-foot-tall dancing bears (actually people in costumes); they whirled so fast that their moves were dizzying.

Then a woman who lives in Brooklyn half the year and in Uzbekistan the other half approached and, yelling over the loud music, introduced herself. I asked her where the bride and groom were. She explained that it wasn’t a wedding reception. It was a circumcision party for three young boys. Her son was one of them. Well, that explained the Power Rangers and the dancing bears.

Wait—what?  A circumcision party?!  Yes, it was a party to celebrate the fact that three little boys had been snipped. Whether they’d been circumcised years ago at birth, or yesterday, we never found out. But, according to their custom, this party needs to be held before their seventh birthdays.

After an hour of drinking and dancing, we gave the three boys goodbye hugs, thanked our hosts profusely, and stumbled back to our hotel. It was one of those surreal and totally unexpected travel experiences, yet a couple of weeks of Uzbek hospitality had prepared us for it well.

If you too are looking for an adventure packed with Uzbek hospitality, our trip was arranged by Zulya Rajabova, a native of Uzbekistan who is Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for the Silk Road. 

Transparency disclosure:  While my family paid for our airfare to Uzbekistan, most of our travel arrangements on the ground once we arrived were complimentary, thanks to Zulya Rajabova’s connections and the Uzbek people’s culture of hospitality.  Read paying travelers’ reviews of Zulya’s trips here.


Unclaimed Baggage Center Wendy with wedding gowns

Your Lost Luggage Is For Sale in This Store in Alabama

I can hear the screams of agony. I can see the tears flowing. I see the bridesmaid left out of the wedding photos because her dress never made it to the wedding. I see the road warrior shaking with rage because his laptop has disappeared forever. I see the zombie stares from the airline reps who don’t really care.  I hear them parroting the company policy you agreed to in the fine print on your airline ticket.

That’s what fills my mind as I walk through what is, for travelers like Wendy and me, the creepiest store in the world. Even though we drove several hours out of our way just to see it. Even though the place is light and airy—even cheerful. The merchandise, though used, is practically new and includes many top brands and designers. The store is as tidy as Grandma’s house, and the employees greet you with a genuine welcome and the hospitality that the South is famous for.

This is the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. It’s 40,000 square feet of your stuff, bought in bulk from the airlines’ baggage equivalent of the dead letter office.

Unclaimed Baggage Center laptops

The laptop section is scarier than a Stephen King novel.

Unclaimed Baggage Center swimsuits

The swimsuit section scares too. For most women, a flattering swimsuit is one of the toughest items to replace when you’re traveling.

Think of the Unclaimed Baggage Center as a nice-smelling Salvation Army or Goodwill thrift store, full of stuff you had no intention of selling. In fact, probably some of your best stuff. Remember what was in your suitcase the last time you traveled? That’s what you’ll find in this store’s aisles and racks … along with displays of bizarre keepsakes discovered in lost luggage over the years.

Unclaimed Baggage Center religious objects

These precious religious objects, found in lost luggage, are on display but not for sale.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center started in 1970 when Doyle Owens bought a pick-up truckload of “unclaimed baggage” from Trailways Bus Lines in Washington, D.C., and brought it to Scottsboro for resale. Today, the store’s stock comes almost solely from the airlines. After an airline has spent 90 days attempting in vain to reunite passenger and bag, and after restitution has been paid, the Unclaimed Baggage Center buys the unlucky luggage sight unseen and hauls it to Alabama. The contents of each bag are triaged into 25 sub-categories: sell, donate, launder, trash, etc.

No different than any big department store, the facility is divided into sections such as men’s, women’s, and children’s fashion; jewelry; shoes; formalwear; swimwear; sporting goods; electronics (laptops, cameras, cell phones); office equipment; etc. Naturally, there’s a suitcase department too. Prices seemed a tad higher than thrift-shop prices, but good values were easily found. Camera equipment and sporting-goods prices seemed fair. All computers’ files have been deleted, and the software has been restored to operating systems only.

Unclaimed Baggage Center paddleboard

Passenger to baggage services staff: “Well, it’s a paddle board, it’s blue and gray, it’s 12 feet long…”

Unclaimed Baggage Center cell phones

Here’s a quick way to get over your smartphone addiction.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, fewer than three out of every 1,000 bags checked on domestic flights were lost last year. But the Unclaimed Baggage Center stocks 7,000 new items every day.

In a daily event promoted as “The Unclaimed Baggage Experience,” a lost suitcase gets “processed” in front of an audience. One lucky customer is picked to be the first to open it, with everyone else watching. It’s part archaeological dig, part gift-opening time at a birthday party, part slowing down to see an accident on the freeway. Items in the suitcase are divided into four categories, with the event emcee and the audience helping to make decisions to sell, launder, donate or trash.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center even offers a free personal shopper service: “Our top notch personal shoppers will help you build your summer wardrobe, spruce up your office style or create a look for a special event!” reads the sign. You can even become an “Unclaimed Baggage Insider.” Just text “UBC Insider” to 33233, and you can be the first to know about “Roll-out Tuesday Highlights” and more.

Unclaimed Baggage Center formalwear

The Formal Wear department

Unclaimed Baggage Center bridalwear

Bridal accessories

Unclaimed Baggage Center shoes

Formal shoes too—at a steep discount

I can understand the attraction of this store to non-travelers. The Unclaimed Baggage Center claims to get a million visitors per year. I’ve heard about this place for decades, and it was well worth the visit. If only I didn’t know the backstory.

The Mission: Return a Lost Item to Its Owner

Just a few minutes into the Unclaimed Baggage Center, I realized what I had to do: Sleuth out an item and glean enough evidence to help me return it to its rightful owner.

I found the sort of thing I was looking for in the Sporting Goods department: a lacrosse helmet bearing a Zurich Lions decal. That decal was a huge clue. Lacrosse is a North American sport. There couldn’t be too many Swiss lacrosse players. How hard could it be to track one down?

Unclaimed Baggage Center sporting goods

Tim found what he was looking for in the Sporting Goods department.

Unclaimed Baggage Center helmet

How hard could it be to find a member of a Swiss lacrosse team?

Standing in the Sporting Goods department, I did a quick Internet search on my phone and found an email address for the Zurich Lions lacrosse team in Switzerland. The tag on the helmet said it had arrived at the store on March 29, 2018. It was initially priced at $69.95 but had been marked down twice. I bought it for $35 and sent an email to the Zurich Lions.

The president of Zurich Lacrosse was amazed and connected me with the helmet’s owner, Johannes Lohner, now living in Vienna. Johannes had played for the Zurich Lions while studying in Switzerland—he got the helmet when playing at the European championship—and, after returning to his native Vienna, he played for Austria at the world championship.

The helmet was actually never in his checked luggage, Johannes says: He unintentionally left it at the gate in Vienna when boarding a Lufthansa flight to the U.S. (He’d spent the previous night celebrating his army promotion, so that may have been a factor.)  United Airlines took over the hunt for the lost item and never found it. Johannes, who also played for the U.C. Berkeley lacrosse team while pursuing his master’s degree there, says he’s been playing with borrowed helmets ever since.

So I shipped the helmet to Johannes … and, a couple of weeks later, received an ebulient thank-you note.  “I really enjoyed my time in Berkeley,” Johannes writes, “and your gesture is the best example to show how great and open you Americans really are.”  He also sent a photo of himself reunited with his helmet.  And my boys and I have been invited by the Zurich Lions to play lacrosse with them the next time we’re in Switzerland.

guy with lacrosse helmet

Here’s Johannes reunited with his lacrosse helmet in Vienna.

But Wait There’s More in Scottsboro, Alabama

Scottsboro, which sits an hour southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and two hours northeast of Birmingham, has a charming, historic town square that looks like a movie set, with the county courthouse right in the middle. The town is known for the landmark “Scottsboro Boys” legal case: In 1931 nine African-American teens were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train passing through town. After several trials, the Supreme Court threw out the convictions— because African-Americans had been systematically excluded from the jury and the boys had not been granted due process—thus setting landmark legal precedents.

We visited Scottsboro in the early morning, so many shops were not open yet, but the Variety Bake Shop was. The shop is a blast from the past, and the maple glazed donut was the best I’ve had in years. Maybe ever. The Variety Bake Shop had no iced coffee for Wendy, though, so for that we went to Pine Bros. Coffee Co., a local hangout with an indie vibe.

Scottsboro’s other must-visit is Payne’s Sandwich Shop and Soda Fountain, which opened in 1869. Talk about a throwback movie set, complete with black-and-white floor and red-vinyl-covered counter stools. It’s the kind of place my buddies and I used to ride our bikes to.

How Not To Lose Your Luggage in the First Place

A trip to the Unclaimed Baggage Center will convince you to take extra precautions the next time you entrust your luggage to an airline.

* Make sure your name, mobile phone number, and email address are attached to the bag in a way that can’t get caught and removed in the machinery of the baggage systems.

* Put the same information on at least one piece of paper taped inside the bag too, so that it is the first thing someone will see when opened. I always put my name and mobile number on our kids’ carry-ons too, as well as on electronics and other valuables inside the carry-ons.

* If your luggage is the same color as everyone else’s, then affix something to your bag to differentiate it—say, a red ribbon, or a purple handle—so that other passengers don’t mistake your bag for theirs and run off with it.

* Use your smartphone to snap a quick photo of each bag you check. If the airline loses it, a picture of your bag will be worth a thousand words.

* Get to the baggage carousel before it starts disgorging bags. If you’re not there when your luggage comes out, it’s more likely to go astray.

Unclaimed Baggage Center Wendy parking lot

The Unclaimed Baggage Center can make for an interesting detour on a Deep South road trip.

Unclaimed Baggage Center store exterior

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Hippos in river with mouths open Zambia Africa

Ask Wendy: What Type of Camera Should I Take on Safari?


Wendy and Tim,

Any recommendations for what type of camera to take on safari in Zambia? I see that you went last year. I know that Tim has pro stuff, but could you recommend a camera to lug along that doesn’t cost as much as the safari? Thank you, Katherine


Katherine, here’s my husband TIm’s reply:

“Katherine, you are right: The photo gear I brought on our safari in Zambia was indeed professional. Which translates to heavy and expensive. A real commitment to the craft is required.

But our boys (then 13 and 15 years old) each brought one of the newer superzoom compact cameras. These cameras use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to reduce size and expense. They also have amazing zoom lenses that get you up close and personal to the subjects from quite a distance away. They offer a very wide-angle view of the zoom range too, which seems counterintuitive to safari photos. But you’ll be surprised how many times you’ll be almost too close to the animals—especially if you want to show them in their environment.

giraffe jumping in grass on zambia safari in africa

It might seem counterintuitive, but a good safari camera should offer a very wide-angle view so that you can include an animal’s surroundings in the shot. Photo: Charlie Baker

We brought a Panasonic and a Nikon for the boys—and they shot the giraffe and bird photos you see here with them—but I would consider Canon or Sony as well. The cameras range from about $300 to $900. Check out the Panasonic Lumix, Canon PowerShot, Sony Cyber-shot, or Nikon Coolpix. All are very good cameras and would be excellent for general use once you are back home. It’s a very good idea to get them in your hand and give each a test drive to see what best fits you. Is it comfortable to hold? Does the zoom button match up naturally with your fingers? Is it easy to line up your eye with the viewfinder? Does it work with your glasses?

bird on a branch on safari in Zambia Africa

The newer superzoom compact cameras let you get very close-up shots but are not as bulky or expensive as professional gear. This shot was taken by our son Doug, on safari in Zambia. Photo: Doug Baker

The cameras have a battery life of more than 300 photos (much less if you shoot video. And all these cameras will). Many safari lodges are off the grid but have some way to charge camera batteries. So always buy at least one spare battery. Two spares would be even better.
Buy high-capacity memory cards so you don’t run out of space. A 64GB card costs about $30 and can hold thousand of pictures.

Buy it well before you go and practice with it. Go to youth soccer games to capture their movements like a herd of impala. Or go to the zoo and practice with your new camera. That way, you will have worked out the kinks before your trip and will be ready for that bull elephant’s mock (we hope) charge.”


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.