May 162018
 

Photo courtesy of Guy Tal

Recently, I had a blast chatting about landscape photography, creativity, and more with photographer Matt Payne on his F-Stop Collaborate and Listen podcast. (Anyone else dancing to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice right now? Oh, 90s music was so awesome…)

To read the introduction to our conversation, visit www.mattpaynephotography.com/blog/2018/5/conversation-with-colleen-miniuk-sperry-on-f-stop-collaborate-and-listen.

To jump straight into the podcast, have a listen at:

I hope you gain some inspiration and new ideas for your photographic journey through our exchange!

Many thanks Matt for the opportunity to talk with you. Keep up the great work inspiring the landscape photography world through your podcasts.

Mar 282018
 
Fogged in Obscurities

“Fogged in Obscurities” || Prints available from my website at www.cms-photo.com

Someone recently asked me if I used the app that forecasts when Mother Nature will produce “epic light” to make sure I get the “perfect shot.” Apparently, it helps you decide whether you should photograph at sunrise or sunset. I laughed, “I don’t need an app to help me decide if I should sit on the couch or go outside. I don’t care what the weather is doing–or what time it is–I’m going outside! And I’m taking my camera!”

Don’t get me wrong, I like me some pretty color at sunrise and sunset. But if the only time you photograph the landscape is during fiery light at dawn and dusk, you are selling yourself short in your photography. Way short. Does your creativity work only during those times? Do you only have something to “say” during those hours? No, of course not!

A meaningful visual expression comes from within. It originates from our knowledge, perceptions, and emotions and extends from our ability to interpret the landscapes we see in any and all conditions we experience. It incorporates, but does not depend, on external factors such as light, weather, topography, etc.

Light and weather just “is.” It’s not inherently good or bad. Those are judgments we assign based on our expectations, which are often unreasonable and detrimental to our photography pursuits. Each variation of light we might encounter carries different perceptions and meaning. For example, direct light carries more energy, creates contrast, and grabs attention. Diffused light creates the appearance of more saturated colors and can evoke subdued, stormy, and ethereal moods. It’s up to us as photographers to understand these nuances of light and make the most of the hand Mother Nature deals us every time we go outside with a camera—regardless of what’s happening in the sky.

As Alfred Steiglitz said, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” I made the above photograph, which I titled “Fogged in Obscurities“  at 10:23 a. m. EST.

While wandering along Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, Maine, this past February, a heavy blanket of fog hugged the shoreline. (For those who know the joke, this was definitely a “wet fog,” not a “dry fog”… :D ). Waves roared into the granite cliffs. I sat down to wonder.

As I watched the scene unfold, I contemplated the story of that rock sitting on top of the ledge some 30-feet above the ocean. How did it get there? Erosion, wind, waves, or otherwise? What has that pair of intertwined evergreen trees “seen” over the course of their lives? How does it feel to be that boulder in the water getting pounded by the storm waves every few seconds? Each of these objects had a piece of the story to tell about this scene–but none were giving away their secrets.

I knew while visualizing my composition that I wanted to show the relationship between these three key elements, the unknowable story, but importance of each to complete the narrative (at least, the one in my head). The fog only enhanced the mystery…something a bright, cheery sunrise or sunset with pinks, reds, oranges, and purples in the sky could not deliver.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the value and uses of natural light, pick up a copy of my 76-page “Seeing the Light in Outdoor Photography” instructional eBook at www.thepocketinstructor.com.

Mar 232018
 
Face to Face

“Face to Face” || Prints available from my website at www.cms-photo.com.

When you were a child, did you look up at the clouds and see shapes, objects, and maybe even faces? “It looks just like a dragon!” or “Whoa! There’s Snoopy!” Maybe you still do this? I do!

If you wish to be more expressive with your photography, I’d encourage you to see EVERYTHING—not just clouds, but trees, water, rocks, flowers—through this imaginative lens. When you spot something photogenic—landscape, macro, or something in between—ask yourself, “What else is it?”

Let your mind wander with free associations without judging them. You answers will bring your knowledge and perceptions to the forefront and will help you establish an individual meaningful connection with the natural elements that excite you. You’ll transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Mar 072018
 

A Frozen Universe
Are you feeling stuck with your photography? Are you frustrated with always trying to “get THE shot?” Are you looking for ways to be more creative with your work?

If you said yes to any of those three questions (or maybe all of them), then my newest article for On Landscape: “Finding Your Creative Voice” is just for you: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2018/03/finding-your-creative-voice/

It shares the story of how I transformed from a photographer who took pretty photographs of classic scenes into a visual artist with a distinctive creative voice (thanks in large part to the Acadia Artist-in-Residence program). It also provides the backstory of why, in my workshops and presentations, I emphasize playing like a 4th grader and running around declaring things like “LOOK AT THAT MUSHROOM!” (Or in my case, LOOK AT THOSE BUBBLES!!)

Along the way, it offers advice on how you too can “find” your own voice, specifically how to get new ideas, release expectations, and handle self-doubt. Hey, if this type-A, overanalytical ex-software engineer can do it, anyone can!

You’ll need a subscription to read the full article, but the inspirational content of this eMagazine is well worth the price. If you aren’t ready to commit to the annual fee, perhaps consider the bi-weekly or quarterly subscription as a taste. Fabulous, super creative photographers like Guy Tal, Rafael Rojas, Tim Parkin, Alister Benn, and others write for this online magazine. It has been–and is–a great source of ongoing inspiration for me and my photography. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed…learn more on their Subscription page: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/subscribe

Enjoy!

(And a big thank you to the good folks at On Landscape for featuring my article!)

Feb 132018
 

 

Letters from Lee's Ferry book

Last year, fellow photographer/writer Guy Tal and I teamed up to lead the inaugural “Lens and Pens” workshop in the beautiful Vermilion Cliffs and Lee’s Ferry area. This educational session was tailored for intermediate and advanced photographers who were comfortable with the technical aspects of photography, but for those who may not have had any previous writing experience. Our goal was to make attendees feel more inspired and confident in communicating their unique knowledge, passions, and experiences in photographs and words.

Participants from the workshop last September independently produced a book of their writings, titled, “Letters from Lee’s Ferry,” which you may read online or order in print form: http://www.blurb.com/b/8443037-letters-from-lee-s-ferry. (As an aside, no one–Guy, me, or the participants–make a profit from this book. The price covers simply the cost of printing and shipping.) It’s an incredible collection of what the group accomplished in the 2017 “Lens & Pens” workshop–we couldn’t be more proud of our participants!

Because our first experience was so enjoyable, Guy and I are offering a second session this year from September 11-16, 2018 once again in the Vermilion Cliffs area. We offer guidance in conveying inner thoughts through your photographs and writing, instruction in several genres of writing, and trips to locations teeming with stories, all in a quiet and intimate setting. No writing experience assumed!

For more information and to register, visit http://cms-photo.com/Workshops/2018LensandPens. Class size is limited to 10 attendees–only 4 spots remain!

We hope you’ll join us for an adventure in creativity, photography and writing, and nature!

Feb 102018
 

You might have heard of–and even done–a snow angel before. But what happens if there’s no snow around (like where I live in the Arizona desert or where I love to photograph along the Oregon coast)?

Try a sand angel!

Now, when I mention this amazing activity with other people, I sometimes get raised eyebrows. I’m sometimes asked, “What exactly is a sand angel?”

Well, since inquiring minds want to know, I’ve made up a quick two-minute video on “How to Make a Sand Angel:” https://youtu.be/egz8Ki96_3s

You know, just in case your upcoming travels and photographic outings involve sand (or snow)…

Jan 022018
 

“The only question in life is whether or not you are going to answer a
hearty ‘YES!’ to your adventure.”

~Joseph Campbell

Happy New Year, everyone!

As we put last year in the history books, I am feeling immense gratitude to all of you for your continued support and friendship in this journey. Thank you for all you do to help encourage and inspire my photography, writing, and teaching. As we turn into the new year and all the fresh opportunities it’ll no doubt bring, I look forward to more laughs, photographs, stories, learnings, donuts, cookies, “throwing Wendy’s,” handstands, ballet moves, sand angels, and more with you all! Keep saying “YES!”

To celebrate all that transpired in 2017, I’ve compiled 16 of my favorite photographs I created last year (in chronological order. Prints available! Just click on photo to visit my website to order or shoot me an email at cms@cms-photo.com):

Here’s Looking at You
From January to June 2017, I took on the interim Executive Director position with Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), which limited my outdoor and photography time for the first half of the year (for more on that: “Setting Sail Again“).  One morning in March, though, my friend, fellow OWAAer, and fabulous wildlife photographer, Tim Christie, invited me to photograph the burrowing owls on the west side of Phoenix with him. Now, I normally don’t shoot wildlife unless it runs into my landscape scene…in fact, I had never photographed an owl before. From the moment saw these astounding creatures through Tim’s 600mm fixed lens (a.k.a. the Hubble telescope), though, I was hooked. That trip inspired me to discover a couple locations where burrowing owls lived just 15 minutes from my house–that I’ve lived in for 16 years!!

Here's Looking at You

 

Just Bloom
When I saw these two sego lilies intertwined near the Barnhardt Trail in April, a quote by Zen Shin came to mind: “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

Just Bloom

 

So Many Flowers, So Little Time
I had no intentions of photographing while walking to the City of Rocks State Park Visitor’s Center to pay my fee for my campsite. But the camera always comes with me anyhow! You never know when a bunch of claret cup cactus blooming along the side of the parking lot will grab your attention and yell, “Make my picture please!”

So Many Flowers, So Little Time

 

River Bliss
In 2017, I introduced my new brand, Sheography™, which represents my women’s-only photography workshop offerings. And boy, did we kick things off with a bang! On the inaugural trip in May 2017, sixteen wild women (and two awesome male guides) launched on a fabulous adventure down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This was from day 4 in our 119.8 Mile Right camp, which we affectionately renamed “Tres Burrito Camp.”

River Bliss

 

The Yin to My Yang
Read about how and why I made this image in my blog post, “Patience Young Jedi

The Yin to My Yang

 

Little Bubbles on the Prairie
In July, I attended the Fishtrap Outpost, a five-day writing workshop at the Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon led by one of my absolute favorite authors, Craig Childs. What an incredible experience it was! While on our first hike, I saw BUBBLES!!!  In the algae along Camp Creek. I know, I know, I was supposed to be focused on my writing, and I did! After I lost all two marbles in my brain when I saw these and made a photograph of them…Can you imagine a year going by without me photographing bubbles? Yeah, me either.

Little Bubbles on the Prairie

 

Bakunawa, the Moon-Eating Dragon
When photographing this scene while at Fishtrap Outpost on the Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon, I thought of Bakunawa, the moon-eating dragon…it was 5:00 a.m., and I had not been caffeinated properly yet…

Bakunawa, The Moon-Eating Dragon

 

Worlds Collide
From my happy place, Acadia National Park in Maine, during a two-week visit I made to the Schoodic Peninsula with my parents. After spending almost 400 days in the park since my first of three Artist-in-Residencies in November 2009, Acadia still remains my “heaven on Earth.”

Worlds Collide

 

Morning Glory
I’ve spent the last eight autumn seasons in Acadia National Park, and last year’s trip was completely EPIC. Some of the best color and light I’ve ever seen in the park! Plus I had awesome workshop participants and friends from near and far to enjoy it all with. I shared this incredible sunrise along the coast with friends and fellow photographers, John Putnam and Bob Thayer. Acadia never disappoints! (Shameless self-promotional plug: join me on my Winter in Acadia and Autumn in Acadia workshops in 2018! Whoo!)

Morning Glory

 

The Point of It All (a haiku)
Hiding in shadow
Rebirth, persistence, beauty—
The point of it all.

The Point of it All

 

Songs of Serenity
At the start of my second “Autumn in Acadia” workshop, Mother Nature treated our group to an unforgettable sunrise at Little Long Pond on the Maine Land and Garden Preserve near Acadia National Park in Maine. First, we had cotton candy pinks in the sky pre-dawn. Then overcast skies and no wind (perfect for reflections!). Then the fog rolled in. Then the sun started spotlighting Penobscot Mountain through the fog. (I don’t photograph a lot on my workshops, but this was even too much for me to sit and watch without photographing!) Then the skies cleared. All in a span of about two hours. Have I mention how epic this autumn trip was? As epic as bubbles.

Songs of Serenity

 

Lighting Up My World
From the magic hour (an hour after sunrise on a clear day) at the Tarn in Acadia National Park in Maine.

Lighting Up My World

 

In the Flow
Read more about how and why I made this image during my first visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee in November on my blog post, “In the Flow.”

In the Flow

 

Make a Splash
In 2017, I made a habit of saying “yes” more to new adventures and experiences, even if I didn’t know what might materialize when I did so. In this case, I said “yes” to visiting a friend of mine (another OWAAer), Tim Mead, in North Carolina for a few days after speaking at the Great Smoky Mountains Photography Summit. Not only did I get to see a beautiful part of the country I hadn’t seen before (at the height of fall colors), but I also found out Tim and I had a lot more in common than I originally knew. As we hiked around South Mountains State Park, fished in Mountain Island Lake, and drank beers on the back porch of his home, he offered loads of advice and insight into questions I had been struggling with in my life–an unexpected gift. I think I’ll keep saying “yes“…

Make a Splash

 

The Winds of Change Stirring
Full-time freelance photographers don’t get an allocated set of vacation days like people who work in Corporate America do. Some may think we’re perpetually on vacation (we aren’t…), but photographers know the eyes and brain don’t ever turn off, especially in beautiful places where many non-photographers would take their vacations. Late last year, I decided I needed some downtime, a true vacation from the crazy year that was 2017. In what was the first dedicated vacation for me in years, I booked a long weekend in one of my favorite places, Cannon Beach, Oregon, to refresh and regroup for the new year. My intent was to spend four days sitting on my hotel’s beachfront porch, drinking coffee, napping, and staring at the waves. Well, there must have been something in the ocean breeze, because I rose well before sunrise on the first morning (which, mind you, was almost 8:00 a.m.!), grabbed my camera (and coffee mug), and hit the beach. Although I hadn’t planned it, the next four days were some of my most productive and enjoyable creative times of the year. The moral of the story? Take more vacation days in 2018. That, and, you can sleep when you’re dead...

The Winds of Change Stirring

 

Heartbeat
Last year was full of beautiful surprises. Through it all, I learned how to listen to my own voice and to feel the beating of my own heart. This beach scene from Oregon reminded me of a pulse, of the beauty of life and its impermanence, and of the gift we have each and every day to create meaning through the triumphs and the struggles so long as our heart still beats.

Heartbeat

 

And that’s a wrap for 2017!

If you’d like to see my favorite photos from previous years, please visit:

The above posts were featured in Jim Goldstein’s annual “Best Photos of the Year” blog project, which not only provides endless inspiration by so many talented photographers, but also offers the chance to gain insight into how your own work and style has evolved over the years.  Check out the 130+ photographers who contributed this year at www.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2018/01/10/photos-2017-jmggalleries-blog-readers.

As we look to 2018, make every new day an adventure. Make every new day meaningful. And while you’re at it, make every new day grand! Hope it’s your best year yet! And hope our paths cross during this wild adventure.

~Colleen

Nov 192017
 
In the Flow

“In the Flow” || Waterfalls cascade down the Little River along Tremont Road in autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA (Click on photo to order a print)

When visiting a place, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, for the first time (as I did a couple of weeks ago), it can feel a little overwhelming. So much beauty, where does one even start?!

Before my responsibilities at the Great Smoky Mountains Photography Summit began, I took a quick scouting trip along Tremont Road. I made a few “happy snaps,” but mainly so I could start sorting out my budding connections with the Middle Prong of the Little River. I continued visualizing possible images while leading two of my three summit groups to the spots that had initially grabbed my attention. When I teach workshops, teaching always takes precedence over making my own images, so I didn’t click the shutter once.

When I happened to get a few hours off from my workshops and presenting, I rushed back to the Lower Tremont area to try out some of my photographic ideas. But each time I set up along the shoreline, I felt like I was forcing things to happen too much. I stopped photographing and started listening to the river.

I took my shoes off, rolled up my pant legs, and walked into the flow with my tripod acting as my stabilizer. To feel the water, to be the water. The refreshing coolness of the stream, the pulsing current, the smooth shape of the rocks beneath my arches. It felt comforting. It instantly put me into my own flow state.

After only a few minutes of wading around, I turned to look upstream and saw this composition with little to no thought running through my brain. I fell in love with the scene, so I made this image…which was infinitely more appealing than anything I had previously visualized.

The value of my earlier visualizations, though, did not go to waste. The purpose of visualization–or picturing your pictures before you photograph them–is not to develop a strict checklist of “what you MUST photograph.” Rather, the process helps you practice and prepare for the “big game.” For me, it was a way to strengthen my bond with the location without any pressure or expectations to photograph a scene, ask a bunch of “what if I did this…” questions, and understand my photographic vision in a place I had never been to before which, no doubt, helped me eventually create “In the Flow.”

Sep 142017
 

Earlier this week, while camping in northern Arizona, I had the fortunate chance to witness the birth of an evening primrose flower as it slowly unfurled from its green bud at dusk. We watched a first bloom for almost 45 minutes; a second one nearby took less than 7 minutes to open. It was one of the most beautiful natural events I’ve ever seen.

If you’d like to see it too, check out the video I just posted of the second bloom at 2x real time speed (so it’s about 3 minutes long):

Enjoy!

Aug 252017
 

Last Monday, unlike millions of people, I was not in the path of totality for the highly anticipated solar eclipse. Instead, I found myself sitting alone by choice (well, save for the seagulls) in my favorite place, the Raven’s Nest in Acadia National Park, Maine, where forecasters estimated the moon would only cover the sun at 50-60% at its peak.

I had no intentions of photographing the solar eclipse, wanting instead to soak in the entire experience as it happened in the place where my own path had led me. There were few noticeable changes in the seagulls squawking, the outgoing tide splashing, or the gentle sea breeze stroking the pines when the moon started making its move on the sun. In fact, if you didn’t get the memo about the eclipse or didn’t have those goofy-looking special magic glasses–things the Wabanaki Indians (natives living on this land for an estimated 12,000 years) obviously lacked–you might not have known something different in the universe was even happening. Until just before the peak.

Ready for the solar eclipse on the Schoodic Peninsula’s western shore in Acadia National Park, Maine

At about 2:30 p.m. EDT, the wind held its breath. The waves stilled, settling one-foot swells into a sheet of navy blue-stained glass. The normally sherbet-colored granite cliffs suddenly turned silver. Only the seagulls ongoing squeals indicated that time, life, the movement of the Earth had not momentarily stopped.

As if to simply prove to myself that I could still move, I stood up to make a photograph with my telephoto lens through my eclipse glasses. Mind completely blown. I then decided to make a picture about every five minutes from that point on. The above is what resulted, a composite of 16 images from just before peak to conclusion. I know it doesn’t show the prized totality, the Baily’s beads effect (the “Diamond ring”), or differ than all the other partial eclipse photos ever recorded. But I howled joyfully like a coyote after every frame, and for me, that’s all that matters.

The next day, I repeated this moment on Raven’s Nest at sunset. Seagulls chattered, the cobbled clapped in the outgoing tide, the sea breeze stroked evergreen branches. I peered (through my protective glasses, of course) at the now naked sun, shining in its full glory. The waxing crescent moon now smiling, smugly almost, as if it was proud of itself for the commotion it had caused the day before. I wondered how many other people of the millions who experienced the eclipse yesterday had bothered to sit and enjoy today’s ephemeral moments? I felt so grateful that I have the freedom to taste, enjoy, and appreciate the natural world essentially any time I wish. Others, through circumstance or choice, are not so fortunate.

Sarah Gilman wrote an eloquent essay recently, which summed up my sentiments perfectly: “How would we come to understand our world if we learned to turn this attention on its everyday wonders? What would we save from our own ravenous appetites? If hordes of people pulled off the highway randomly to stare at an old growth Douglas fir, if they did it to watch the way a stream carves through a canyon, or even the way a swarm of flirting gnats become a galaxy when lit by a sunbeam?”

YES, THIS!!

Read the full piece, “Lessons in the moon’s shadows,” here: http://www.hcn.org/articles/essay-people-places-lessons-from-the-eclipse.

There’s big hype for the next solar eclipse throughout Maine, for on April 8, 2024, the path of totality will split the state in half.  In a place where I already spend two to three months a year, I have a feeling I know where I’ll be then. Maybe I’ll photograph it. Maybe I won’t. I’ll decide how to celebrate yet another fleeting moment, as I did on Monday and all days, precisely when it happens.

And that, I think, is living life, not just a single moment, in the path of its totality.