Jan 212016
 

Looking for some great tips and inspiration for getting into–and surviving and enjoying!–the outdoor photography industry?  I recently had a blast serving as a featured guest on the very popular Take & Talk Pics podcast with Rob Krueger.

In this exciting one-hour episode titled “Go 4 It,” I share my story about how I got into this business and how I operate today in hopes of helping those who are either in the outdoor photography world professionally or are seriously considering it further their own interests.  However, even those who simply love and enjoy of photography as a hobby will hopefully also draw inspiration from our talk.

To listen to the podcast (free of charge), visit takeandtalkpics.com/go-for-it-colleen-miniuk-sperry or head over to iTunes to download via the direct link:  itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/take-talk-pics-rob-krueger/id982926616?mt=2.  Some of the key topics we cover include:

  • What my mantra “You Can Sleep When You’re Dead” really means
  • How photographing everything BUT landscape photography for several years helped me become a better outdoor photographer today
  • Why bringing curiosity to my work is my most important business practice
  • The one bad business habit I’d like to break
  • The three key things photographers can do to grow and succeed in the photography industry
  • And much more!

Need more convincing?  Take & Talk Pics founder and interviewer, Rob Krueger, had this to say in his write-up about our discussion: “Now Photo World it has been months since I have had an episode go much further than my usual 30 minutes of amazing content but today is nearly twice that. After getting to know Colleen a bit I knew that she had a lot to share with you as you grow on your own journey’s. Also I can’t even remember the last time I wet [sic] over all of my questions for an interview. I am glad to say that today’s episode is saturated with value…”

So GO FOR IT!  Have a listen!  You can sleep when you’re dead!

(And if you like what you hear or have additional tips based on your experience, please feel free to leave a comment about it here on this blog post or on Rob’s at takeandtalkpics.com/go-for-it-colleen-miniuk-sperry)

~Colleen

Jan 202016
 
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Paddling among the mangrove forest on the Buck Key Paddle Trail off the shores of Captiva Island, Florida

My toes curled tightly around the cool, white grains of soft sand as I looked to the angry inky clouds to the south.  Not again, I thought, shaking my head.

I apprehensively scanned the perfectly still, cerulean backwater bay to the east of Captiva Island.  Ruminations of my past felt as heavy as the muggy Florida air I now breathed. Only five weeks had passed since my mom and I frantically clung to life, paddling with all our strength and spirit through unexpected stormy six-foot swells on Lake Powell in Utah.  Staring into similar threatening conditions, I was hesitant to offer history such a hasty repeat invitation, especially during my first time climbing back onto a stand-up paddleboard since that harrowing event.  But my anxiety about the weather could not drown my enthusiasm to paddle in unfamiliar territory.

The cordial, clean-shaven 30-something-year-old attendant at the water sports rental hut at the ‘Tweens Water Inn broke my trance. “Let me check the weather forecast for you,” he said while spinning around to meet his computer’s keyboard.

“Heavy rain in 30 minutes,” he yelled back after a few seconds.

I slowly touched my red rain jacket and black waterproof pants, which hid my new black two-piece swimsuit. I dressed to get wet—rain or shine.  My concerns stirred elsewhere.

“What about wind?” I asked while stroking my chin and staring at the summoning sea.

“Nothing significant, just four-to-five miles per hour all afternoon,” he calmly responded.

“If the wind kicks up, does this bay see big swells?” I asked stoically, trying to learn more about the Buck Key Paddle Trail—an aquatic path I had never paddled on before.

“Not really, this area is pretty protected by Buck Key,” he said, pointing to a mangrove-covered strip of land across the narrow Roosevelt Channel.

“If I go out for 30 minutes and the weather gets really bad, what happens?” I continued without changing my gaze.

“You’ll get wet, but who cares? If you make it to the trail, you can hide out there until whatever happens passes.”

My eyes widened as a devious smile grew on my face. Like a pirate or rum-runner trying to outrun authorities (including the most dominant powers of them all—Mother Nature’s hurricanes), I too could find a safe haven in the sinuous waterways lined by twisted gangling mangrove roots. Perhaps history and I could play together nicely after all this morning.

“Let’s do this then!” I responded with a sharp clap of my hands.

He nodded with a grin equal to my own. While I filled out the legal paperwork, he effortlessly pulled a long stand-up paddleboard off the rack of many and then positioned it partially in the water to ease my launch from the gently sloping beach.

As I looped the board’s bungee cord over my large purple dry bag to secure it to my rented board, I looked up at him, “Soooo, how about gators?”

“What about gators?”

“Am I going to run into any out there in the bay or on the trail?”

“There’s a three-foot gator that’s been sunning himself in the bayou. You might see him before you turn right into the trail.  Here’s a map.”

“Do you know if he’s had breakfast yet?” I asked only half-jokingly as I tucked the laminated trail map under my dry bag.

He laughed but did not respond.  Nervously, I then added, “Here’s hoping so. Otherwise he’s going to have a yummy side of granola and peach yogurt with his six-foot tall human main course today.”

Kneeling on my board, I submerged my paddle and pushed the island’s beach away from me to start my two-mile journey under overcast skies—and more importantly, no wind.  However, with the line of dark clouds approaching, I swiftly headed to the lagoon’s entrance a half-mile away, paying little attention to the immaculate mansions and the old dilapidated boats (apparently used only by resting and grooming cormorants and anhingas) lining the canal.

When I arrived at the narrow opening for Braynerd’s Bayou, I balked. An unsettling three-foot wide cut beneath a canopy of eight-foot mangroves offered entrance to the Buck Key Preserve—and the water trail I was to follow.  I shuddered and thought to myself, “Where did he say that gator was?”

I inhaled a healthy dose of courage with the salty sea air.  I exhaled fear, hoping the nascent light breeze would carry it away.  Goosebumps emerged on my arms and legs, though I could not tell if my irrational worries or the chilly winds (or both) were the sneaky culprits.

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Great white pelicans float in Braynerd’s Bayou

Pushing the opaque waters away from my board, I propelled myself a short 100 feet before the tree tunnel gave way to an open sky and a storybook tranquil cove. Brown pelicans flew overhead in a clumsy V-shaped pattern. American white pelicans floated like graceful swans. An occasional splash from a mullet leaping into mid-air reminded me of the unseen underwater world no doubt bustling under my feet. A chirping osprey overlooked this magical outdoor kingdom while roosting on his dead-snag throne like a somber-faced gargoyle warding off evil spirits.

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The Buck Key Paddle “Trailhead”

I stopped paddling in hopes of traveling unnoticed in this exotic bay, but a subtle current pulled me closer to the northern edge of the bayou where the official canoe/kayak trail supposedly began. When I drifted in front of a small, cave-like opening in the mangroves, I searched for a trail sign or marker, anything that could help answer my anxious psyche’s question, “You really want me to go in there?”

Unintentionally splashing my feet with drops of tepid water, I swirled my board around with strong backwards paddle strokes to survey my scene from left to right in search of a better option—and to spot that three-foot creature lurking somewhere around here. Along the western shore, I spotted a dark, long object. Gator or deadwood?  I was not about to paddle over there to find out.

Without any effort of my own, the beckoning waterway’s swirling flow rotated my board 180-degrees to allow me to confront the trail’s intimidating entrance once again. I snapped a few pictures of the watery “trailhead” as teasing raindrops started tapping the water’s surface. I extended my arm and turned my right palm face up toward the unleashing sky to feel the soft drizzly dance against my own skin. I took another deep breath, filling my lungs with the earthy, rotten-egg aroma of the mangrove forests now enhanced by the onset of rain.  I grinned.  Time to play pirate.

I dropped to my knees to avoid hitting my head on the low-hanging lanky branches hugging the waterway—and to prevent me from falling off my board into the three-to-four-feet of mangrove muck.  As I slipped into the trail’s grasp, I instantly felt transported to the Dagobah System from the Star Wars movies. Yoda could have dropped out of the trees without startling me.

I alternated paddling and pushing myself off the reddish-brown roots dipping their toes in the brackish six-foot wide channel.  As I snaked through this sheltered dreamlike hideout, I studied Buck Key’s sandy uninhabited landscape veiled behind the wall of green. I contemplated whether I could survive off this land as well as the Calusa Indians once had among their shell mounds. Shy mangrove crabs scurrying among the branches indicated these little critters obviously could prosper here. I wondered if the pirates and rum-runners paused for even a second from their illicit business to appreciate the incredible beauty of their temporary surroundings similar to these.

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Collection of algae-covered shells on Buck Key

After a little more than a half mile of paddling, the shaded waterway greeted the undulating waves of the expansive Pine Island Sound. As if to tempt me to remain in the trail’s dry confines even longer, an elegant great blue heron swooped from one branch to another close enough for me to hear the flap of its wings slice smoothly through the sultry air. Imagining my good fortune could not get any better, within seconds, a giant eagle ray jumped out of the channel waters, flashing his black-spotted body and bleach white underside to the emerging sun—and to me gazing in awe a mere 100 feet away. I closed my eyes and shrugged my shoulders to curl around the warm, welcoming northerly breeze. I counted my many treasures from this experience. I liked being a pirate.

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A juvenile osprey rests on a twisted mangrove branch – spotted en route back to the hotel’s marina.

With the fast-moving current threatening to push me quickly back into Buck Key’s embrace, I stood up on my paddleboard and shook the stiffness from my folded legs before digging my paddle into the sea to return to my hotel.

As I approached the resort’s marina, the same sun-tanned gent who had helped me launch earlier appeared from the rental hut with a friendly smile.

“Well, how was it?”

“Fantastic! The gator was apparently full!” I joked as I slid my board into the beach. “Seriously though, paddling through the tight canopy of a mangrove forest was so different than anything I’ve ever done. I’m from Arizona, where I’m used to paddling under big open landscapes where you can see forever.”

He nodded his head as if he understood.

“Were you fine in the rain?” he asked.

“What rain?” I responded, then slyly smiled and started humming Disney’s popular Pirates of the Caribbean song to myself, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”

 

Many thanks to the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort and Spa for hosting the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors and Officers during our winter board meeting activities this past January.  Their outstanding support made this adventure possible.  If the thought of floating gently through a tunnel of green, communing with wildlife, and savoring the ocean air entices you, you won’t soon forget a paddling trip (via canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard) from Captiva Island!  I can’t wait to return…

The Outdoor Writers Association of America awarded this blog entry Second Place in the “Outdoor Fun & Adventure” category in the 2017 Excellence in Craft awards.

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View of Pine Island Sound from the Roosevelt Channel

Jan 022016
 

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy New Year everyone!

Happy 2016! May yours be filled with many new and rich experiences! Me celebrating reaching mile 125 on Lake Powell this past November. Photograph courtesy of Jacque Miniuk

During my blissful month-long break from the social media world following our harrowing, but completely amazing Lake Powell paddling adventure, I have enjoyed ample time to reflect on the many highlights—and a few challenges—that transpired over the past year in both my personal and professional life.  (The time also enabled me to write over 34,000 words for the adventure travel book I wish to publish encapsulating the exhilarating experience and profound life lessons I took away from our trip…and I still have about 50 pages of handwritten notes to transcribe!  I digress…)

In 2015, I celebrated my 8th year as a full-time freelance outdoor photographer/writer and relished many professional highlights, including but not limited to:

  • Released the expanded second edition of Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers book, which then won three categories in the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Best Travel Book, Best Crafts/Hobby/How-to Book, and the prestigious Best Book on Arizona.
  • Published my first photography instructional eBook, Seeing the Light in Outdoor Photography
  • Reached over $1,600 in donations from the sale of Photographing Acadia National Park to the Schoodic Institute/Acadia National Park to help support the Schoodic Education Adventure program.
  • Worked with a whole host of dear friends and new people in various photography workshops and camera club presentations across the U.S.
  • Received the OWAA Outstanding Board Member award for the second year in a row.
  • Introduced my poetry to the public via my blog.

Of maybe even importance to me, I had some of the most memorable experiences with my family and fabulous friends to date.  Moments like these (and too many others to list) certainly enriched my life this year:

  • Camping beneath the stars atop Hunts Mesa on the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops (AHPW) “Women’s Photo Retreat.”
  • Getting the entire campground at City of Rocks National Reserve to howl with the coyotes.
  • Camping and hiking around Lee’s Ferry with my parents during a spectacular wildflower bloom in the high desert.
  • Listening to a thunderstorm pass while taking refuge in an alcove covered in ancient rock art.
  • Staying up all night with my OWAA friends at the annual conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Taking Lava, my favorite Denali National Park sled dog, on walks while visiting my awesome friends in the park.
  • Swinging on an outdoor swing with my friends in Kananaskis Country in Alberta, Canada.
  • Outrunning waves on the beach with my AHPW Oregon workshop participants.
  • High-fiving my brother while catching arctic grayling.
  • Discovering beautiful new locations in Acadia, thanks to my local buddy.
  • Playing poker with one of my best buds while camping in a snowstorm.
  • Paddling 40 incredible miles on Lake Powell with my mom.

In this vein, last year, I became much more connected with the experience of making photographs and appreciated the immense joy I found in the little (and big) things while exploring my favorite locations and seeing new ones.  In honor of a wild 2015, I would like to share my favorite 16 photographs created last year.  Here goes, in chronological order:

 1.  “Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake,” Prescott, Arizona (January 23, 2015)
Before leading an Arizona Highways Photography Workshops at Watson Lake, I managed to sneak in a free day of my own photography.  The view – and Arizona’s gorgeous sunset – didn’t disappoint.  Read more about this image on my “Making the Image: Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake” blog post

Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake

“Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

2.  “The Stone Butterfly,” Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada (February 17, 2015)
To see more photos from this geologically-fascinating place and hear some thoughts I had about photographing iconic places while visiting this park in February, visit my previous blog post “Icon (or Icon-not) Photograph the Icons in Valley of Fire”.

The Stone Butterfly

“The Stone Butterfly” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

 

3.  “Underneath It All,” Carl Washburne State Park Oregon (May 14, 2015)
Carl Washburne State Park has become one of my photographic “homes,” a completely nondescript location that speaks to me.  Even though I live in Arizona, I try to make it up to the mid-Oregon coast at least once or twice a year for extended stays to explore this lovely stretch of beach.  It changes constantly and I love seeing the surprises it offers, like these wind-sculpted dried sand patterns beneath the sand dunes.

Underneath It All

“Underneath It All” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

4. “On Becoming a Wave,” Cannon Beach, Oregon (May 22, 2015)
As those who join me on my workshops know, I very rarely pick up a camera while I teach (so as to focus on the participants’ needs and growth).  On the AHPW Oregon Sampler workshop, though, I carried my camera on our final sunrise shoot at picturesque Cannon Beach and ended up using it to help demonstrate how to get engaged with your subject so much so that you pretend that you are that subject.  In this case, several in the workshop group became a wave with me as they reached the beach.  The experience was so meaningful to me, I ended up taking home this image and later writing a poem about it–which you can read more about on my blog post “Making the Image and Poem: On Becoming a Wave.”

On Becoming a Wave

“On Becoming a Wave” (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

 

5.  “Frozen in Time,” Matanuska Glacier, Alaska (June 4, 2015)
When I stepped off the plane in Anchorage, Alaska to visit my friends, Jen and Michael, Jen surprised me and drove me straight to the Matanuska Glacier (given my love of ice, how nice was that?!).  I think I walked maybe 100 yards from the parking area before I completely lost my marbles upon seeing the most intriguing ice mud I’d ever seen.

Frozen in Time

“Frozen in Time” (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

 

6. “On the Edge,” Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
While spending time with good friends, we made an impromptu stop at Mistaya Canyon.  I wasn’t initially feeling inspired to make a photograph at this popular tourist location until I sat and watched this tree watch the river rage by it.  By studying it, I was able to visualize and eventually create this image.

On the Edge

“On the Edge” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

7. Joy in the Little Things, Henry Mountains, Utah (July 19, 2015)
In hopes of escaping the heat (and to formally discuss plans for a new collaborative book…), I headed to the cooler high elevations of the Henry Mountains with my good buddy and very talented photographer/writer, Guy Tal.  We stopped en route for a short break, but when I saw this beautiful yellow salsify I just had to photograph with my macro lens…so it became a very long break on the side of the dirt road…!

Joy in the Little Things

“Joy in the Little Things” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

8.  “Unfurl Your Tendrils,” Henry Mountains, Utah (July 20, 2015)
Merely one day after I made “Joy in the Little Things,” we saw ample wildflowers while exploring the mountains, including this sego lily in unique form.  I tried to channel Georgia O’Keefe paintings when making this top down abstract/macro perspective.

Unfurl Your Tendrils

“Unfurl Your Tendrils” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

9.  “Palm of the Earth,” Cainville Badlands, Utah (July 20, 2015)
During my trip to the Henry Mountains, Guy and I decided to check out the badlands at much lower (hotter) elevations in hopes of getting a summer monsoon storm and dappled light. Instead we had mostly cloudy skies, but that did not stop me from falling in love with the area and seemingly endless compositions it offered.

Palm of the Earth

“Palm of the Earth” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

10.  “Stone and Lace,” Poison Springs Canyon, Utah (July 22, 2015)
Toward the end of my summer trip to southern Utah, we stopped by Poison Springs Canyon and found some gorgeous tafoni along the canyon walls.  I converted this mid-day photograph to black and white to help emphasize the form, shape, and textures – the color wasn’t important to my message so I eliminated it.

Stone and Lace

“Stone and Lace” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

11. “A New Day Begins,” Acadia National Park, Maine (October 7, 2015)
Due to warm weather and a lack of precipitation, autumn arrived to the coast of Maine almost two weeks later than normal.  While waiting for fall colors (and my workshop group) to arrive, I visited some favorite old haunts, like Monument Cove.

A New Day Begins

“A New Day Begins” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

12.  “Splendor of the Season,” Acadia National Park, Maine (October 17, 2015)
And when autumn finally arrived to the coastal park, it didn’t disappoint (it never does!).  With the low sweet blueberry bush glowing its characteristic lip-stick red coat for fall, I headed to Cadilliac Mountain’s summit at sunrise to celebrate the season of change.

Splendor of the Season

“Splendor of the Season” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

13.  “Autumn Whispers in the Water,” Acadia National Park, Maine (October 19, 2015)
On my final day in the park, I became memorized by the palette of reflected colors in Jordan Stream.  To learn more about how I made this photograph, visit my blog post “Making the Image: A Whisper in the Water.”

A Whisper in the Water

“A Whisper in the Water” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

14.  “Sunrise Serenity at Warm Creek Bay,” Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona (October 28, 2015)
In preparation for our longer Lake Powell adventure, my Mom and I made a three-day trial run there in late October.  You might believe the reason I made this image was because of the colors in the sky, and you’d be partially right.  The primary reason I photographed here, though, is this is where my mom “cowboy camped” beneath the stars without a tent for the first time in her 64-years. I rolled over in my sleeping bag the next morning and snapped this image to commemorate this proud achievement!

Sunrise Serenity at Warm Creek Bay

“Sunrise Serenity at Warm Creek Bay” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

15.  “Frozen Flurries,” my friend’s windshield after a snowstorm in southern Utah (November 12, 2015)
Photographing ice on my friend’s windshield reminded me that a personally meaningful photograph does not necessarily start with a beautiful location, but rather a photographer’s own observations, curiosity, appreciation, and confidence to visually express moments and experiences he/she deems important…even in the most unusual places.

Frozen Flurries

“Frozen Flurries” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 


16.  “Reverie in the Canyon ,” Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah (December 17, 2015)
Needing some downtime to process the events from our paddle on Lake Powell and the entire year as a whole, I headed up to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to photograph ice in the canyons with my friend.  While we found plenty of ice, we also found beautiful iridescent biofilm floating on the creeks’ slow moving surface, which led to the creation of my final image of 2015.

Reverie in the Canyon

“Reverie in the Canyon” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

But wait, there’s more! Since I introduced my poetry this year, I will throw in my favorite poem I penned last July as a bonus:

“Around the Campfire”

The back of beyond
Hunches over the maddening voices
Of yesterday.  Time enough,
Cold enough to build a fire.

Tails of haunted demons whip
In the fury of the crackling flames,
Spewing embers that sear

Your cozy sweater
And singe unforgiving memories
Into your weathered and weary flesh.
A naked soul bared on stone watching,

Thirsting for answers to rise,
Rise out of the brazen ash,
Exhaling a soaring phoenix
In whorls of smoke.

Aspens rustle,
Clouds cry,
Freedom stirs
In the wind’s sigh.

Obscurities melt
Into the nothingness
Of the Earth. Welcome
To your life of rapture.

 

So what’s on tap for 2016?  I learned a whole lot about myself this year – as one often does when hardship shows up on your doorstep unexpectedly.  Among many other things, I determined I’m not a photographer who likes to write, but rather a writer who loves to photograph.  Also, my passion for helping others enjoy the Great Outdoors only continues to intensify.  To blend those two realizations together, I am adjusting my priorities slightly to focus on some super exciting new adventures and writing/book projects.  Stay tuned for more!

As we kick off 2016, I remain very grateful to you for your continued support, encouragement, friendship, and laughs through it all as allows me to continue to grow as a human being, live an incredibly fulfilling life, and keep pursuing my dreams.  So thank you!

Cheers to you for a bright and joyful new year!  As Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote above encourages, I hope you live 2016, “taste it, experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”  And of course, keep shooting!

~Colleen