Jan 212021
 

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping your 2021 is off to a bright start.

I certainly don’t need to remind anyone that 2020 wasn’t the year we had all planned. Yet, as I kept in touch with people across our virtual communications lines, I’ve heard so many stories about how we each still found moments of peace, of hope and joy, of awe and wonder. Those are the memories worth packing along with us as we move into a new year of opportunities–so I offer these images of mine, none of which were expected, but all welcomed, all where I found peace, hope, joy, awe, and wonder rolled together, as a celebration of the 2020, the Year O’Change:

Just Another Speck of Dust
Death Valley National Park, CA
January 2020

 

Those Ghost Trees
Yosemite National Park, CA
February 2020

 

Losing My Marbles
Acadia National Park, ME
February 2020

Graceful Transitions
Acadia National Park, ME
February 2020


Together Again

Tonto National Forest, AZ
April 2020

 

Christine’s Cactus
Tonto National Forest, AZ
April 2020


Happy Today

Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area, AZ
April 2020 (on my 45th birthday!)

 

Make Your Point
Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area, AZ
April 2020


Past, Present, and Future

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
July 2020

 

Ode to Desert Winds and Water
Bears Ears National Monument, UT
July 2020

 

Tartan of the Wheatgrass
Devils Canyon Campground, UT
August 2020

 

Commanding Attention
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
August 2020


The Looking Glass

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
August 2020


Green and Red Coming Together

Canyonlands National Park, UT
October 2020


Spinning in Infinity

Canyonlands National Park, UT
October 2020


Where Affections Lie

Canyonlands National Park, UT
October 2020

 

Jumping into Adventure
Kanab Creek Wilderness Area, AZ
October 2020

 

Take Center Stage
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
October 2020

 

The Edge of No Limits
Kanab Creek Wilderness Area, AZ
October 2020

 

More Than Sand
Jewel of the Creek Preserve, AZ
October 2020

 

The Desert’s Devotion
Cienaga Creek Natural Preserve, AZ (it’s Davidson Creek, though)
October 2020

 

The Trees for the Forest
Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog, AL
November 2020


Sea Shell Serenade

Gulf Shores, AL
November 2020

 

There you have it! If you wish to hear and see an in-depth review on eight of these images, swing over to Vimeo for a special presentation of “Making the Photographs: The 2020 Edition.” (Use discount code GROW2021 to get 20% off!) I cover what caught my attention, technical and creative challenges in the field, compositional decisions, and processing techniques. Hear the “what” and, more importantly, the “why” in hopes you get new ideas for your own work in 2021.

For more photographs, stories, and perhaps laughs–hey, if you cringe at your old work, you’re growing as a photographer and human, and that’s something to celebrate!–here are the links:
(I apparently took a few years off after 2017…)

I hope you too take a second or longer to reflect on your year’s journey. I hope you recognize how your kindness, generosity, perseverance and inspiration has made a difference for me–and for all of us–during this tough time. As we start 2021, let’s hang on to all of that. Let’s keep making the world a brighter and better place together through our photography and unique stories. Now, more than ever, I hope our paths cross “out there” safely later this year.

Until then, be well, be wild–and be safe! Hugs, high fives, and fist bumps to all,
~Colleen

Oct 252020
 

The confluence of the Green (left) and Colorado (right) rivers on the final morning of my paddle adventure.

This is the first October in 11 years that I’m not in Acadia National Park adoring the coast and chasing fall colors. Ongoing pandemic concerns and strict travel constraints cancelled my photography workshops there this year (one of which would have started today…). Those same reasons cancelled my appearance at this year’s Out of Acadia conference too. When I made those tough decisions, I felt sadness, disappointment, and frustration.

Requisite selfie at the start of my trip at Potash Boat Ramp

You know what wasn’t cancelled, though? Life.

I decided to use this unusual gift of time to explore another place that holds great meaning to me: the Colorado River. A couple of weeks ago, I went on a six-day solo paddle on my stand-up paddleboard through Meander Canyon, a 47-mile stretch of flatwater through Canyonlands National Park outside of Moab, Utah I’d not yet experienced—but had wanted to for years.

I launched at the Potash Boat Ramp, and after learning to faithfully follow the bubble line around sand bars to avoid getting stuck, watching big horn sheep rams climb impossible cliff walls, and listening to the river lave the shore each night, I ended at the magical confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. I even had the confluence to myself for 21 whole hours! Yes, tutus and dancing and wine were involved! Don’t worry, eagles and ravens supervised.

So while Acadia wasn’t in the cards for this year, the trip gave me the chance to not only get some fresh air and deepen my connection with the river (which did wonders to uplift my spirits), but it also helped me create new photos for an upcoming exhibition and gather words for a new book project.

As my smart mama used to tell me growing up, “If one door closes, push another one open.” You just never know what kind of meanders your life will take…

See below for some photographs from the trip:

My first camp after a 16-mile paddle, near mile 31 (distance measured from the confluence)

 

Foam bubbles collected against my SUP during a rest stop. How long do you think I stood there and photographed them?!

 

Sunrise view from my camp on Day 3 (near mile 12). I hadn’t intended on traveling so far on the second day (about 20 miles), but camps weren’t exactly where they were supposed to be per the map… I was treated to this glorious sand bar and view for my extra efforts.

 

The Loop refers to an S-curve in the river that travels four river miles but loops back to within a quarter-mile of itself. From this viewpoint, which required a stair-step climb for a half-mile, you can see both sides of the river at the same time…this is the beginning of the Loop looking downstream at mile 11.

 

The Colorado River had remarkably low sediment, so the bucket I brought to settle water using alum became an extra piece of gear to drag along…until I realized I could fill it with cool water and have it serve as my wine cooler!

 

View from my camp on Day 3 (mile 7). I had blue skies almost the entire trip–except for night 3 (and the last morning of my trip at the confluence). As the sun started to set, a few poofs of clouds crested the cliffs in front of me. Then a few more, then streaks. I ran to the nearest eddy, which was all of ten feet in front of my tent, to make this image. As I like to say, sometimes “we must suffer for our art.” (LOL)

 

The view from my SUP on day 4, about 5-6 miles from the confluence

 

Looking downsteam at the Colorado River (officially the start of Cataract Canyon) after the Green and Colorado merged at sunset on day 5.

 

Sunrise at the confluence looking towards the Green River on day 6.

 

Jumping for joy at the confluence where I camped for two nights until the Tex’s Riverways jetboat picked me up and returned me to Potash (a two-hour-plus boat ride UP the Colorado River).

 

While the trip was 47 river miles, my Garmin InReach logged 57.5 miles from start to finish. Why the 10.5 mile discrepancy? The extra distance I likely covered constantly zig-zagging across the river following the bubbles and avoiding sand bars…(which I was mostly successful at doing…)

Apr 212020
 

What do you do when your photography workshops get cancelled and you can’t see your photography friends? Why, you get together remotely and make a video from home instead!

In hopes of spreading joy and laughs, a group of women from my Sheography community recently joined in from across the United States and Canada and, well, we wanted to have some fun. Here’s what we came up with: https://youtu.be/JOGylOUFzwY

Thank you to all the amazing women who contributed to this compilation video–and involved their spouses, grandkids, pets, inflatable flamingos, toilet paper, maybe even Sasquatch, and of course, bubbles! It was a blast to put together with all of them. We hope it brightens your day!

Learn more about Sheography, my all-women’s photography workshops, at www.sheography.com. We put the HER in photograpHER. And as you can see, FUN is always on the schedule! Even in quarantine!

Be well, be safe, be wild!
Colleen

Change the Game

 Posted by at 7:33 AM  Inspiration
Mar 262020
 

PHOTO: A quick iPhone snap of my backyard camp. It ain’t a beach on a river, but it’s still home…

Two nights ago, I heard the hoot-hoot hoot-hoot-hoot of an owl calling through my open window in the dark. I couldn’t understand what it had to say, or if it was saying anything at all, my mind cluttered by coronavirus, uncertainty, and change. But it soothed me.

I’ve been home now for 25 days straight, an eternity for a wanderer like me. It’d be easy to feel sad, disappointed, even angry, as plans to float rivers, photograph coastlines, spend time with friends and family, and more fell apart in what feels like a blink of an eye. An understandably distraught friend wrote me yesterday, “Life has been cancelled!”

When he said that, I recalled the owl’s song. The owl knows nothing about the plight of the human race right now. It’s life isn’t cancelled. Although it may feel otherwise, and that’s ok, ours isn’t either. Life is still happening all around us. It’s ours to still live fully, albeit differently, if we so choose.

Late last night, I walked into my gear room, where my still-packed dry bags for a cancelled river trip sat stacked neatly in a line. I dug out my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, and headlamp, maybe some dark chocolate-covered cherries too. I headed to the patch of artificial grass in my backyard to camp with the palo verde tree, Orion, and of course, the owl. If I couldn’t be on a river or on a coast, I could still be outside.

Around three, I woke again to the familiar chorus: Hoot-hoot hoot-hoot-hoot. The owls message was now clear to me: If you can’t change the rules, change the game.

I’ll be sleeping outside again tonight…

Mar 202020
 

Hi everyone!

I recently had a series of speaking engagements cancelled. Understandable, considering the crazy state of the world right now. (Here’s hoping you and yours are well…and you have plenty of toilet paper…wash your hands!)

But life and learning doesn’t have to come to a complete stop because of self-quarantines and shelter-in-place orders. We just need to approach things differently right now. As is said, “If you can’t change the rules, change the game…”

So in lieu of presenting in person at the local camera clubs, I offered a FREE educational webinar on Thursday, March 19 on a presentation topic I was set to deliver to one club, “Critiquing Your Own Work.”

During this educational talk, I shared:

  • A framework and series of questions to ask more objectively evaluate your photographs
  • Examples of successful and less-than-successful photographs to help attendees evaluate composition, lighting, depth of field, focus, story/visual message, color, motion, and more.
  • The most common pitfalls photographers make (mergers, tilted horizons, etc.) and how to resolve them.

I also hosted a brief Q&A session at the end.

To watch, visit https://youtu.be/ojnO9VBjnZE (the video should appear below in the original blog post):

Because this webinar was so much fun for me (and hopefully for the attendees too!), I plan to expand my online offerings in the coming weeks to include:

  • One-hour webinars on new topics with Q&A
  • Small group interactive critique sessions
  • Photography Basics Bootcamp (a multi-week series with presentations and interactive critiques)

If you’d like to receive notifications about future webinars and other online offerings with me, please join my Newsletter mailing list at http://cms-photo.com/newsletter.html if you aren’t on it already.

Enjoy! And stay tuned!

Be well, be wild, and be safe!
Colleen

Nov 202019
 

Dear Bubbles

I get questions all the time via email, on social media, and during my photography workshops. About anything and everything. I love questions, especially ones that make everyone think.

For whatever reason, the Universe exploded with a greater quantity of inquiries than normal last week. I joked after answering a string of them, “You know, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I started a ‘Dear Bubbles’ advice column?” After I stopped giggling–and I turned off my prefrontal cortex–my next thought was, “Why not?!”

With that, I am excited to introduce my newest endeavor, “Dear Bubbles!” It’ll be an advice column for you, by you. You ask questions about photography, art, and the creative life. Each Wednesday, I’ll shoot out an answer (maybe even a bubbly one!) to a featured question.

For example, Laurie asked, “Why is it the more I learn the worse my photos get?” Awesome question! Have you ever felt this way? I have! You can see my response–the first Dear Bubbles conversation ever!–at www.dearbubbles.com.

So, what’s on your mind? What are you struggling with or curious about? How can I help with your photography? Anything goes! If I can somehow make things a little easier on you, if we can learn and laugh together in this journey, awesome sauce. That’s my hope! The world and outdoor photography industry could use more positive energy, more bubbles, right? Right!

Hit me up with your questions either here in the Comments below or via my email at cms@cms-photo.com. Then keep an eye on www.dearbubbles.com on Wednesdays! You never know what might bubble up…

~Bubbles

Nov 142019
 
Choose Wisely

“Choose Wisely,” Acadia National Park, ME || Prints available! Click on photo to order yours!

If you’ve spent any amount of time in photography, you’ve inevitably heard about the “rules” of composition. Specifically, we hear messages like “Make the most of leading lines,” “Look for balance,” and my favorite, “If you place your primary subject in the center of your frame–outside one of the four intersection points of the Rule of Thirds–you’ll spontaneously combust.” Then, once we understand what those rules are, we’re advised to “Break the Rules.”

The so-called rules of composition were designed to help photographers organize the chaos of nature into a rectangular frame. Although well-intentioned, such simplistic advice has unfortunately misguided many-a-photographer into believing that following the rules will result in an effective photograph. See, the trouble with rules is they only get you so far—at best, a beautiful, technically-perfect image…which may also look formulaic and uninspiring to you and your viewers.

The key to better composition in photography is not adhering to the Rule of Thirds “better.” It’s not “Making the most of leading lines” more often either (To be honest, I have no idea what that even means). The rules tell us what to do, but fail to explain why we should employ such techniques.

The path to better composition starts with developing your own meaning of a subject or scene then deliberately designing your frame such that you convey that meaning through your use of positioning, visual weight, balance, lines, layers, light, and color. If you understand human perception, you can arrange your visual elements to get your viewers to see and feel exactly what you wish. That is, if you pay attention to how humans think and interpret the world, you already know the “rules” of composition.

I call the above photograph, “Choose Wisely.” When I came upon the scene at Little Long Pond in Acadia National Park in Maine this past fall, I was first drawn to the stark contrast between the colorful and vibrant maple tree on the left of the frame and the bare one on the right. I started wondering what could have caused such a disparity between two trees so close together.

I also started visualizing how I could compose my frame to showcase this difference. I had already decided I didn’t need the full set of branches included in my frame, which dictated the use of a telephoto lens to zoom in on my subject. I had already decided I didn’t need the foggy sky in my frame either to convey my message. It was only after I asked myself whether I needed to show the trunks of the trees when I noticed the small conifer beneath these two maples and a new, more powerful message started to surface.

I started making up a story about this evergreen tree, thinking it appeared to have two choices ahead of it as it grew into adulthood: a vibrant and full life (left tree) or a bare one. But it actually had a third: to be its own self in the only way a conifer knows how. This story set the foundation for all my compositional decisions—I wanted to convey this story, or at least one close to it, with my viewers.

To do so, I intentionally positioned the evergreen an equal distance from either maple tree to show a “stuck-in-the-middle” pull between the two “choices,” the two trees, which I gave equal space to in the frame to create a balance of power between the two—a classic “good vs. evil” conflict. By including a substantial amount of the height in the deciduous trees relative to the smaller conifer in my frame, I established an authoritative relationship (e.g., an adult-child relationship). I experimented in raising and lowering my tripod to give the evergreen just enough space to imply upward growth. (I definitely didn’t want any of its branches touching either of the other trees.) I chose a vertical composition over a more peaceful horizontal orientation to increase tension and drama. In processing, I darkened the background to allow the little evergreen, which was catching a touch of light from the sky on the side facing me, to stand out more.

Did I make the most of leading lines? No.

Did I place my subject in the intersection points of the Rule of Thirds? Again no. (And guess what? I haven’t spontaneously combusted…yet…).

Did I pay attention to balance? You bet I did, but not in the way I’ve been told to do.

Did I do so to follow rules of composition? Honestly, I couldn’t care less.

Did I deliver the story in the way I wanted to? Absolutely. This is what I wanted to say about my experience with these trees in Acadia that afternoon.

As Robert Henri said, “Making lines run into each other is not composition. There must be motive for the connection. Get the art of controlling the observer – that is composition.”

So when it comes to composition for your own photographs, rules or human perception? Choose wisely.

Aug 142019
 
Walk the Line

“Walk the Line” in Death Valley, CA || Prints available–click on photo to order yours!

The question “Does every photograph have to have meaning?” came up in one of my Death Valley photography workshops earlier this year. In the flurry of excitement in the workshop’s final hours, I didn’t get the chance to clarify the context of the question with the inquirer, but I assumed there was a flavor of “Why can’t I make an image just because I think it’s beautiful?” behind it. I’ve been noodling on the notion ever since–so much so that I decided to pen an article about it summarizing my thoughts.

If you’d like to hear some of my musings about this topic, check out my latest article with On Landscape, titled “Meaning: You Get to Decide.”

A reasonable subscription (which helps On Landscape pay a fair wage to contributors for their work and keeps their site free of advertising) is required to read the full article. You’ll get access to not only this piece, though, but also additional fabulous insights from talented photographers like Guy Tal, Rafael Rojas, Tim Parkin, Alister Benn, and many others. I routinely find inspirational ideas to improve my work through this online publication.

So what do you think? Does every photograph have to have meaning? Do all of your photographs carry specific meaning? I’d love to hear your answers, so leave a comment below!

Reflections

 Posted by at 12:15 PM  Inspiration, Poetry
Dec 312018
 
Reflections of Dreams

“Reflections of Dreams” || Prints available–click on photo to order yours!

What I love most about the creative process is when you release control and let it flow, you never know what might materialize…I sat with my notebook this morning, intending to write out an inspirational New Years Eve message to share with my community. This free verse poem fell out onto the paper:

Reflections

Bend the heavy rug of your troubles back,
Hold the pieces of your struggles hiding there in your hand, one by one.
Will they serve you well in the journey ahead?
Are they holding you back?
Are they worth keeping?

Turn your face to the light of new opportunities,
Listen to the whispers of your deepest desires and dreams, one by one.
Will they serve you well in the journey ahead?
Are they holding you back?
Are they worth keeping?

Bask in the warmth of today’s fire,
Feeling each moment of peace and joy fill your soul, one by one.
Building your strength and courage for the journey ahead
Where nothing is holding you back,
And everything is worth keeping.

———————–
Happy New Year everyone! Make 2019 meaningful. Make every day count!

Thank you so much for your ongoing support and encouragement. I’m so fortunate to know you and have you all in this one beautiful life. I hope our paths cross “out there” in 2019.

Until then, be well, be wild!
~Colleen

Overturned

 Posted by at 6:14 PM  Inspiration, Travelogue
Dec 092018
 

After a quick lunch stop on the fifth day, my second alone, on my Lake Mead trip, I started paddling around the tip of the unnamed island in Bonelli Bay. I knew as soon as I rounded the corner, I’d be out of the headwind. I looked down at the ribbons of water streaming from the nose of my stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and noticed my tripod head, which was resting on its side near the front of my board, was dragging in the water.

I didn’t want anything slowing me down. I kneeled down and leaned over my knee-high pile of dry bags to straighten it out. In doing so, I shifted all of my board’s weight to the front. It was a rookie mistake. I was tired and obviously not thinking straight.

In a split second, my heavy food bag rolled into the lake with a “THUNK,” my board tilted to the left, and I grabbed the right edge of the board in a desperate attempt to stay on. (I’m terrified of water when I can’t see the bottom.) “Fuck!”

I fell butt-first into the lake. My SUP flipped upside-down. Everything went underwater. Everything, that is, except my paddle and food bag, which wasn’t strapped in like everything else for some reason. Both started floating away in the rolling waves. I started treading water, bobbing in my life jacket and clinging to my board. I pushed as hard as I could to get my board to flip, but with the heavy load attached to it now submerged, it barely moved. “Fuck!”

I took a deep breath and tried again. My board teetered on its side at a 45-degree angle while my gear dragged on the water’s surface. I quickly shoved a couple of my bags against the board, which turned it right-side up. One-by-one, I repositioned the rest of my gear into their original position. With the board stabilized, I swam a few yards away to chase down my food and paddle. Although I had packed an extra one, I didn’t want to be up shit creek (lake?) without a paddle. Or dinner for that matter.

PHOTO: The beach I swam to after my capsize. My camp for the evening is in the distance just to the left of center.

When I attempted to reach across my board to get back on, the weight of the gear tipped and the board rocked onto its side again. I quickly let go and fell back into the water to keep my SUP from overturning again. Instead of wasting energy trying to self-rescue, I decided to swim to shore, which was only about 50 yards away.

After pulling my SUP onto the graveled beach, I waded back into the shallow water and washed my hair. I mean, I was already wet, why not? I repacked and steadied my gear, turning my tripod head so it would no longer drag. Then I stripped off all my clothes, laid back into my skirt, and started sobbing. Everything—the emotional weight of my unexpected capsize and recent life struggles—went underwater.

After drying out and regaining my composure, I started paddling across Bonelli Bay as if the event never happened. I didn’t have any room on my board to carry fear with me. Or self-pity. And no one was coming by to listen to me whine. I hadn’t seen a boat in 24 hours. There was no escaping it, I was completely alone.

No more than a half-hour later, my brand new two-bladed paddle snapped in half without warning. I almost fell in again, but in the open waters of Virgin Basin. Up shit creek (lake?) with a broken paddle now, I decided to sit down in my “loveseat” for the remainder of the crossing, about two miles.

PHOTO: The only “whine” I got that night came from this box. And you see how well it survived it’s time in the water during my capsize.

I eventually hobbled into a spacious camp in an east-facing wash close to the mouth of the Narrows. I set up my tent, changed into PJs, and taped the ends of my broken paddle to avoid more carbon fiber splinters. (I had three already.) As I boiled water for dinner, I sat back into my camp chair and reflected on the day’s unexpected events. Now safe and relaxed, I fell apart again. I asked aloud, “Why in the hell do you do things like this? Why do you need to paddle across Lake Mead? Why can’t you just be content sitting at home in a bathtub eating bonbons?” I didn’t have an answer, let alone a good one.

I fumbled to open my freeze-dried dinner, and it slipped out of my chilled hands. My knees caught it upside down. I noticed typing on the bottom of the Mountain House® package, something I had never seen before in my almost twenty-one years of outdoor experiences eating freeze-dried food.

But the universe’s had an answer. Its response was printed on the bottom of my Chicken and Mashed Potatoes dinner: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. ~Anonymous”

The Outdoor Writers Association of America awarded this blog Third Place in the “Outdoor Fun & Adventure” category in the 2019 Excellence in Craft awards.

PHOTO: The glorious view from my tent as the setting sun cast the Earth’s shadow above Bonelli Peak across the Virgin Basin on Lake Mead.