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.”

Jun 302017
 

From the Green River in May 2016, but representative of how I feel today. Photo courtesy Guy Tal.

I’ve been a little tired.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Those words actually came out my mouth…and now that I’ve slept for three days straight, I can explain!

As of this past Monday, I’ve completed a six-month term as the interim Executive Director with the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) following the conclusion of our 90th annual conference in Duluth, Minnesota. Juggling three businesses—OWAA and two of my own, CMS Photography and Analemma Press—during this time sometimes made me feel like I was testing the outer limits of “you can sleep when you’re dead!”

But I wouldn’t change a thing. Although my time at the helm at OWAA has come to an end, I can safely say that the organization has changed my life for the better twice now. Here’s how:

When I walked out of my unfulfilling corporate America job at Intel Corporation in February 2007, I had asked many of my photography mentors (many who had been in the outdoor photography industry for 30 or more years) what it would take to be successful as a freelance. The overwhelming feedback I received was that I would never make it as a full-time landscape photographer for two reasons: one, the photography industry had changed so much (the digital revolution had just begun) that opportunities to make a living were rapidly diminishing; and two, as a woman, I would never cut it being alone for extended periods of time in the wild.

Despite the latter being exactly what I loved to do, having five semesters of college-level photography instruction, and experiencing enough success in both the fine art and editorial outlets with outdoor photography to quit a six-figure salary, I listened to them. When I left my corporate job on February 28, 2007, I photographed everything but nature photography (and weddings…No. Just no.) I focused on shooting jewelry, trucks, yards, food, products, architecture, senior portraits, soccer, and golf (I didn’t know anything about golf!) for various commercial clients.

I made a lot of money, but after each shoot, I came home bummed out. I wasn’t having much fun, and I asked myself, “Is this really what I left Intel for?”

My phone rang in 2009. On the other line was an enthusiastic man I had never met. He introduced himself as Jim Smith. He explained he had received my name as a possible speaker for his local photography club and asked me if I would be interested in presenting an educational presentation with his members. I eagerly agreed to do so in early 2010.

After my presentation, Jim invited me to speak again. This time though, it was for an organization he was a member of and found helpful in his own profitable outdoor photography business. He also handed me a piece of paper and said, “I think you’d really like this group. You should apply.” Jim handed me an application to OWAA with his signature already on the “Sponsor” line.

I didn’t heed his advice right away. After all, the outdoors was not factoring much into my photography business at that time. I wanted it to! A few months ahead of my speaking engagement at their annual conference in June in Rochester, Minnesota, I decided, “What the hell?”

I walked into the event and saw over 400 outdoor communicators totally rocking the industry in every way—writing, photography, TV, video, books, newspapers, cartoons, you name it. I naively thought, “If they can do it, why can’t I?!”

I subsequently returned home to Arizona with an extra pep in my step and dropped all my commercial clients except one (who was a friend from my time at Intel) to focus entirely on what I loved, photographing the Great Outdoors. I pursued new editorial outlets, calendar companies, etc. I didn’t previously know about or had access to. I also left conference with crazy ideas on how to publish my own books. To be an author had been a pipe-dream for me since senior year in college. I could have never imagined having three books to my name (plus six more in the hopper!) after starting my own publishing company—Analemma Press.

Game-changer #1: I became a true outdoor photographer and writer–and publisher!–thanks to OWAA.

Fast forward five years…Jim sadly passed away in January 2015. Then, my life took an unexpected left-hand turn in April 2015 when my husband (and best friend for 22 years) and I decided to mutually separate—two weeks before our 14th wedding anniversary and four weeks before my 40th birthday. To help with sorting out the devastation and chaos, I had this wild idea to stand-up paddleboard the 141-mile length of Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Utah-Arizona border. My mom and I embarked on that journey in late November 2015 but ran into an unpredicted windstorm four days into a 14-day trip, which led to an unexpected rescue and conclusion of a trip.

In the year that followed, I learned many things, including that I was not a photographer who liked to write, but rather a writer who liked to photograph—perhaps a seemingly small distinction to the outside world, but a major shift for me and my priorities. I learned more about letting go, happiness, and as the title of the book I started writing about my Lake Powell trip and life indicates, simply how to go with the flow. In reliving the memories of the separation and Lake Powell paddle trip, though, I still noodled on many things like what I was doing with my life, how I wanted to live, and what I wanted to be when (if) I grew up.

Then, in late November 2016, I received a call from Brett Prettyman, OWAA’s President, suggesting the current OWAA executive director (ED) had unexpectedly turned in his resignation. (I serve as OWAA’s Secretary, and thus the Executive Committee where these types of matters are discussed.) He mentioned the idea of possibly hiring an interim ED, requested I think of good candidates for the position, and hung up.

Was the Universe throwing me a possible answer to the questions I pondered? I needed to find out. Despite having 10 years of freelancing under my belt, I felt if I were ever to return to a desk job, this would be the one I’d pick.

I wrote Brett a lengthy email on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after hearing the news, starting with, “Soooooo I’ve given it a tremendous amount of thought since we talked (I even made up a spreadsheet about it!), and would like to formally throw my name in the hat for the interim ED position, should you decide to pursue it.  I do so with the possibility of me applying for the ED position next year.”

I was named the interim ED by the following Monday. After spending time with Tom Sadler (the resigning ED) in December to facilitate a smooth transition, I took the torch from him in January 2017 for 20 hours a week. I submitted my resume and cover letter for the permanent position.

While learning how to run a non-profit organization and enjoying the new experiences, something didn’t feel quite right. I seemed to have little time to write, photograph, and travel while trying to keep up with the demands of the different three jobs. I missed my wandering freelance life. So much so, that I withdrew my name (twice) from consideration for the permanent position—one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.

To say I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve OWAA in this capacity would be an understatement. As I look back at the six-months, the experience presented “Game-changer #2″ by helping me put four exclamation points behind what OWAA helped me declare seven years ago in 2010:

  • I’m a freelance writer, photographer, author, publisher, speaker, teacher, and more!!!!
  • I’m a wanderer of the outdoors!!!!
  • I love to help people enjoy the Great Outdoors through workshops, books, and everything I do!!!!

I’ve now passed the torch to our new ED, Brandon Shuler. When I left Intel to become a free bird in 2007, I shared what has become one of my favorite quotes with my colleagues, which I feel is equally pertinent now as I start to flap my wings and fly back into the freelancing life once again:

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.”
~John A. Shedd

No matter the journey you are on or may take, may you always possess the wisdom to know the difference between “safe” and “your true self,” to know in your heart what you are made of and for. And to have the strength and courage to sail your ship out of harbor when your soul calls to you to set sail.

Many thanks to the OWAA Board of Directors for their confidence and support in me, to staff members Jessica Seitz and Kelsey Dayton for showing me the ropes and keeping me in line, and to Tom, Brett, and Bill Powell for their help throughout the transition. Finally, I am eternally thankful to OWAA and it’s inspiring and encouraging members for changing my direction in outdoor communications not once, but twice, and for helping me become exactly what I’m built for. (And I just know my late friend Jim is laughing his head off about all this from above. I can hear his voice say, “You’re such a hoot” as he often told me.)

The sea of freedom calls…and it’s a big ocean out there teeming with so much life. Lots more adventures, workshops, books, and more ahead!  Because, as the saying goes, “You can sleep when you’re dead”…and remember, I’ve just woke up from sleeping for three days straight…

Time to set sail…time for new adventures!

Jun 022017
 
Arizona_Grand Canyon National Park_01162_c

“The Yin to My Yang” || Abstract rock pattern formed by calcite in the Supai Formation in the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available! Click on photo to order)

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

While rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago while leading my Women’s Photography Retreat, immense landscape scenes certainly live up to its name. However, I found the little things as equally fascinating…especially the bizarre patterns in a rock overhang at our lunch stop on the first day of our trip.

My rafting group last year stopped at this same spot, and upon seeing this rock overhang for the first time, I literally lost my marbles. All of them. I had never seen anything like it!

I made some images then, but could not settle my enthusiasm into making any sort of meaningful expressions in the limited time we had here. (I guess, technically, the photos I did make were representative of how I felt, which was nonsensically spastic… :D )

When our guides for this year’s trip asked my input as to where we should stop for lunch, I pleaded with them to take our group to this unnamed location, one, so I could show the participants on my trip this amazing occurrence in the Supai Formation, and two, so I could see how my vision and approach changed from last year.

Although I experienced the same immense excitement for this subject (I still lost my marbles…), I felt more at ease seeing my “old friend” while walking along the ledge and pointing out different curious patterns with my group. Then, together, we started to make order out of chaos…not with our cameras, but with our minds and eyes first.

We talked through visual language-light, shape, balance, color, etc.-and their individual effects on expressing emotions. We shared why “this” shape grabbed our attention more than “that” shape nearby. We discussed what that line was contributing to the scene. Most importantly, we walked through what we liked about a possible composition, what we didn’t, and how we might approach with a camera. We spent a healthy amount of time simply visualizing and responding in our own ways, then photographed.

The above photo titled, “The Yin to My Yang” is one of several I created in this process.

We spent even less time here than my first trip, but yet, I felt I made better images (and think my participants did as well) because we stopped to patiently and mindfully notice and appreciate the scene first instead of randomly blasting away in “spray-and-pray mode.”

Nov 292016
 

Looking for some inspiration for your photography–and life in general?

Then check out my new interview on the esteemed Image & Rhythm website: www.imageandrhythm.com/the-creative-journey-colleen-miniuk-sperry.

This summer, photographer Kyle McDougall (of Kyle McDougall Photography) started the Image & Rhythm website with the hopes becoming, ” …a community and learning resource dedicated to empowering outdoor photographers throughout the world…We want you to create YOUR best work, not someone else’s, while enjoying the journey to its fullest and chasing after your dreams.” After reading his first post, I was hooked.  We need this kind of positive encouragement in photography today!

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of being interviewed for “The Creative Journey” section. Kyle posed some very thought-provoking questions about my creative journey thus far, which allowed me to share some of the insights I’ve gained from being in the photography industry and exploring the creative process since leaving my job at Intel almost 10 years ago now. My hope is that it gives you new ideas and motivation to find and follow your own bliss–photography or otherwise.

When Kyle announced the interview, he suggested, “Simply put, you need to read this! Colleen shares so many amazing thoughts, about both life and photography, that will absolutely give you a gigantic push regardless of what point you’re at in your career. Don’t miss this one!”

I am honored to be the ninth photographer to be featured after incredible photographers like Guy Tal, Sarah Marino & Ron Coscorrosa, Mark MetternichSean Bagshaw and others shared their stories.  If you are looking for additional inspiration, be sure to spend some time browsing the other photographer profiles and Kyle’s other great posts as well.

A huge congratulations to Kyle for his success with the Image & Rhythm concept thus far.  I am grateful not only what he is doing for the photography community, but also for playing a small part in it in hopes of helping others create YOUR best work.

If you do have the chance to read it, please let us know what you thought of the interview either here on my blog or on the Image & Rhythm website.  We’d love to hear from you!

~Colleen

Nov 222016
 
Utah_Glen Canyon National Recreation Area_00108_c

Our view at sunset from our camp in Fourmile Canyon on the first night of our paddling trip on Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area last year.

Exactly one year ago today, my Mom and I began our ambitious paddling adventure on Lake Powell from the Dirty Devil launch area in Utah. Although we aimed to reach Wahweap Marina 147-miles down the lake 14 days later, the universe and Mother Nature had other plans for us. After four fulfilling days—and three terrifying hours of paddling against towering cliffs in five-to-six-foot swells in crosswinds —our journey came to an unexpected end after 41 miles.

Oh, what a wild year it’s been! To say this challenging experience changed my life for the better would be a massive understatement. During the preparations, the trip itself, and in the 12 months that have followed, I have learned so much about myself, my family and friends, how nature can heal during difficult life circumstances, and the value of living a meaningful life. I’m so grateful things panned out exactly as they did! And for everyone who’s been a part of this incredibly enlightening and transformational time.

In hopes of helping and inspiring others, I continue to write almost every day about this personal journey with the goal of sharing this story in my first adventure travel book, currently titled, “Going With the Flow.” As of this morning (when I blasted the Powell Playlist you helped compile last year before our trip), I’ve written over 57,000 words thus far (the approximate word count for each of my published guidebooks) and 10 of the 16 chapters are in really great shape for my editor. Hoping I can have a solid draft ready for edit by the end of the year so I can publish the book in 2017.

So stay tuned! And take a minute to think about where you were just a year ago.  How much has changed for you?  No matter where you’ve been or where you are right now, remember to celebrate life and all that is good in it!

~Colleen

Jul 012016
 
Grand Serenity

“Grand Serenity” || The rising sun illuminates unnamed cliffs along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on the photo to order)

When I used to work as a project manager for Intel, I occasionally heard the advice from upper management, “Don’t confuse effort with results.”

Initially, it seemed like pretty harsh advice as my dedicated team worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to help bring a new software application to life for our internal customers.  Didn’t our managers (and customers) appreciate our tireless efforts?

Most of them did, yes; but it did not replace their expectations that the software application eventually had to function without “bugs” (flaws/issues), as designed and delivered on (or before) the date our team promised. Anyone who has been involved in software engineering knows this sometimes involves project teams displaying impressive feats of strength and willpower equivalent to Superman moving the Earth…

Although I left the corporate life behind over nine years ago, I see this playing out all too often in the outdoor photography world.  As photographers vie for attention on social media channels and elsewhere, this notion of traveling to unknown foreign lands, enduring unforgiving conditions, and torturing oneself to “get the shot” has overshadowed the value of an artist’s ability to observe, feel, and visually express their individual connection with the land.

Don’t get me wrong; as wondering and wandering photographers explore the Great Outdoors, fascinating adventure stories do tend to emerge. And sometimes you need to push and challenge yourself to experience a place to the fullest extent.  In fact, famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that the mental state of “flow”—when you feel like you are “in the zone,” and that leads to increased happiness and creativity—occurs when a person concentrates on an important and challenging activity that requires some level of skill.

But just because you walked 17 miles in Class 4 terrain on the side of a mountain while hobbling on a broken foot through the middle of the night in grizzly bear country during the worst summertime blizzard in recorded history does not automatically guarantee that you “nailed it.”

Don’t confuse effort with results.

Maybe you did.  Maybe this harrowing experience was so real, rich, and personal that you made a hundred images that were meaningful to you.  Awesome.  The expressive images you created resulted from you wholeheartedly feeling the fear of the darkness, the cold snowflakes seeping through your leg cast, and the wind burning exposed parts of your skin, though, not because you merely survived the grand adventure.

This personal and emotional connection with your journey and with your environment drives the creation of unique images—and you can accomplish this in your backyard under sunny skies, in Iceland under a glorious sunset, and everywhere in between.  It matters not where you are standing but rather how you make the most of what you are standing in front of by incorporating your skills, intimate knowledge, and background.

Maybe you didn’t bring home any images.  Awesome.  Was the experience meaningful to you?  Did you have fun?  Mission accomplished.

To drive the point home, I made the image above from our Fossil camp (river mile ~125.5) while on our raft trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Before dawn, I casually strolled about 100 yards on a gorgeous sandy horseshoe-shaped beach to reach this point on the river.  I waded across a small riffle and sat on a boulder waiting for the rising sun to illuminate the deep canyon walls in the distance.  I inhaled my surroundings.  I felt at peace and at home after four days on the river.  I felt like each new day unfolded exciting mysteries of geology, history, and adventure.  I felt the constant shifts between flat water and roaring rapids.

I intentionally composed to show this serenity, this mystery of light, and the balance of the two water energies.  Then I snapped my frame.

With a cup of delicious coffee in one hand (and cable release in the other, of course).  In 80-degree weather with a light cool breeze.  While still in my pajamas.  While waiting for our amazing guides to finish cooking up made-to-order Eggs Benedict for our group’s breakfast.  One can only imagine the immensity of the tragic conditions I endured.

But really, I should not confuse effort with results…

Jun 272016
 

“High Alpine Serendipity” || A colorful sunset reflects into a high alpine lake on the Aquarius Plateau in southern Utah, USA (Prints available – click on the photo to order yours)

Last week, I headed to the high country of southern Utah to escape a heat wave in Phoenix (where temperatures soared to a scorching 118 degrees F).  Camping at nearly 11,000 feet next to an alpine lake with mid-day temperatures in the 60′s felt almost heavenly…even with the swarms of mosquitoes (a small price to pay for such a welcomed respite from summer’s wrath in the desert…).

Sometimes when I’m exploring and photographing a gorgeous scene–one that speaks to me deeply–I’ll get so excited about it, I’ll spontaneously bust out into song or even start to dance (or both) while I’m shooting.  As William Purkey once suggested, “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.”  What’s life (and photography) if not a little fun, right?  Right!

While shooting sunset at our small watering hole, I decided to pause for a minute to celebrate the beautiful moment with an impromptu retire (pronounced “reh-tur-a”, also sometimes referred to as a passe as well) ballet pose while I stood on a submerged rock. My friend caught me in the act and snapped this picture of me:

I know many of you have heard me say, “Keep Shooting!!” once or twice before, but sometimes you just gotta stop shooting to do a little dance of joy…as outdoor photographers, we are so fortunate to witness some of Mother Nature’s greatest moments.  Oftentimes, though, we forget to take a minute to soak everything in and truly appreciate the scene unfolding in front of us.  Instead, we have our nose stuck to the back of the LCD and an eyeball peering through the viewfinder while panicking about things like “What aperture I should use?”  “Is my depth of field broad enough?” “Is my frame even in focus??!”  We see the sunrise or sunset or the decisive moment through a lens, but not with our own eyes…

I’m excited I brought home an image from that evening (above), but it’s merely an artifact of the magical experience I had watching the day come to a beautiful, serene end in a beautiful, serene (and cool!) place.

So like the Lee Ann Womack song goes, “I hope YOU dance” too even for just a second or two when you connect with the landscape in a personal way and enjoy what the Great Outdoors has to offer.

Go ahead, no one’s watching…

Apr 132016
 

(**My apologies if you see a duplicate post on this topic…technical issues…**)

Back in January, I had the privilege of serving as a guest on the renowned Take & Talk Pics with Rob Kreuger.  If you missed the show and would like to listen in, find the links from my earlier blog post about it at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/go-4-it-colleens-take-talk-pics-podcast/.

After we completed my interview, I suggested to Rob that I would love to know his answers to the questions he posed to me so I could hear his excellent insights as a wedding and commercial photographer.  Who knew that would lead to my first experience as a podcast interviewer!?!

For episode #161 on April 6, 2016–the podcast’s first anniversary–I had distinct honor to turn the tables on Rob and interview HIM on his own show! I was a little nervous in the opening minutes, but the experience was great fun and ended up being a really exciting show (of course, I am slightly biased…).

If you’d like to hear his story and insights into the photography business, visit http://takeandtalkpics.com/161-rob-krueger/.  Hope you enjoy!

A huge congratulations to Rob and Take & Talk Pics for all his success thus far. And cheers for more to come! Thanks for all you do for the photography community, Rob!

Apr 122016
 

Recently, I was honored to be the featured guest on Fred Weymouth’s Lens and Landscape Photography Podcast.  We had a lovely chat about Arizona’s wildflowers, the NPS artist-in-residency program, the creative process and photography, and more!

Have a listen to the 40-minute episode for free (or if you prefer, read the transcript posted) at http://www.lensandlandscape.net/epi…/5-colleen-miniuk-sperry.  Here’s hoping you get some new ideas and inspirations out of our interview!

Fred recently started this podcast and has already featured some amazing photographers on his show like Larry Lindahl and Mike Moats (coming soon) so you might also wish to check out his other interviews as well.  You’ll definitely want to bookmark his page to hear his future shows too.  Can’t wait to see what he comes up with!

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