Feb 282021
 

Colorado and Paria rivers

Like many young kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought maybe a doctor or a lawyer. Whatever it was, I intended to pick one path and stay with it until I retired, make a lot of money, and then live happily ever after…

Out of college, I landed what many would call a dream job at a dream company. One year of long hours and stress became 2, 2 became 3, 3 became almost 10—and I couldn’t sit in a windowless, grey-walled cube anymore. On February 28, 2007, I walked out of Intel to become a freelance photographer. As I wrote in my goodbye-and-thank-you letter to my friends and colleagues, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” (a quote by John A. Shedd).

Today, I celebrate my 14th Independence Day, a day I celebrate like my birthday.

Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have believed that THIS is where I’d be. That I’d prefer sleeping in tents, under the stars, and in my camper to sleeping in my own bed. That I’d be teaching workshops, including all-women’s ones, across the U.S. That I’d be sharing the joy of photography with photographers across the country through webinars and conferences. That I’d be writing guidebooks about wildflowers and Acadia and an adventure travel memoir and running a publishing company. That I’d be writing an online column called Dear Bubbles. That I’d be serving as the Treasurer for a non-profit called the Outdoor Writers Association of America. That I’d be working with amazing partners to help progress photography and protect rivers. That I’d be prepping for a solo photography exhibit curated by a member of the Ansel Adams family. That I’d fall in love with rivers and coasts and stand-up paddleboarding and rain and ballet and BUBBLES! That the girl who grew up terrified of water when she couldn’t see her feet would be on the verge of becoming a river guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Someone pinch me!

In those 14 years, I am so fortunate that I have found what I’m built for…and I am grateful and thrilled that none of it went according to my original plan. I am also filled with immense gratitude for all of you and your support over these years, for it’s because of you that I am able to spend each of my days doing what I love and to live a meaningful life of adventure, wonder, and helping my community.

So ring the bell! Break out the bubbly and pie! Here’s to you and to freedom, sailing and paddling into the unknown, and going with the flow!

Are You Having Fun?

 Posted by at 10:24 AM  Inspiration
Feb 072021
 

About a week ago, I went camping with Jeanne Adams (Ansel Adams’ daughter-in-law). She came to Arizona to pick up a new camper van and my 16 prints for my “The Current Flow: Water in the Arid West” exhibit this June. Before she drove home, I offered to help her break in her new rig (while following all COVID social-distancing guidelines). We ended up spending a delightful three days in Marble Canyon along my beloved Colorado River. I photographed. She painted. I watched her. She suggested I should try watercolor painting sometime.

Growing up, I had little exposure to visual arts beyond finger painting and paper mache masks in elementary school. In eighth grade, I was so bad at drawing, I transferred out of an art class after the first day. (I elected to take Home Economics instead where I ended up burning bread during the baking assignment and sewing the legs on my shorts shut during sewing…). I had tried watercolor painting once and it almost made me cry. Runny paint, mixed colors, and unpredictable results were a perfectionist’s nightmare. Other than photography and one hilarious (but fun and enlightening!) attempt at painting Monet lily pads at a wine-and-paint shop down the street in 2015, I’ve steered clear of any artistic expression requiring significant hand-eye coordination…

Until last night…

When I returned home from my trip with Jeanne, I ordered a cheap watercolor set—paint, brushes, and a small booklet of watercolor paper. Last night, I gave it a try. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to mix colors and water and empty space. I had no idea what different brushes do. I just made up the scene as I went as I watched the paint do whatever it did on the page. I just responded to it. Now, I did tap into my growing understanding of how to depict depth in photographs to help create dimension—lines, layers, light, and even optical illusions.

Above are my results: a recovering perfectionist’s first attempt at watercolor painting.

If I could tell my younger self anything, it’s that you don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it and learn from it. (I realize one could make the argument that bread tastes better, and thus is more enjoyable, when it is not burned…). If you’re having fun keep doing it. If you aren’t having fun, stop and find something else fun to do. Why spend the time you have on this planet choosing to do things you don’t like to do?

You can bet I’ll be painting with watercolors again tonight…

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!