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

Nov 222015
 

What life boils down to for the next 14-days…an iPhone snap of all the material items we’re bringing for our Lake Powell paddle trip.

Whelp, after months of planning and preparation, it’s hard to believe that the big day has finally arrived!  We depart for Utah today, and will begin our ~150-mile paddle on Tuesday morning!

As we head out, thought I’d share answers to some of the most frequently asked questions I have received about this trip from others.  If you have a question about our trip that I’ve not answered below, please leave me a comment, and I’ll be sure to address it upon our return in a future blog.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————
Why, exactly, are you doing this?
I have many reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. As George Mallory once suggested about why one would climb Mount Everest, we are paddling the length of Lake Powell, “Because it is there.”
  2. Because we can (meaning my Mom and I are physically and mentally capable of taking on such a challenge.  And let’s face it, we aren’t getting younger so we might as well do it now…)
  3. Because I want to.  It is really as simple as that.  (And it’s funny how our society doesn’t seem to accept that as a good enough answer…I digress…)
  4. Not many have attempted to do it (I know a handful of men have accomplished the same feat on stand-up paddleboards, but I have yet to find any women who have).
  5. This is my big chance to be as adventurous as Pippi Longstocking, my childhood hero!
  6. I would like to share in an unforgettable adventure with my Mom and show her what true freedom and bliss feels like.
  7. I wish to disconnect from the world long to refresh and rejuvenate my mind and spirit for all the exciting opportunities ahead.
  8. Because I wanted a physical and mental challenge.
  9. Because there is a little voice inside my head that still isn’t sure I can…but I’m going to do it anyway!
  10. Because you guessed it, you can sleep when you’re dead!

You mean, you are not doing it to make a political statement? (Note: this question is typically followed by an in-depth dissertation about how the Glen Canyon Dam drowned the Colorado River OR how we have no water in the desert.)
While I do have fairly strong opinions about the Glen Canyon Dam and our water shortage here in western United States, the magnificent sandstone walls, the undulating waters, and singing canyon wrens do not hold any political positions; I see no reason why – while I am among their beauty and in their home – I should possess one either.

If I’m to make any important statement as a result of going on this journey it would be to remind everyone tuning in that, wait for…you can sleep when you’re dead!  I do not mean literally (as in we should run around doing things 24 hours a day).  I mean that when faced with an opportunity to do something or not do something, especially your dreams – no matter how big or small – I hope you feel inspired and courageous enough to just GO FOR IT!

You only get one life, and it goes in a blink of an eye, so why not fill the time you have with much joy, meaning, curiosity, wonder, and gratitude?  I cannot come up with a good reason not to, but if you do, please, by all means, leave me it in a comment below.

How far are you going?
We are starting at the North Wash/Dirty Devil take out, which is just north of Hite, and finishing at Wahweap Marina.  If we followed the milepost/buoys exactly, we are looking at about 141 miles.  However, that does not account for the many side trips and meanderings we will likely do…in the end, I would guess we will likely finish around 150 miles.

How long will that take?
Incorporating time for paddling, rest days, wanderings, weather conditions, etc., we are hoping to complete the trip in about 14 days.  We are in no rush and will not take unnecessary risks when faced with unfavorable weather (especially high winds).

BUT fellow photographers (and patient partners and spouses) know how fast “I’ll just be 10 minutes” can turn into an entire afternoon when you’re enthralled a magical place…considering this (and possible weather delays), we’ve packed food for 20 days.

Why are you going in November?
After I decided to pursue this idea, I checked my calendar and found the only time I could commit to a chunk of time within the next 12 months fell in this November and December.  I did not want to wait – now sounded like as good of a time as ever.

Although many have and will disagree with me, I feel it offers an absolutely ideal time to complete our adventure.  It offers the prospects of the cooler temperatures (compared to scorching summer weather), a reduced chance of brutal winds (as seen in the spring), and fewer boats on the lake than most other months (so we would have the lake to ourselves).

Won’t it be cold then?
Perhaps.  Don’t care.

Weather forecasts suggest temperatures ranging from low 20’s to mid-60’s.

My Mom and I completed our recent trial run at Lake Powell in 65-degree temperatures during the day.  We were so warm from expending energy and the sun, we actually wished it was about 10-20 degrees cooler.  At night, we were on the warm side of cozy during nighttime temperatures around 40-45 degrees.

We have packed winter gear, just in case, and our sleeping bags are rated to 0-degrees (mine) and -30-degrees (my Mom’s).  I’ve bet my Dad that we will feel warm most of the time…and I only bet on things I know I will win!

Are you insane? (or alternatively, “Are you crazy?”)
Not clinically, no.  However, I did just buy a selfie-stick (for use with my new fancy GoPro) so that may affect my status.

Will you be blogging or posting your process on Facebook?
In our fast-paced society where multi-tasking is not just the norm, but also expected, I wish to jump into this experience with open hearts and minds to soak every bit of the experience in without distractions.  So, no, I will intentionally not be blogging during our trip.

That said, beginning on Tuesday morning when we start our journey, you can follow our tracks recorded by my Delorme InReach tracking device by visiting https://share.delorme.com/ColleenMiniukSperry and use the password dreambig (one word) to login.  If I have my technology properly figured out, I might post a couple of messages via my Delorme to my Facebook pages at https://www.facebook.com/CMSPhoto (CMS Photography) and https://www.facebook.com/ColleenMiniukSperry (my personal profile).

How can we learn more about your trip once you get back?
I’ll likely write a blog upon my return, but I plan to write my first adventure travel book from this journey.  So stay tuned!

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Words cannot express how grateful I am to everyone who provided a song recommendation for our Lake Powell Paddle Playlist.  What an incredible mix of music from an incredible group of people!

In addition, I’m so thankful to those who have sent notes of encouragement and wishes for a safe, happy trip.  Your kind and uplifting words mean a great deal to me, and you can be sure we will carry every single one of your sentiments with us as we paddle along.

Wish us good luck…and good weather!
Colleen

Apr 022015
 
Fire Away

“Fire Away,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV. The iconic Fire Wave rock formation at sunset in the Valley of Fire State Park. (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Although it wasn’t completely obvious, hopefully you’ve realized my blog post yesterday, “Making the Image:  My Most Unique Photo of Yosemite” was part of a semi-elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, where 11 participating photographers posted the exact same image of Tunnel View (the idea and image compliments of Jim Goldstein).  We linked our blogs together, suggesting we all shared tripod holes to get our “most unique shot of Yosemite.” We really didn’t go to Tunnel View.

If you haven’t done so already, the hilarious faux write-ups alone are worth clicking through the chain of linked blog posts:

Jim Goldsteinwww.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2015/04/01/my-most-unique-photo-yosemite/

Colleen Miniuk-Sperry: youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/making-the-image-my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite/

Olivier Du Tre: blog.olivierdutre.com/2015/04/tunnel-view.html

Ken Cravillion: kgcphoto.blogspot.ca/2015/04/original-tunnel-view.html

David Leland Hyde:  landscapephotographyblogger.com/my-most-unique-photograph-of-yosemite-valley/

Jim Sabiston:  www.essentiallight.blogspot.com/2015/04/my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite-yet.html

Eric Fredinewww.ericfredine.ca/blog/2015/3/31/my-unique-take-on-yosemite

Floris van Breugelwww.artinnaturephotography.com/wordpress/2015/fresh-air-and-fresh-views/

Richard Wong: www.rwongphoto.com/blog/my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite-yet/

Youssef Ismail: www.organiclightphoto.com/blog/?p=1918

Gary Crabbe:  www.enlightphoto.com/views/2015/04/01/best-yosemite-shot-ever.htm

The silly prank aimed to highlight and poke fun at the inundation of homogeneity we see in nature photography today.  Endless streams of the same scene in magazines, calendars, postcards, Flickr, and social media could easily lead us to believe those are the only subjects worth photographing.  To this point, I made a sarcastic comment in yesterday’s post, “…but I figured if Ansel hadn’t found something gorgeous to shoot in those spots, I sure wasn’t going to!”  With the highest respect for Mr. Adams, this notion is absurd.

Early in my photography career, I spent a lot of time blasting away at classic scenes for three reasons.  One, I wanted to see these amazingly beautiful scenes with my own eyes (and not solely through others’ photographic interpretations).  Two, the predefined compositions gave me a baseline to determine how well I was controlling my camera to get expected results.  And three, they sold well (hence the “endless streams of the same scene in magazines, calendars, and postcards”).

In hindsight, a fourth reason existed:  I knew how to look; I did not know how to see.  After eventually getting bored with having my photographs look like everyone else’s,  I turned to learn more creative ways of expressing my personal vision.  As I did – and continue to do – so, the question remains, “Can I shoot the icons?”  Or better yet, “Can I shoot the icons and still be called a respectable photographer?”  As I wandered around the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada (not Oregon, as my April Fool’s blog suggested) in mid-February after proofing my book, the answer came to light.

I had visited the park before, but never photographed during what I considered conducive lighting conditions.  Normally, I would research and visualize before setting out to a location.  However, I could only find 24 hours a day in the days leading up to my trip, and preparing the book for printing consumed most (if not all) of that time.  As a result, my brain only recalled two locations based on what I had seen on the internet:  the Fire Wave and Elephant Arch.

During my six-hour trek, I initially decided to avoid these two iconic spots in the park.  Although I did not have copies of either scene in my stock files, I wondered how could I possibly showcase these two sites differently all the previous photographers, hikers, and general nature enthusiasts alike who had already snapped their own photos here.

Making a pretty photograph of a roadkill (meaning: easily accessed), classic scenes – the Fire Wave, Elephant Arch, and other icons like Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park – is easy.  Mother Nature has already painted the beautiful palette and thousands (if not millions) of photographers have already figured out (and proven by mimicking excessively) essentially the same composition.  ‘All’ one needs to do is show up at these places, turn your camera on, and wait for a vibrant multi-hued sky; a double rainbow; or a glowing Milky Way overhead.

But simply incorporating fleeting light into a cliché composition is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.  Changing the weather conditions does not transform a documentary “trophy” shot into something fresh or creative.

Then a different thought crossed my mind:  Why should the fact that every photographer but me has photographed these scenes prevent me from enjoying and photographing them for myself?  Stubbornly, I decided it should not, and so I changed my mind as I crossed into Nevada.  I resolved to photograph the Fire Wave later that evening.

I arrived about two hours before sunset to scope out the Fire Wave area.  I held two attitudes about the evening:  one, I would likely share the location with other photographers wishing to make their own images – and that’s OK! – and two, tourists wishing to snap selfie’s while standing atop the rock formation had equal right to enjoy the scene as I did.  Under no circumstance would I pretend I owned the place or tell anyone to get out of the way (two things I have watched with great sadness by impolite and impatient photographers at iconic locations before).  After all, they made the clone-stamp and patch tools in Photoshop for a reason, right?  Right.

Much to my surprise, only two other photographers scampered about the rocks (one of whom left well before the sun went down).  I tested a variety of compositions with my wide-angle lens and four-stop graduated neutral density filter, settled into my favorite position, and then waited. Thanks to the candy-colored light show Mother Nature provided, I brought home a nice rendition of an iconic shot for my stock files (photo above).

Following a rejuvenating restful sleep, the next morning, I pulled into one of the parking lots, flipped my camera gear onto my back, and melted into the shadowed canyonlands with no particular destination in mind.  Unlike shooting pre-existing compositions, creative photography requires a more mindful, peaceful, slower pace – one where experiencing, discovering, and connecting with my surroundings occurs before making an image (if an image is made at all).  I philosophically agree with Ansel Adams’ perspective, “My photographs become records of experiences as well as places.”

I eventually picked up the White Domes Slot Canyon Trail where I spent two hours in awe (and 129 different compositions) hovering over a small wash where I created my “Stone Butterfly” – an apropos composition that revealed I was ready for a metamorphoses from cliché images to creating my own here. (Post continues after photograph)

The Stone Butterfly

“The Stone Butterfly,” Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

For the remainder of my three-day stay, I continued to wander through unnamed canyons and rock shelves to create fresh footprints in the sand and to soak in this magically whimsical environment in my own way.

I longed to see a hypothetical time-lapse video showing the seemingly impossible process of these sherbet colored rocks forming eons ago. (Post continues after photograph)

Diamond in the Rough

“Diamond in the Rough,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I marveled at the stars visible from my campsite while sipping wine. (Post continues after photograph)

The Gathering

“The Gathering,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

I paid homage to Anubis, an Egyptian reference found in the Elizabeth Peters book I had just finished reading the night before. (Post continues after photograph)

Anubis in Stone

“Anubis in Stone,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

I broke down crying in front of a dead tree for a dear friend who had passed away unexpectedly just two weeks before my trip. (Post continues after photograph)

Gone, But Not Forgotten

“Gone, But Not Forgotten (In Memory of Jim),” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

In each of these meaningful moment, I made an image to represent my experience in this fantastical place.

On the final morning of my stay, when I needed to quickly return to my Arizona, I determined the easiest and quickest location to photograph on the way out was – wait for it – the roadside Elephant Arch.  I approached the icon just as the red “sailors heed warning” colored sky transformed the orange sandstone in all directions into a glowing ember-like spectacle.  The light unfolding over the landscape opposite the arch spoke to me. (Post continues after photograph)

A True Valley of Fire

“A True Valley of Fire,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

As I made my final image (of a scene some may overlook while honing in on Elephant Arch), I thought to myself, can I shoot the icons (and still be called a respectable photographer?  Sure.  Because of their remarkable beauty, anyone who wishes to do so, should.  Just don’t expect to be alone or different as you do so.

Without question, though, I would encourage everyone with even greater enthusiasm to look beyond them for your own artistic expressions.  Tremendously more rewarding and fulfilling moments await if you are willing to uniquely experience the world around you and focus on photographing the meaningful connections you develop along your own journey.

Happy trails,
Colleen

P.S.  To see all 13 images I created during my three-day trip, visit http://cms-photo.photoshelter.com/gallery/Nevada/G00002EqYTMEHKIE/C0000.fuI6BhfIuI.

P.P.S.  To gain an abundance of insight about “Personalizing Place” from a variety of different photographers/speakers, join us at the upcoming Moab Photo Symposium on May 1-3, 2015.  Learn more at moabphotosym.com.

Sep 252013
 
AHWP Womens Retreat_Silly

In accordance with tradition on all of my photography workshops, our group poses for a “silly” group photo on the shoreline of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

This past weekend, 17 enthusiastic women embarked on a remarkable four-day photographic journey to Page, Arizona on the third Arizona Highways Photography Workshops(AHPW), “Women’s Photography Retreat.”  Offered in a different location each year, this year our group marveled not only at classic locations like Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, but also lesser-known spots like the depths of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River from a jumbo raft and the geological “teepees” of Little Cut.

AHPW_WPR_Everyones Own Vision

Everyone following their own vision while rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Arizona.

During our location visits and classroom sessions, we reviewed photography techniques like conveying time through slowing our shutter speeds, getting closer to our foreground subjects and maximizing our depth-of-field, and taking test shots at high ISO speeds to determine the proper settings for long exposures of the night sky.  We also held discussions about we can gain inspiration from learning about the history of women in photography as well as how women photographers may see differently.  In between, we swapped “interesting” life stories (some involving things like cats and microwaves…) and loads of belly-aching laughs.  But most importantly, this workshop is – and has always been – about empowering women to try new things by pushing the limits of what we think we’re capable of in both photography and life.

Although the entire experience was unforgettable, what will certainly go down as one of my favorite memories of my photography career is our hike and night photography session at the Toadstools hoodoos in Utah. To watch the women light paint, photograph the Milky Way, and then hike back in the dark under the full moon light – all experiences some had never had until this past weekend – was incredibly rewarding.

We set out about an hour and a half before sunset to allow ample time to wander among this geologically rich area.  After photographing the hoodoos bathed in direct sunlight at sundown, the group refueled during our picnic dinner before starting our night’s activities.

AHPW_WPR_Wiggle the Pickle

While waiting for the night sky to fall and the moon to rise, we ate a picnic dinner on the rocks. Somehow, this led to a suggestion to “wiggle your pickle.” And if you’re going to wiggle your pickle among a group of photographers, someone is bound to get “THE” shot of everyone wiggling their pickle!

Since many of the ladies had never photographed in the dark or painted with light, we began with a quick introductory session around one of the clusters of hoodoos.  In a line, we focused (figuratively and literally) on composing the frame before losing daylight.  As the sun fell well below the horizon, the entire group tested their exposure settings starting at ISO 1600, an f/8 aperture, and 30 seconds shutter speed – an arbitrary setting to serve as a starting point for how much light our camera would collect during that time frame.  Based on the histogram, we could add or subtract light accordingly to record our vision.

As soon as everyone dialed to the right settings and achieved sharp focus, I counted “1-2-3″ and everyone snapped the shutter at the same time.  During the exposure, I painted the hoodoos from the left side with about five to seven seconds of light from a strong LED flashlight.  After the exposure, we all reviewed our histogram to determine whether our cameras had collected enough ambient light and flash light.  Then, we’d repeat.

After a number of snaps, a large, unsightly shadow line revealed itself at the base of the tallest hoodoo.  Because the neighboring smaller hoodoo prevented the flash light from hitting the taller hoodoo, the light needed to originate from the front – not the side.  Because of the longer exposure, I could solve this minor problem by running into the frame with my flashlight while the group’s shutters were released.

On my first attempt, I painted the hoodoos from the side for a few seconds and then danced into the frame (“Like a gazelle!”), painting the tallest hoodoo at the base to eliminate the shadow.   A quick review of the photos indicated the tallest hoodoo had received an excessive amount of light, so we needed to repeat the process with less flash light time.

On the next attempt, one second I was painting the hoodoos as I had down countless times before.  The next second, I was chewing on sand.  By taking a slight deviation to the right in my path in order to distance myself and my flash from the hoodoos to achieve less light, my right foot dropped into a two-foot deep trench and my entire body fell forward into the higher ground on the opposite side.  Not wanting to ruin the entire group’s photo, I yelled, “I’m OK!  KEEP SHOOTING!!”

(The hilarity of this statement becomes more evident when you consider the entire group had released their shutter for 30 seconds, making any adjustments to their shot impossible.  What were they going to do then?  Change their ISO?!)

With the flash light still moving in my right hand, I used my left hand to pick myself up so that I could continue running across the frame to paint the shadow area with light.  After the exposure completed and many laughs about my tumble, “Keep shooting!” quickly became our trip’s motto.

And what a fitting rally cry this was not only for this trip and all the AHPW Women’s Photography Retreats, but also for life in general.  When something brings you down, hose yourself off, get up, and try again.  When something gets in your way, walk around it.  When something does not go the way you hoped, try something else.  No matter the situation or obstacle, personal growth and success comes when we keep going.  Keep trying.  And always KEEP SHOOTING!

~Colleen

P.S. If you or someone you know would like to join us on the next AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat in Verde Valley/Sedona in April 2014, visit the AHPW website at ahpw.org/workshops/2014/Sedona-Arizona-Womens-Photo-Retreat-2014-04-25/ for more information and to register.  This workshop sells out quickly, so if you’re interested, I’d consider registering as soon as possible to reserve your spot!