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.

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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!

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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!

May 162013
 
Waves of Change

“Waves of Change,” Ecola State Park (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Almost eight years ago to the day, Craig and I celebrated the end of our first temporary stay in Oregon by standing on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach.

Sunset at Indian Beach

“Sunset at Indian Beach” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I remember that evening in 2005 so vividly, I can still feel the memory today:  The gentle ocean breeze.  The smell of the tide change.  The warmth of the setting sun.  Two of the photographs I captured that evening – with my Contax 645 medium format film camera – now rest above our bed in our Arizona home to serve as a daily reminder of one of our favorite places and moments along the Oregon coast.

Months ago, as we prepared for our second temporary stay in Oregon, a rush of thoughts overwhelmed my mind based on our first experience.  Where to go, when to go, what to see, who to see, and how to record such ample and different beauty in Oregon. As they say, “So many places to see, so little time.” The list of places to see and things I want to do became longer than a child’s Christmas list.

Sea Stack Sunset

“Sea Stack Sunset” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Despite the seemingly endless new photographic opportunities this transition presented, I decided to start my photographic journey in Oregon in the same place I left off:  on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park.  It’s a place I’d been countless times before, and yet when I arrived on Tuesday morning, nothing, nothing, looked the same as 2005.

Upon coming to the realization that nothing, nothing, had remained the same, I smiled as big as the little girl who got everything she wished for on December 25.  In that instance, I mouthed the words as the wind whispered, “No man ever steps in same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~Heraclitus.

(Turns out Heraclitus’ quote applies to oceans and women too!)

I couldn’t have been happier to learn that in eight years, everything, everything, has changed.  Mother Nature altered the landscape such that I can no longer stand in the same place as I did before, thanks to landslides.   Those landslides pushed new rocks into the ocean, and each wave crashed a little differently on those new sea stacks.  It’s not possible for me to re-create the same compositions I did in 2005, even if I wanted to-I didn’t.

On top of significant natural changes and differing light/weather, I’m thankfully not the same person, photographer, artist that stood on that headland before.  I replaced my film camera long ago with two generations of digital cameras.  I now know what to do with a graduated neutral density filter.   I’ve embraced my love affair with the coast, despite living in the desert.  Endless experiences – conversations, readings, successes, failures, travels, and other inspirations – have challenged and changed my perspectives over time so that when I look at a scene I’ve seen before, I’m looking through an entirely different lens.

Ansel Adams summed it best:   “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Hang On!

“Hang On!” Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Whether we know it or not, as time passes, we and the world around us are constantly changing.  But, neither change nor creativity needs to be a passive activity.  If we seek to create new images in the same spots, we must change as a person.  Simply buying a new lens won’t cut it.  Oh sure, new gear can help execute new visions, but we need to start with new ideas and make different associations among the knowledge we already possess to see, and ultimately photograph, something new in places we’ve already been once or a hundred times.

Consciously and subconsciously, we can gain fresh thoughts everywhere and anytime, not just while photographing.  Some ideas how:

  • Reverse engineer photos you like to understand the process they used to achieve a specific result.  How’d they do it?  Then how would you do it differently?
  • Keep asking “what if.”  What if you used a different lens?  What if you climbed the hill for a more aerial perspective?  What if you saw the ocean as the desert, metaphorically speaking?
  • Devour books.  Not just photography books, but anything that tickles your passion and stimulates your brain.
  • Listen to music, watch movies, attend plays.  And then think about how you can incorporate the concepts and ideas you hear, see, and experience into your photography.
  • Talk with and exchange ideas with others.  Not just other photographers, but also those who know nothing about photography, who explore other activities and fields you enjoy, and think differently than you.  Surround yourself with people who know more than you.
  • Screw up.  Often.  Then learn from the experience to develop even more new ideas.
  • Engage with your environment.  An experience you have in one location can help trigger ideas in a different location.  Ride a bike, go for a hike, take a field-based class – whatever gets you closer to your subject.

So last Tuesday, I brought with me to Indian Beach all my experiences from spending 90+ days in Acadia National Park in Maine over the last four years, every critique I’ve conducted during all the photography workshops I teach, the entire process of writing a book about Arizona wildflowers, and more simply, even the songs I heard on the radio as I drove to Ecola State Park, among so many other things.  And as a result, my photographs look nothing, nothing, like they did in 2005.

What other tips do you have to see the same place with fresh eyes?

Spring Emergence

“Spring Emergence,” False lily-of-the-valley at Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Feb 282013
 

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
~William Shedd

Reaching for the Stars

“Reaching for the Stars”    A shooting star falls over Thor’s Hammer and Bryce Canyon at moonrise in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.  Prints available – click on print to order!

Today, February 28th, marks my 6th anniversary of my personal Independence Day, the day I walked skipped joyously out of my grey cubicle walls of Corporate America in 2007 to begin this amazing journey as a freelance photographer and writer. 

I joined Intel in September 1997, fresh from graduating from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (“GO BLUE!”).   Brimming with excitement of “going West,” I started with the company as a software test engineer, then moved on to systems analyst and project management roles within the transportation and logistics, factory automation, and training departments.  Though I worked with so many inspirational, talented people doing remarkable things and enjoyed working for such a generous company, over the course of ten years, I realized it just wasn’t my path in life.  I was safe in the harbor, but that’s not what I was built for.

How did I know I was ready to sail my ship into somewhat unknown open water?  Almost two years of planning and preparation ensured I could make the freeing transition to freelancing.  Though scary at first, after 2190 days have passed since my escape, I still can’t believe I’m so fortunate to live such a fulfilling life.

How do you know if you’re ready to make the leap?  If the following rings true for you, it may be time to start planning your very own Independence Day:

  • Working as a one-person show in a many-ringed circus, juggling marketing, finance, human relations, manufacturing, and training tasks sounds much more appealing than staying in your current position working with clowns.
  • If the photography gig doesn’t work out, your backup plan is to serve hamburgers at a fast food restaurant, not return to your current occupation.
  • You’ve run out of dead relatives – no one honestly believes your grandmother has passed away six times since January – and vacation time.  Or perhaps you’ve used so many sick days, your co-workers think you have some highly contagious unpronounceable disease. 
  • Your desire to become a freelance photographer derives from a burning passion to inform, educate, and inspire others.  You should not make the choice to leave your current position based on lack of other employment options or the idealistic notion of what a National Geographic photographer does in the movie, The Bridges of Madison County.
  • As El Presidente of your own business, when things go right, you’re to blame.  When things go wrong, you’re to blame.  And this complete accountability and control excites you.
  • When you work for yourself, no manager will stand over your shoulder telling you what, when, and how to do your work.  Are you self-disciplined, independent, and highly motivated enough to sail your ship through the occasional fog and stormy weather?
  • Family and friends support you beyond “Wow, that’s a pretty picture, George.  You could totally sell that!”  Your moral support network willingly buys your photographic prints for the holidays, spends hours editing your articles, and cooks you dinner when you forget to eat while putting together a submission.
  • Ever heard the joke: “How do you make a million dollars as a photographer?  You start with two!”  Starting any new career, let alone one in photography, with financial debt is not a smart decision as you’ll be transitioning from a stable income to a fluctuating one.  Put off buying that expensive lens (you don’t need anyhow) and instead ensure you’re financial obligations are low.
  • You’ve already tasted the “good” life by working as a freelancer in conjunction with your current 40-hour work week and have found enough work to cut ties and independently generate income now and in the foreseeable future during self-employment.

Are you ready to sail your ship out of the harbor?  What do you feel you are built for?  Are you currently planning your own Independence Day?  

For more ideas, read my next two posts in this three-part series:

<Shameless plug> If you are seeking more guidance and help in planning a successful transition to a career in photography, please consider joining me for the Arizona Highways Photography Workshop “There’s No Business Like the Photo Business” on June 22-23, 2013.  Visit the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops website at www.ahpw.org/workshops/2013/Phoenix-Arizona-No-Business-Like-Photo-Business-Workshop-2013-06-22 for more information and to register.</Shameless plug>

Share your aspirations and success stories in the comments below, and we’ll raise a glass to you tonight as we celebrate in hopes you too overcome your fears, follow your dreams, and live the life you’ve always hoped for.  After all, Les Brown suggested, “Reach for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Thank you so much for your continued support!  Cheers to Independence Day…in February!

 

Dec 182012
 

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”
~Bertha Calloway

As previously announced on my blog (“Buy a Print & 100% of the Profit to Help 3rd Grader Emily Beat Brain Cancer” ), I planned to donate all the profit from the print sales during November 2012 to Emmy’s Army, a fund established for my friend, Emily, who’s a third grader fighting a malignant brain tumor.

I’m so proud to report that this CMS Photography community  – from across the United States, from Canada, and even Germany – raised $1,411.06 in one month for Emily!  I wish I could find adequate words beyond “thank you” to help me express just how appreciative I am to those of you who bought a print to support this cause.  I’m equally as grateful to those of you who continue to express interest in Emily’s condition and offer your warm words of support for her and her family.   Thank you for your support – thank you for making a difference!

In a celebration of hope, life, and togetherness, in Emily’s honor, I’ve created “Emmy’s Album” below to showcase the broad variety of prints purchased to support her in her fight.  Please join me in keeping Emily and her family in our thoughts.

P.S.  If you would like to still help, please visit the Emmy’s Army fundraising campaign at https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/dLLIf to make a donation.

Emmy’s Album

 

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Oct 102012
 

Though I wouldn’t call myself an avid country music fan, one of my favorite artists is Paul Brandt from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  There’s a long list of uplifting songs I thoroughly enjoy, including “Didn’t Even See the Dust,” “What I Want to Be Remembered For,” and “Alberta Bound.”  But there is one song he produced called the “Little Space Between” that always seems to tug at my heart strings.  In case you haven’t heard it, the chorus suggests:

“Get ‘er done
Get to it
Cause there’s only one time through it
There’s only one thing we’re all heading for
It goes 1972 dash then
You leave your legacy
In that little space between.”

After spending this past weekend in Montana trying to fill that “little space between” with my husband, Craig and father-in-law, John,  I was overwhelmingly stunned and saddened to hear that two friends and outstanding photographers had unexpectedly lost their lives.  Last Friday, fellow Through Each Other’s Eyes (TEOE) photographer Paul O’Neill suffered a heart attack while recovering from his second brain surgery.  On Saturday, the past President of the Himeji International Photographic Society (HIPS; TEOE’s partner organization in Japan), Taisei Kitamura lost his long battle with cancer.

I met Paul in 2006 upon becoming a member of TEOE.  From the start, Paul always was eager to listen and encouraged my involvement, usually with a broad smile and sly sense of humor (which made it hard for me to say “no” to his task requests!).  His passion for making the world a better place was evident in everything he did, as he used his talents as a photographer and videographer to help educate the community about valuing culture and valuing each other through his TEOE exchanges, his leadership role in the Lowell Elementary School project, and his grass-roots efforts to fight bullying in the community.   Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Margo, his two children, and his grandchild.

Cherry blossoms frame the Himeji Castle

One of the photographs I captured of cherry blossoms and Himeji Castle during my 2006 TEOE exchange with Himeji, when I met Kitamura-san.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kitamura-san in 2007 during my first exchange with TEOE to Japan.  Though HIPS photographers, Itsuko Azuma and Yasushi Ienaga, generously hosted fellow TEOE photographer, Art Holeman and me during the exchange, I vividly remember meeting with Kitamura-san at his gallery in downtown Himeji where we had the chance to admire print after print and book after book of the Himeji Castle and surrounding Hyogo Prefecture.  I immediately thought, “He must certainly have THE most extensive and impressive collection of photographs of the Himeji Castle ever created!”  He had photographed this world UNSECO site, which resided conveniently down the street from his gallery, from seemingly every angle, in every season, and in every light.  May his wife and three daughters find some peace in this difficult time.

Through the tears, I find great comfort that both of these men filled their “little space between” with much joy, passion, and compassion. Both leave lasting legacies, which you can read more about in the moving tributes our TEOE President, Errol Zimmerman wrote about them:  Paul’s tribute and Kitamura-san’s tribute.

As we now celebrate their glorious lives, I find myself asking and pondering, “Am I doing all I can to fill my space between?”

Are you doing all you can?  What will you do with that space between the start and end dates of your life?  Each of us has a different path but each of us has equal opportunity to create significant individual meaning with the time we have today.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  Not next year.  RIGHT NOW.  Tomorrow, next week, and next year might not come.

If you’d like some ideas and inspiration, take a minute to watch this video by Holstee: (If you are unable to see the video above, please visit the link directly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSLVXt1iKCU)

Then, in celebration of Paul’s and Kitamura-san’s life, I’d encourage you to find one way – no matter how big or small – today to embrace the message it contains, “Life is short.  Live your dream.  Share your passion.”  If you care to share, we’d love to hear what you did today to fill YOUR space in between in the comments.

Rest in peace, Paul and Kitamura-san.  You’ll be missed.

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Sep 302012
 

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Photographic Society of America’s International Conference in San Francisco.  With many thanks to my generous sponsor, Hunts Photo and Video (thank you Gary Farber!), I also had the honor of presenting “Visualization:  Picturing the Unique Possibilities” as the Friday evening Featured Speaker with a lively crowd of enthusiastic photographers.

While I was prepared for hours and hours of set-up for my presentation (some of you know just how anal, er, I mean, detailed-oriented I am…), thanks to the support of AV equipment gurus, Sam Berzin and Greg Edwards, my projector calibration, music sound check, and lighting scheme for the conference room worked perfectly within minutes!  With my unexpected free time, I happily snuck into a handful of presentations prior to my showtime.

Out of the jam-packed schedule of intriguing sessions, the two presenters who impressed me the most were sports photographer, Brad Mangin and Adobe software extraordinaire, Julieanne Kost.  Seems somewhat illogical for this outdoor photographer to seek out those topics, doesn’t it?  After all, I don’t spend any time photographing baseball.  And I spend maybe 33 seconds per image tops in post-processing.  (Please no snide remarks about how I probably should spend more time than that.  Look, I’m an ex-software engineer who spent ten years behind a computer. I just want to play outside now!). How did I end up in their presentations then?

I intentionally sought out Brad’s session to help give me some fresh thoughts on photographing people enjoying outdoor sports.  Baseball, hiking, biking – no matter the physical endeavor, it simply boils down to capturing people in motion and telling a compelling story with a camera.  Boy, could Brad do that well!  With boundless enthusiasm, he’d show a remarkable photo of a player making a spectacular diving catch.  After describing in detail how he had planned and captured the shot, he exclaimed, “I love good action shots.”  Then he’d display a player silhouetted against a field and with the same passion, he pronounced, “I just love silhouettes of players.”   He flashed picture after picture on the screen, and every time, his response was exactly the same.  In less time than you could spell “photography,” it was perfectly clear:  this guy loves EVERYTHING about baseball!   In addition, I’d bet my telephoto lens he knows more about the game of baseball than the many of the players do!  He knew history, procedures before, during and after the game, equipment details, upcoming important statistical milestones, you name it.  And his strong story-telling images show just how much he knows and enjoys the game – see for yourself on his website:  manginphotography.com.

UMEAC-00055 - Mushroom gills, Acadia National Park, Maine

I learned about the “Dutch Tilt,” which is a technique where you tilt your camera to the side to turn static lines into more dynamic diagonal lines, by watching movies and studying various cinematography approaches. By doing so, it’s changed how I photograph close-ups of natural subjects, like this mushroom in Acadia National Park, Maine. (Click on photo for larger view – prints available!)

Immediately following Brad’s presentation, I had just enough time to sit through a portion of Julienne’s Lightroom talk.  I unfortunately could not attend her later Photoshop session, which would have made more sense for me based on my post-processing software preferences.  But regardless, the rumor on the photography streets is that she is a good presenter.  That’s a major understatement.  Julienne’s a phenomenal presenter!  Not only was she showing beautiful imagery, she was explaining things so clearly that I could have opened Lightroom three days later and confidently made the same adjustments she had shared – without having ever used Lightroom before!  As if that weren’t enough, she would intermittently crack jokes that made me laugh out loud in my chair.  For example, in explaining how to activate the black and white feature, she said, “Use the shortcut Control-V.  You know, because Control-V stands for ‘Vlack & Vhite’.”  How could you ever forget what Control-V does now?!  If I’m ever in the market for an Adobe class, I’m definitely looking her up: www.jkost.com.

What excited me most about both of these instructors were all the new ideas I gained for my own photography even though neither of them focused on the types of subject matter I like to photograph nor approached photography as I do.   Seeking out people who aren’t like us and listening to their unique perspectives can help ensure we don’t get too stuck in our own ways.  They can help expand our horizons and push us out of that cozy comfort zone – and quickly too if they have the same contagious passion Brad and Julieanne had!

So which photographers or other visual artists outside of your normal shooting domain do you like to follow and gain inspiration from for your work?  For example, if you normally like to photograph nature, do you study any food or street photographers to trigger new thoughts and influence your nature images?

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