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 162016
 

“Of Glory and Beauty” || Cliffs along the Colorado River near mile 54 (just south of Nankoweap ruins) soak up the day’s last light in the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

My mom and I recently had the fortunate chance to spend eight days rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for the first time while on a private trip with 14 dear and new friends with Hatch River Expeditions.  Commonly used words to describe the trip like “epic,” “best trip of my life,” and “life-changing” all fall short of how I feel about my time in the canyon’s warm (literally and figuratively!!) embrace.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was so far beyond epic!  I loved it so much, I’ve already booked another trip down for May 2017!

I have 4000+ images and ~128GB of GoPro video footage to sort through, plus pages and pages of notes I scribbled in my journal, from our trip so more pics and stories are sure to follow as I start to shake the sand out of everything.

However, to give you a taste of how exhilarating–and at times, downright hilarious–our trip was, I put together this three-minute video of our run through the famous Lava Falls, the river’s most difficult rapid (albeit short).  It’s rated a Class 10 on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult and dangerous.

In the short clip, Wendy Gunn, her son Troy, and I are riding in the “bathtub” (the front of the motorized raft), so we had front-row seats as the action unfolded.  Boy, did we get a mouthful!  And man, did we have a blast!

Take a peek at the video below to experience (and for those who have been down the river, perhaps re-live your ride) Lava Falls without getting wet like we did!

(Note: we spewed a few expletives during the ride, so you may not want to play this at full volume at work…)

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!