Jun 022017
 
Arizona_Grand Canyon National Park_01162_c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 222016
 

Amy Minton was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Amy’s work can be viewed on her website at www.amymintonphotography.com.

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Winter is a beautiful time of the year and offers many opportunities for outdoor photo shoots.  My camera, however, hibernates in winter.  Well, at least that was the case before I participated in Colleen’s workshop, “Winter in Acadia:  A Creative Photography Retreat,” this past February.   By the end of the workshop, I was very happy that I took my camera out of hibernation and returned to Acadia National Park.  Now, not only do I possess confidence to shoot outdoors in winter (and in fact have done so – post-workshop), but also I learned about the creative process and its influence on my photography as well as history, geology, and wildlife within and around Acadia National Park.

Blueberry Hill

This image was made on a very chilly morning (-17 wind chill), which may be the reason why I wanted to create an image with this lone tree located near the Blueberry Hill Parking Area.  To me, loneliness feels “cold,” and at the time, despite being appropriately dressed for the winter conditions, I was cold.  So, while standing there, I imagined that this tree was also feeling alone during the cold sunrise as it looked out toward the other trees on Schoodic Island.  I wondered if the tree longed to join the other trees on the island, or maybe it wanted to invite the trees to join him on Schoodic Peninsula, a.k.a. “the quiet side of Acadia.”

 

Otter Cliff

Face of Otter Cliff.   I usually don’t think of a title for an image when at a location, but while at Boulder Beach (Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island) the snow and ice coating the rocks at Otter Cliff appeared to reveal a face.  At time, I wondered if it was only during the winter season that the face is exposed.  If so, then add it to one more experience of the unique beauty of Acadia National Park in winter.

 

Wildlife

The harbor seals in this image were spotted resting, presumably on a rocky outcropping exposed at low tide, in Wonsquak Harbor.  I am sharing this image because it represents one of the many forms of wildlife that was seen during my photo adventure.   In addition to the harbor seals, I watched a seagull drop, while in flight, drop a mussel onto the road in order to crack the protective shell, and then, gain access to the mussel inside (I had never seen that before).  There were also a variety of mammal and bird tracks in the snow, but the “coolest” tracks, in my opinion, were the river otter tracks.  Despite not actually seeing the river otter(s) (unlike the workshop participants the week before my group), I thought it was amazing to see the paw prints in the snow and then see where the otter slid on it’s belly on top of the snow.  It still makes me smile when I think about that river otter running along the snow and then sliding on its belly before he reached the waters edge and began to forage for food.  I suspect the river otter made a game of it along his way.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 222016
 

Dixie Pearson was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Dixie’s work can be viewed on her website at dixiegirl.smugmug.com.

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Winter in Acadia gave me the opportunity to be truly alone with the landscape.   Through Colleen’s excellent guidance, I was able to “turn off” my thoughts, and listen to my surroundings.

I learned to make mindful observations of the landscape. Here are just a few of my observations:

  • The crashing of the waves and the whistling of the wind during our first day of shooting at Schoodic Point.
  • The snow and ice forming “ice pillows” over rocks at Duck Brook.
  • The myriad ice formations, rising and breaking around us at West Pond Cove.
  • The sound of the pebbles, like tiny bamboo xylophones, tumbling in the surf as each wave recedes at Boulder Beach.

Here are 3 of my images, with accompanying haikus, from our trip:

the icy brook flows
forever echoing change
possibilities

Duck Brook

 

tree on craggy shore
arms raised in supplication
granite sky warning

Boulder Beach

 

veiled light revealing
the sun’s fickle winter gaze
how I see has changed

Sunrise, Blueberry Hill

What an incredible opportunity it was to capture such an amazing place in winter. I can truly say that it was well worth braving the elements~just dress warmly and enjoy!

Thank you!

Dixie Pearson

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 202016
 

Rebecca Wilks was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Rebecca’s work can be viewed on her website www.skylineimages.net and her blog at theviewfromtheskyline.blogspot.com.

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Another fabulous workshop with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry has come to an end too soon.  I’d been to (and Around) Acadia National Park with her twice before, but never in the winter.  Of course our little group knew we couldn’t predict what the weather would bring in February for safe travels or for photography.  We were fortunate.  Temps were well above freezing the week before and after our time there, but we saw wind chill temps below minus 20.  Yes, we were slow-moving, sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally whiny.  We were fortunate though, since the colder temps are much more conducive to photographing snow and ice, which we did with joy.

Colleen has asked each of us to contribute a few favorite images with our thoughts.

One morning along East Schoodic Drive I was following the trail of a fox in the deep snow.  I looked up and was struck by the graphic quality of evergreen trees with ice plastered to their trunks on one side.  As Colleen often encourages students to do, I pondered what attracted me to the scene.  There’s a literal narrative here about the strength of the storm the night before, but also universal truths about perseverance and the fresh start that comes with the dawn.  Oh, and I think it’s pretty.

We drove twice to Mount Desert Island, where the larger and more visited (though not so much in the winter) part of the park lies.  My favorite shots there were at Duck Brook, where fanciful ice formations resembling pillows, chandeliers, and sea creatures had formed above a retreating flood.  The texture of the ice fascinates me still.

Somehow on this trip, I often found myself shooting in the opposite direction from my friends.  Here’s an example along Park Loop Road.  They were making lovely images of a snow-covered Boulder Beach, but I was captivated by the coast in the other direction with their curves echoed by the high tide line and mountains as well as the sense of power in the waves.

I can’t wait for a chance to do it again.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Aug 062015
 
Skeletons of the Past

“Skeletons of the Past” / Remnants of old trees rise out of Goat Pond in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

My friends and I arrived to Goat Pond in the Spray Valley in Kananaskis Country in Alberta, Canada late in the afternoon, while the sun played hide and seek behind clouds.   Upon surveying the somewhat barren landscape, I saw the dead branches sticking out of the water and immediately came up with the title (“Skeletons of the Past”) for my photograph.

I grabbed my 24-105mm lens, and then set my camera to ISO 100 and  f/11 for the appropriate depth of field.  This resulted in a 1/40 of a second shutter speed.  Easy!  Click!

After reviewing this first frame, I gasped.  It was absolutely horrible and nothing like what I envisioned (see photo on the right).  The composition appeared as I had hoped, but the photo lacked the mood and emotion I felt about this particular scene.  I wanted it to feel more mystical, ethereal, maybe even dream-like.

The first frame

The first (horrible) frame I captured at Goat Pond with ISO 100, f/11 at 1/40 second.

I looked up at the sun.  Clearly, I could not rely upon the existing lighting conditions to help create that mood.  In addition, we hadn’t planned on returning to this location again, so I would have to make do with the hand I had been dealt right here, right now.

Paying attention to the words I associated with my vision – things like “mystical, ethereal, and dreamlike” – I turned to my 10-stop neutral density filter to help slow the motion in the pond’s waves to help create those concepts in my photograph.  After some experimentation with shutter speed, I settled on 30 seconds, as it provided enough “mystical” but retained structure within the water to still imply movement.

I used a Cloudy white balance to help offset the blue hues of the overcast day, but knew when I processed the image later at home, I would add a little blue coloration back into the scene to help convey a more gloomy feel to match the “skeleton” part of my image.  Since the scene appeared monochromatic, I tried converting the frame to black and white, but ultimately decided the blue tones helped communicate the coldness I aimed for in presenting the my final vision.

This experience reminded me just how important observation and problem solving skills are in a photographers bag.  Sometimes the final image isn’t “hit-you-over-the-head” evident.  However, as you continue to look at your surroundings and ponder how to creatively overcome natural and technical obstacles, your vision can eventually come to life.  As a Dakota Indian saying suggests, “When there’s nothing to see, look.”

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 24-105mm at 105mm, ISO 100, f/11 at 30 seconds, 10-stop neutral density filter.

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.