Dec 012016
 
Catch You When You Fall

“Catch You When You Fall” || Serene fall colors in the meadow at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Fine art prints available – click on photo to order)

How many of you have photographed a gorgeous location only to arrive at home to say, “I didn’t really capture what I wanted” while reviewing your images? Ever had that sinking feeling while you are sipping coffee at your desk when you realize if you would have just moved to the left two feet or switch to a different lens, that would have made the image you wanted—and now there’s nothing you can do about it?  It’s a total bummer, isn’t it?

While reviewing your images on your computer, asking yourself what you could have done differently on your photo shoot will certainly lead to a refined understanding of your current photographic abilities and provide new ideas to try on your next shoot. However, your ability to resolve what you do not like about your photograph is limited to some cropping, exposure levels, and other processing software features. Otherwise, it is difficult to “fix” an image you spent all that time working on in the field, brought home, and then generally disliked.

The ideal time to conduct an initial critique on your work is when you are standing behind your camera in the field. When you analyze your photograph while you are in the process of making it, you give yourself the opportunity to resolve any issues at the time of capture.

After you set up a composition, review your photograph on the back of your LCD.  Check for obvious technical issues like exposure, white balance, depth of field, etc. Then (assuming the light is not fleeting or the jaguar is not disappearing into the woods), take a minute to conduct a quick critique on your image, specifically asking, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?”

Pay attention to your answers! Increase the focus in your photograph on the elements you like. Then, fix or eliminate what you do not like. Repeat this process over and over until you have a frame you can say, “YES! I like everything in this photo!” Only then should you pick your tripod up and move on to another composition.

To give you an idea of how this works, here is the sequence of photographs I made which resulted in the marquee photo above titled, “Catch You When I Fall:”

Sequences of my RAW images that eventually resulted in “Catch Me When I Fall” (the photograph at the top of this post). Click on the photo to view larger.

Now, I typically have a difficult time seeing the trees through the forest (preferring instead to slap on a wide-angle lens and photograph the entire forest…). However, when I saw the colorful trees and leaves being cradled by the luscious grasses at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park in Maine this past autumn, I knew I wanted to make a more intimate image I titled, “Catch Me When I Fall” (which expressed the emotion I immediately felt when I saw the scene).

The landscape initially felt very busy to my eye, so I started with a classic horizontal composition with a birch tree in the bottom left corner of the Rule of Thirds grid and the leading lines of the grasses leading across the frame (image “_1110461.dng, or just #461 for short). After I snapped it, I asked myself, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?” I loved the grasses and leaves, but the composition looked too forced and predictable. I also did not like how the subtle line of grasses led the eye essentially out of the frame without going anywhere interesting.

I moved my camera around slightly for image #462 and #463 to resolve those issues but in doing so, realized I had too much grass and not enough of the fall colors I enjoyed so much when I saw the scene. The balance of visual elements felt off.

I tilted my camera up slightly for image #464.

I checked my histogram, and the exposure was too dark so I added about 1/3 stop of light to lighten in #465.

Then I thought I might have too much of the grass in the foreground, which led to me walking into the scene about 10-12 feet to record image #466.

When I did so, however, I lost the leaves in the foreground which was a strong visual element critical to my composition. I decided if the horizontal orientation offered to much of the grass, a vertical orientation would reduce the amount. Hence, image #467.

I noted the image was underexposed, so added another third stop of light for image #468.

For #469, I tilted the camera up a little to position the leaves differently within the frame and emphasize the very subtle path of separated grasses takes from the foreground to the background through the trees. And to straighten my implied horizon. :) I liked this, though!

I could have stopped here (note that #469 and my final frame of #476 are quite similar), but being anal-retentive, I kept asking “what if…,” specifically, what if I moved the placement of the leaves within the frame starting with #470? I liked the leaves better, but I went too wide and started getting “UFO’s” (like distracting plant branches and berries on the left-hand side of my image, too many leaves in the bottom left corner). And my horizon was crooked. Again. So #471, 472, and 473.

As I adjusted my composition, the clouds had thickened and the natural light had decreased so I needed more light via my exposure so I clicked #474.

During the middle of my 13-second exposure, the breeze kicked up and moved the grasses. I knew instantly that would be a throw-away frame but checked my histogram anyhow.  That’s when I noticed the sky in the top right corner blinking at me. Rather than darken the whole exposure, I chose to angle my camera down towards the ground to eliminate it from my composition resulting in #475.

I still did not like the few leaves in the bottom left corner, so I made a small camera tilt to eliminate them in #476. Then a YES! I like everything about it! “Catch You When You Fall” came to life!

(This process should bring great comfort to those of you who think you’re too analytical, as I am–I tell you what, it pays to be picky in your photography!)

This might take one try or six hundred.  Regardless, don’t give up! Something grabbed your attention strongly enough to stop you in your tracks and wrestle with that dreaded tripod (be one with the tripod…)—and since you are the only person in the world who can see it like you do, it is worth putting the effort into polishing your personal visual expression.

Keep in mind that fixing what you do not like about a photograph relies heavily on the tools you have collected in your photographic “toolbox” (e.g. technical knowledge, familiarity with your camera, human perception). So, if you find yourself with a problem you do not know how to fix, do not get frustrated. This is simply a sign of where you might need to develop a new skill.

This approach is especially helpful when you stand in front of an overwhelming scene and simply do not know where to start. Like putting a pen to a blank sheet of paper and then editing the words later, snap “anything.” Then review your photograph and ask, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t I like about it?” Keep what you like; fix what you don’t. Rinse, lather, repeat.

In addition to helping you bring home images you like with greater consistency, over time, you will train your brain and eye to quickly notice key visual elements (like shape, color, light, form, pattern, balance, spatial relationship, etc.) you like and to disregard what you do not like more naturally, which will ultimately help you develop your own individual style.

Have you tried this approach before? If so, tell us what you like about it (and what you don’t like about it)!

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…

May 122016
 

Photo copyright Sydney Troxell

As I hiked along these heavenly creations, the crisp Utah air whisked atop my 1982 UCLA Rose Bowl windbreaker, feeling free as a bird with my best friends by my side and my camera barreling along with us, as if it were apart of me. I heard my name called from a distance and I looked up to find Jordan, my roommate, enveloped by this beautiful rock creation, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In disbelief, I quickly grabbed my camera to hopefully capture what was before my eyes. Holding my Canon T5 18-55mm, sitting at 18mm with the ISO at 640, I brought my eye to see through the lens and bang there it was, my moment in time captured at 1/200 of a second. It’s the one photograph that I find the most satisfaction in amongst my gallery of photos. The effortless moments seem to reflect the most accurate depiction of what I see through my eyes.

Capturing the beauty of nature is a difficult feat. Becoming the eye of the beholder is something I strive for in my photography. Looking at a photograph should conjure up some sort of emotion or feeling within someone, which is why I chose this this image in particular. The dramatic beauty of this enormous structure was humbling. Witnessing something so much greater than myself made the essence of this picture worth its moment, now its memory. Pictures are so precious in life because that specific moment in time will essentially never happen that exact same way ever again. Wild to think about but so true in a sense. My trip to Moab, Utah would not have been the same without my handy dandy Canon by my side. Then there’s that sunspot. I will admit though I once had a negative outlook on it, now I do believe is what makes it unique, and in the moment. I decided not to alter the image from its original moment because I believe an organic shot is what gives a photo depth and tells a story in an instant. One look and you know the beginning, middle and end because of the emotion brought forth when we look at a photograph.

Writing about my picture has really made me come to realize that every picture taken should have a reason or purpose, because essentially anyone can take a photograph nowadays. Technology has broadened the horizons of channeling people’s inner artist and with this photo and that trip I really felt as though I did just this.

About the Photographer:

As for me I’m just a 19 year old girl with an optimistic soul. Photography has always been a passion of mine my whole life. I’ve always been capturing moments and sharing them with those around me. I enjoy bringing bliss into the lives of those around me and photos always seem to bring effortless happiness. From the gal who looks through the eye of the lens for most of my free time I truly encourage everyone to look up every once in a while and embrace the beautiful world around us because we miss a whole lot when we aren’t aware of our surroundings. Photography create moments, shares moments, and captures moments. It’s truly a beautiful thing and that is why I love what I do.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/4th-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-projectPlease take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Sydney would love to hear from you!

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

Aug 102015
 
Drifiting From Reality

“Drifting From Reality” || Reflection of cliffs melt into a riffle along Succor Creek in the Succor Creek State Natural Area in southeastern Oregon (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

When I decide where to travel to create my own photography (versus shooting on assignment), I often try to mix up my time between visiting old favorites with new locations.  Because of my deep connections and ongoing fascinations with my favorite places, I feel not only comfortable and relaxed in these spots, but I also find endless stories to tell about them.  In these places, it feels like I’m coming home to a plateful of freshly-baked, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  And those who know me know very well that I am not capable of resisting freshly-baked, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies (or any cookies for that matter…).

At the same time, though, I love the thrill of discovering and exploring all the new surprises a completely new location offers.  It’s like opening presents on my birthday or at Christmas.  Every time I look or pick something up, it offers me a chance to learn something new about the place or a subject -  and quite often about myself. This past May during my three-week adventure in Oregon, I balanced my time between old favorites – the coast, specifically Carl Washburne and Cape Lookout state parks – and a new place – Succor Creek State Natural Area.  Not only did I chose the Succor Creek area because I had never been there before, but also because it promised water in the high desert (a juxtaposition that never ceases to intrigue me) along the eastern border Oregon shares with Idaho.

After about an eight-hour drive from Portland, I arrived to the tree-lined oasis and set up camp.  For four blissful days, I enjoyed hiking along the water’s edge, marveling at thunder eggs (Oregon’s official state rock), and watching the light dances on the rhyolite cliffs surrounding me in my temporary “home.”  Ever corner I turned, a new sight, scene, smell awaited – oh, the joy!

From my camp, I could hear the water gurgling and tossing against the rocks all day and all night.  As I listened, I wondered what it would be like to be that water – Where has it been?  Where is it going?  And why?  I started to pen words answering these questions and internalizing the idea of an unknown journey within myself.  Where had I been?  Where was I going?  And why?   I smiled when I realized Succor Creek was living up to its name.  By definition, the word “succor” means “help; relief; aid; assistance” according to dictionary.com.

As quickly as the creek streamed by me, the words formed into a new poem to help me share my experience:

Go With the Flow

Silky caramel water seduced
By a stoic stone
Without choice, innocently
Drifts downstream
Towards a riffle
That looks not to cause trouble,
But simply has nothing

Else to do.
Streaking gracefully
Then plunging and drowning
In its own breath,
The wave curls over
Itself, roaring, frothing, splashing,
Madly gasping for the past
Just barely,
Barely

Out of reach. Overthrown
Yet unscathed save for an escorting
Crown of sage bubbles,
Whispering memories bursting
In the unruffled aftermath
Into an embrace

Of empathetic trees
Where my roots dip
Their toes
Into the mirror.

Floating away,
United in our destination
Unknown.

 

As I polished the draft of my poem,  I glanced up to notice a beautiful reflection glowing on top of the water’s surface while sitting in camp late in the afternoon on the day prior to my departure.  Harsh sunlight bathed the entire scene, but I had learned enough about this location in the days prior to know if I waited an hour or so, the creek would fall into shadow (thanks to the sun dropping behind cliffs to the west of me) and create a desirable contrast to the still-illuminated cliffs to the east of my position.  I headed to the creek with my camera and tripod in hand anyhow to perfect my composition so that I could be ready as soon as the light fell into place.

While watching the reflected light pour over the riffle, I decided to title my forthcoming photograph, “Drifting From Reality.”  I intended to create a composition with a slow enough shutter speed to create a “silky” effect mentioned in my poem.  I also wanted the water to appear as if it were melting the cliff’s reflection in the water into the “stoic stones” on the left side of my frame.  I settled on ISO 100 and f/22 to slow my exposure down.  I waited until the bright light receded in order to get a final shutter speed setting (1/4 second).  The photo above resulted.

I spent the rest of the evening photographing and wading in the warm creek, playing until the day faded into night.  With the final click of my shutter, I decided to add Succor Creek to my “old favorites” list.  I certainly can’t wait to return!  And next time, I’ll bring fresh-baked, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies…

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.

Feb 192014
 
The Sol of Winter

Winter sunrise at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park in Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

Last night, the Acadia National Park area received about five inches of fresh snow. The fluffy and light powder created a smooth fondant-like coating over the top of the granite ledges and boulders.  A glorious sunrise greeted those who ventured out early enough to see the winter spectacle.  I welcomed the new day with a smile (and a sunburst!) along the granite headland called Schoodic Point.

Despite the weather forecast suggesting partly cloudy skies would quickly turn to mostly cloudy cover, the sun still shone brightly after I consumed my breakfast. I decided to pack my camera gear and head back to Schoodic Point for a little more fun.  Specifically, I wanted to record me digging a snow angel against the backdrop of Cadillac Mountain (hat tip to my friend and fellow photographer, Olivier du Tre for the idea!)

At Schoodic Point, I danced though the blanket of snow to find a safe place among the wind-swept granite ledges. After composing my frame with a little extra room on the bottom right hand corner for my snow angel, I set my intervolometer to fire my shutter at 5 second intervals following an initial 20-second delay (to allow me enough time to walk into the frame and start moving snow around). After I made several outtakes, I walked out of the scene and back to my camera to stop the automatic trigger.  I reviewed the results on my camera’s LCD, made some minor adjustments, and then tried the process again. (Lather, rinse, repeat for about 20 minutes.)

Snow Angel on Schoodic Point

Colleen making a snow angel on Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, Maine

All went according to plan until I finished the third set-up. After creating a sequence of photos for a time-lapse video (a new skill I am practicing), I carefully stepped from one exposed granite ledge to another to avoid stepping on my winter creation and to return to my camera.

I traveled about three-quarters of the route back with no trouble. Then suddenly, I plunged from a solid granite boulder into a large snowdrift about four feet below. After my feet stopped in their unexpected descent, my momentum pushed me forward, causing me to land face first and hands out in the soft snow. Instantly, I started laughing hysterically. After a few minutes contemplating the hilarity of my situation, I pulled myself out of the snow, brushed off, and returned to my camera to stop the intervals.

My tumble had occurred outside the frame on camera right, but when I glanced at the imprint in the snow, it looked just like an animal shape. I had an idea! Without hesitation, I recomposed my camera on the fall area, set the self-timer, and then performed a re-enactment of my face plant.

And with that, I introduce to you my “snow lobster!”  Along the Maine coast, that’s apparently how we “roll!”

The Snow Lobster

Colleen demonstrates the new “Snow Lobster” on Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park in Maine

For more stories about my photographic adventures in Acadia National Park, pick up a copy of my new guidebook, Photographing Acadia National Park:  The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How In addition to the 12 “Making the Photo” stories, you’ll also learn about my favorite 50 locations in the park so you can plan your own fun in this magical place.  And, 10% of the book’s profit goes to the Schoodic Education Adventure program to help kids learn about science and nature in Acadia!

Or join me in Acadia this fall with the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops!  Limited seats remain, so get more information and register at  ahpw.org/workshops/2014/2014-Acadia-National-Park-Photo-Workshop-2014-10-09/.

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!

Jun 042013
 
Washed Up

“Moved by the Sea,” Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

With the blissful freedom to choose “where ever I want to go” for my photographic outings, I normally select my photographic destinations based on a number of factors, including, but certainly not limited, to the specific visualizations I’ve developed for a location or subject, the anticipated weather, and seasonal considerations (e.g. wildflower blooms, fall colors).

With that in mind, I ventured to Redwoods National Park in northern California last week in hopes I’d catch the tail end of the rhododendron (affectionately referred to as “rhodies”) bloom.  A storm brewed off-shore in the days prior to my scheduled departure, and I kept my fingers crossed that photogenic inclement weather like light mist and fog would help me record images with vibrant pink blossoms offset by the towering, gi-normous redwood trees.

Over the course of three days, though, the dark stormy skies unleashed in unrelenting, non-stop downpours. The storm arrived onshore earlier than predicted.  On top of Mother Nature dumping buckets, the number of rhodies on the ground far, far exceeded the number of blooms remaining on their lanky branches.

After making the most of the few rhodies still intact and with 100% chance of rain forecasted for my fourth and final day, I decided to seek refuge in a drier place along the southern Oregon coast.  I had no final destination in mind for the evening and made the decision that I would start looking for a campsite around 5 pm, wherever my travels took me.

Under partially clearing skies, I arrived at a lovely forested spot in the Cape Blanco State Park just after my arbitrary deadline.  Mentally exhausted from my Redwoods trip, I thought a casual stroll along the beach at Cape Blanco would refocus my creative thoughts.  One whiff of the ocean breeze as I hiked down the steep hill to the shoreline was all it took to rejuvenate my soul. (Oh, how I love the ocean!).

From a distance, I spotted this long bull kelp resting on the shoreline. Likely a remnant of the last high tide, as I approached it, I wondered where the sea would take it the next high tide.  Where had it been before this evening?  Where would it go in the days ahead?   Would it remain here and dry out?  Like me at this moment, it had no set, pre-defined destination.  It went where ever the waves and winds took it.

Now connected with this wandering whip, I knew I needed to record an image of it.  Watching the next storm develop on the horizon, I set up my camera with my wide-angle lens.  One snap to confirm my composition and exposure revealed the need for some adjustments.  I repositioned my tripod to intentionally align the bull kelp with the parting line in the sky, placing it in the middle of the frame and breaking the “rule of thirds” on purpose.  I then needed to balance the exposure difference between the land and sky with a three-stop graduated neutral density filter.

Pleased with the results but wanting to see how different light would affect the outcome, I waited for sunset in hopes the sun would poke out one last time before disappearing.  The skies parted gloriously for a mere seven minutes about 8:30 pm (sunset officially occurred at 8:48 pm).  Though the beach received warm, glowing sidelight, the clouds’ shape had changed completely to a flat, even, overcast sky.  When comparing the two results, I preferred the earlier version which appears above.

As I trudged back up the hill to my campsite and considered how well my “casual stroll” along the beach turned out, I recalled one of my favorite Ansel Adams quotes: “Every man’s work is always a portrait of himself.”  Reflecting not just the serendipitous moment but also my experience during this particular photographic adventure, I decided to title this image, “Moved by the Sea.”

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 50, f/22 at 1.3 seconds, three-stop graduated neutral density filter, basic post processing.