Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Photo Travel’ Category
Welcome to 2016 on the Photo Cascadia blog. I have the distinct honor of being chosen to write the first article of the new year. Actually I drew the short straw, but either way I’m excited to be kicking off Photo Cascadia’s sixth year of sharing, learning, exploring and inspiring here on our blog.
Back in October of 2015 I lead a photo tour in the Eastern Sierra through the Cascade Center of Photography with Christian Heeb, one of the most versatile professionals and experienced travel photographers around. The two of us, and our intrepid group of photographers, spent a memorable week exploring the mythical landscapes along Highway 395. The following is a photo journal of the trip. All of these photos were taken by Christian and myself. Christian is the people photographer, so he’s not in many of them.
The Eastern Sierra is a land of legends. Every landscape evokes geologic and volcanic legacy, Native American history, explorers, pioneers, the gold rush, famous mountaineers and one of the birth places of the American national parks and environmental conservation movement. The expanses are big, the mountains are grand and the landscapes are varied. Of course, the Sierra Nevada has inspired some of the most well known American photographers, Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell not the least among them.
The area is so large and parts are so remote that a lifetime of exploring wouldn’t allow you to see it all. Some of the most scenic and photogenic locations are in the high mountain wilderness, deep in canyons or far out in the remote desert and only accessible by those who are especially adventurous and fit. However, it also has many world class photography locations which are accessible by car or with short hikes. This makes the Eastern Sierra a great destination for any photographer and a popular area for photography workshops and tours like this one. There are so many good locations which can be accessed by a group workshop that one week almost wasn’t long enough.
Christian and I planned our tour to be timed with the peak of autumn aspen color. Like anywhere, the fall color quality and timing varies from year to year, but most often it peaks near the third week of October. During our visit some of the highest elevation groves were past peak, but the middle and lower elevation colors near Lee Vining, June Lakes and Bishop Creek were at their height. During the fall season the temperatures are generally very pleasant. Mornings at the higher elevations can be below freezing, but daytime temperatures were quite comfortable at 60-75 F (15-22 C). The busiest time in the Sierra is summer when it is overrun with tourists, backpackers, mountain bikers, climbers and campers. In October, some areas still get quite a few visitors, but nothing close to the crowds of summer, and we were the only people at several of the places we went.
Our trip covered the region between Mono Lake on the north and the town of Lone Pine on the south. The distance between is over 100 miles, so we based out of a few different towns during the trip to minimize driving time to our sunrise and sunset locations. As you can see from the images, we had some spectacular light and weather conditions.
Most important of all is the fun we had. We had a wonderful and diverse group of talented photographers. People came from all over the west and as far as Florida, Maryland and Switzerland. Everyone was enthusiastic, positive and energized. I think everyone learned a lot, made new friends and had lifetime experiences. We also laughed a lot and captured some spectacular photographs. Photo credit for this next collection of workshop images goes to Christian Heeb.
I work with Christian and the Cascade Center of Photography regularly. They are one of few dedicated photography centers in the Western US and a great resource for all types and levels of photographers. Each year they offer a wide selection of classes, workshops and tours. Classes for all levels and genres of photography are held in Bend, Oregon, where the center is located. They also lead tours all over the world. Christian and I will be taking a group to Patagonia and Easter Island in March and they have trips to Cuba, France and Morocco on the calendar, just to name a few.
All of the locations in this article are open to the public, have good access and ample information can be found on them with quick web searches. Following are some additional resources for the Eastern Sierra you may find helpful.
- Michael Frye’s Sierra Blog Articles. Michael is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and talented photographers currently in the area.
- Photo Trip USA’s Photographing California Volumes 1 and 2 by Garry Crabbe and Jeffrey Sullivan.
- Mono County Eastern Sierra Fall Color Report
- Sierra National Forest
- Inyo National Forest
Yet again another year has flown by which brings time to look back on the past and what might lie ahead for the new year. Going strong for six years with no signs of letting up on the gas. We grew by a whopping 16.6% with Erin Babnik joining our crew. We continue united with our mission “learn, explore, create” as we intended from the beginning. Just like a rock concert I was at last week when the band said they would not be where they are without their fans, a similar statement could be said for all of you. A sincere Thank you to all of our subscribers and viewers to the newsletter, blog, social media and any other rock you lifted up to find us!
It’s always a good time looking back at the photos each of us from Photo Cascadia captured over the last year. Wherever the road took you in 2015 for your photography we hope you enjoy looking back at what it means to you while giving a chance to reflect on what life is all about and what matters most. Photographing what mother nature has to offer reminds us that we learn as much or more from simply being out and about than anything we could read or watch online. This quote says it best.
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
- John Lubbock
As we wrap up the year and take a few weeks off from the blog we invite you to take a few minutes to view a few of our favorites from the team this past year. Slideshow is best viewed in HD. Happy Holidays and New Year!
Late last year we were out as a Photo Cascadia group along the Oregon Coast when the idea was brought up to head to the Canadian Rockies for fall 2015. I was in! I had not been there while it sat on my list of must see places to visit for too long. Fast forward to the last week of September 2015 and we were off for a one week trip.
After the first 6 hour leg from my house in Portland, Oregon I met up with Chip in Spokane, Washington to finish out the next 6+ hours to our destination and meet up with Sean and Zack who had already been there a day. After a long day we arrived at Lake Louise Campground shortly after sunset. No sunset photos that night. We pulled in. Hung out with Zack and Sean for a bit while eating dinner then off to catch zzz’s for sunrise.
Getting up this time of year for sunrise feels like a treat after the droopy tired eyes of summer. We made our way to our first photo stop, sunrise at Moraine Lake. I expected busy. It was a little more than I expected. Far and away the most crowded location on this trip photographing with 100+ of my closest friends. Amazing to see yet it loses the appeal a little for me with that many photographers all jockeying for limited space. I kept setting up high in the trees, in the dark, only to find someone else eventually moving around already setup in my shot. One gal was getting aggressive when a photog got too close and he wasn’t moving. I was waiting for a fight but he eventually moved. I left the main viewing area on the top to join my peeps along the shore where I had a great rest of the morning with this splendid view!
This trip would not involve lollygagging around the same campsite for multiple nights. We had breakfast in town, back to camp to pick up Chip’s trailer and then off to the next location, Yoho National Park. A rather short drive away (~ 20 kilometers) we checked in at Kicking Horse Campground which was a good location in the middle of Yoho Park.
We spent the afternoon checking out Takakkaw Falls, walking part of Emerald Lake shoreline and then finishing with sunset at Emerald Lake. It’s only seconds after arriving here to know how it got it’s name. “Hiking” around the lake is more like an extended nature hike. At least the section we did was pretty flat yet very scenic. As we all know not all great scenic photos require long bouts of strenuous activity.
Up plenty before daylight and off to Bow Lake for sunrise. The drive was about 50 kilometers. The wind was whipping pretty good. I was not happy with any of my images from this morning yet we had a fun time regardless. The clouds rolled in and we could tell things would get wet later in the day. Back to Kicking Horse for breakfast at camp, fill up on water and off to the next campsite closer to the Bow Lake area.
Our next stop was Mosquito Creek Campground on Ice Fields Parkway. We filled up on water before arriving as this time of year it’s a dry campground because overnight lows dip below freezing. By the time we arrived the rain had already started dropping. We spent the afternoon chilling in our campers reading, listening to podcasts and napping. Having warm dry shelter was very welcome at that moment.
After getting bored we decided to drive and see if could find a place to have a beer. First stop was Bow Lake restaurant. The lady at the desk was indirectly kind in trying to say the restaurant was for guests only yet suggested we head a ways down the road for a bar. Mind you this is National Park with few places to stop and all tree lined roads. After driving another 40 km in the pouring rain at dusk we arrive at the mildly depressing oasis called Saskatchewan River Crossing. We were happy to have this place pretty much to ourselves sitting on couches drinking a beer and snacking on mediocre wings. Out into the rain and 50 km later we are back at camp. Rain still pouring outside we eat dinner in the camper then hit the hay.
I wake up shortly before dawn. I step outside the camper and can see nothing but endless grey with rain still coming down. Feels like home. We decide to bag sunrise and go back to bed. What seemed like 5 min later, in reality over an hour, I wake up and look out the window to see a huge patch of blue sky. Shorter than the click of a shutter I yell for Chip to wake up and jump out the camper. No courteous knock, I whip open the door to Sean’s camper and say “get up now, we need to leave!” Minutes later we are on the road. It did not take long to see this was going to be a fantastic morning. The snowline went down low overnight but only brought a dusting. With the sun coming over the horizon and quickly clearing skies we had to act fast. After pulling into Peyto Lake we made a short hike to an area with a perfect view and away from the main viewpoint.
While still on a morning high from the scene at Peyto Lake we make our way down to wander around Waterfowl Lakes. After breakfast back at camp we decide very early tomorrow is the time to make it up into Lake O’Hara with the slowly clearing weather pattern.
Midday we head back into Lake Louise Village for supplies. Mainly the $6 dollar bear spray rental since I left mine back home. I know now I can take it across the border next trip. As the kid in the store weighs the bear spray he proceeds to tell me that if I end up using it and the weight is not the same upon return I will have to buy it. My response “if I have to use this I have much bigger concerns than the retail price of a can of bear spray!”
That night we photographed sunset along Waterfowl Lakes. The partly cloudy skies made for a really nice scene. We don’t stick around long as we need to hit the sack early since wake up will be 3:15! No time for s’mores or kumbaya this trip.
My soothing alarm ring goes off at 3:15 am. Surprisingly I slept better than expected and feel pretty good. We eat a quick breakfast, as much as my body wants to eat this early in the morning and out into the morning cold crisp air we head as we start our trek to Lake O’Hara.
Spots in and around Lake O’Hara are amazingly scenic like out of Lord of the Rings or where you truly might find that pot of gold with a leprechaun. This is the reason it’s not easy to get there. For most normal people there are two options; camping or the lodge. Both options book up months in advance. Our plan would be to hike the 11 km gravel road in the dark to make it by sunrise. You can see why I rented bear spray. Although we were a group of four it’s prime bear country. With our head lamps moving around like the light in a lighthouse and plenty of “hey bear” shout outs we arrive at Lake O’Hara shortly before sunrise. I would not necessarily recommend this approach yet it worked for us.
We quickly find out the hiking is not over. We have at least a few more kilometers of all steep terrain to make it where we want to go. I am on a high and power through the next part. The sky starts getting lighter to slowly reveal this magical landscape. We spend a couple hours hiking around and taking photos. Honestly it’s a place you could stay all day with the perfect conditions we had yet we needed to ensure we could get a bus out. We leave it behind taking our photos as constant reminders for years to come.
We decide our next stop is Kananaskis. Kananskis Country is known for large photogenic groves of aspens. After the 160 km drive (about 2 hrs) we were pretty wiped considering the early morning wakeup call and long hike. We pull into a campground in Kananaskis area and take a long nap.
We decided on Wedge Pond for sunset, a short jaunt from camp. The golden aspens line the pond and do not disappoint. Not only did we have a beautiful view yet on the other side of the pond were what appeared to be two female yoga instructors doing poses in a wildly colorful yoga pants while a male photographer taking the shots was cheering them on. They were the only people there besides us.
Up the next morning and fortunately another not too far away drive which allowed for a more normal wake up time. It was a nice little marshy pond area not far from the road with a perfect view of Mount Kidd. A thin layer of ice continued growing on the small ponds as we photographed which was all we needed to tell us the temperature outside.
After that we spent the next few hours chasing around different aspen groves before the light got too harsh. Daytime photos are beautiful with golden aspens mixed with blue skies yet we had other plans in mind given it was our last day.
A late breakfast and on the road to the town Banff we go. There is a campground just outside of town where we setup camp. After “roughing” it for the week we decide an evening on the town is in order to finish this phenomenal trip. I highly recommend a soak in Banff Hot Springs and grabbing a beer with dinner at Banff Brewing Company. The next morning before dawn we head home.
If you have not been it’s a must add to your bucket list. In my home state of Oregon I feel lucky to live near mountains to play and photograph yet in all honesty they feel less dramatic in scale and size when comparing the endless large mountains around every turn in the Canadian Rockies.
Timing: The first part of any fall color foliage trip is timing. We all had it Sharpied in our calendars many months in advance and while peak fall colors certainly change every year none of us had much wiggle room. Fortunately our timing could not have been better. Normal peak for this area is middle to late September. As a side note you can easily spend a couple weeks in the Canadian Rockies and still feel like you are only scratching the surface.
Transportation: Living in the Pacific Northwest we are in reasonable driving distance. I only lug all my camping or backpacking equipment at 30,000 feet when necessary. The drive was about 12 hours, pushing the envelope to do it one day. Flying you will likely need to come through Calgary, the closest International airport at 120 kilometers from Banff.
Weather: This time of year you need everything from t-shirts to thick down jackets. We experienced snow, rain, wind and bright blue sky mild days. Be prepared for it all. Our coldest morning was about -3 degrees and our sunny warmest day about 15 degrees Celsius.
Lodging: There are plenty of options from budget camping to deluxe pampering hotels. We would be camping the whole time which made it very cost effective. Campgrounds we stayed at in Yoho and Banff ranged from $18 to $27 Canadian a night with additional $8 if you want to have a campfire. Beautiful Lake O’Hara I mentioned, lodging is a mere $600 to $900 CA a night for two.
Locations: Overall there many different parks and places that are part of Canadian Rockies yet we had no problem filling the days with our focus on three of them…Kananaskis, Banff and Yoho National Parks.
Physical Activity Level: You can make it as adventurous as you want from photographing out the window of your resort room to backpacking deep into the mountains. If money is no object then the best of both by staying at mountain lodges in the back country. Given we had only a week most of our locations were short hikes to nature walks with one long strenuous hike.
By David Cobb
The first time I explored Croatia was when I crossed the eastern border through the countries of Montenegro and Albania. Six years later I explored the western portion of the country arriving through Slovenia. Both times I was greeted by friendly faces, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery to photograph. On my first visit I had time constraints so I only made it as far as Dubrovnik, but the second time I was able to explore more of the country along Plivitce National Park as well as some of the towns and villages along the Istrian coast and a bit further inland.
Dubrovnik is a photogenic city along the Adriatic Sea. The old town consists of many ancient churches, and its polished streets make for great reflections during night photography. Climbing the wall of the old fortress you can shoot down into the city and pick out patterns amongst the rooftops.
Along the western end of the country lies Plivitce National Park and its many lakes and waterfalls. Fall here can be spectacular, and there are so many grand waterfalls it’s hard to know where to begin photographing so just start and explore. I recommend you plan on spending more than a day here.
Inland near the Istrian coastline are a number of hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards. The small towns surrounding the ancient castles are more photogenic when you walk the stone streets—and offer views down to the surrounding agricultural fields that make for great pattern photography.
The Istrian Coast is beautiful too, with its beaches and cliff-side views. As always in Croatia, the towns along the coast are most photogenic and are photographed best during sunrise, sunset, and night.
There is still so much for me to explore in Croatia, especially in some of the backcountry river canyons and mountain ranges. I plan on seeing and exploring more when fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw and I join Luka Esenko for a fall color workshop here in 2017. There are still a few spaces available in the workshop for those interested in experiencing this great area.
By Kevin McNeal
The 2015 Yosemite in Spring photo tour began with expectations of lush green landscapes, spring-fed waterfalls and endless bloom of dogwoods—and Yosemite did not disappoint. After meeting my group at the Fresno airport we made the journey north through Wawona and into Yosemite National Park. En route we took the opportunity to look at a few of the anticipated highlights of the park. Our accommodation for the week at Yosemite Lodge was nestled right in the heart of the valley, so we would have access to many locations that were a short distance away.
Our first photo session was special as it was a night with a full moon and the anticipation of moonbow photography. This event occurs as a full moon in spring or early summer shines directly on a rushing waterfall to create a nighttime lunar rainbow. Mist from the waterfall, a dark sky, bright moonlight and the right “rainbow geometry” must all come together. Following dinner, our group was at Lower Yosemite Falls to see the rainbow and get good images of this spectacular event.
The following morning we were at Ahwahnee Lodge for breakfast and enjoyed some time to photograph the classic lodge in its stunning setting among blooming dogwoods. Photographing the interior of the lodge gave us a chance to practice some creative photo techniques. Later, returning to Yosemite Falls, we found some unique compositions and practiced our skills using a neutral density filter to photograph long exposures on the waterfall to create a different mood. Following lunch, El Capitan Bridge provided many opportunities for shooting reflections in the Merced River. The river was running very nicely considering California’s drought conditions. The lush green vegetation was better than expected and provided some nice backgrounds. At sunset we continued our exploration of reflections by shooting images of Half Dome in the Merced River near Chapel Meadow.
Starting out very early the next morning we drove to Tahiti Beach, a special spot along the Merced. It was a good morning for reflections in the river and in spring-fed pools and we were treated to stunning light on the Three Brothers and iconic El Capitan.
After a well-deserved late breakfast, we took a park shuttle bus—exciting for everyone as it was reminiscent of summer camp—to Mirror Lake. Taking our time hiking the 2-mile trip to the lake and back, we stopped along the way to photograph waterfall cascades. The lake provided some of the best photographic opportunities we had, including numerous unique reflections.
After dinner that day we headed out to the stone arch of Pohono Bridge to photograph spring dogwoods and sun stars. This gave us some good practice using creative techniques. We focused on both the dogwoods and a sun star to really capture both in the same image. We were even able to shoot some stunning late light under the Pohono Bridge. In the last two days we had found some incredible photographic compositions along the Merced River.
Still excited from the night before and the images we shot, the following day we looked for more interesting compositions at the Swinging Bridge which spans both sides of the Merced River. Here, the sunrise light hits Upper Yosemite Falls and reflects nicely in the river, making everything around it look lusciously green. We took the morning to shoot at a spot we found where we could photograph in all directions—and had something different to shoot every time.
After spending the last few days in Yosemite Valley we got news that Tioga Pass and the Upper Yosemite Road had opened. This was a nice surprise as the pass does not usually open up until late May. We spent the rest of the day on the journey over Tioga Pass, traveling to Lee Vining for dinner. Along the way, we found many places to shoot, including an out-of-the-way lake that was perfect for reflections. A stop at Olmstead Point provided one of the most stunning vistas of Half Dome, where we focused on finding unique compositions and using some of the photogenic solo trees in the image. We returned to Yosemite Valley for a sunset shoot at Tunnel View where some dramatic clouds made the breathtaking scenics even better. After a great day of shooting we headed back to our lodge for some well-deserved rest.
The next morning we woke to some very atmospheric mist and fog in the valley, making for interesting images at El Capitan Meadow, including some early wildflowers. After hearing news of overnight snow in the upper elevations of the park we drove to Tuolumne Grove for some forest scenes with snow falling around the giant sequoias.
Our final full day of the tour began with photography along the low-lying mist-draped Merced River. Then, as the fog began to lift, rolling in and out of the valley, Yosemite’s dramatic rock formations covered with the fresh snow rose out of the mist. I think we photographed just about every spot in Yosemite Valley when we saw those amazing conditions! While we were shooting in Cook’s Meadow we even had the rare opportunity to see two coyotes playing with each other for almost an hour—all while the surrounding peaks were providing some unforgettable moments. That evening we celebrated our day of success at our final group dinner.
In one week, we had experienced enough drama in the Yosemite’s springtime weather conditions and created stunning images to last us a long time.
On our final morning of the tour we were ready for an early start back to the Fresno airport, but rather than stopping for breakfast, we decided to take our last opportunity to look for the early morning fog which had made for some spectacular shooting conditions. Within minutes we knew we had made the right decision. Cook’s Meadow was lit up with beautiful morning light mixed with the low-lying fog—making it the best morning we had yet. We got some great shots and even made it to the airport in time!
We had captured Yosemite’s expected iconic landscapes, cascading waterfalls and creamy-blossomed dogwoods, but we also left with images of rare moonbows, unique “reflectionscapes,” unanticipated vistas, sequoias in a snowfall, playful coyotes, and dramatic low-lying tendrils of fog in Yosemite’s deep valley beneath towering rock peaks. Saying our good-byes we were already looking forward to reliving the week through our images.
I just finished up a very enjoyable workshop season down in the Palouse region of Washington State. As many of you know, I live just on the North side of this beautiful area and I am lucky to be able to visit often and give multiple photography tours and workshops during peak season. This was my first time back since my little boy David was born. I had a wonderful group of clients this year and we had some really great conditions. I did a quick edit of some of the images we were after this spring and wanted to share some with you. The above and below images were shot from Steptoe Butte at sunrise while some nice fog rolled in and out of the hills.
Shortly after sunrise on our walk back down to the car, we found this nice patch of wildflowers and had some fun shooting them with these three trees up on the hill. A focus stack was needed for this shot. The flowers were blowing around a bit, and I didn’t want to go too wide and make the trees too small, so I used my 24-70mm zoom lens and shot a series of images for a blend in Photoshop to get good sharpness throughout the image.
While out and about, we found this fascinating structure and photographed it for a while. The whole thing was made out of 2×4’s and none of us could figure out what it was. It had these hatch doors through each wall seen in the shot below looking through.
The Canola was a little late this year because of an early freeze but we found a really nice patch just out of Colfax.
A trip to the Palouse just isn’t complete without a stop at a barn or two.
With clouds overhead, there can be some great spot lighting during times of the day other than sunrise or sunset.
Catching the sunrise up at Steptoe Butte is a must.
Although Steptoe Butte is a favorite, there are many other places to photograph the sunset.
Many techniques used on these images are demonstrated in my image editing videos
For more images and info on my workshops visit my website chipphillipsphotography
There are a few photographers I have met that don’t have any immediate family, by this I mean no significant other and no children. The majority of us have at least one or both. If you are young maybe none of the above still applies yet give it time and it will likely change. I have heard the comment many times that you can’t mix family and photography very well into the same trip and if you want good photos you need to have a photography only trip. I used to think that was mostly true before changing my tune over the years.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I understand it’s a completely different dynamic when you are out on your own or with a few friends photographing versus as a family trying to make time for photos. That said it can work with the right perspective. I am married with young children. I experience family trips in beautiful places working on balancing it all out. Landscape photography is certainly harder than other professions or hobbies that might be all at home or local, rather than requiring travel. Now I look back with quite a few photos in my portfolio from trips taken with my wife, just the kids or the whole family even if they are not carrying a camera or with their radar always on for photos like me.
There is one photo that for some reason sticks out in my mind which relates to this topic. It is from well-known Marc Muench, and I saw it a number of year’s back when he posted on Facebook. You can see more in the link, yet in short it’s about having a small window to get the shot before a child needs your attention or are playing in the middle of shot quite possibly changing the scene. The photo is beautiful storm sky scene and had he not made any comments about his children playing while photographing I would have seen only the serene scene in my head. Without additional context you simply don’t know what is happening outside the view of the lens.
Fortunately I have an amazing wife who is supportive of my photography, and kids that love being outdoors which certainly makes it easier to walk the balance beam of family and photography. That aside there are things to think about that can help balance out unreasonable expectations from reality to make everyone happy in the end.
1. Communicate what your intentions of a trip are ahead of time. If you have one thought and your family has another, these will collide during the trip and you don’t want that.
2. Don’t force a family trip into being 100% about the photos you want to capture. Be okay not getting every shot and moment. Your camera is not the only focus.
3. Support your significant other for their passion or hobby. Your intense burning desire to sprint out the door for photos may not be met with the same level of enthusiasm by your partner if it’s only one sided.
4. Don’t sulk about missing a great sunrise or sunset. Trust me this is not easy yet I am a little more at peace with this now than I used to be when I started photography.
5. Plan your photo trips and family trips (when possible) so it’s not always a surprise. We use a shared online calendar so my wife and I are always in the know of each other’s plans. For example if there is a low tide I want to hit on the coast I add it to our shared calendar so it’s visible to her what I am planning to do.
6. Realize you cannot take endless time scouting and photographing when on a family trip. Ask yourself if this scene is one you want to take or move on. It’s the difference between a scene that you clearly see a great composition vs one you know has good potential yet might take a while working it to get what you want.
7. Take photos of your family; then they won’t feel like it’s all about you. Sometimes they add to the scene for your landscape photos not to mention memories.
8. If you have a young child that still takes naps leverage this. Get up early on the trip for sunrise photography and then catch up on sleep later on during the kids nap time (assuming someone is there while he/she sleeps in). It’s a win-win with photo time and losing little family time.
9. Don’t think every trip needs to be a big multi-week production of thousands of miles on the road or multiple layovers. In many cases a 3 to 4 day trip just for photography allows you to focus without worrying about the balance for a long trip. The reverse can be said too.
10. Include your kids in your photography (hoping they have an interest). Let them take a photo with your camera and show it to them on the LCD. Show them what the buttons and settings do. Even if nothing ever happens to that file it’s the connection to what you’re doing that matters.
11. If you like to spend time with your photography outdoors for hiking, camping and the like don’t wait until your kids are older to expose them to that life. Start young and you will see there is a good chance they will grow to enjoy it making it easier and more fun for everyone later on.
12. If it’s a short single day trip and you have different camera systems bringing your smaller light weight system might be a better approach (ex: your mirror-less system). At least if you bring your larger camera system leave some of your arsenal of lenses and accessories behind so it doesn’t give the appearance you are taking over the day.
It’s been an internal tug-o-war for me since the relationship between photography and I became serious about a decade ago that only over the last couple years have I dealt with much better. Although I love taking photos of primarily nature it’s the photos I have of my family from these trips that I will remember as much or more decades from now. In a matter of days I am off to the Redwoods for 5 nights with my family. The plan is a blended trip of family and photography. Wish me luck on striking the right balance!
If you have stories to share on what works for you (or doesn’t) please feel free to share with a comment on this post.
Last week we introduced and welcomed Erin Babnik as a new contributor to the PhotoCascadia blog. This week we are proud to publish Erin’s first feature piece. Make sure to visit Erin’s website to learn more about her and explore her exhilarating photographs.
By Erin Babnik
The American conservationist Aldo Leopold famously said that, to people with imagination, the most valuable parts of a map are where it is “blank.” He was of course referring to wilderness areas, which most people never see and have to imagine in order to appreciate what is there, how it works, and why it matters. Although his message was aimed at the protection of these areas, he felt that humans should have firsthand experiences with them. It may seem counterintuitive for someone to encourage human presence in areas that need protection, but he believed that it was necessary for us to develop personal relationships with nature—after all, to quote one of Leopold’s contemporaries, “we can only love what we know” (Aldous Huxley). He therefore praised outdoor activities that imposed minimal impact on nature while fostering awareness and appreciation of it. Landscape photography at its best rises to the challenge of that noble goal, giving photographers at least one good reason to spread out and explore those blank places on the map. What about more artistic reasons, though? As I hope to explain here, the rewards of exploration and discovery can be well worth the extra effort that may go into approaching new horizons.
It is easy to think of a map as a display of straightforward, factual information, but it is actually an interpretation of a place, just like a photograph is. A map picks out certain areas and omits others, telling us what is supposedly important to know. In general, any point of interest that features prominently on a map will have a correspondingly large corpus of photographs representing it; the more famous that a place becomes through photographs, the more likely it will be to appear prominently on a map, and vice versa. Just like a map, a large corpus of photographs will ultimately interpret a location, typically establishing a norm for it that repeats in photographs like a resounding echo. These patterns emerge for good reasons, usually because they do a particularly good job of communicating what is special about a place, but they also amount to a kind of conceptual baggage, both for photographers and for viewers of their photographs. Whether we like it or not, a norm will haunt a place, even if we attempt to avoid it—we can accept or reject a norm, but our efforts exist in relation to it either way. This predicament then extends to the viewer, since the process of viewing a photograph will involve whatever memories a viewer may have of existing imagery.
While preconceptions can complicate the creative process for a photographer, they certainly don’t condemn it, of course. On the contrary, representing a well known view comes with its own set of benefits, and those include more than just the tangible rewards of popular appeal, such as predictable print sales or image licensing. Some creative strategies actually depend upon familiarity to serve as a premise, allowing a photographer to expand upon existing ideas or to engage in visual storytelling in ways that might not be possible otherwise. For example, a photo of a blooming meadow will take on a new layer of meaning if its location is best known for a lake that filled the space before it evaporated. Similarly, a photo of a famous landmark may be particularly interesting or meaningful if it shows that landmark from an ‘unusual’ vantage point. In either case, the ‘different’ photos benefit from familiarity by creating a sort of dialogue with it.
So while the photographer who strives for creativity will find much of value in approaching those bold points of interest on the map, doing so can feel like an act of negotiation, of working within certain creative limits. To be sure, there is room for discovery at any location, but venturing out to relatively unknown territory can throw the creative doors wide open. Any view that we find independently becomes a blank canvas of sorts; it presents a whole range of wonderful creative ‘problems’ to solve. What is the character of this place? What is particularly special about it? What conditions might best bring out its character? Which features here are essential to communicating the experience of this location? How can those features be presented most legibly? Answering such questions gives a photographer the opportunity to ‘define’ the location and to do so with a greater reliance on personal intuition—the less that we have to ‘think away’ other interpretations of a place, the more able we are to have a visceral response to it.
Naturally, more remote locations tend to offer the most opportunity for discovering seldom seen views, but even very accessible places sometimes have areas that get overlooked simply because they lie in the blank place on the map. Operating with an explorer’s mentality can land us deep in the wilderness or right in our own local ‘neck of the woods,’ but either way, we will be invoking a creative process that can be incredibly rewarding. Indeed, researching lesser known areas raises numerous questions that can get the creative gears churning before we ever even leave home. What might I find there? What would I like to find there? How might this place differ from others with similar qualities? How might this place be affected by the seasons? Thinking through the possibilities at this stage becomes a prelude to the visualization process that takes place on location, priming the mind for seeing opportunities upon arrival. In this regard, the photographer is led more by imagination than by knowledge, which is arguably more conducive to creativity. Regardless of where our exploration may take us, we are bound to benefit from the creative exercise, even if we don’t strike pay dirt on every outing.
For anyone who is inclined to explore more remote locations for landscape photography, there are a number of resources that can aid in the process. Using Google Earth to explore an area virtually can be a great place to start, allowing the identification of potentially photogenic features and alignments. Topographical maps can also be very helpful in this regard, especially when researching areas where elevation varies a lot and can have a big effect on the types of terrain that might exist there. For example, for mountainous areas, it can be helpful to know if a location is below the tree line, where forests may obscure views. Satellite imagery is another digital resource that any explorer should consult, with the understanding that older satellite images can be quite inaccurate. It is always a good idea to check the date of a satellite image and to look for multiple sources of such imagery. There are companies that sell very high-resolution satellite images that could be worthwhile investments if the images are very current and can aid in the location of desirable features. When exploring on foot, it is immensely helpful to have a good topographical map app that supports offline maps and the creation of waypoints; being able to mark discoveries and to navigate towards areas of potential interest with ease will increase both efficiency and the overall enjoyment of the process.
Although venturing into the unknown is always a gamble, the rewards can be tremendous. There is nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a vantage point, feature, or composition that provides a sense of creative pioneering. Whether an act of exploration takes us to distant lands or to an overlooked niche in our own neighborhood, it always takes us to a creative space that is destined to pay dividends in our future creative efforts. The suggestions included here for finding areas of photographic potential are just some of the more practical ones; anyone who has other recommendations is very welcome to include them in the comments below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
As our newsletter subscribers might know over the last last year we have taken turns pointing the lens on each of us to provide more insight to us personally. Since these were spread out among a half dozen newsletters we thought it would be good to post a recap that includes all of them. Besides we were not always good on following up to mention the myth found from a handful of truths of for the prior newsletter. Now we are rectifying that with all of them here.
If you did not receive the newsletter here is a speedy recap what we did. We published a listing of five things about one PC team member in a newsletter. One of the five is a myth, simply made up. four are true. The goal was to allow newsletter subscribers to guess which is the false one. If a person did respond correctly they would go in a drawing with others that guessed the same for a free 8×12 print of their choice. I don’t have a list of who all won yet I know some were guessed correctly by one or more viewers yet not that was not the case for all team members. Some are easier than others.
Without further rambling here they are for reading pleasure with a photo of each team member in their element… outdoors. Answers are separate at the bottom of the post for those that would like to take a stab at guessing.
- Failed the only photography course he ever took.
- Made ski movies when he was younger.
- Traveled around the world as a DJ.
- He likes to eat vegetables and seafood.
- Just out of high school bought a Porsche.
- Has performed onstage with Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Ben Folds, Brandi Carlile, and Peter Cetera.
- One of his cars is a red 1988 VW Cabriolet.
- Has never used a traditional film darkroom
- Was a child actor and in a commercial for Burger King.
- He is not afraid of bees, but is of spiders.
- He reads 25-50 books per year on average.
- He grew up in the redwoods of northern California, but has never been back to photograph.
- In addition to photography, he enjoys surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, and backcountry exploration.
- Has never used a traditional film darkroom.
- Owned cameras made by the following manufacturers: Sony, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Apple, and GoPro.
- Did wedding and portrait photography full time for over a year before deciding to move back to landscape photography.
- Almost got blown off a mountain summit with his wife. The tent was sideways and he could not see where he was when he woke up. He ripped open a mesh window to get out.
- Has traveled to all the National Parks in the states of Oregon and Washington.
- First backpack experience felt a big adventure he embarked on. He now takes his young kids to the same location. It’s only 2 miles and 500 ft of elevation gain.
- Grew up at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge playing in a creek on his property catching crawdads and hiking through the woods.
- He owned a music distribution company.
- He’s an avid guitar player.
- He’s held two state swimming records.
- He walked across the Yukon and NW Territories.
- He played in baseball’s Babe Ruth World Series.
- Pole vaulted in China.
- Reached the summit of Mt. McKinley on two separate expeditions.
- Lost a $5 bet with Galen Rowell when Galen successfully ran cross country at high altitude in time to capture his famous Rainbow Over the Potala Palace image in Tibet.
- Played in a 1990s bagpipe marching band, kilt and all.
- Partied with Woody Harrelson and his posse at a U2 concert.
Answers – the following are not true.
Kevin #4 – He likes to eat vegetables and seafood. Kevin does not like either of them. I know first hand from traveling with him.
Chip #5 – He is not afraid of bees, but is of spiders. Chip does not like bee’s at all but doesn’t mind spiders.
Zack #5 – Has never used a traditional film darkroom. Although he became an expert in Photoshop early in the DLSR age Zack has spent time in the darkroom.
Adrian #3 – Has traveled to all the National Parks in the states of Oregon and Washington. He has not been to the North Cascades NP yet.
David #2 – He’s an avid guitar player. David does not play the guitar.
Sean #3 – Lost a $5 bet with Galen Rowell when Galen successfully ran cross country at high altitude in time to capture his famous Rainbow Over the Potala Palace image in Tibet. He wishes he did but it’s not true.
With the latest interview and featured photographer spot on Photo Cascadia blog we bring you Marsel Van Oosten. Although based in The Netherlands, and area with little in the way of grand landscapes, he truly paints a picture of what it’s like to be a photographer leading adventures around the globe. I was first exposed to Marsel’s inspiring work about seven years ago on Nature Photographers Network (NPN). It was his great photos of Namibia that lured me in. Although I heard of the location before and seen photos, I realized he had some unique takes on the area. Along with photographing remarkable and exotic locales he has an exceptional wildlife portfolio. For years I have listed him on my website as a photographer that inspires. You will see why in this interview and his photographs.
1. Tell us about your life before photography or have you always been behind the camera?
I finished art school with a BA in art direction and graphic design, and then worked as an art director in advertising for 15 years. When I was in art school, I didn’t care much about photography. I could choose it as a major, but I couldn’t see myself messing around with chemicals in my bathroom all day to develop arty farty black and white prints. During my career as an art director, I worked with a great many professional photographers, and that’s when I really learned about the power of photography, how to look, how to select, how to work with light, and about post processing. Over the years it developed from a harmless hobby to a full blown obsession. My photographic style is greatly influenced by my graphic design education and my career as an art director.
2. You have some amazing nature and wildlife photos, which is your focus. What draws you to those subjects over everything else?
Thank you. I love nature, I love animals, I love being outdoors – always have. In advertising, everything was fake. At first, nature photography was a way for me to escape from the pressure and hectic life at an ad agency. The peace and quiet was therapeutic and it was nice to work with real stuff – trees, rivers, skies, animals. The creative challenge was interesting as well. Nature is chaos, and I liked trying to create some order. In many ways nature photography is like graphic design – you have a whole bunch of elements that need to be organized so that it makes sense and looks attractive. For me this is still one the most interesting creative aspects of what I do.
Working with animals is both amazing and frustrating. If you’re a landscape photographer, you have all the time in the world – you walk around, pick a good spot, wait for the magic light, and click. And if the weather does not cooperate, you return the next day – the landscape will still be there. With wildlife it’s completely different. I have no influence over my subject, all I can do is wait and hope for the best. When the light is perfect, the animal doesn’t show up, or when the animal is doing something amazing, it’s usually too dark, facing away from the camera, or hiding behind a tree. It’s very rare to get everything just perfect. And that’s exactly what makes it so addictive – there is always room for improvement and you never know what you’re going to get. It’s the anticipation. You’re looking at a scene, you see the light is perfect, you’ve already figured out the composition, the animal is walking into the right direction, and you’re hoping for those few extra steps to get the perfect shot. It can be really exciting. And when something interesting does happen, it’s usually over before you know it. You have to work fast, make the right decisions in a split second. It’s a lot of fun.
3. Speaking of subjects you have one of the best collections of Namibia photos I have seen. How do you continue find ways to push yourself creatively and come back with different and unique images after visiting the same place many times?
As a nature photographer you have basically two options: you photograph an unfamiliar subject, or you photograph a familiar subject. The first option is by far the easiest – if you subject is unfamiliar, you’re bound to end up with an original photograph. The second option can be very difficult from a creative point of view, especially when you’re photographing iconic places or subjects. I really like the creative challenge that places that have been shot to death give me. You really have to push yourself to your artistic limits to come up with something that feels original, even though the subject matter really isn’t.
When I first visited Deadvlei many years ago, there were hardly any photographs of it anywhere. People could not believe these places were real – they thought it was all photoshopped. After we set up the world’s first photo tour to Namibia, things started to change. More and more photographers visited the country and photographed the same subjects that I had. Every year it became more difficult to return with something original, but every year it became more interesting for me as an artist.
Nobody knows these places better than I do. When I see a photograph taken in Deadvlei for instance, I can show you on Google Earth which trees they are exactly, and at what time of the day the shot was taken – it’s pretty scary. I like visiting a place multiple times, you have to get to know a location to be able to fully understand the creative potential. But the most important thing you have to do is: think. Most of the photographs that I shoot in Namibia I have already pre-visualized at home. I don’t want to waste time walking around, thinking about what I’m going to do if I already know the location. Before each visit, I analyze the shots that I’ve taken there on previous visits, and decide what can be improved upon, or I try to come up with something that’s never been done there before. That’s how I decided to create the first time-lapse from Namibia that was shot entirely at night. Later this year we will visit Namibia probably for the 20th time or so, and I’m still looking forward to it again.
4. If you had to pick your three favorite images, what are they and why? (they are the three in this post)
Resurrection: I’m very proud of this image, because it was the result of creative vision. I had pre-visualized this image years before I was finally able to shoot it, and at a time when all landscape photographers told me that it would be impossible to shoot anything new there anymore – it had been shot to death. It is so difficult to shoot original images at iconic places, but it is extremely rewarding when you pull it off. So many photographers are obsessed about their gear and processing technique, but in the end the only thing that really matters is creative vision. As a matter of fact, this image won an award in the Creative Visions category of the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Awards. That was a real bonus.
Brave Elephant: Victoria Falls is yet another icon that has been photographed by millions. On my first visit there, I almost decided to leave my camera at the hotel, thinking about the kazillion images that had already been shot there. When I heard from the locals that an bull elephant had been spotted the day before in the vicinity of the falls, I decided to stay a few extra days and try my luck.
Photography is all about making decisions. Anyone could have made this shot, but very few people would have made that same decision. This is the only photograph in the world, apart from the horizontal version that was featured in National Geographic, that features an elephant this close to the edge of Vic Falls. It is also the perfect example of my ideal photograph: a spectacular landscape image with an animal in it.
Invasion Of The Dunes: Another one from Namibia. My first publication in National Geographic – a double page spread, 10 million copies worldwide. I was ecstatic. This was shot at a time when few people knew this place existed. Daniella and I were the only people here for days. The sand was pristine everywhere, which is no longer the case unfortunately. You can only get this light at a very specific time of the year, as the sun needs to rise at a certain spot to shine directly into the middle room. This room is difficult to find, but it’s the first one that people start looking for when they go here. It is by far my most copied shot ever.
5. You lead workshops around the globe from Namibia to Antarctica. What can one expect on a workshop with you?
We know the locations that we visit very well, so you can expect to be at the right place at the right time, fully briefed on all the creative challenges and possibilities. People that travel with us, usually do so because they like my work and they want to learn from me, see me at work. I like to help people to improve their photography, and teach them to analyze a scene. I have a very specific way of looking at spaces and dealing with shapes, so I try to bring that across. Composition is very important for me, more so than light, so I always give a presentation on that.
Also, part of every Squiver tour is image reviews – each participant selects up to three images from the previous day(s), and I analyze them in front of the group. These sessions are incredibly interesting and educational, also for me. We get people of all experience levels, which is great. We all learn from each other, also from the beginners.
But the main reason that people keep traveling with us, is the fact that we are a husband and wife company – we always lead our tours together. It’s a completely different group dynamic. Photography is a very male dominated thing, but we tend to get relatively more women than other companies because of that. The result is that there is less tech talk, which is good – I don’t like to talk about buttons and sensors all the time.
6. Is there any artist, photographer or otherwise, that has been a big influence on how you photograph or your creative process?
The one artist that has inspired me most, is German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). His paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that directs the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension. When I first saw his work back in art school, it made a big impression on me, and it’s been a source of inspiration ever since.
But there are so many other great artists around – the internet is filled with talent. I don’t look at much of it, only when I’m going to photograph something specific – I like to know what’s already been done so I can at least try to do it differently.
7. I notice you have entered (and won) a number of photo contests over the years. What are your thoughts on them; are they still a good avenue to stand out? And what contest gave you the biggest exposure?
Most photography competitions are only in it for the money, or to get their hands on your photographs for free. There are many contests out there, and most of them are completely useless. However, I do believe that contests can be helpful.
Photography is an art form, and art is subjective. If you’re a marathon runner, you can tell how good you are by looking at your best time. If you’re a photographer, you can’t. Family and friends always think your photographs are amazing, but they can not be trusted. When I was still working in advertising, I struggled with this phenomenon. I wanted to know whether my images were any good, so I decided to enter a couple of competitions to see what would happen. After I won prizes in several major contests, I knew that my images were good enough to stand out from the millions of others – in the end this was what gave me the confidence to switch careers.
I still participate, primarily because it’s nice to know whether other people certain images are as good as I think they are, and because it looks good on my cv. I know that I’m a good photographer, so I don’t need the ego boost – I hardly ever visit the award ceremonies. If you want to become a professional photographer, participating in any of the major contests is a good way to find out if your images stand out from the rest. There are already so many photographers out there, so if you want to make it, you need to be better than most of the others.
As a nature photographer, there are only five contests in the world that I think matter; Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, Travel Photographer Of The Year, International Photography Awards, and Nature’s Best Awards. Those are the competitions that publishers, galleries and stock agents look at. My recent win in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year gave me the most exposure, mostly because the picture (of a snow monkey holding an iPhone) appealed to many people and because the contest has a big reach.
8. When you are not photographing or leading a tour what do you like to do?
I like to watch tv series like Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Homeland, and House Of Cards, and I like to listen to Death Metal. Septicflesh rules.
9. Quick questions:
- Nikon or Canon? Nikon
- Apple or PC? Apple, never worked with a PC
- Photoshop or Lightroom? Photoshop
- Favorite book photography related? Before They Pass Away, by Jimmy Nelson
- Where do you want to photograph that you haven’t? Niger
10. Lastly what is one mistake you made early on whether it was with the photos itself or the business side that you really learned from, and others can learn from as well?
The biggest mistake I have made, is that I haven’t made the switch to photography earlier. I had been thinking about it for years before I finally took the plunge. Making a living with nature photography used to be a lot easier, and it’s virtually impossible now. If you really want something, follow your heart and don’t wait too long. Life is short, and you should do the things that you’re passionate about. Nothing else matters.
I would like to thank Marsel for his time to do this interview with me. To see more of his work and workshop listing visit http://www.squiver.com