Traveling Light Without Sacrificing Photography

Georgia, Chattahoochie National Forest, Woody Gap, fog, mist, autumn, fall, forest, woods, panorama, pano
Tamed Chaos : Prints Available

A layer of fog tames the chaos of the forest, bringing order to this late autumn scene, photographed while driving through the Chattahoochie National Forest in the southern United States.

Last week, I hopped on a plane for the first time in two years. Bound for Atlanta, Georgia, I packed light, wanting to avoid the hassle and expense of checking bags. My trip was a short one – a late flight to Atlanta, two hour drive to Chattanooga for the weekend, then back to Atlanta for just a couple of days before heading home.

When I vacation with my partner, I generally don’t plan our itinerary around photography. Photography isn’t exactly a spectator sport, and there are plenty of other things we both enjoy that we can do together while on vacation. Two years ago, when we went to Arizona on our very first vacation together I brought a DSLR and didn’t use it to take a single picture, despite all of the incredible scenery. On this trip I anticipated less mind blowing natural landscapes, but packed my DSLR again, just in case.

To pack as light and compact as possible while still having some flexibility to shoot a variety of subjects, I brought my smaller 5D Mark II body, a single 50mm f/1.4 lens, a 32GB memory card, two batteries, and a charger. That’s it. No tripod, no filters, no accessories likely to take up space and slow me down. When I take snapshots using my phone just for the fun of it, I never use the built in zoom and always move around to get the composition I want or crop after the fact, so I was not at all phased by only having a prime lens to shoot with. The nice thing about my 50mm 1.4 is that the lens itself is pretty small both in weight and physical dimensions, the focal length is a pretty normal perspective and fairly versatile to shoot with – it works for most subjects from landscapes to people, and the wide aperture gives me more options for shooting hand held in various lighting conditions.

Over the course of the trip, I shot many photos with my DSLR. The package was small enough to fit in my handbag so I was able to take it everywhere with me. The older camera lens combo and basic functionality made it easy to hand off to others so they could take pictures too (which also meant I could actually be in some of the pictures), and because the combination was portable and uncomplicated taking photos was less of a process than when I am out specifically shooting. Not having a tripod, various lenses, and filters to mess around with simplified the way I shot, and made taking photos less of a distraction from actually enjoying all of things we were doing. Packing light and using a simple set up allowed me to focus on being with my partner and having fun on the trip instead of getting wrapped up in taking photos. Another perk: Since I wasn’t hauling a ton of gear it wasn’t very obvious that I had a fancy camera on me most of the time; while being a target for thieves is something I generally don’t worry much about in the states the ability to be discrete is something I have often appreciated when traveling overseas.

I still used my iPhone for some photos – the wider focal length and built in HDR was easier to use when photographing the city from our hotel balcony, and its rear facing camera and small profile was much easier for shooting couples selfies. Unfortunately, I still have an iPhone 6 and the Lightroom Creative Cloud app only allows DNG shooting on newer models, so generally even my coolest iPhone shots don’t make it on to my website (although they do often end up on my Instagram).

In the end, I got some really cool photos. From being able to capture a cool cloud shot from the plane (which I couldn’t do when my photo gear was stored in the overhead bin) to shooting an underground waterfall in a dark cave (which would just not have been possible with my iPhone), having my basic DSLR setup ended up making the trip just a little bit more exciting. Below, you’ll see just a few of the images I’ve managed to go through since returning home just a few days ago.

The only thing I would probably change next trip would be to invest in a different handbag – one maybe a little bigger and with a more substantial crossbody strap or handle. The bag I brought had a narrow 1″ crossbody strap and carrying a camera around in that all day ended up making my back and neck really sore. My bag, which was my personal item on the plane, could also just barely fit my camera and a slightly bigger bag would have let me carry more on the flight.

Chattahoochie National Forest, Georgia
Chattahoochie National Forest, Georgia

Bad Light? Try Black and White

This weekend, I photographed a friendly mountain biking event called Broduro. The Broduro is a casual enduro style race between friends “just for fun” featuring with four timed downhill stages. As a photographer, I like shooting enduro because you get to explore different terrain and angles – the action is a bit more exciting and faster paced than xc style mountain bike racing but you generally get the opportunity to shoot the same riders a few times on different trails, unlike downhill where riders race and practice on the same course over and over again.

The not so fun part of shooting enduro is that the lighting isn’t always great. Sometimes it’s pretty horrible actually, and often the gnarliest and coolest features of the course are in areas with the worst light. This course was no exception, with super thick hemlock forests (meaning really dark) in some spots and small areas of direct bright sunlight between sections.

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Light like this presents a few problems. The most obvious one is dynamic range and contrast – most cameras aren’t capable of simultaneously capturing details in areas of really dark shadow and really bright light. When you try to fix that in post, using HDR software, blending exposures, or selective editing, you can recover some detail but the images start to get an HDR look about them, which isn’t always desirable. Anything involving multiple exposures is also a huge challenge when it comes to action photography.

The more subtle problem you run into with mixed light has to do with color balance. All light has a color temperature (measured using the Kelvin scale). Areas of shadow and shade have a cooler temperature and appear more blue to the eye whereas areas with bright, natural sunlight look whiter, and some sources of light, such as sunlight early or late in the day, candlelight, campfires, and incandescent light bulbs have a warm, yellow/gold hue. So when photographing a mountain biker riding between areas of sunlight and shadow, you can get some really funky white balance issues. Additionally, some lenses produce artifacts known as chromatic aberration (CA) which appear as a colored fringe around high contrast edges. I see this often in shots of riders wearing a flashy kit or where tree branches appear against an open sky. This phenomenon appears more frequently in photos with high contrast and harsh light.

I sent a colleague of mine some quickly edited photos from the Broduro, including some color images and ones I converted to black and white. He asked “Why do the B&W look so much better?”

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The reason is because sometimes the color funkiness from shooting with multiple light sources is really hard to manage, and even when we can’t name what is wrong with the photo, it clearly doesn’t look right. Taking out the color altogether eliminates this subconscious confusion and makes the image easier to accept. My photos from the event also have a bit of noise, because the low natural light forced me to shoot wide open with a pretty high ISO in order to get enough shutter speed to freeze the action. Since we are used to seeing grain in traditional black and white photos, monochromatic luminance noise doesn’t bother us as much as noisy color images, whether we realize it or not. Similarly, we don’t mind black shadows and blown out highlights as much in black and white, because it mimics the look of contrasty film; and muddy whites and faded blacks also are less offensive than because they replicate an antique or aged look. Our tolerance for noise and contrast imperfections in black and white images is much higher because they look similar to what we have seen before in history books and old newspapers. Most of us see our world in color every day, so we expect a higher level of clarity, perfection, and realism from color photography.

Next time you end up with a file that has potential, but you find yourself struggling with harsh, uneven light or balancing the color of light from different light sources, try converting your photo to black and white. Sometimes it beats the effort required to otherwise salvage your photo.

Cayambe

I like to write. Writing helps me express myself, and when I refer back to pieces I wrote long ago, it helps me remember the experiences I wrote about more vividly. Today while cleaning out some old files on my computer, I stumbled across this piece, written shortly after my trip to Ecuador in three years ago.

CAYAMBE

I tossed and turned. I rolled onto my stomach then back onto my side, and finally lay with my back against the thin mattress, head pointed to the sky, hands resting on my chest like a corpse. In this position I found I could not breathe. At 15,000 feet above sea level the air was too thin, and for some reason when lying on my back my chest felt weighted, as if a large dog had fancied itself a lap dog and placed itself there. So I turned back onto my side and looked at the watch on my wrist. I had by lying in bed for hours but had yet to gain one wink of sleep.

Every sound was amplified. Will, to my left, was restless too, and his every movement further condemned me to sleeplessness. I lay awake, eyes closed, trying to trick myself into falling asleep. The time crawled slowly, and by 10:50, I could take it no more and started to dress. Static sparks from my polyester long johns danced like miniature green fireworks as I pulled them over my legs. Soon, everyone else had joined in, dressing the the dark, pulling on warm layers of clothes.

We tiptoed downstairs to empty our bladders, top off our water bottles, and nibble on breakfast. Little conversation was had. We were too distracted by the unknown journey ahead and too tired to focus on much else.

At midnight, we left the hut and started our death march up the mountain. It was slow at first. The fifteen of us walked like ants, single file, following close behind one another over a trail of volcanic rock and loose gravel. Up and down we walked, although mostly up, until the sand beneath our feet grew hard and failed to give way as we stepped. Patches of black ice, decorated with trapped bubbles, occasionally appeared underfoot and soon we reached the frozen edge of the glacier. Here, we put on harnesses and crampons, added layers, and armed ourselves with ice axes for the climb. Rope teams formed, and each team of three or four tied into a long and sturdy rope, led by an experienced guide.

For hours, we climbed the glacier. We stopped infrequently to rest and when we did, it was only briefly. Our tired bodies grew increasingly fatigued, our bellies more hungry and nauseous, and our throats burned from want of water, aggravated by exertion and the cold, dry mountain air.

At one point the clouds gave way to stars. Looking up, one could see a thousand tiny diamonds glistening in the night sky. Behind us, the lights of the city glowed amber in the valley below. As the hours passed, gray-purple clouds moved in, flowing over the mountains, merging earth and sky, first framing, then consuming Quito’s urban landscape. It was beautiful.

We were tired beyond tired. As we climbed, the weather worsened. Soon, the wind took the stars and visibility was reduced to the glowing orb of our headlamps.

We marched onward and upward into the black night. Our progress was slow. The air was thin. We were tired beyond tired. Our feet dragged. We stumbled, our bodies swayed, and occasionally, some of us pitched and fell. When this happened, the guides would catch us, halting our failing bodies by tugging tight the rope that connected them to us. They half walked us, half dragged us by our leashes ever higher onto the mountain.

My mind was fuzzy. I felt drunk. My throat burned and the bits of cracker stuck in my teeth from the few I had nibbled on earlier tasted rotten and sour. Standing was hard, walking was harder. I was sure I had never felt closer to dying in my life, save for the one time at Christmas when I had a fever so high I could not stand at all and had to drag myself across the floor to the bathroom just so I could pass out on the cold tile floor. I thought of Cotopaxi, the even taller mountain we would attempt to climb in just a few days, and was not sure I would convince myself to endure this again. I wanted to lie down, to collapse onto my knees and then tip sideways into the snow, giving in to the exhaustion that I felt. But even my broken mind was too stubborn to let me, so I continued to plod forward, like a diseased and injured animal, possessed by the need for something. Each step seemed to require an extreme amount of effort, but I kept forcing myself to take them.

Dawn rose slowly. The black night softened as the hours passed, but the sun never came. Our world was blue and empty. Gray clouds and fog and windswept snow consumed us in every direction. The wind howled at us. Forward and backward looked exactly the same, yet we continued forward, following our leaders blindly.

At a point just shy of the summit, we stopped to rest, for maybe only the third time since midnight. The rope teams convened and the guides told us to drop our packs. “We are very close,” they said, “but the next part is very steep.” I stuffed my down jacket and sunglasses into the front of my rain jacket, and reluctantly left my camera and water behind. They told us the summit was just one hour away.

We plodded onward and were met with a vertical wall of blue ice. The structure must have stretched fifteen to twenty feet high, and had the texture of unfurling coiled rope, thin strands of ice interlaced and woven into a delicate pattern. The ice was aquamarine, like the color of the sea in the clearest most tropical oceans of the world, only bluer, softer, and more translucent. It had no snow on it to spoil its beauty. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and had I had any more clarity of mind, I might have stopped and pondered it more deeply. As we walked past it, the strong smell of sulfur permeated my nostrils, rising from the geothermic vents of the volcano upon which we stepped. I knew we had to be close.

The only way around the great wall involved a steep climb up an adjacent snow covered slope. Nico, our guide, punched holes into the ice with his feet, providing us with small steps to climb, and I smashed my way up the steep slope, thrusting the pick of my ice axe deep into the snow for purchase. Beneath the snow, the ice glowed blue. The new motions and effort required provided me with a brief moment of clarity, and despite being exhausted from the effort of punching and clawing my way towards the top, I urged myself forward.

Beyond this, there were more gradual and steep ascents, winding in and out of icy obstacles in our way. I don’t remember much of it very well, as I am sure I would have found it disorienting even had I been in a clearer state of mind. I trudged along the flatter parts in a straight line as best I could and scrambled up the steep pitches in a maddening fashion, like a person possessed. My mind had locked onto its goal, and despite the pain and lunacy of continuing forward in such a shattered state, I continued to follow Nico, slowly advancing towards the summit.

At some point I fell. My legs gave way, and my body tumbled, pulled by gravity down the slope. Nico and my rope team members, Josh and Kelli, caught me, stretching the rope tight to stop my downward fall. My mind was so unraveled that I lay tangled and suspended in the rope for almost a minute before I found my footing and a good placement for my ice axe and managed to right myself.

The summit itself was rather anticlimactic. It was a small rise following a steep pitch, and had Nico not told us we had arrived we never would have known. There, Nico placed his ice axe into the ground, point end first so it stood tall, like a flag. The spot was unremarkable, and the clouds around us were so dense that we could not tell how much more there was to climb or in what direction in might possibly be in. But he placed his axe with such certainty that when he said “Congratulations!” and told us we had reached the summit, I doubted him for only a second. I was too exhausted to want to go any further, so even if I had been less convinced, I am not sure I would have objected to stopping there.

I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to cry, because the journey had been so trying, and we had reached the summit, but I couldn’t. I wanted to jump up and down or shout out with joy, but I didn’t have the energy. I was glad and relieved to have reached the summit, but the emotions weren’t as fast, as sudden, or as strong as I wanted them to be. I mostly just stood there, dazed. It was as if the reality of reaching the summit couldn’t find its way through the muddled mess of my brain.

Nico came over to me and gave me a long hug. His embrace was one of those that seems to fill you with life, as if the person hugging you is actually transferring energy from their body to yours. His hug was so comforting that I didn’t want him to let go, but when he did, I felt instantly better than I had before. Only then, could I start to comprehend what I had accomplished.

Outdoor Ethics and Nature Photography

Today, I had an interesting online debate with a couple of peers of mine from grad school. As you may know, I’m an avid rock climber and have a graduate degree in environmental studies with a focus in environmental education. So while out for a run, I discovered a large glacial erratic big enough to climb on and posted an iPhone photo of the boulder on my personal Facebook page. In the caption, I mentioned that the boulder needed some cleaning, a term climbers use to describe removing debris and sometimes mosses and lichens from the surface of a rock to make it suitable for climbing. What ensued was a lengthy debate of the ethics of rock climbing and bouldering, where two of my grad school classmates (both environmental studies students with a concentration in conservation biology) argued that cleaning a boulder to climb on was selfish and destructive and that climbing in general was an activity detrimental to the environment. We went back and forth a bit, respectfully, and it’s possible that some feelings got hurt. The reason I bring this up is because in our discussion I noticed something very interesting. While my classmates were so quick to critique my mention of cleaning a boulder, they’ve never criticized, critiqued, or even questioned my other actions that take place in nature, and in the whole scheme of things, cleaning a single, easy to find boulder not far from a well used (and heavily impacted) pathway is really low on the scale of things I do with potentially destructive environmental impacts.

For years, my main source of income came from nature photography. To make that work, I spent countless hours in the field, interacting very closely, often intimately, with wildlife and natural landscapes. Yet rarely does anyone ever question the impact of me doing so. People don’t ask me if I trampled native plants or disturbed an animal to get a shot. They just ooooh and ahhh at the aesthetically pleasing results of my work and only rarely question the methods I use.

I know the general public is unaware of what goes into a nature photograph and potentially how much manipulation, impact, and destruction are a part of the photographic process. Issues like moving branches or rocks, using calls and sounds to mimic other animals in distress, stalking feeding or nesting areas, and attracting wildlife with bait probably don’t occur to most people. But most people probably think little of the impact rock climbers have either, so why should two educated, environmentally minded people worry about my relatively isolated and infrequent climbing impacts while ignoring my photographic ones.

On my Facebook page, I wrote:

[If] I shared a photograph of a loon (which I will at some point soon) I doubt you’d question whether I got too close to the loon and disturbed it, or if I sanitized my boat for milfoil and other organisms that could be transported between waterways and contaminate “pure” ecosystems before plopping my kayak in the water to take that picture. No one has ever asked if I baited the owl in that beautiful snowy owl shot I have that everyone loves (for the record, no I didn’t, but a lot of snowy owl photos you see are from animals that have been lured with the promise of a meal of pet shop feeder mice). You trust me enough to be a responsible and ethical nature photographer (or maybe you just never thought about it). Please trust me to be an ethical climber too.

The truth is I try to be responsible in everything I do in the outdoors. I’m not perfect, but I realize that my existence impacts the environment around me every day. When I am hands on in the environment, be it rock climbing or taking photographs, these impacts are more direct. I step on and crush plants! I startle and disturb animals! I make noise and track toxins and species from one location to another. My presence in the environment undoubtably changes it, but I do try to minimize my negative impacts as much as possible. So I look where I step and give wildlife its space when possible. I stick to well worn paths or wander off trail on surfaces that can best handle the pressure of my feet, avoiding the rare or intermittent plants in favor of rocks, bare ground, or hardier, more commonplace species. When photographing animals, I carefully watch their behavior and back off if I sense I am distressing them or making them upset. I leave a trace, but I try to leave as small of a trace as possible or otherwise ensure that the overall impact of my presence is a positive one instead of a negative one.

I am aware of my influence on others as well. As a rock climbing instructor and an important person in our local rock climbing community, I know that how I act and behave while climbing or in the outdoors sets an example for other climbers, particularly the young ones who first venture into outdoor climbing under my guidance. As a photographer who teaches photography and sells my work, I know that my actions model my values and tell others how it is acceptable to behave when photographing nature.

I feel it is important to bring awareness to this very issue. As nature photographers, we (and all outdoor enthusiasts) need to think about what we do, and how and why we are doing it. We do impact the environment, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively, usually both. We also influence each other. Do your actions reflect your beliefs and values? Are they what you hope others would do? When given the chance, are you educating and encouraging others to act responsibly and respectfully? I hope so.

As a photographer, I believe in full disclosure (of techniques, not so much of locations). For me a good rule of thumb is if I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone how I got a particular shot, then maybe I shouldn’t do it that way. In the past I’ve used bird calls to attract territorial birds during mating season and crossed over fences that clearly said to stay on trail. These days, I’m not so proud of those type of actions, so I avoid them and instead stick to more natural settings and following posted signs and warnings. I’m more aware of my actions now and the potential consequences of them. Occasionally, I mess up. I’m human and inherently flawed by nature, but I try to be virtuous and most importantly, I try to be honest. And I genuinely do care.

Call me old fashioned, but I still think there’s value in that.

AMC White Mountains Workshop Updates

Unfortunately, we have had to cancel my Appalachian Mountain Club Winter Photography Workshop due to low enrollment. This winter has been a tough one for the outdoor industry in New England because it has been so bitter cold. Apparently, people would rather stay indoors when the mercury falls well below zero. However, I am happy to announce that this autumn I will be offering another workshop through the AMC in the White Mountains. Join me for a fall foliage in the Whites October 3-5th. There are a ton of photo opportunities in the area that are just bursting with color during peak foliage season – the photo below was taken just down the road from the Highland Center, where the workshop will be based. I’m already excited!

Silver Cascade, autumn, maple, Crawford Notch State Park, Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

Silver Cascade in Autumn : Prints Available

Autumn maples in fall color line the banks of Silver Cascade in red, orange, and yellow.

Make Next Year One of New Experiences

Saddle River County Park, New Jersey, winter, snow storm, snow, storm, trees

Trees in Snow Storm : Prints Available

Every year, at least once a year, I learn or try something new. I think embracing new experiences and learning new skills is important for personal growth, and it keeps life interesting and me sane. Sometimes the new thing is something I have wanted to do for a while but never gotten around to, like SCUBA diving (my graduation present to myself last year when I finished my Master’s degree) or skydiving (circa 2009), and sometimes it is something that had never even crossed my mind but the opportunity presents itself and I just have to take it. I’m one of those people who really doesn’t like being bad at things, and I’ve been tempted to say no to trying new things because of fear of failure. Fortunately, I usually convince myself not to be a wimp, give whatever new thing it is a try, and always have a good time, even if maybe I’m not the best at it. Turns out you don’t have to be good at everything, but if you have a good attitude about it and are able to laugh at yourself a little, trying something you’ve never done before will most likely result in you having a good time regardless of your ability.

This year was full of firsts for me! I went ice climbing on New Year’s day for the first time and led my first sport and trad rock climbing routes, tackled my first high altitude glaciers while mountaineering in Ecuador, traveled alone to Nepal, drove stick shift for the first time, shot my first gun, went for a ride in a snowcat, collaborated on my first documentary film, visited many new areas of New Hampshire, and the list goes on. While I’m not particularly good at trap shooting, still frequently stall when getting into first gear on a standard vehicle, and haven’t yet started editing the film, I enjoyed each of those experiences greatly. As 2013 comes to a close I can look back on the year and say it was a good one, and a lot of that has to do with my willingness to venture out of my comfort zone, go to new places, meet new people, and try new things.

Today the days gradually start growing longer again. It’s not the official new year yet and we still have one of the year’s biggest holidays to celebrate, but with the recent passing of the winter solstice I think now is a good time to remember to seek out life’s adventures, be they big or small. Life is short and fleeting and beautiful, and we better get to experience its wonder when we take advantage of the chances we are given to dabble in parts of it we have never been exposed to before, to step beyond our current perspectives and abilities, and embrace the opportunities that come our way. Enjoy the last bit of this year and resolve to make the next one different, maybe not with a big resolution but just in a small way – try something you have never done before. Go see a Broadway play. Hike to the top of that mountain. Try photographing night scenes. Do a polar bear plunge. Run a marathon. Whatever it is, find something new and do it. You’ll be glad you did.

No Place Like Home

The sun is setting after a long day. From where I sit at my desk, it appears to have already disappeared below the treeline, yet I can still see that the top of the tall sugar maple is aglow with the last of the sun’s rays. Insects hum outside as a lone car ambles down the dirt road, and the air stirs, rustling the leaves of the ancient maple. They dance, and the day slowly dies.

Today is my ninth day at home. Like each day since I have returned, I feel lucky to be here. My restless soul, weary with travel, tries to embrace being home as best I can. But the world happens faster than I do, and I find little time to rest.

My life is a whirlwind. I long for a pause button, a chance to stop the clock, to sit and just be. It happens so quickly, and I fear I miss too much of it. Even though I know I can’t possibly do all the things I want to do, I still try to do them anyway, knowing full well that it is a fool’s game and winning is impossible.

I’m not even sure I know what winning would be.

sunrise, Squam Lake, New Hampshire,

Squam Lake Sunrise : Prints Available

Home feels so good to me right now. I remember not too long ago when home was an imaginary place. During my first semester at Antioch, I achieved the impressive feat of bringing many in my class to tears, myself included, when I realized that I belonged no where in particular and for me, home didn’t actually exist. How could I have a home when my heart was pulled in so many different directions and I felt more fragmented than whole?

I’m happy to reveal that I don’t feel that way any more. I’ve found my home, and it may be the best feeling ever. Now the places and people from where I live are a rich and vital part of me. When I started making my rounds last week to visit friends I had not seen in two months, the words “welcome home” accompanied with warm hugs rivaled the most heartfelt “I love you” ever whispered to me by a loved one.

Every morning I wake up feeling lucky to be back. For the first time this year I am home without plans to leave. I don’t know when I’ll next step foot on a plane or put a new stamp in my passport, and I love that feeling. I love that my next adventures are likely to be day long climbing trips with friends or weekend excursions to the mountains or seacoast. New England may not have 19,000 foot peaks or thousand year old temples, but to me, it’s the most beautiful, charming, and culturally rich place on earth. Isn’t that what home should be?

I feel very lucky and fortunate to have been able to travel as I have, and to have had opportunities to explore and adventure all over the world. How could I not feel privileged to have straddled the Equator or seen Everest with my own eyes? Yet after two months on the road, I am more overjoyed to be back in the place I love most with the people I love most than I have been to visit any destination I have yet been to this year. It feels nothing short of magical.

There truly is no place like home.

Prose from the Mountain

It was dark,
and the darkness was long and cold.
Stars peppered the night sky with distant points of light,
their warm life far too far away to ease our suffering.
Wind,
steady and strong,
poured over the frozen earth,
enveloping us in the cold and empty night,
pulling from us the last warmth of our wilting bodies.
We were alone,
save for ourselves,
tied to one another as fish hooked on a long line,
dying at sea…

Back from Nepal

Wow, what an amazing whirlwind adventure! I’ve just returned from ten days in Nepal on a photography scouting trip and I’ve absolutely fallen in love. Nepal is an amazing country full of opportunities for creating stunning images; I could have created thousands of photos every day there if not limited by some technical and logistical issues while overseas. Right before I left, my laptop’s Logic Board died, so I ended up computer-less for the entire time I was in Nepal, which meant I had no way to back up or edit images while on the trip. Now I’m playing catch up, trying to edit and process at least some images before I leave for Florida tomorrow for the NANPA Summit in Jacksonville.

The purpose of my trip to Nepal was to scout photography locations with hopes of running a tour or workshop there in the future. NatureScapes.Net and Explore Himalaya teamed up to provide me with the opportunity, and I’m happy to report that the trip was a huge success. Nepal has a TON of potential for such endeavors, and I plan to work on developing an itinerary that would allow me to return there with other photographers and share with them the amazing culture, architecture, and natural scenic beauty that the country has to offer.

Here is a small collection of images from my week and a half in Nepal. Most of them have been minimally processed, as I haven’t had much time to go through them, but I wanted to make sure to share a sampling of them before I got wrapped up in the NANPA Summit this week, where I’ll be helping facilitate the College Scholarship Program, working the NSN booth, and also meeting in person with other photographers whom I have been collaborating with on various projects. If you happen to be going to NANPA, be sure to find me and say hello!

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A portrait of a young Nepali girl and her sister taken while they were walking home from school.

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Fog along a forest trail in Pokhara, Nepal.

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In and Out

It’s been only one week since I returned from Ecuador, and I’m already anxious to hit the road again. Traveling is mentally pretty challenging for me – I love to go on adventures and explore new places, but returning home from such trips always requires a bit of an adjustment. There’s a period of time where I feel pretty bummed and lost, as if I’m coming down off of a high and going through withdrawal, and I just don’t know what to do with myself. Anyway, that’s enough complaining from me! I’m really lucky to have the freedom and opportunity to explore the way I do, and one day I’ll find a way to make all the puzzle pieces of my life fit together in a more orderly fashion. It just takes time to sort it all out.

So, let’s talk about how friggen awesome Ecuador was! I got to chill with some super amazing college students and outdoor educators, climbed my first 19000 foot peak (and first 15000 and 18000 footers, for that matter), ate guanabana and passion fruit, almost got eaten by a trolley door, played games and sports with Ecuadorian schoolchildren, and was re-alerted to the fact that I really don’t speak Spanish. My body got pretty beat up in the process, as can be proven by my multicolored toes, and climbing Cayambe might have been one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done in my life (I haven’t signed up for childbirth yet), but the trip was incredible and I feel way fortunate to have been able to participate in it, particularly with this awesome group. Coming home was bittersweet, as the ending to most adventures should be.

I’m way behind on processing images (what else is new), but that’s mostly because I have a lot more traveling coming up that I need to prepare for. Tomorrow I head up to North Conway for the 20th Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival hosted by International Mountain Equipment this weekend, then I come back and pack for Nepal, where I’ll be spending about 10 days on a scouting trip for NatureScapes.Net. After that is the NANPA Summit in Jacksonville, Florida and then I get to come back home to New Hampshire and chill out for most of March before heading out again. It’s a crazy life, but I’m sure glad that it’s mine!

Ecuador, mountain, volcano, mountaineering, Andes, glacier, Johns Hopkins University, Cotopaxi

Bringing Home the Awesome

A rope team from Johns Hopkins University, led by Ecuadorian guide Robinson, approach the summit of Cotopaxi just before sunrise. Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador's most popular mountains and it attracts mountaineering expeditions from all over the world. It's high elevation but fairly non-technical slopes make it an ideal climb for beginning and experienced climbers alike hoping to summit a high altitude peak. The summit rises to 5,897 meters or 19,347 feet in height and has more clear summit days than any of Ecuador's other glacier covered volcanic mountains. Cotopaxi is part of the Andean Mountain Range.
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