I’m slowly adding photographs to my website from recovered images I received back from my friend E.J. Peiker after I made the mistake of accidentally formatting my memory card while leading the AMC Fall Photography weekend at the beginning of the month. I’m really happy with some of the shots I got, even despite not getting the best weather that weekend.
This photograph from Artist’s Bluff was taken while scouting the day before the workshop began. I ran into my friend Jim Salge on the mountain and we got the slightest hint of color before the clouds thickened and all light from the sun disappeared. I’ll admit I got a little fanciful with the processing of this one, but I think it captures the beauty of this location more than the muted RAW file. Just imagine what a spectacular sunset would look like from this spot.
This is a location that Jim clued me in on after we shot at Artist’s Bluff, and I checked it out the next morning. It was one of the last scouting photographs I took before my participants arrived.
This is the path that leads to the pond above, and this photograph was taken on the very last day of the workshop. It had rained the entire day before and the trees were glistening with sparkly rain drops. This was a cropped handheld grab shot, as the participants were not taken very much by this spot and in a rush to get breakfast, check out of the Highland Center lodge, and move on to our next location.
On my way back from the White Mountains, I stopped in the Lakes Region to see how color was progressing. Things still looked pretty green there, but I managed to get this whimsical shot along one of the dirt roads leading to the shoreline of Squam Lake.
These are some of the images that jumped out at me most and I got around to processing first. I’ve been super busy (last week I picked up a rescue dog to foster for a bit and he’s kept me occupied), but have some others that I’m sure I’ll get around to editing, processing, and posting eventually. Stay tuned!
During workshops I keep participants busy and tend to keep myself even busier. I’m no stranger to long hours and longer days, so I’m ready for action dawn to dusk if need be. During workshops my clients are my number one responsibility and I tend to prioritize their needs as much as possible. They way I see it, there is so very much to learn and so little time to fit it all in, so I encourage clients to let me know what they want and need and to pick my brain as much as possible during our time together.
I met my group Friday morning. After some brief introductions, we headed out into the field almost immediately. Friday was sunny and calm with mild temperatures while Saturday’s forecast looked unpromising, so we wanted to maximize time in the field when we had good weather. After visiting a couple nearby locations, we returned to the Highland Center for lunch and an afternoon program, took a short break, and then headed back out into the field for sunset. Bold colors and fancy clouds never materialized, and the wind had picked up significantly in the afternoon, but we still managed to capture some great moments.
All of which I deleted promptly when I accidentally formatted the memory card in my camera while answering a question. Multi-tasking is not my forte. Oh well. (Don’t worry, I have sent the memory card to a friend who specializes in data recovery. We are both hopeful that the images can be salvaged.)
The next day was dreary. I woke up to heavily overcast skies and encouraged the photographers to sleep in a bit longer to wait for brighter conditions once the sun had risen a little higher in the sky and its light was better able to penetrate the clouds. Conditions had barely improved by mid-morning and were only predicted to get worse, so instead of venturing to a location in dismal conditions, I took the group for a walk around a trail near the Highland Center and showed them some of New England’s cool flora. I showed them hobblebush, a plant with leaves that often turn a patchwork of colors in autumn, and discussed the cool evolutionary adaptations of paper birch. We sniffed at yellow birch and tea berry inhaling their minty fragrance, and I pointed out the differences between the leaves of sugar maple and red maple. I introduced them to the many plants I recognized and they photographed details along the trail, finding images in even the least photogenic of the places we would visit. In a way, the rain helped us connect even more deeply to the land and the experience it provided. In lieu of the grand scenics of the White Mountains in their full autumn glory, we focused on the smaller components of nature that are the building blocks of this vast and beautiful landscape.
We spent the rest of the day in the classroom, reviewing programs and critiquing images. Winds picked up and rain fell, making photographing outdoors a tricky and unpleasant experience. While I strongly encourage photographers to explore a variety of conditions and embrace nature in all her forms, there are some times when the rewards and are hard to come by. I’ve never had much luck photographing in wet and windy conditions with little light.
By Sunday morning, the weather had subsided a bit. At sunrise, the clouds were still too thick on the horizon to let in any light, but by mid-morning some of the lower clouds had started to burn off and the sun began to shine through. We spent the morning capturing some great scenes and visited a handful of locations. At one spot, at the Silver and Flume Cascades along Route 302 in Crawford Notch, I ran into another photographer friend of mine, Adam Woodworth. Then, before we knew it, it was time to return to the Highland Center, pack up our stuff and check out of our rooms, eat our last meal together, and say goodbye.
Goodbyes can be tricky. Sometimes people linger. Sometimes you feel as if the time passed too quickly and the goodbyes come to soon. Sometimes, goodbyes seem to come before the end does. In this case, the workshop felt complete. Sure it would have been great to spend more time in the mountains and hang out with the kind folks in my group just a little longer, but I felt satisfied. I felt happy. I felt whole.
I finished up my final paperwork (and placed the folder on the roof of my car just in time for a stout wind to blow its contents all over the driveway – thankfully a kind AMC employee helped me track down all of my runaway papers), said thank you to anyone I could find at the AMC that had helped throughout our visit, and started back on my merry way home. I stopped in Bartlett to look at small cabin for sale (a girl can dream, right?), swung by the White Mountain Cupcakery to pick up a dozen maple bacon cupcakes for a friends’ party (best cupcakes ever and totally worth getting stuck in North Conway Village leaf peeper traffic), and passed through the Squam Lakes region to see if I could capture fall color in a different area (it hadn’t quite arrived there yet and there was not a cloud in the sky by the time the sun set). With all my stops and detours on the way, I ended up making it home well after dark, tired and ready for bed. But of course, when I lay down, the wheels in my head wouldn’t stop spinning.
I am lucky. I truly am. Every day, I do things I love. Whether it be playing games with kids in a field, teaching teenagers to rock climb, or sharing the experience of nature with others through photography, I am usually having fun. I realize that for many others, their reality is quite different. Many work long hours just for the chance to play on weekends. For me, work is play. My work is exercising my body and mind, laughing, breathing fresh air, creating and building relationships with people, challenging myself, and capturing the beauty of everyday life, in words, in images, and in memories. My day to day experiences are so rich, I rarely think much about the money I make (not much) or the hours I put in (a lot). Most days my work is truly a pleasure, and it fills my life with a sense of purpose and a profound and genuine happiness. Most days, work is worth it.
Sometimes I need a trip to the mountains to remind me of all this because I’m not perfect. Because I care so deeply about the work I do, I put my whole self into it, and sometimes that means I don’t always make time for me and get burnt out. When I feel overwhelmed, I’m snippy, sassy, and impatient, and let unhealthy habits surface. I am not my best me, and I don’t like myself very much. But all I need is a little reminder of the me I am proud of, the me that is deeply grateful for all of the many opportunities I have been given and the fantastic people in my life. Usually all that is needed to set me right again is a dose of whatever it is I have been missing. In this case, it was simply an adventure in good company, exploring a land that speaks to my heart and soul, that is both familiar yet at the same time filled with new and excited undiscovered surprises – a reminder that I am home.
This is the third and final installment of a short series of blog posts about my experience leading the AMC Fall Photography Weekend. Read Parts 1 and 2 here. I will be updating all of these posts and my website with more images from the weekend, once I manage to get them recovered.
For me, one of the hardest parts of leading a workshop is the fear that I will disappoint my clients. Typically, I know very little about my participants until the moment I meet them and it is impossible to predict the diverse range of abilities, photographic and otherwise, belonging to those who sign up for any given workshop. Catering an experience to meet the needs of participants is challenging without knowing in advance what those needs are, so even the best planned workshops of mine are always largely improvised. Itineraries always change, and lessons and locations often get decided upon last minute. I’ve always gotten very positive feedback from the workshops I lead, so I’m not really sure why that fear of failure lurks still, but its definitely there.
One of my worries going into the AMC Fall Photography Weekend was that I really had no idea what the fall foliage was up to. I live about 2 1/2 hours south of the White Mountains and due to other commitments I had not had any opportunities to visit the area since a climbing event three weeks prior. Because of my new job and lack of accumulated vacation time, I couldn’t get up to the Whites any sooner to check out the foliage, so I ended up with just one day to scout – one day to figure out enough spots for three days of shooting in a variety of possible weather conditions I could not accurately predict.
So Thursday was all about scouting. Or at least it was supposed to be, but of course things are never really that simple.
While working on my programs the night before, my laptop screen went dead. Normally this would be annoying and mildly inconvenient because I use an external monitor at home, but two nights before a workshop and three hours from home is far less than ideal time to have a major component needed to deliver your instructional materials die. Because I didn’t have a backup monitor or computer with me, I spent a chunk of Thursday morning scavenging the Highland Center for an external monitor and then heading into North Conway midday to pick up extra adapters to connect the monitor and projector to my MacBook. To rub a little salt in the wound, I also managed to spill a bottle of water in my car and soak a couple of my guidebooks, one of which, ironically, was the White Mountains Waterfalls guidebook.
Equipment casualties aside, Thursday was a great day. I drove down 302 and Bear Notch Road, downtown and along the Kanc, and up I-93 and Route 3. I stopped at dozens of places, including rest stops I had never visited before and places that had many memories attached to them. Unlike most other times I explored the area, I was alone and had the freedom to explore as I pleased but also a clear mission: to hit as many potential spots as possible in a day. I usually visited a spot only briefly – long enough to assess the foliage, accessibility, and under what conditions the light and photography would be best – before moving on. I trotted along trails and snapped iPhone shots of everything.
My first visit to New Hampshire was in February 2009, and on that trip I saw Mount Washington and the White Mountains for the first time. Since then, I relocated to the state and have done my fair share of hiking, camping, climbing, and exploring in these magnificent mountains. My connection to this land is very tangible – I remember my first visits to many places and I remember the people who introduced them to me. Revisiting familiar places while scouting became a trip down memory lane. I fondly recalled bringing my mom to The Basin, camping with Camp Dudley’s Boys Camping Society at Covered Bridge Campground, hiking up the Hancocks with my friend Brett and his dog Pemi who was named after the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and stopping at highway pull-offs with various groups of friends, from the folks at Brooklyn Outfitters who brought me up Mount Washington in the winter for the first time to my friend Lisa from New Jersey, one of only three people from that area that have come to visit me since I moved to New Hampshire four years ago, to my ice climbing buddies.
Many of the places I visited were recommendations from my friend Jerry Monkman, a fantastic photographer based out of Portsmouth, NH. Jerry’s images partially inspired me to move to New Hampshire, and at this point he is a good friend of mine – I know his family, pets included, and we spent all of last summer working on a documentary together. Jerry has authored numerous books about photography and exploration in New England, several of which were published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and he even used to lead the AMC Photo Weekends. That was until last year, when a cancer diagnosis left him too ill to do so, and Jerry kindly suggested to the AMC that I take his place. Thanks to Jerry, I have had many amazing photo opportunities since relocating here. So it was only fitting that, as I scoured the land in search of photo spots to take my group, Jerry should be the one guiding me.
The last place I stopped on Thursday was a location called Artist’s Bluff, which overlooks the highway intersections at Franconia Notch and provides a great view of Echo Lake and the surrounding mountains. I found my way to the top, taking the long route, and snapped a few photos as the sky grew dark with clouds. Thinking there would be no sunset and I was going to miss dinner if I didn’t make it back to the Highland Center by six, I turned and headed down the mountain only to run into another photographer on his way up – my friend Jim Salge! He chided me on heading down before sunset, and I immediately turned around and hiked back up to the bluff with him, where we waited together for color that never came.
Here’s where the story gets really cool – my very first visit to New Hampshire, back in 2009, was largely because of the efforts of Jim. At the time, I was dating another photographer and the NH trip was a Christmas present. My boyfriend had stumbled across Jim online and sent him an email, and Jim ended up giving him a ton of advice as to where we could go and shoot. Our whole vacation itinerary was based on the recommendations of Jim Salge! I never met Jim on that trip, but later, when I moved to NH back in 2010, we went on an overnight hut trip in the Whites and have been friends ever since. Even cooler, Jim is a New Jersey native like me. He moved to NH after college at Rutgers University to work as a meteorologist in the Mount Washington Observatory, and loved it and stayed. His story is not too dissimilar from mine, so you can imagine how awesome it was to run into him on the mountain.
After shooting, we headed back to the Highland Center, where Jim filled me in on a couple other spots near Crawford Notch where I could bring my group. Jim was headed in another direction – he’s the blogger behind Yankee Magazine’s Fall Foliage Reports, so he has a lot of ground to cover and a short window in which to capture and assess foliage throughout the region. I ended up scouting the two locations the following morning – just hours before my participants arrived – and they ended up being some of the most popular spots on our trip.
So in just 24 hours of scouting, I was reminded of how wonderful the photography community we have here in New England is. In no other place have I met photographers so consistently kind, open, and friendly, and willing to share awesome locations with others. Territoriality doesn’t seem all that common here and that’s kind of nice. In New England, photography, like many other aspects of our culture, is a collaborative process not a competitive one. Thanks to friends like Jerry and Jim, I have become even more familiar with the land I love, and every time I visit the places they have shown me I am reminded of our friendship in a beautiful way.
This is Part 2 of a multi-post series on my Appalachian Mountain Club Fall Photography Weekend workshop. Read Part 1 here and stay tuned for the next post in this series, coming soon! (Click here for the third and final installment.)
This past weekend has been a very cool one for me because it has reaffirmed what I’ve felt about this state for some time now – New Hampshire is home.
The weekend started on Wednesday. I left work at the Y, stopped home to grab a few things, then began the long drive north to the White Mountains. I was headed to the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch, where I would be staying for the next four days while scouting for and leading the AMC Fall Photography Weekend. Along the way, I stopped at the Basin, one of my favorite rest stops along I-93. As I walked the familiar paths my mind flooded with memories the Basin – my first stop with photographer and friend Jim Salge in September of 2010, shortly after moving to NH, one time when I stumbled across a lovely couple visiting from England and gave them an impromptu tour of the Basin’s waterfalls, and of taking my mom here, on her only visit to the state I now call home.
I continued on, driving through Franconia Notch in all of it’s autumn glory. I love the Notch too. Cannon Cliff is always impressive, and I always struggle with my inability to capture the glorious views one sees as they speed along the highway here. There are no pull-offs, and the Notch really ought to be appreciated at a speed much slower than 60 mph. Franconia Notch was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it, its tall exfoliating rock faces towering high above the golden trees in the valley below. The journey was peaceful and invigorating. Inside my cramped, messy car I felt alive, surrounded by the wild and rugged beauty of the mountains.
When I finally arrived at the Highland Center, dinner service was just starting. I checked in and was brought to a table where a group of four people had already been seated. Dinner at the Highland Center is served family style most nights, which provides ample opportunity to meet new people and enjoy their company. My dinner companions were attending a workshop related to their work in the NH foster care system, and I found them to be delightful company. We shared stories, and they showed great interest in my photography and travels.
The walls of the dining room were decorated in photographs by Jerry Monkman. This fact gave me great comfort, as it reaffirmed my connection to this place – to New Hampshire, to the AMC, and to being the instructor for the AMC Fall Photography Weekend. This gig had once been Jerry’s and when he was unable to do it, he recommended me. Here I was, on his stomping ground, leaving my own footprints. To follow in the steps of someone I respect and admire as much as Jerry is in itself a worthy accomplishment.
After dinner I settled into my quaint and cozy dorm room. The small space seemed spartan, but within 24 hours, it would feel like a wonderful temporary home. It would remind me of things I had long forgotten I had once enjoyed, such as living on the freshman floor of my college dorm with friends just down the hall or at the staff house at Project U.S.E., where modest accommodations and shared bathrooms and showers seemed simple and satisfactory.
The journey had barely begun and already, I felt myself returning to my roots, as if I was finding something at my core that was vital to my happiness. Something about being in the mountains, taking photos, and the feeling of community that started just that first day was awakening a part of me that had disappeared for a little while.
I liked the way it felt.
This is Part 1 of a multi-post series about my weekend at the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center leading a fall foliage photography workshop in the White Mountains. Please check back soon for Part 2 and Part 3.
These days, I’m not prioritizing photography very much. But if and when I can find or make time for photography, I know I am able to pick up my camera and find a subject I love nearby and that’s pretty special.
I live in a beautiful place. Not a week goes by where I don’t feel lucky for that. I would be lying if I said I noticed it every day, but most days I do.
Sometimes I notice it only briefly on the ride to or from work. I’ll see Monadnock rising high in the sky against the fading daylight or fog lifting off beaver swamps at the break of day, the sun penetrating through the forest mist in rays of shimmering light. Sometimes I go for morning runs around a local pond, and no matter how many times I tread the same path, I still can’t help but admire the view.
On the days when I notice, I think, boy am I lucky to live in a place like this.
I love not being a career photographer. Ever since I gave up using photography as my main source of income I have been a much happier person.
These days I work long hours at a local non-profit, working mostly with youth and teens, encouraging them to live healthy lifestyles, make good decisions, get involved in athletics and fitness, and give back to the community. I love going to work every day, and the community and environment where I work is vibrant and engaging and both challenges and supports me. I have an amazing team of people to collaborate with on projects and assist me in accomplishing my goals. I believe in my organization, the work we are doing, and how we are connected with our members and community. It’s awesome and so different from photography.
Of course I still love photography, and I don’t mind supplementing my salary with occasional print or stock sales, assignments or projects that excite me, or leading a workshop or doing a presentation for a non-profit or local camera club. I really do enjoy that work and if people seek me out and I have the time and energy to invest in a photography gig here and there, I’m happy to do it. But mostly, I’m just doing my non-photography thing every day and enjoying it, and when I do end up with a camera in hand, I don’t have to be a professional. It’s pretty cool.
There are a lot of cool things about being an amateur photographer, and to me, they outweigh the cool things about being a pro. Here are my top four:
1) I get to shoot what I want, when I want, because I want to. I can be very selective or not at all – it’s my choice! In the ongoing battle I have with editing my tens of thousands of cataloged images I realized that so many of my “meh” photos are a result of feeling pressure to shoot, whether because I was scouting for a workshop or on assignment or just because I invested time and money in a “photo” trip and wanted to take images even when the conditions were horrible. Now I photograph when I’m inspired, and I don’t feel bad about not shooting if I don’t want to. The result is a lot less photos, but a lot less garbage photos too. I also find that I spend more time experimenting with new subjects. For a while, I concentrated my photography mostly on nature and wildlife, and while this is still my main focus and passion, I’ve gone on to shooting some sports and portraits at work and bought a lens that will be good for photographing food for my food blog (I’m way into fitness and healthy eating). The coolest part is that I can use my time to learn, experiment, fail, etc. and there is no pressure to produce anything most of the time I shoot. I love that!
2) I can pick and choose what projects I take on. This fall, I am leading a fall foliage workshop for the Appalachian Mountain Club. I’m really excited about it because the workshop is going to take place in the White Mountains, a place I absolutely love, and because I’m doing it through the AMC, which is a fantastic non-profit organization based in the northeast that provides a great service combining education, recreation, and conservation relating to the environment and the northeast Appalachian Mountain states. AMC people tend to be a lot like me – fun down-to-earth outdoor lovers who appreciate nature and the environment. On an AMC workshop, I’m less likely to have a participant that is ignorant about the environment, wilderness ethics like LNT, or has no appreciation or understanding of the subject. Some people love having clients who shell out big bucks for a luxury photo vacation in an exotic destination, but that’s not really my style. I like teaching hard working people and sharing with them my love for close-to-home locations that I feel a deep connection to. I feel more comfortable in more humble accommodations and around clientele whose lifestyles and values more closely resemble mine. If you are interested in joining me for the Fall Foliage workshop, spaces are still available!
3) I spend WAY less time behind the computer and way less time doing business stuff. I don’t need to market myself because my photography related income is irrelevant, so when I do get behind a computer for photography, it’s mostly for editing and processing photos and then sharing them for fun. I don’t need to be strategic about when or where I share my images, and don’t need to spend time coddling other photographers, reevaluating my marketing strategies, and nitpicking my bills. For example, I had been posting an “Image of the Month” each month along with a coupon discount code, but saw no extra traffic to my website or increased print sales because of it, so I stopped doing it. It was taking up my time and became a chore rather than being fun. I’m just not going to worry whether I’m blogging regularly enough or not – I’d rather post less content and have it be meaningful and fun for me to do. There is no need for my site to be recent or relevant if I’m not relying on sales from it. I can organize my time as I see fit, and that includes not being behind the computer all day!
4) VACATION! For someone who has traveled as much as I have, I have taken very few vacations in my lifetime. Almost all of my traveling has had to do with photography, school, or work, and one of these days I’m planning to take a vacation that is really just for me. I’m very excited for that.
Being an amateur (or semi-pro or part-time pro) rocks!
PS: I haven’t been shooting very much because I have been CRAZY busy with my real job, but I did get the chance to edit this super cool image from Acadia. I recently ordered a 9×2 foot triptych of this to put in the living room of my new house (which is another thing that has been keeping me busy). “Fade to Blue” has been added to my site. I also did a little website reorganizing, changing up the layout a bit. I like it better and hope you do too!
By now you’ve probably figured out that I LOVE loons. They are seriously cool birds and make very interesting subjects to photograph. Yesterday, I headed out to one of my favorite ponds to see if the nesting pair I had photographed a couple of years ago had returned. Sure enough, they were there and had a little baby in tow!
This pond is less than 20 minutes from my house now that I’ve moved, which means that sunrise shoots are super manageable, even during the summer, when days in New England are quite long. I woke up at 4am in time to photograph yesterday’s sunrise and then spend a couple of hours with the loons before the light got too harsh.
Here are a few quickly processed shots from yesterday. I haven’t even put them live on the website yet, and still have to edit a bunch of images, but I’m pretty happy with my first real photo shoot of 2014.
I also created this quick video with some GoPro footage (from my ancient first generation GoPro) to show you what it’s like to spend a morning on the pond. As you’ll see I use both my iPhone and 5D Mark II to capture images. I love having the ability to instantly share photographs from the field using the iPhone, but the DSLR beats it hands down when it comes to quality.
June’s Image of the Month is this one, of a lovely waterfall in its lush green late spring glory. I chose this photograph because the location is one that is very special to me and currently changing. For the past three years, I have lived on a beautiful piece of property in the southeastern corner of New Hampshire, where I have rented a room/apartment from a fantastic retired couple. Sugarbush Hill spans 60+ acres of field and woodland, and we are lucky enough to have a brook that runs through the property and drops along an area where the topography changes and it drops in tiers of waterfalls. Since the waterfalls are located on private property, I never have to contend with other photographers, swimmers, or other outdoor recreation enthusiasts at the falls and they are a mere five minute walk from my door. I have never taken advantage of this luxury as much as I should, but during late spring when water levels are high and everything is vivid green with fresh new leaves, the waterfalls are pretty spectacular and make a great photographic subject.
Last week I closed on a new home and am in the process of moving all of my worldly possessions out of my apartment at Sugarbush Hill. I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life, but leaving such a beautiful home with such great people is somewhat bittersweet, as all good endings should be. This morning, I woke up at Sugarbush Hill to see the outside world shrouded in fog and hear the birds singing happily despite the lack of morning sun. The trees and plants are dressed in their boldest green, and the water is running heavily and clearly through all the streams. This is likely my last morning here, as I have just a couple more car trips to move the last of my things. As eager as I am to finish the moving out process, I know I will miss this place and it will remain fondly forever in my heart.
PS: Don’t forget, you can get 15% off current Image of the Month prints. Just enter code IOTM at checkout.
I’m packing. Again. Packing has always been one of my least favorite chores, along with laundry and trips to the post office to mail things, both of which need to be done as well. A year ago, I would have been packing for my eighth trip of the year, to be immediately followed by a ninth, but this year it’s my first and also possibly my last.
This year is different from last year in so many ways. Last year I wandered from continent to continent, from sea level to 19,000 feet, over oceans and across the equator. This year, I’ve stuck to New England, with only a single recent trip to New Jersey to visit my mom. Last year I photographed rhinoceros and crocodiles, this year nothing. From the outside, this year might seem anticlimactic and ordinary, but I’m not only okay with it, I love it.
This year, I am buying a house, starting a new full time position at a place I love to work, and spending time investing in myself and nurturing relationships with people I care about. I am busier, happier, and healthier than I have been in a long time. My work has nothing to do with photography, and months go by where I don’t pick up my camera. Photography is still a part of my life, but not an everyday part.
When I see photographers posting advertisements for workshops on Facebook or images from their latest and greatest adventures abroad, I feel no envy. I actually think, “Thank goodness I am done with that.” Then I go to work, get accidentally pelted with a hockey puck, reprimand a group of 6th graders for yelling too loudly, and discover a new bruise on my collarbone from dynamic dumbbell squats.
These days, I am most inspired by the kids who work a project on our climbing wall for days, weeks, or months until one day they finally make it to the top. I’m inspired by local photographers who capture the beauty of New England with such detail and artistry that you would have no idea that they work night shifts behind a bar and shoot with an entry level camera. I’m inspired by the obese woman who gets up the courage to join a gym and put on a bathing suit because swimming is the only activity she can do that doesn’t hurt her joints because of her weight. It’s cool if you are one of those photographers who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on camera gear and traveled halfway around the world to photograph the same attractions in ways similar to how hundreds of others have before, but you no longer inspire me and I no longer envy you. It’s cool and all, but it doesn’t bring happiness to my heart or tears to my eyes the way the people in my life now do.
This year is new and exciting in a much different way than last year, and I find myself enjoying each day more and more and very happy with the direction my life has taken. As I pack, I am reminded of all of the clutter of the past. I am both surprised and saddened by all of the unnecessary possessions I have accumulated in the three years I have lived here. My goal has always been to “Simplify! Simplify!” as Thoreau once wrote, and now I am finally doing it.
It has never been easy to decide between wanting to travel and explore and experience the world and my desire to have a place that feels like home and people who are more or less constant forces in my life. Balance is key, of course, but it is hard to find. Now, as I pack my backpacking gear for one last trip, and everything else for a final move, purging all the excess I don’t need, I feel happy and light. I am at peace with my choices and their outcomes. I am happy where I am in life. I know none of these things are forever, but it’s nice to know where home will be and where my paycheck will come from for the foreseeable future. The very best part – familiar hugs are just a few miles away when I need them.
Because the first of this month happens to fall on a Thursday, I’ve picked a much older image to share in keeping with the #throwbackthursday trend on social media. Why not?
This photograph, of two laughing gulls in a bit of a squabble, was taken back in 2006 at the beginning of my nature photography career. I call it the beginning because although I had been taking pictures much longer and have loved animals, plants, and the outdoors my whole life, 2006 was when I started to focus my professional photography skills almost exclusively on subjects related to nature. That was the year I began dating another nature photographer, who I would end up spending the following three years learning from and traveling and shooting with, the year I bought a telephoto lens to enable me to photograph wildlife from a distance, and the year I bought a car, to give me freedom to explore wild places on my own.
This was on one of my first outings with my new boyfriend and new lens. We drove to Assateague National Seashore because I had visited there once before and loved it, and Chris had never been even though he lived in northern Virginia, much closer to Assateague than I did in New Jersey. The laughing gulls were in full breeding plumage and being hysterical, as usual, so I crawled on my belly on the beach to snap shots of them as they pranced along ahead of the turquoise blue waves. I was enthralled with my new-to-me Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens and happily took many photos, managing to capture this great interaction between two gulls as they squabbled over territory. This image stayed undisturbed on my hard drive for some time afterwards, until I one day discovered it and decided I really loved it. Now it’s one of my favorites.
Photographed with a Nikon D70 and Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens.
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