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

Close to Home

Beaver Brook Falls, Keene, NH, New Hampshire, waterfall, spring
The Source : Prints Available

Fresh spring rain and snowmelt means good flow at Beaver Brook Falls, a waterfall in Keene, NH.

I don’t shoot as much as I used to. Between working full time, owning a home and a dog, and striving to be a good partner to my incredible partner, there isn’t a whole lot of time left in the day to go out and take pictures. Even though photography is something I enjoy and want to do more of, once I’ve finally tackled all the things I need to do I’m rarely super motivated to drive around looking for subjects to photograph in the wee hours of the day.

When I started really getting hooked on photography in high school, I shot mostly sports because it was what I had easy access to. I didn’t have my own car, but there were plenty of athletic competitions at school that I could photograph and then catch a ride home after on the late bus or with a friend. I only started shooting nature and wildlife a lot when, halfway through college, I finally got my own wheels and more independence to get around and explore natural places on my own. Before then, I shot whatever was within walking or biking distance from home or school.

Now between working 40+ hours a week, spending at 5 hours a week commuting back and forth from work, doing things to maintain a home, caring for a pet, staying active, and being involved in my relationships and community, I don’t have that much extra time to do photography. I also don’t function as well on limited sleep as I used to and don’t really enjoy driving as much, so 3am wake-ups to drive two hours to the beach for sunrise have about as much appeal to me as picking up dog poop from the backyard. At work, I spend hours every day on a computer or sitting in meetings (even though I don’t have a traditional desk job) so I don’t really enjoy coming home and to edit photographs in my “free” time. Plus, adulting is expensive. Buying groceries and paying my utility bills is more of a priority to me than filling up my gas tank an extra time for a photo trip or buying new camera equipment and software. I used to dedicate days and weekends to shooting, and now I want to be able to take some photos for a few hours and then move on to something else.

So I’ve found myself coming full circle, shooting sports and taking photographs of nature that don’t involve long days and hours of travel. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities to shoot close to home. I take photographs of student-athletes competing in sports events at work and go with my boyfriend to some of his mountain bike races, where I spend a large part of my time on the mountain photographing him and his teammates while cheering everyone on. I photograph our dog a lot, usually in our own backyard. I’ve started to make a point of going out to photograph the really pretty natural areas in my own town. Lately, the setting of most of my nature themed images has been just a bike ride away from my home.

spring, cascade, Beaver Brook, Keene, New Hampshire, NH
Renewal : Prints Available

Fresh spring leaves frame a small cascade along the Beaver Brook in Keene, NH.

It has been kind of fun to take this approach to photography. I feel less pressure to actually create stunning images, because I’m just shooting for fun. Since I’m not going too far out of my way or using up a whole lot of time, it doesn’t really matter whether I succeed at creating website worthy content or fail completely. Plus, I like the challenge of finding tucked away places and taking advantage of just a few free hours to do something I enjoy. Shooting nature close to home also helps me embrace and appreciate the beauty that is around me every day and reminds me how happy I am to live in a place where waterfalls, wildflowers, and wild animals are just a bike ride away.

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.

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.

Bonjou! from Haiti

Well, I’ve arrived. This novice world traveler departing from New England has successfully endured her first half day of 90 degree temperatures while navigating through Haitian customs at Port-au-Prince and has settled into the Kinam Hotel for the night.

Wow. Haiti is so… different. Different and beautiful. Haiti is one of those places that conjures up so many questions; as an outsider, I know I have so much to learn. It seems that everything here has a story – every person, every piece of artwork, every store and yard of rubbish and building and stray dog. It’s incredibly humbling.

Anyway, this is a short post, as there is much work to do and long days ahead. Just wanted to check in and tell you all that I’m alive and well. Internet (and even electricity) here is a luxury, so I thought I might as well take advantage of it when I can!