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.

A Streamlined Adventure

Tomorrow I take off for Ecuador! Unlike most trips I’ll be leaving my laptop and most of my camera gear behind. It’s kind of exciting to be going pseudo “off grid” for a while. For camera gear, I’m packing my 5D Mark II with my new tiny 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, a spare battery and charger, plus 31GB of memory, my travel tripod and ballhead, and that’s it. I’ll have my iPhone too, so will be sure to share my adventure via Tweets and mobile snapshots on Instagram, but I won’t have a computer to post DSLR images to or write long emails from. Even with all of the mountaineering and climbing equipment I’m bringing along, it still feels like I’m packing light, at least in terms of technology. I’m already looking forward to going through security without having to take out my laptop and not having to wrestle my Kiboko bag filled with 30+ pounds of camera gear into the bathroom stall with me at the airport or heave it into the overhead compartment on the airplane. Yay for adventures!

See you in a couple weeks America!

The End of 2012

Growing Up : Prints Available

It’s that time of year again. Many photographers are sharing their favorite images from 2012, and while I think that looking back at the past year and picking out your favorite images is a cool tradition and all, I’m never very good at picking out favorites, so it’s not something I often do. Typically, when I look back at a year photographically, I always feel like I did so little and ought to have gone out shooting more.

2012 has been full of ups and downs, as many of you who regularly read my blog could probably decipher pretty easily. It started with trying to desperately wrap up my final semester of grad school amid traveling to Haiti and Costa Rica, then fell into a sobering summer where I was determined to take time away from work and responsibility to just focus on recovering from the past couple years of little sleep and much stress. Following that, I was bored and broke, so I found some purpose in teaching and, as usual, I landed myself an erratic schedule filled with part time jobs based in various states to ensure that doing my taxes at the end of the year would be borderline impossible. I scraped by, hung on, loved hard, and was plenty foolish. I had beautiful moments, some filled with smiles, some with tears, many with both. I met new people, made new friends, and found inspiration from the completely random people I met on my travels. I even started to think about photography very differently than I have in the past. 2012 unraveled not exactly in the way I might have expected it would, but fortunately a good friend once told me not to have expectations suggesting they were a surefire way to be disappointed. So thanks to him, I was neither disappointed nor surprised by the turns the year took. Life happens, and you’ve just gotta roll with it the best you can.

Cloud Forest

As much as the end of one year is an appropriate time for reflection, the beginning of a new one also seems like an appropriate time to set goals. Photographers have a tradition of doing this too. While New Year’s resolutions notoriously end in failure, it’s still probably good to have a few goals lined up. After all, having goals gives you purpose, something to work towards and strive for.

So I’ve thought about it, and the only goal that really seems worthy of making a goal is the same one I’ve had my whole life. To be fair, it’s probably one of the few goals I’m any good at sticking to. I just want to BE HAPPY. Simple, vague, largely immeasurable, but totally attainable. And 100% worthy.

Choosing the Right Photo Workshop

I often get emails and messages from photographers asking for all sorts of advice. Recently, a photographer I met started asking me about workshops through NatureScapes.Net, the company I work for. A workshop he was particularly interested in had filled for the upcoming year, and he was looking for alternatives, as he didn’t want to wait until the following year visit this particular destination. As he started to send me links to a number of other photo trips to the same country, asking what I thought of them and if they would be good trips, I realized that many aspiring photographers have no idea what to look for when it comes to finding good instructional photography trips.

When I started shooting nature and wildlife in 2006, I was a poor college student and had no interest at all in paying someone to teach me about something I could learn on my own for free, and to this day I’ve still never paid for any photo workshop or event, although I have attended many. I’ve also never been the type to fork over any significant amount of money for anything without carefully researching it first, so I often forget that many others aren’t as cautious. What I’ve discovered is that many photographers sign up for workshops without even the slightest clue of what they are getting themselves into. Sometimes participants just don’t do their homework, but often photographers just don’t know what to look for or what questions to ask.

My newest article, published just today on NatureScapes.Net, is designed to help photographers identify what to look for when choosing a photo workshop or tour. Inspired by the photographer with all of the workshop questions, I wrote it to help photographers avoid ending up on one of the horror story trips I’ve heard too much about. I hope that you’ll find “Choosing the Right Photo Workshop” a valuable resource when deciding on your next paid photo adventure, and that it can help you pick a trip that is right for you.

Why Photographers Can’t Make a Living

This weekend, I received two emails from an individual interested in purchasing rights to one of my images. The first read as follows:

Kari,

I’m a photographer, too. I had an idea to use an image of a hissing goose on a T-shirt. Instead of shooting it myself, I did the lazy thing . . . a Google search for the image and found yours. It would be perfect.

Would you sell royalty free rights to use it? Price?

Anonymous Photographer

 

Then, just thirteen minutes later, another email from the same photographer.

Kari,

Apologies. Please disregard the previous email. I found one for $19 on Shutterstock.com.

Anonymous

 

When as photographers, we don’t value the work of one another, how can we expect anyone who doesn’t spend thousands of dollars on equipment and travel expenses and countless hours in the field to get it? I don’t blame the guy for purchasing a $19 royalty free image – my price would have been significantly higher, and as a consumer I’m often tempted by lower prices too. I blame people who don’t value their own work and sell it for pennies, making it nearly impossible for professional photographers who make a living off of their craft to command a fair and reasonable price for the images they create. I also blame society for creating a culture where quality photography isn’t valued and respected. This photographer wasn’t an idiot – he knew that $19 was a dirt cheap bargain and there was no way I was going to offer my image for so little, otherwise he would have waited for my response back to him. And, after looking at his website, I’d be willing to bet that there is no way that he’d give away any of HIS images for the royalty free price of $19!

If you are a photographer – amateur or pro – do all of us a favor and don’t give away your images for nothing. By doing so, you devalue the work of photographers as a whole and make it nearly impossible for full time professionals to make a living, those photographers who depend on selling images to put food on the table and a roof overhead. I’m not saying you should charge your daughter to photograph her new baby, or that you shouldn’t donate your services to an animal rescue group or grassroots conservation project in your hometown if the cause means something to you. I’m just asking you to THINK! If a client can afford to pay, they should, and if a client stands to make ANY money off of the image you are providing, such as the Anonymous Photographer above wanting to sell t-shirts, they you should be getting a fair price for your work. Don’t be fooled into handing over an image for exposure or the honor of being published. Being a victim and allowing someone to steal your work is not honorable, and by selling your photographs at minuscule prices, you are only reinforcing that our work isn’t worth much and making it easier for companies whose pockets are much deeper than ours to continue taking advantage of us.

Thank you!

I feel really lucky lately. Granted, my life is not all sunshine and rose petals, but all in all, I have little to complain about. I live in a wonderful place, I’m surrounded by supportive friends and family, and I get to do things I love on a regular basis.

I’m a passionate person. I work hard, play hard, live hard, and love hard. I crash hard too. For the most part, many of the things I do, I do with all my heart and soul. My life is generally one big euphoric cloud of adrenaline and enthusiasm, and most of the time, I’m riding high on a big white puffy cloud of positive feelings. The thing is, the higher I get, the harder I can fall. Yet never once in my life have I fallen without someone to catch me.

Never once in my life have I crashed alone, and because of that, I’ve never crashed for long. My crashes are momentary bursts of emotion that tend to be a mix of sadness, loneliness, confusion, sometimes anger, and always incredible amounts of love. Even in the depths of my lowest lows, I always love the world.

I just got back from an amazing amazing trip to Acadia National Park with members of the North American Nature Photography Association. Acadia is one of my favorite places, and every time I go there I fall more and more in love with that place. I also always seem to meet really fun and interesting people there, and this trip was no exception. Despite the foliage not being quite at peak, the uncooperative weather, and limited shooting I did, I had an absolute blast because I was with incredible people. My co-leaders were probably the most inspiring group of pro photographers I’ve had the opportunity to work with, the participants were pleasant, positive, talented, and a whole lot of fun, and the others I met who don’t quite fit into the first two categories were simply exceptionally awesome people. I couldn’t have shared this experience with a more wonderful collection of individuals.

So when the good-bye hugs were shared, the “see you laters” murmured and car doors shut for the last time, I felt a sense of loss. This is not unlike other trips I’ve led, and I’ll admit a few or more tears were shed as I once again began to contemplate my whole life and what do with it. Internally, I felt my two halves – the one the yearns for a life of stability, security, and familiar roots vs the one that craves a life of constant inspiration, adventure, and exploration – tug at me. Part of me wanted to dive into the wilderness and not come out for a while. Part of me just wanted to get a massive hug from a friend.

I could go on and on about how these intense and immersive trips take their toll on me, or about how I have an amazing assortment of friends scattered all over the world, most of whom I see in person not more than a few times a year, if that, and how I wish that were not so much the case. Sometimes I feel like my heart can’t handle it anymore, being fragmented into so many pieces that have been broken off and given to various gypsies or homebodies whose home just happens to be a different place than mine. But then I realize I was gifted with massive heart, and no matter how many times I love I will always be able to love more because that is who I am.

I like who I am most of the time, and it’s possible for me to be that person because of the many kind and wonderful people who have been a part of my life, particularly those of you who have assumed an ongoing role. I’m a very independent person, but I thrive on human contact and interaction, and as much as I enjoy my moments of solitude, the truth is, I can’t be who I am in isolation. I need people. I need you.

So this note is really a thank you to all of you. This is a thank you to the NANPA folks and other environmental photographers who inspire me and get me excited about the work we do. This thank you goes to my friends who are just a phone call away when I need someone to share good news with, to unload emotions on, or just to entertain me on a long drive. This is a thank you to the people who make me smile, who challenge me, and who remind me of who I am at the core of my soul.

So many people have touched my life, some only briefly, and some who have anchored themselves with roots that will continue to grow as the years go on. My mom has been my biggest supporter since the moment I came to be, and my adopted family in New Hampshire make a state I’ve lived in for only a couple of years feel like home. While biking across the United States in 2009, strangers took me in, fed me, and gave me a warm shower and a clean bed. I get messages and emails from kind strangers offering words of encouragement and support, and sometimes glowing compliments from people I’ve known only briefly, but whose comments touch me deeply.

I don’t know if it’s possible to adequately express the gratitude I feel towards all of you using words and the limitations of the English language, particularly via such impersonal and electronic means as a blog post. I mean to say thank you, and I mean it to mean something, but I’m imperfect and I don’t always know how. The truth is, you all make a difference, and I know that part of who I am is just because that’s who I am, and part of who I am is because of who you have allowed and enabled me to be.

A quick note

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been living life – teaching, going rock climbing, and doing other things that keep me plenty busy. Photography went on the back burner for a while because I needed it to, but now I’m having fun with it again.

I’m currently in Acadia leading a regional event for NANPA, and I’m really enjoying myself. My co-leaders, Jerry Monkman, Paul Rezendes, and Tom Blagden, are all amazing and the participants and others involved are a blast. It’s so refreshing to be around photographers so passionate about photography and nature itself. While the weather hasn’t been cooperating all that much, I’m having such a good time that I’m hardly aware of how few shots I’ve taken, and since I’ve eliminated the pressure on myself to produce good material, I’m genuinely just enjoying being here. It’s not hard to love being in Acadia, but the good company and being able to help other people explore and enjoy this amazing place has made this trip special in its own way.

For me, this is part of what photography is about. Sure, to me photography is personal and often private. I usually like shooting alone, and I probably do my best work when I’m not distracted by talking to others or competing for a good spot. But I’m a social person, and I like sharing the things I’m passionate about with others. Particularly when the shooting isn’t all that good, it’s a lot of fun to be with other like minded people.

Fun is important! I like being out in the field. I like scrambling on rocks and seeing the sun rise. I like early mornings and long days of being in nature. Sometimes I like exploring alone, but sometimes I like having others to share my adventures with. The recipe isn’t always the same for fun on an given day, but as long as photography is fun, I’ll keep doing it.

Tossing in the towel

Dolly Sods, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

At one point in my life, I dreamed of being a photographer for National Geographic. I think it was around the time I was 14 or so, before I had picked up a DSLR and even gotten serious about photography. I dreamed of traveling to far off places and photographic exotic people, animals, and landscapes. I had little notion of how dangerous some of those places could be, how inhospitable and desolate, how lonely and isolating. I didn’t think of what it would be like to leave loved ones at home, or even to leave home itself. I was naïve. My notions of being a globe-trotting photojournalist were romantic ones, not realistic ones.

I’m now 26. In the past six years, I’ve held 15 jobs in five states. Next month, I’ll start three new jobs and add a sixth state to the list of places I’ve been employed. I’ve had assignments that have taken me abroad and to even more parts of the U.S. Sometimes I sit behind a computer for hours on end, other times, I’m in an area so removed from civilization that even satellite phones fail to work and days pass without seeing other people. My life is always in flux and constant change has defined who I am.

One day, I’ll have a “real job” I say to myself. One day, I’ll grow up and be responsible and independent and self sufficient. One day I’ll work constant hours, have a steady paycheck, and reliably be able to pay all my bills AND save for my future. One day maybe I’ll even have my own house and a family. One day. Some day. In the future.

My mom says times are tough. I’m not the only one suffering through this, she says. Jobs are hard to come by, full time jobs even more so. Employers don’t want to pay benefits, she says. It will all work out, she says. Follow my heart, she says. Follow my dreams.

Dreams change. People change too. I’m only 26, and I’m tired.

I’m tired of sitting at the computer doing things that don’t really make a difference. A little computer time is fine. A bit of lazy self-indulgence is healthy. But hours and days at the computer spent editing and emailing is not how I envision a life well spent. I’d rather be out and about, discovering the world that never fails to remind me that I’m alive. I’d rather be with people. I want to make a difference.

I no longer want to be a professional photographer. Not for National Geographic, not for Kari Post Photography, not for anyone. I don’t want to be forced to photograph, to write and edit, to promptly answer emails, and to market my images because they are what pays my bills. It’s not fun! Frankly, it sucks! I just want to take pictures because I love taking pictures. I want to write because I love to write. Feeling obligated to do either takes the fun right out of it.

I’m not willing to turn something I love into something I hate. I’m not willing to turn myself into someone I feel sorry for. I’m not desperate. I’m alive, and I want to live a full life.

So I’m tossing in my towel as “pro photographer.” I never liked that title much anyway. It’s time that I turned photography back into a fun hobby. I no longer want to feel dread when I return from an amazing trip or weekend with friends because I know I’ll need to spend the entire day catching up on emails and other online projects. I want the computer to be a tool, not a trap. I want to define my photography, I don’t want it to define me.

I already know who I am.

Patience is a Virtue

I’ve spent most of the past week up in Acadia National Park, scouting for the NANPA Regional Event I’ll be co-leading there this fall. Jerry Monkman, one of the other leaders and NANPA president-elect, invited me to tag along for one of his photo workshops so I could get a better feel of the place and check out some of the locations I was unfamiliar with prior to the workshop.

One of the locations I’ll be taking a group to is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and it was one of the spots I had never been before. So I made it a point to visit the lighthouse one gray and rainy morning to scout it out, making sure I knew the terrain, noted any safety concerns, and found where to best direct participants.

On my last evening in Acadia, I had planned to shoot at Jordan Pond, but it was windy, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like getting to bed late. The next day, I planned to wake up for a sunrise shoot at 4:30AM and then drive the six hours home. I was on my own at that point – the workshop was over and the other photographers whose company I had enjoyed had mostly headed home – so I changed my plans and decided to shoot at Bass Harbor Head instead, as the lighthouse was much closer to where I was camping at Seawall.

I got to the lighthouse around 6:30 or so, more than an hour before sunset, to set up and get a good spot on the rocks. When I arrived, I was met by no less than a dozen people already at the lighthouse, perched in various spots I would have preferred they not be. I frowned on the inside a bit. I chatted briefly with another photographer on a nice flat rock and scrambled to a nearby sharp and pointy rock where I was sure I wouldn’t be in his way. I set up my tripod and wedged my bag in a nice safe spot in the rocks. Then I waited.

And more people came. Photographers – there were at least a dozen with DSLRs, more with point-and-shoots, and at least six tripods, including mine. Spectators, many who wanted their photos taken in front of a completely backlit lighthouse obscured by trees. People who climbed on the rocks right below the lighthouse. Why? I have no idea, you couldn’t possibly get a good look from that angle. A bird watcher with binoculars. Families with kids. More people came, some people left, and of course no one was sitting still enough to make it possible to include any of the sightseers in my composition. I was irritated.

Patience is a virtue, I thought to myself, so I waited. I was pretty sure if I waited long enough I would get my shot. While I waited a bald eagle hunted for fish and some porpoises swam offshore. At least they made the waiting a slightly less frustrating experience.

As the sun started to set, most people cleared away from right in front of the lighthouse, so photographers could get their shots. If I had felt like using a different lens, that probably would have been ok with me too, but I envisioned a wide angle shot, with jagged rocks leading the viewers’ eye into the frame, towards the lighthouse, rimmed in the colors of the setting sun. People were still in my way. So I took a couple boring frames and kept waiting.

From experience, I know that the colors at sunset and sunrise are often the most intense when the sun is about 20 minutes under the horizon. So for sunrise shoots, I always try to get to my location and be set up a half hour before sunrise. During sunset, I stay even when most think the show is over.

And if I’m smarter than the other photographers, and willing to wait longer and work harder for my shots, I can get the place all to myself. I often do. And then, I can reap the rewards.

Once the sun set, people dissipated quickly. One photographer even said “Well I got what I came here for” and left just as the colors were getting more intense – obviously more pink and more saturated – right before his eyes. Others began wrapping up and started to complain about the mosquitos, swatting at invisible demons I hadn’t even noticed yet. Within 15 minutes of the sun setting, I was the only one left.

Bass Harbor Head, bass harbor head lighthouse, lighthouse, sunset

And I got the shot because of it.

This is a hand blended combination of seven different frames. I don’t like HDRs, so I bracket my exposures and then combine them in PhotoShop using layer masks. Just processing this shot took at least a couple of hours, but the waiting game was really won in the field. This photograph is the result of being a smarter photographer, one who knows the subject, and who is willing to work harder and shoot longer than the others, not to mention better tolerate uncomfortable rocks and pesky bugs. Mostly it’s because sometimes the one who plays the waiting game best wins.

 

END NOTES:

1) Jerry probably knows more about Acadia than just about any other photographer currently shooting. In fact he and his wife Marcy wrote the bible of it, The Photographer’s Guide to Acadia National Park, along with two other books about Acadia and other titles of interest to New England area nature and landscape photographers. Jerry is also a super stand up guy who does great work as a photographer working on various conservation issues in New England. I recommend Jerry and Marcy’s books (I own three now) and suggest you buy direct from them, as they get a slightly higher cut of the proceeds that way: http://ecophotography.com/books/.

2) The NANPA Regional Event in Acadia National Park is being held October 4-7, 2012. Myself, Jerry, and two other photographers will be leading groups to various photography hotspots throughout the park, and it’s sure to be a fun event. Spots are still available, so please visit the NANPA site to learn more about the event and register. I hope to see you in Acadia this fall!