Stay Local

I recently received an email from an artist deadline mailing list. This is a helpful resource for artist call-for-entries to local gallery exhibitions, craft fairs/festivals and contests.

In this case, it was an email for an artist grant, awarding up to 30 artists in any and all mediums a grant for $1,000 each.

The instructions were rather simple, pay a non-refundable $40 application fee, submit your Instagram handle, allow them to tag you on Facebook, upload 10 images and/or videos, and gain worldwide promotion and exposure. Sounds good?

And wait patiently for several months before they choose the winners.

I gave pause to this email for a day or two, then ultimately decided against it for my own reasons.

While Ansel Adams took a similar image out far in Yellowstone National Park in 1942, I took this tribute image at a location about 15 minutes away from my house.

So why did I decide against this?

On the fence a bit, I decided that valuing my time and money was the biggest concern.

Every choice in life involves a risk, whether major or minor. The application fee for me was not worth spending the $40 for a potential $1,000 or more. The 20 minutes or so to fill out the app was not worth it either.

You have to choose your battles, and the chances of winning the grant versus not were to big to take this chance.

This 2,120 lake is a bit of drive to get to, but the drive out is worth it and beats most locations that I’ve been to even farther away.

To go back to the title, staying local has become integral to my overall success as a photographer for a multitude of reasons.

I have applied to many online photo contests only to not see any ROI (return of investment) whereas there is a more personal satisfaction in getting into a well-renowned gallery cooperative in town.

This has simply been my experience, whether the quality of my work has not been enough or not. Sticking to being closer to home has given more opportunities.

By working this way, I have met other local artists and creatives to network with, something the internet isn’t quite good at frankly.

These contests are judging your work purely on its merit alone, however a personality and a face behind the art can provide so much more context.

Testing out a new backpacking tent…in my backyard of all places.

I am a member of a long-running gallery co-op in my county. This is one I had my sights on joining someday, and so I ultimately got my foot in the door by submitting work to an open community show.

That’s a good first step, but I went further with the idea and joined the other members at the gallery reception. Dressing nice, being social-able and friendly while talking to the members. The night was a success.

Only after networking and meeting them did I submit an application, after receiving encouragement from some of them.

This got me farther than any submission to a faceless photo contest. The personal satisfaction of the local scene meant my name got out.

The same themes apply greatly to photographing the outdoors. The grandest of national and state parks far away from home are stunning to say the least, yet a budding photographer does not need them to pursue their work.

Beautiful creations can be made anywhere you are located.

How bad do you want it? You will find a way.

Think small, start small, at one point early in my journey. I had dreamt of being a contributor to a very “geographic” organization. So much so that that was my initial goal.

Defining success is a catch-all game as everyone is different. The notion that “making it” is something to ponder for your own personal goal.

Years into my career, I could frankly care less about the bigger picture.

If you are struggling to create or promote your craft, get along with the idea of thinking small, starting small. Stay local…you don’t need exotic.

Just like a poorly-composed photo, re-frame and recompose. The results will turn out better.

I hope you enjoyed this opinion piece! If you disagree or have a comment, leave it down below! I’d love to hear someone else’s story of success on a bigger scale.

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Nature Photography as an Introvert

So there I was, standing in the middle of the red pines and rain drops. I still had cell signal that far out there however I had not seen another human being for hours.

I had just had my video camera and tripod take a hit and subsequent plunge from onto the boardwalk and then the surrounding water. Barely only ankle deep, this shallow marsh land submerged over $1,500 worth of gear. Trying to shake this off was turning out to be not easy.

The tried and true approach to drying off waterlogged gear. Bags of rice.

No one else around to see my costly mistake, my self-blunder.

Once again I asked myself the painstaking question often at these times..

What am I doing out here?

Moments of self-discovery like this compel me to find out why I am driven to create, often in isolation. Yet on this particular day I had been fighting the elements and my own personal struggles in order to create a ‘perfect’ video.

Creation for me is often an experience best done and fully realized when alone, yet in this instance a good thing can sometimes be too much for a person.

And so due to fear and frustration, I concluded to take two weeks off from going out with the camera. Much like a personal “punishment” or a temporary respite.

In that time without a proper DSLR camera in hand, I ended up realizing how much having a camera means to me.

Life doesn’t feel the same without a camera in hand.

As my work has evolved and my character has matured, I realized over time that my true calling, my true happiness is only felt when I have a camera.

The physical act of going out in the field is what I crave, no matter the stress about weather or other hardships, this is all just obstacles. And like difficulties they all just fall away in the face of true passion, hard work and dedication.

Photographing something allows me to get out of my head, as if the camera is a tool, a distraction. A pleasant way of saying ‘pause’ on all other obligations and ruminations. This is essential to my wellbeing, photography is therapy and the camera is the medicine, the meditation.

In the abstract, a camera is a device to slow down and distance yourself from other woes in life, whether that is something outside of photography or in your personal life. For this day, it was from dropping your camera on a boardwalk and subsequently in the water earlier in the day.

This could’ve been the end of that day, but I’ve learned to work with what I have. It didn’t matter if it was raining quite heavily, the goal was to finish the video and produce some quality photographs. Never was it a question of whether or not to give up, I had come too far in the past several years of setbacks to just throw in the towel now.

I still had another DSLR to use, and an extension tube and small telephoto zoom lens to work with. Sometimes you have to get creative, and so I set out again through the nature preserve.

One of the last photos I took from the camera/lens earlier in the day.

So why does all of this matter to an introvert? Well, these experiences where found out when in isolation. They were tests to my character and a challenge in order to test limits.

Introverts tend to reflect more, as I am here in writing this blog entry weeks after the incident. However in the moment, my heart and intuition said to keep going despite the odds. Introversion leans towards self reliance and calculated problem solving, like I did by finding a plastic bag and rice from my bean bag support to dry off this gear.

By the end of the day, I learned all of this by working through the actions and consequences. The day was my mess to work through, and I did it with these beautiful spring ephemerals photos as a result.

(From left to right: Virginia Bluebells, Toadshade Trillium, Large Flowered Trillium, Large Flowered Trillium, Rue Anemone, Dutchmans Breeches)

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

― Charles Bukowski

If you enjoyed this blog post, leave a comment down below and share with your (introverted or extroverted) friends!

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A Cycling / Birding Adventure

Early on in my birding and nature photography adventures, I would use whatever means to travel to natural locations around the area.

A bicycle was one of my primary ways to get me around, and for a bit of throwback, I decided to try it again.

Using a bicycle or even your own feet allows for greater mobility than an automobile would. You can park and get into smaller spaces a vehicle simply can’t fit into. Starting and stopping is a lot easier on a bike whether that’s along a sidewalk or former railroad right-of-way (bike trail.)

Environmentalists could also argue the emissions and pollution that are saved from using the manpower of a bicycle over a car or truck. It simply doesn’t make too much sense to use a car to drive several minutes away when a car does just as well.

Probably one of the most important of all, birdsong is definitely more audible pedaling a bike against the wind than cruising down the street with a loud engine car.

Arriving at the first location and getting the gear set up.

So on May 1st during the peak of bird migration back up to the north, I set out at noon to some local places. These are locations where I got my start in nature and wildlife photography.

I am very familiar with these places, having gone to them many many times at all seasons in the past four years.

Each of the five locations I visited has an attached eBird checklist for those curious to see everything I recorded from the day. The photos are ones I shot with my phone (Samsung Galaxy S10.)

Enjoy!

To start, these first three locations happen to all be connected via footpaths, allowing me to park and lock my bicycle and travel on foot with binoculars and telephoto lens in hand.

Phillips Park

eBird Checklist

Featuring a classic Ohio red barn, a small pond, and some treelines and a service road path to wander by. I spent less than half an hour here and saw typical species for the location, including barn swallows which are attracted to nesting under the gazebo or inside the barn roof. Nest boxes are present in the open fields here however I did not see nor hear any Eastern Bluebirds, House Wrens or Tree Swallows.

Only eight species were what I was capable of identifying, however there were no doubt more at this spot. A couple of photos of common species satisfied me enough for the time and so I walked down.

Beaver Creek Wetland Nature Reserve

eBird Checklist

I spent much more time and miles hiked here, and due in part to the changing habitats I found more variety. Winding through a wetland and marsh means waterfowl could be seen, as I saw several Mallard ducks. Numerous hawks like Red-Shouldered were flying and calling overhead on this bright and sunny day. I began to see and hear more migratory birds, namely vireos, Baltimore Orioles and Northern Parulas.

The photographic highlight was a high key closeup portrait of a Blue Grey Gnatcatcher set against a deep blue sky. Several woodpeckers were also common to see and hear in the wet woods throughout the reserve, including their calls and drumming. I managed some great images and close looks of Song Sparrows, Baltimore Oriole, and an Eastern Towhee. Overall a success at 21 species for an hour and a half.

Dane Mutter Prairie

eBird Checklist

This small conservation easement is primarily prairie habitat as the name suggests, and I was here for half an hour only. Highlights were seeing a Red Shouldered Hawk on the ground getting mobbed by a Red Winged Blackbird. Upon entering this section I heard a single Eastern Meadowlark, however could not spot it in the mowed grasslands. American Goldfinches were unsurprisingly very present here, flying to and from the treelines to the tall grasses. The males were easier to spot with their vibrant yellow breeding plumage. To top if off, a handful of Common Yellowthroats were giving their “wichity wichity wichity” call while hidden from sight.

For some reason I have bad luck with ticks at this location no matter how cautious I am, one was stuck to my calf after getting home. Always check your legs in the spring and summer!

Glen Thompson State Reserve

eBird Checklist

Situated along a state scenic river, I anticipated many warblers and other migrants to be here. My best luck was a decent look and a photo through the tree branches of a Orchard Oriole (a life bird for me!) A Red Bellied Woodpecker was making quick work of a tree, chipping away pieces of bark to either feed on insects or to establish a nest cavity. Some more very close looks at Blue Grey Gnatcatchers held my interest during my visit. Overall a very successful hour spent at this hidden gem in my county.

Creekside Reserve

eBird Checklist

This personal favorite location of mine is severely under birded yet can contain a surprise or two to the trained eye/ear. To beef up my list for the day, I spotted several common species such as Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher and Killdeer. The best photo from this area was towards the end of the trail. A single individual that was very patient and perched high up in the treetops. A female Rose Breasted Grosbeak set against a very azure evening sky.

All in all, six year (2020) birds and and one of those being a lifer made for an excellent afternoon out.

I am very excited not only by some of the bird sightings from the day, but the amount of quality photos too! Here is a sampling of some of my favorites.

(From left to right starting at top left: Song Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Orchard Oriole, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, Rose Breasted Grosbeak.)

Have you ever birded via bicycle? How did it turn out?

I have found the experience to be rather enjoyable, different enough to try at least once or twice.

Make sure to get out there and bird your local places!

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Section Hike of Twin Valley Trail: Part 2

This is part 2 of a continuing story. For part 1 of my section hike of TVT, please click here.

Standing near the connector trail of the TVT, I was halfway there!

After my first visit to Twin Creek Metropark, I knew Germantown was to be next on my list.

And so I did within the next week.

However this trip was different than the first for a number of reasons.

Instead of a rainy and dreary day, I am greeted in the morning with heavy layers of frost that give way to a blue sky and sunny day.

The morning frost stuck around for quite a while. Until almost an hour after sunrise did the warmth begin to melt away the layers over everything.

The initial prescouting had me looking around the landscape for what could be out there. The problem was the lighting; it got worse and worse for photographing as the morning went on. At a certain point I considered just packing up and leaving as there were many waterways yet the sunlight had just cast unattractive highlights on all of them. The spotty lighting would make metering trickier and the photos would be more washed out and bland.

Being teased with these great potential subjects and no real way to satisfactorily photograph left me feeling defeated. Yet there was still a lot of hours of daylight and miles of trail to explore. I was not giving up yet!

You never know what you might find! In terms of birding, I got a real close look at a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) partially hidden in a cedar tree. The environment around me was whisper-quiet as this fairly small bird was perched and stared back at me for a bit before bobbing its tail up and down. They tend to prefer woodlands especially in both migration and winter.

Sadly I did not get a proper photograph of it as it was deeply in shadow. Simply noting field observations helps in finding it in future birding trips.

As night settled in rather quickly, I found myself not too much scared of the darkness this time. My will and resolve was pulling me back towards the trailhead despite how exhausted I felt.

By this point I had been trudging through mud and dirt most of the day. However unlike Twin Creek metropark, it wasn’t quite as slippery due to the rain from that day. The real challenge of Germantown was the steep hills that only sometimes had switchbacks. This 2,000 acre behemoth of a natural area tested my limits.

I arrived home very late after dark feeling sore all over, almost empty handed from what seemed like any good photos. Despite this, I had a good story to tell of an amazing day hike I managed to complete.

You don’t need exotic or to travel to Yosemite or Danali for some adventurous times.

Make sure to get out there and hike your local trails!

Did you enjoy this story? Leave a comment down below about how it inspired you to hike, backpack and camp somewhere. Make your own adventures!

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Section Hike of Twin Valley Trail: Part 1

It started with an idea, a sense of adventure and seeking to section hike a significant portion of trail in one (or two) trips. Consider this me “getting my feet wet” with embarking on more longform hikes and backpacking trips.

Panorama of the first trail marker and surrounding meadow territory.

Enter the 22 mile Twin Valley Trail (TVT), a very rugged and difficult backpacking trail split between two different metroparks and some land in between.

The entire TVT divides its footpaths pretty evenly between Germantown and Twin Creek Metroparks with a small section along a state route in between.

Like most of my nature photography outings, they generally end up having several objectives in mind. Hiking, photography, adventure. What else could I possibly need? The TVT easily satisfies and whets my appetite for all three.

I started my section hike at Twin Creek first due to its slightly smaller size. This trip would give me a taste of the trail difficulty itself and how photographic the landscape would be.

Beginning at the the northernmost “High View” trailhead, I am greeted from a hillside which has spectacular views of the meadow and surrounding landscape.

This 1,000 acre metropark boasts a diverse amount of habitats including woodlands, meadows, and waterways like streams, small pond and lake.

The expansive hills and ravines catch my eye quite easily and make the hike very much worth it. A calm pitter patter of rain develops over the morning as a slight cold breeze makes itself known.

Twin Creek is a perfect spot for birding and botany, as more than 500 plants and 70 nesting birds can be found in the metropark. While my visit didn’t prompt too many uncommon varieties, rest assured this looks to be prime birding hotspot in southwest Ohio.

Natural features are commonplace here like the 2,000 year old Hopewell earthworks and Carlisle Fort which still remain.

Besides the overall experience and enjoying the day out, the photographic highlight was a waterfall along the Twin Creek I managed to hike downhill to.

Very petite and modest, it was still roaring from the previous rain and had a nice flow and drop-off. I could fortunately stand in the center of the shallow creek and photograph it straight-on.

I also managed to find what may be a former shooting range shelter, perhaps used by boy scouts in the area.

The abandoned structures and things you find with your neck out in the woods.

In a single day I managed to hike all the trails, sticking to the 6-mile orange trail throughout. This orange loop manages to overlap a good portion of the other colored loop trails, saving me time and distance during my first prescouting visit.

And of course, I chose to film an ‘On Location’ video for how the day went.

I am now a believer, and find Twin Creek to be one of my favorite locations after visiting for the first time. The expansive views and wooded ravines and spectacular woodland hills, inter coupled with the specific day’s rainfall had me in awe the whole time.

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When Not to Take a Photograph

Every time I am out in the field, I knowingly pass by opportunities.

These opportunities are fleeting moments in time, potential photographs.

Sometimes these brief photographic “blips” are within a small space per square inch.

And most of the time, I am consciously aware I am passing them up.

Every step is another away from a photo, whether it is worth stopping is up to you.

In one of my ‘On Location’ videos, I was quite frustrated with how the day turned out photographically speaking. A lack of photos meant I ended up rambling on about the desire to find a subject instead of actually hunkering down and hitting the shutter button.

However, I did not want to get caught up in forcing a photo to happen. That added pressure can be useful in the right situation, however the inspiration still needs to occur first and foremost.

I had hiked over 15 miles that day since the light broke. Up and down hills and boardwalks, across creeks, far and wide around the landscape in search of compositions.

The new-to-me location was so spectacular that I became overwhelmed to capture it on digital pixels. By the time the sun had set, my desire and motivation incredibly dropped off.

I made it to the trailhead on the hill, where I could finally see the light I was missing out on while in between the hills and ravines. Despite setting a while before, the sun left an imprint in the sky that I wanted to work with.

Sometimes a photo can come from a happy accident.

I first saw this fascinating tree at the edge of the parking lot, and with the last bit of daylight after sunset I tried to work the scene. Due to the darkening light, I set the camera on a tripod and dialed the settings. A wide aperture of f/4.0 to let in all the light I could along with an 8 second exposure at ISO 100.

Composing the image was rather simple, a wide angle focal length of 16mm with the camera and tripod set as low to the ground as possible. This was to show the might and strength of this unique tree. Also a simple compositional problem to fix was a house in the background with porch lights glaring. I opted to position this distraction directly behind the tree from my position. Essentially the only light source was to be the last bit in the evening sky.

As expected, cars kept passing on by, their headlights buzzing from left to right. At first I avoided them altogether, hoping for a 30 second exposure to not be ruined by their glare. The tree was to be silhouetted and that was my goal.

In a moment of serendipity, the image below was one of five exposures and the last I took just minutes before leaving the location.

That fifth and final image was moving and compelling to me that I waited around a bit more to explore the idea. However something was holding me from pressing the shutter again. I simply couldn’t do it; this was it. I packed up and left soonafter.

If you want a moral to this story, let it be that the best moments and images can come as a surprise. You shouldn’t have to force the conditions to work, sometimes the possibilities come to you even if you didn’t want them in the first place. Like the car headlights, this wasn’t what I initially wanted to occur. Yet this became the highlight of the photo and trip for me.

Half of the battle when out photographing is accepting what you want to happen may never actually happen. This is OK.

Allow any energy and ideas to flow into composing the photograph. Sometimes you may be surprised what the results are.

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A Philosophy on Composition

Vertical or Horizontal? Even or offset? Tack sharp or panning? What do you do?

The topic of composition in photography is one of never-ending debate.

Simply put, there is no right or wrong way to compose a photograph.

However the artist intended the image to appear is the way it is meant to be, yet human eyes are implicitly looking for objects to align a certain way.

When I compose a prospective image, I am the master at the controls; a magician whose goal is to sway and captivate the audience.

I will look for elements or items to be arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, often at the expense of making more daring images. More on that later.

One thing that our vision accounts for is eye contact, whether it be a deer in the headlights or a flower facing our way. We crave that connection and feeling of intimacy. The photo is satiating a basic human need of belonging and focus.

Another example is numbers. We as viewers tend to enjoy odd numbers of things whether we know this or not. For this reason I will purposely crop out that forth bird in the flock to make three in a flyover shot.

Reasons for this are unbeknownst to me, however I can guess it has something to do settling on the way we expect chaos out of order.

Good things come in threes like the three stooges, amigos and most movie trilogies. The genie grants three wishes, Snow White has her seven dwarves, and I personally dislike writing out odd numbered years (doesn’t 2020 look so much better on paper than 2019?)

Numerology can play a big part in laying out an image, as there can be “too much” of such a thing, whether good or bad is for you too decide.

Playing off the two above examples, let’s say there is a single crane (bird, not construction) on the ground. You set up your gear just close enough without spooking it. You take the image of the beautiful crane going about its’ everyday business, feeding and standing etc.

Next thing, a second crane flies down to the same area. Now the two are engaging in a courtship display. How wonderful for you! Two is better than one right?

I’d reckon in this example and based off the all the facts, that the succeeding images will be far more powerful than before with just one crane.

Let’s get crazy and say that two is not enough. We want five more cranes to swoop down in the same general area. Now we’re talking about a good day out photographing!

As you wipe the drool that fell on your camera from gawking so much, we photograph this impressive newly-formed flock. Seven birds seems more interesting now more than ever.

Why? There’s an odd one out. Everything else is paired up except for the lonely one but he still is with the party.

Odd numbers create a sense of chaos and reality for our eyes to see.

Next up, one of my favorite words…

Juxtaposition: easily my favorite word to describe a photograph and composition in general.

Next word of choice would have to be dichotomy which is practically the same thing.

Anyways, these mean that there is a shakeup. A surprise to the viewer.

Something is not quite right, and we must find it out now.

In a way, I want to bug the viewer into searching more, as if they’re looking for something.

But Ryan that sounds terrible! Won’t people be less likely to look at your photos?

Not exactly. We as photo viewers want to see things arranged a certain way. Yet it is in our psyche to solve abstracts and puzzles. Essentially looking for meaning in the unknown and the illogical.

I could potentially flip my camera upside down and photograph a lake reflection with trees, keeping the horizon line straight in the middle and sell it off as the “true” orientation of the scene. I would bet most prospective lookers would argue that it was flipped, yet they know this because we are smarter than that.

An obvious example, however my goal and intent is not to treat the viewer as a fool, quite the opposite. I want to challenge them to see in new ways and to connect the dots as to what they’re looking at.

As photographers, we do that by creatively composing our photographs.

In essence, composition to me is all about challenging the viewer and myself while thinking through the image in the field.

Photographers, what are your favorite compositional techniques?

And photo viewers, what do you like to see most in a photograph?

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20/20: Having Vision

I am dedicating the year 2020 and the future decade to “having vision.”

This will be all about clarity and figuring things out as they are sorted naturally in your life.

Testing out a new ring light by using my likeness in an indoor portrait session.

But for now, let’s focus on one day at a time, starting with right now.

What can you do right now that your future self will thank you for?

There’s so much that could be done, but so much more not to. Use this time wisely!

In this blog entry, I will explain 7 tips to help jumpstart a passion (in this case photography) and how to keep it throughout the year.

Devote more time to photography.

Even when not out with the DSLR, I will use any camera possible to take a shot, including my phone.

Working a full-time job or going to school? It can be difficult to find the time (and motivation) to get outside with the camera.

Set aside one day a week, depending on your schedule, to make a trip to a local nature reserve or other place of inspiration.

Many can sympathize when they’re stuck in a rut. Remember the reasons why you started in the first place and stick to them.

Write them down in a place where you can easily see it.

For me, I go out with camera to a very familiar location. No distractions, no expectations. This limitless feeling becomes very freeing.

Devote more time to studying your subjects.

This was my first visit to a local quarry, which helped paved the way to knowing the location better for future visits.

Nature photography rewards the ones who are most patient, which means you will need to spend more time out in the field.

Whether it be studying the best to photograph a landscape or various bird calls, knowledge is truly power in helping achieve the best photos.

I recommend using various field guides to study more about the flora and fauna you wanna capture.

This will allow you to understand more of what you are photographing, thus saving you time by knowing where to be at the right time.

Investing in new gear.

Me explaining how how lenses and flashes work.

Start budgeting, set aside a small amount of money from your day job or weekly income to put towards purchasing new equipment.

Maybe that new lens you’ve been drooling over, or side accessories like filters, a pair of binoculars, etc.

Likewise, purchasing new gear isn’t everything, in fact in my experience it can be better to work with whatever you have at the moment. Only obtain new tech if you absolutely need to solve a special task or achieve something, i.e. an extension tube for macro photography.

Learn something new.

Take up some photography classes, whether your high school offers them, your college, or through online classes. You may consider a paid seminar/lecture style course like at CreativeLive or private and public workshops through your favorite photographer.

There is a wealth of resources out there so you should always be eager to learn. Ask around and do your research!

Participate in a local art fair.

Register a booth at an event that accepts photography and sell prints while generating word-of-mouth.

It is a tried-and-true form of marketing and advertising. And it is still more relevant than ever in our social media-addled world.

Plus by meeting new prospective buyers. you are practicing your message and elevator pitch. This helps share your passion or hobby with others. A good impression on others that you care about your craft will make them more likely to buy something.

Print your work, and create/publish photo books or ebooks.

A framed piece of a waterfall a friend bought from me.

Printing your work is very satisfying. You can even hang and frame on your walls or give to others as gifts. If you are looking to sell, try one of your local festivals..

The art of physical or digital books have many uses, whether to appreciate on a book shelf or coffee table, or as a tool to help teach others.

Find a story to tell, and tell it through your photos.

Keepsakes like this will last a lifetime as well, the print medium is not dead!

Submit a story to a local newspaper or publication.

This got my start in photography with being “published” albeit for free.

This is how I got my start, landing a small little corner in the newspaper with a single photo.

This would be a big deal to land a column in your local news or other publications. Paid or not, it can be the thing to garner more interest in pursuing your craft.

It may even begin a working relationship with a press agent, which would be a worthwhile experience.

Like I said at the beginning, work a small step each day towards what you want in life, and many many steps later you will be at your destination.

Now that 2019 is behind us, what goals and plans do you have for 2020?

Have any other comments or questions? Leave it right down below.

Here’s to seeing clearly in 2020.

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2019: A Year in Review & 12 Photos

Simply put, 2019 was a transformative year for my photography career.

My last time taking photos for the year was with a meetup of local photographers in the area.

Building upon what I started in 2018, 2019 brought forth into motion many things that I am working towards.

By the end, I had established quite a name among my friends and other local photographers. Dozens of festivals were done throughout the year, my first couple of gallery exhibitions, and I became a member of a local art cooperative. This is just to name a few notable events throughout the year.

Let us not forget the countless hours spent exploring the outdoors! I visited so many locations new and old and took some of my best (and worst) images ever. The process of going out almost became rote as I eased into my way of working the craft.

Also, making the choice at the beginning to start a YouTube channel had me refocus my priorities when out in the field. Images were a means to an end on most outings as I looked to tell a story to prospective viewers, sharing my thought process and techniques.

YouTube became integral to my workflow and creative process when photographing on location.

Below is a hand-picked list of my favorite photos from the past year, one from each month of the year. Hence the number twelve, imagine this as one would a calendar. A highlights reel, a curated collection. In no way are these the only twelve images I took for this year (believe me, there was way too much to sift through) but that is a good problem to have!

I gave pause when choosing this selection of images. Some are my favorite moments from the year, whether it be an emotional or other significant importance to me in that instance. Other photos are impressive in a technical sense, where the composition, lighting, etc work in tandem as everything aligned to how I envisioned or planned.

The culling process was rather tricky as some months were much busier than others for photography. Working a booth with my art during the summer time meant other photographical obligations were put on the back burner, as well as other distractions and responsibilities in life during the year. For me the busiest months were February, May, June and October whereas March, September and December in particular saw little to no action. This made the year quite scattered as I hope to refocus on a more consistent schedule for the next year.

Although it always could’ve been more, I am thankful for how much time I got to spend out in nature and with the camera.

Regardless, each one is special to me in one way or another. They embody a specific feeling or experience in time from the previous twelve months and I am grateful to share the stories behind them with you. Sit back and enjoy the storytelling.

Without further ado, let’s start with the beginning of the year..

January: Lone Tree

The first big snowfall of the year had me eager to get out there. One photography goal I had for the year early on was to capture more snow-covered images as I felt my portfolio was lacking in that regard.

This day was the catalyst to that goal coming true. Blowing and drifting snow out in this open farm field was a bit of difficulty however I made the most of the conditions. I am a total sucker for isolated trees and so this lonely tree out in the open stole my eyes.

Trees and the stories they can tell. The coldness is felt in the photo and that is why I enjoy it so much. The first proper photo op that wasn’t just in my backyard and the start of a great year.

February: White Tailed Deer

February brought about a lot of change as I became heavily involved in the art of filmmaking and storytelling alongside photography. A very productive month as I held my first gallery exhibition and I braved colder temps that weren’t so bad after a while.

It was a quiet winter hike at the Glen. Early morning meant that I was the first one there. Overcast lighting and snow meant photographing practically anything was easier to expose for. Only a few feet away off the trail, these two deer stared back and forth at me while foraging for food before slowly moving on. As is usually the case with deer, they see and hear me before I do them. Just a few feet away, a 600mm telephoto zoom lens meant I could shoot these wildlife headshots of them. At this close proximity, all the details come into clear focus.

I was quite surprised the whole time that they did not seem deterred by my presence. Certain individuals of deer may be skittish but staying completely still for others. I spent about half an hour with these two and while reviewing this shot and many other similar ones, I looked back up. They left without a sound and I never saw them again.

March: Skunk Cabbage

March was the first month of the year where my photography stagnated, not quite because of anything in particular but simply needing some time to persure other things personally and to work on editing images. February had me gather a lot of material in the form of photo & video so I was kept busy. I also wanted to avoid burnout and used the time to create some in-the-home videos and prepare for submitting festival applications.

With that said, this is one of the only images I took of about a dozen that month. A solitary night time photo shoot in my backyard of a tree during the new moon phase and of the skunk cabbage here during a guided hike. Skunk cabbage rises from the earth with a warmth and heat during late winter and early spring, beating out other plants to the race. A wider angle shot showing the plant as it is among the dead plant life around it. Simple but effective to document the moment.

April: Great Horned Owl

April meant that I was busy starting to photograph spring bird migrants and emerging wildflower blooms. I picked up the videomaking right where I left off in February and was eager to begin again.

This day was a highlight for my photography adventures. After being told of a possible nesting site at a nearby location the week before, I made sure to visit it before time was out. It was the end of April and most owlets have grown and left the nest. I set out in the afternoon to pre-scout the faily small fen for any possible trees high up in the canopy. Nothing came of luck even as I passed other visitors who echoed the same statements; the owls were still here. I went back to my car for a break, unsure of finding them later on.

About 45 minutes before dusk, I set out one last time to make a loop trail hike around the fen. Within a couple minutes of this last effort, I see a massive wingspan of a possible raptor at least 80 feet high up through the trees. Their nests are typically up that high and so I mount my large telephoto lens and camera on the tripod to go to work. Their hearing is so precise that this one pretty quickly stared me down as seen here even from that far up and away. Viewing the eye contact through binoculars is enough to get your heart racing. For my first sighting of these apex predators, this was an intense one I am glad to have witnessed and photographed.

May: Cascading Waterfall

If I had to choose one, just one image from this year…this might be it. In terms of landscapes and scenics, the month of May is perhaps prime time for me to chase waterfalls. Ice and snow has fully thawed and melted, vibrant green foliage is growing around and the longer days allow one to be out more. This image was among a very large assortment of photos taken on just a single day towards the end of the month.

I had found waterfalls in spots I never knew existed and this one was the largest of them all. The curve and design is followed by your eyes down the path as the scene composes itself. Compared to my first experiments with long exposures at creeks just three years before, this image elevated my standards to new dizzying heights. It is a wonder that this is from a state park so close to home too!

June: Shadow Darner

2019 was a big year for photographing Odonata, that is the order for dragonflies and damselflies. The majority of June photos were macro-styled close-ups of these tiny carnivorous insects. I was very fortunate to learn so much about them and come into their world for a bit.

I was enthralled the more hours I spent among these tiny insects as I watched them fly about on warm sunny days. The amount of photos and different species I had to work with were amazing. This male Shadow Darner stood still for several minutes as I fired away some shots with a small telephoto (that distanced the subject from the background) as well as firing off an external flash.

July: Prairie Sunset

July had photography take a bit of a backseat compared to very busy May and June. I did a single festival early on and then got out a couple times, most notably to Huffman Prairie two days in a row. This image was the result of the first evening.

This moment. The one where everything comes together in a grand show of color and composition. I was equally not ready for it as I was prepared. Being my first photographic visit to the prairie, I had spent my leisure all afternoon photographing birds and blooms around the area. This shot was an idea I always had but didn’t have any specific location in mind to achieve it at.

This image became everything I had wished for in my vision for the potential photo. The foreground symphony of various wildflowers; namely various coneflowers and bergamot. Then there is the horizon treeline with a gorgeous falling sun and the Golden Hour lighting. A wonderful July evening hike throughout the historic prairie led me to the end of the path and day. The “Golden Hour” light was at its’ peak after I set up my DSLR camera on a tripod and pointed a wide angle lens at the beautiful nature scene before my eyes and lens. Serendipity at its finest.

August: Quarry Sunset

August picked up the pace a bit as I challenged myself to go out every single day for a solid week. I chose my local wetland corridor as each day had me visit one or two locations. Later on I became busy with many festivals, often multi-day events to promote and support what I do.

This sunset brought forth a beautiful amount of quality light and color I would expect from late summer evenings. The light at this time of year stays around for a long time before turning into twilight as it transitioned into here. I even had enough time after nailing many compositions to take some silhouetted self portraits with the remaining bit of time.

The gradient lighting is my favorite aspect of sunsets when I am not shooting directly into the sun and this image is on full display with that. The mid-ground subject that is the stack of rocks made sense for the environment; a rock quarry.

September: Black Rat Snake

September once again was a slow burn as festival season hit its peak and I was left with little energy or time to get out with the camera. Despite this, I made the most of each trip outdoors.

Leaves were shaking, I thought a big stick in the middle of the flat trail was merely that until it moved a bit. Not quite, as two friends I was with made it clear this was no garter snake either. I dropped to the ground in curiosity and to get a better image. This was the result with the uneven lighting. Much less an exciting photo and more a wonderful moment. This was perhaps the best photographic result to come out of the month.

What I later identified as to be a black rat snake made for a captivating a harmless subject. This interested me more in learning about “herping.” Thanks to a friend, I have this awesome photo below to remember the day by!

In all honesty, I prefer this image over the actual one of the snake as it tells more of a story than the isolated face shot.

An amazing behind the scenes shot of me working the image. Totally candid, I looked up to the camera pointed back at me.

October: Great Blue Heron

October felt more or less like a return to form as festival seasons died down for the year and photography took center stage for me. I was gifted more time to go out and filmed several more videos, as well as simply rediscovering the joy of having a camera in the first place. I simply went out a lot to take photos of autumnal colors and foliage, whether they were good or bad.

This heron image was from a downpour of a rainy day, I laying flat out in the open along the lake edge at Caesar Creek. While I had landscapes in mind as I hiked the perimeter loop trail, this single heron was the most patient I’ve ever seen them. I took notice and crept closer on the hard edge stones.

Still a fair distance away, I nabbed these amazing perspectives of the heron sitting in the pouring rain. The drizzle can be seen in the background of the image. By the time I got up almost an hour later, my entire front side of the my clothes was drenched in mud and more. The results above show it was worth it.

Already deep in shadow, the waning hours of daylight after hiking and leaf peeping. All thumbs up from me.

November: Winter Twilight Woodland

November slowed me down a bit as I shot some videos and photos here and there where I could, and some very nice ones at that. The end of the year was coming closer as I began to look back on what made 2019 so important to my personal and professional growth.

This image was the afterthought of when I thought I was “done” with a video and closed it with an outro. However, a photographer should never pack away the camera until after leaving the location. The “blue hour” light here was stunning with the color it cast on the snow. A well-trodden dirt path became my leading line in the frame and a vertical composition is what I sought.

December: Foggy Woodland

I ended the year off with photographing many, many landscapes. Having just acquired a Canon 16-35mm f/4 wide angle lens, now “playing the wide game” became a focus to round out the remaining trips in the field.

This particular morning was Christmas Eve, and I was eager to take the camera out somewhere after seeing the dense fog develop the night before. The morning drive was quite evident, this was a thick covering that ended up lasting hours after daybreak.

I am not the most familiar with photographing fog and making it look the best. The image above was one such attempt at conveying the mood and mystery of that morning out there alone.

One may only see dead grasses here, I see photographic opportunities and a habitat we need to preserve.

Being an outdoor photographer at heart, Mother Nature tested my limits at times.

Being out in the bitter cold with blowing and drifting snow. The burning sun overheard and drenching sweat, the wet rain all day, getting up early and staying out late. All of it is a test of resilience and strength. It’s a personal battle I choose to take as the results are always worth the cost; getting the shot.

Well, here’s three cheers for another wonderful year of photo taking and to another successful year (and decade) of exploring and adventure.

2020 is a new decade, a new day, a new start. Like 20/20 vision, we will be able to see clearly. The decade of clarity and everything will begin to make sense in the next 10 years.

Thank you to all who have joined me on this journey, as this ride is just getting started.

I’m already eager to get back out there!

I’ll see you next year.

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Caesar Creek Hike (Day 2) – A Story Told Through Photos

This is Part 2 of a story, to start with my first day hike at Caesar Creek, click here.

Based on the previous visit, the visitor center staff recommended if hiking to start counter-clockwise at the Flat Fork recreation area not far from the visitor center.

So with this visit I chose that direction and quickly felt more confident this day compared to the first. I left the house a bit earlier and straight away hit the trails just after “sunrise” despite all the clouds around.

My first real stop about a mile down the trails was made at Horseshoe Falls down from my start at Flat Fork. Despite the on-off rain the entire morning and early afternoon, this waterfall looked to be dried up for the year.

I had previously seen the waterfall’s beauty at an earlier time in the year, so I knew what these old stone structures and flowing water were capable of. I gingerly stepped along the creek downstream of the waterfall to the massive cliffs.

Their immense texture and girth tempted me to pull out the camera, however something told me to wait for a better subject. Situated nearby the ‘falls is a newly constructed suspension bridge that was a real treat to traverse.

This particular day had a me testing out a revolutionary new tool; an umbrella! I had never used one photographing on a rainy day before. My ideal setup before was a rain jacket with plastic bags over the gear and a pack cover on the bag. This umbrella, while too small for an adult, was still a lifesaver when under the torrential downpours.

Another must for outdoor photographers is to have the right kind of equipment. Weather-sealed camera bodies and lenses, a proper-fitting pack cover, and sturdy hiking boots will go a long way to your survival and success out there.

By this point I was more than halfway done for the day. I visited numerous tourist attractions along the trail including the pioneer village and along the outskirts of the closed visitor center. Next time I will plan my thru-hike on a day that the visitor center is open!

Many winding paths in and out of the woodland still somehow keeps you hugging the edges of the massive lake. The autumn foliage was the perfect addition to the day along with the calm pitter-patter of the rain.

For the best solitude, hike a state park or anywhere else on a rainy and wet day. Only the most adventurous of souls make it outdoors during this time, and I went hours without seeing a single person. This allowed me to enjoy the views and every once in a while pull out the camera to compose a landscape composition.

There were many spurs along the way that lead you back to the edge of the lake. Just like a friendly reminder to gather your bearings. Speaking of bearings, a compass was another essential tool for this hike, as the monotony of the trail and multiple footpaths can lead one to confusion easily.

A lone Great Blue Heron also took my interest away for a while, allowing me to get up close and capture some of my best shots ever of the species in the pouring rain. Laying flat in the mud seemed gross in the moment, but the results I reviewed later on made perfect sense to all the preceding effort that day.

I had made to State Route 73! Just taking a quick peek at the road and the side trail was indeed closed. I then turned back and took an over 3 mile spur along the Fifty Springs loop trail before hopping back on the perimeter trail southward with the yellow blazes.

Somewhat miraculously, the moment I declared my explorations ‘done’ for the day and turned back at the end. The rain started up again! This time it was the heaviest it had been all day, and didn’t let up a single second before I got back to my car. Nature has a weird way of telling us things..

I made it back to Flat Fork with plenty of time to spare, even if the woodland was getting darker and darker. Exhausted and drenched in rain water all over, the camera and photos survived to tell the story of how my first and subsequent second day at the state park went.

If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to share it with others. Leave a comment below about how this inspired you to take up hiking or tell me of your leaf peeping adventures.

Until next time, make sure to get out there!

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Caesar Creek Hike (Day 1) – A Story Told Through Photos

It was a beautiful October day, cloudy, no wind or breeze at all. The perfect fair weather day for a hike and photographic trip. A simple walk in the woods.

I had the day off to myself and concluded I should visit Caesar Creek State Park near Waynesville, Ohio.

Almost 3,000 acres in size, this state park has something for everyone. Canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, archery, shooting, nature study, you name it. This day was to be a more hiking/backpacking centered day, with the camera taking a bit of a break.

Nearing the peak, there was beautiful Autumnal foliage abound! The duality of green in the understory transforming into yellow at the overstory of the tree canopy was quite apparent throughout the state park.

My goal was to hike the approximately 12.7 mile perimeter loop trail that wraps around the southernmost end of Caesar Creek Lake.

It was about 9am and I arrived at the visitor center to check in and obtain field guides or maps. The helpful desk lady informed me that there was construction going on on the only main stretch of road on the loop trail at State Route 73. Meaning I could start either way from the visitor center, but it would only be an out-and-back hike for the day.

Bummer, this shifted my entire focus for the trip. A thru-hike was not an option (and getting ticketed neither.) Yet I was glad to receive this information before hitting the trail without forewarning.

I could either choose the more scenic counter-clockwise side of the loop, with several waterfalls, the historic pioneer village, and other points of interest. Or on the other side is a more secluded woodland trek with rolling hills and lakeside views. I chose the latter in this case, and this section parallels with the Buckeye Trail. The yellow blazes are for the perimeter loop as the blue blazes for the BT.

And so at exactly 10am my out-of-doors trip began. The first trail marker being I1, I quickly found that the leaves covered up any tree roots, and so even with sturdy hiking boots I was tripping every couple of feet.

During my first steps on the trail, I kicked around the idea of filming the entire day and documenting the photos I took, yet this seemed too burdensome combined with the longer hiking miles. Gear-wise I only brought a single camera so it be unwise to drain the batteries that fast.

I settled upon a combined photo documentation in the form of collages along with a post-hike journalistic writeup as seen here. In the end something a little different than what I’m used to.

I didn’t take a wealth of photos, only about 50 unique images made their way to the computer after the fact. However I found that photographing autumn colors and foliage was such a special challenge than before.

The scenic overlooks and views of the landscape were grand in size and scope, and so my goal behind the camera was to “create order out of the chaos.”

I call this photo “Unveiling the Forest Canopy.”

The dense woodland canopy was still full of leaves on the trees, and a windless day meant that barely any were falling to the ground. A number of birds were singing and flitting about in the overstory, and various wading birds like Double Crested Cormorants and Ring Billed Gulls were in a decent numbers at the lake’s edge.

I took a quick break in the middle of the day after a trail outstretched to the edge of the lake waters. This is where I took a quick break to chow down on some hot oatmeal I warmed over the backpacking stove. This is an ultralight cooking setup that weights about a pound or so overall.

By the end, I was becoming lightheaded, sore and tired. Once reaching trail marker M1, I concluded with the remaining two hours of daylight that pressing on would have me hiking back in the dark. I turned around and made my way back to the start.

One thing I learned pretty quickly was overpacking can lead to fatigue faster than anything else. The entire trek would’ve been much more manageable had I not brought so many pounds with me. The majority of this weight on my back was extra camera gear, as well as water in a hydration bladder and spare cooking/food supplies. The water can definitely add weight quickly in large amounts however the food stuffs were negligible in their heaviness.

I also learned pretty quickly that plans can fall flat; in my own grand idealism I thought I could magically walk off almost 13 miles in a day hike. This was not the case, as I took many small breaks to sit, look around, eat and “water the plants.” A proper meal with the stove by the lake took up 45 minutes total! Let’s not forget the many stops to photograph foliage and other landscape shots, some of these moments taking up to half an hour long. There is only so much daylight available, and I was on my own with no outside help.

Sometimes big ideas go over my head until I attempt them, and this was a big eye-opener to what I’m really capable of.

Look to all angles, as there is always something out there to see.

In the future I hope to tackle the entire loop trail in one go when the highway portion reopens (probably leaving the camera at home too to conserve weight). Until then, smaller day hikes are the way to go.

Happy trails, and make sure to get out there!

(Stay tuned for Day 2, where I revisit Caesar Creek a few days later to hike the other half of the perimeter loop trail.)

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Happiness Vs. Fulfillment

Early morning, pre-dawn. I was awake a little more early than I am used to. Driving along the straight-lined backroads of rural Ohio.

It all started with an early morning spark of a thought on that solo drive to a far-reaching festival. Just me and my life’s work behind me (literally, as in filling my vehicle).

It was as if I had nothing left to lose.

It was then that I felt a pang of emotion.

“What could this be called?” I asked myself while still driving along.

That name for the feeling I was searching for was called pride.

The many sweat and miles of hiking all times of year in all times of weather. Searching for that perfect photograph…often times one that may never happen. Instead of giving up after an unsuccessful day, I only yearn to try again soon.

Pride is an emotional state deriving positive affect from the perceived value of a person or thing with which the subject has an intimate connection.

Even more so, this “intimate connection” is in a way with these pieces of my work. These frames and prints follow me around Ohio as I travel, sharing them with strangers and friends alike. While being inanimate objects, all these photos are ones carefully created and curated.

I have some stake in this game, the perceived value being whether I successfully sell my vision and way of seeing to others. This is a time where I need to stand up straight, not quite like some boring day job or other uninspired occupation.

The time and days leading up an incoming festival are often a tense time. Many factors such as packing are on the list of things to do before even arriving to the location.

This isn’t even about tooting my own horn but simply having the pride to go through all the trouble of loading and packing, setting up, tearing down, and everything in between. Anyone with a considerable amount of time invested in a project or career path has had a similar scenario unfold.

“The painstaking exhaustion of entire weekends spent just to share a passion with others.”

This meant everything to me (and still does.)

An example of how my booth looks at a festival.

For me, photography is a daily reminder to get up early for that sunrise shoot, to stay out late for the sunset light and to get out in between. Like a flowing waterfall, this motivation permeates everything else in life. This effect helps fuel my desire to succeed and “make it” in the photography and art world. The drive to succeed motivates me to try harder in other aspects of life.

To refer back to the title, let’s define what both short-term happiness and fulfillment are..

Happiness can be a temporary feeling or showing of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.”

So for one thing, this to me can be a temporary but possibly long term feeling of happiness and satisfaction.

For example in terms of wildlife photography ethics, temporary happiness would be purposely provoking a deer or baiting a hawk or owl in order to get a closer and better shot. I would possibly feel good seeing the amazingly close photo at first (no actually, I would feel pretty terrible) but the guilt of stressing the animal would always be on my mind when viewing the image later on.

Another example of being happy or mildly content would be if I photographed the same exact thing everywhere I go in the same way.

Fulfillment is to develop the full potentialities of or to convert into reality.”

Now fulfillment to me is the means to an end of this type of happiness. Fulfilling a goal or end result that proved to be difficult or trying on your willpower. Fulfillment is experimenting with a new subject or tricky lighting situation. Fulfillment is knowing you have invested your time, energy, and creativity into a project and can now reap the rewards. Whether those rewards are intrinsic or extrinsic is up to you, but the lasting positive feelings will stick around.

I am here to seek lessons and struggles, for which I come out on the other side with a perspective and sense of “huh, I just did that difficult thing, hiked many miles with all the gear, waited around until way after dark, and took some photos that might’ve been complete trash, but I’m still learning.”

Some of the less exciting parts of my workflow take effect here too, like editing (sometimes can be a tiresome slog but usually is creatively rewarding) but especially keywording and cataloging image files.

At the end of the day, I believe there is a lesson in everything. The mundane and the imperative. The dull and the important.

Nothing in life is truly time wasted.

My first gallery reception, and the payoff of over six months of preparation.

If anything, it is my fans that have made me a more empathetic person. I have realized over time how creating the art is not so much about satisfying myself, but rather to share images I want others to be impressed by. Creating for myself but ultimately I prefer to see the joy in someone else’s eyes who shares the same interest and enthusiasm for what photos I take.

A walk and talk where I discuss how it feels to manage the various sides of a photography business.

This attention and mild success is never about greed. I take time to appreciate every step of the way and acknowledge those who have been following my journey. Some have tagged along on my travels out in the field, while others got my back by supporting the events I am in.

Photography with friends is a rather different experience that rewards you with incredible images like this you wouldn’t normally get otherwise. (Photo Credit – Jacob Delong)

No one is forcing me to do this, I make the conscious choice and so it is fulfilling to see it happen and manifest. Exactly how I would hope it would.

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