The Hike is as Important as the Photo

There, I said it.

This is the perfect example of persistence. An all-day solo backpacking trip around the lake and woods ends with the sunset spectacle seen here. I could’ve packed up and left midday but I felt the need to wait it out. I’m glad I listened to that gut feeling.

Nature photography and hiking go hand in hand. I first started hiking mainly on my own as a way to reflect on life and to enjoy all the senses that a natural space can bring. At this time, the physical action of getting outside to places I love was the goal.

Soon after I started bringing a camera along on my bike rides and walks. The camera and any photos were a recording of memories. The experience was what I was after, capturing it on digital pixels was the byproduct. As long as I could get outdoors as often as possible, I was happy and content.

The photo is a means to an end; the end result. But an amazing image needs a compelling story to back it up. Without it, the entire cohesive piece of work feels hollow. A two-dimensional picture paired with a two-dimensional story is a failed experiment.

When starting out, I narrowed my photographic interests down to nature because there is a timeless quality to nature. Look throughout historical texts and old paintings, nature has always been omnipresent in life. While fashion trends in advertising photography come and go every year, nature is constant. A good nature photograph never loses its’ appeal.

Minimalist Sunset Landscape

Every now and again I lose my way in the vast sea of voices echoing the same photos and stories around the internet and beyond. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that your work is too similar to others. Be inspired, but seek out your lane to drive in. Humans love authenticity. Own up to it.

The photo is a great visual reaction to the hike, but the adventure is the reason I move.

Hiking all day for miles and really seeing how the light will interplay with the landscape harnesses my creative ability more than a photo would.

A majority of my trips in the field result in nothing too interesting happening. I can recall many days where I’d be out 8 to 10 hours at a time and turn up with 50 .raw files total, and about half of those are bracketed so about less than 20 different and unique images. Then, how many of those are worthy of a space on the website? Maybe two or three if I am lucky.

The hunt and search for that perfect image comes at the expense of work, and hard work at that. Likewise, there will be times of luck and being in the right place, right time. Overall I never got anywhere sitting on my butt at home. Expand your worldview, travel and see what is really out there.

The story comes to matter just as much as the photo. Remember, the byproduct. All parts are what make it whole. So, maybe in a way..

The journey is more important than the end.

Another example of revisiting the same spot several times in a day to understand how the light affects the camera. By the day’s end, I was gifted with this gradient lighting.

Thoughts or opinions? Let’s get a discussion going.

Thank you for reading.

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Stress and “Ecotherapy”

Just what the doctor ordered, a walk through nature. Maybe this is the prescription that the patient needed all along! The instructions say to “take a hike.”

It goes by many names: ecotherapy, ecopsychology, green therapy, nature therapy, or earth-centered therapy.

Regardless, it helps to disconnect with the modern urban world and reconnect with the soil beneath our feet.

The study of ecotherapy dates back to 1992, when Theodore Roszak coined the term in his book, The Voice of the Earth.

Simply put, the more time we spend outdoors, the more our awareness increases. Stress decreases and our connection to the earth improves dramatically. Mood and self-esteem is magnified when we go out into the sunlight.

Everything is connected so we must appreciate it.

I enjoy practicing my film-making skills when out in the field. Over time I have produced and edited several short visual pieces that I have titled “Nature Blips.”

Generally less than two minutes long, these generally single-frame videos are a way for viewers to soak in the sights and sounds we often gloss over. Shortened down to be brief but powerful none the less. In a way these are like my eco-therapy expressed in a motion picture.

I’d recommend grabbing a nice pair of headphones and putting these videos on full screen. Hopefully you can feel the essence of being there as I did in the moment. Enjoy the playlist!

Feel any better? I sure hope so!

Is there a particular spot that you enjoy going to to de-stress? Chime in down below or send me an email.

Happy trails!

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On Wildlife Ethics

This photo of a Pileated Woodpecker in a nest cavity was taken with a 600mm focal length. Far away enough that I cropped the photo during post processing, I would rather crop the image before overtaking the birds’ well-being.

Throughout all of my work, there is an underlying tinge of conservation. Allow me to quote some sentences from my website’s bio and artist statement..

“Call it experiential photography: documenting the living things around us and delivering that moment to you, the viewer, is my purpose. Reflected in my work is a deep ecological concern for the fragile and precious environments on our planet. However, I tend to focus on what beauty is already there rather than the harrowing consequences of humanity’s actions that affect tomorrow.

“The intentions of my work are to inspire people to feel more connected with the natural world. To challenge the viewer to see that nature is an important part of our world we must appreciate every day, and not take for granted. To sit in quiet contemplation of a grand vista or landscape in the evening glow of light or in silent observance of an animal carrying out daily life is unlike any other mindful experience. With my weapon of choice, the camera, armed in hand and ready to squeeze the shutter. I approach my craft two-fold: as fine art that can be appreciated being framed and hung from a wall in a pleasant space, and as photojournalism to document the ever-evolving nature around us. The images I create are meticulously printed, matted, and framed to preserve the real look of what I saw and what I want to share. As seasons change and species grow or disappear, I hope to bring awareness to conserve and learn about these bygones of a forgotten era. If my images make prospective viewers want to learn more and “get out there” then I’ve done my job.

Acknowledging the past, recording the present, and preserving the future.”

The only times I have spooked wildlife are when they see me before I see them. This is bound to happen often and I want to discern it from intentional harming or danger.

Therefore, in order to facilitate some discussion. I wanted to share my personal ethos on the matter.

Simply put, do no harm.

But first I will play devil’s advocate for a bit, I understand the sentiment of most budding wildlife photographers. Daily we are flooded with jaw-dropping images of a bird or mammal that take up the entire frame. So naturally our first inclination is to emulate the masters and or inspirations.

Good intentions? Maybe. Harmful? Possibly.

Consider this a lesson learned. As I waded through the water, the geese started cackling as a warning before taking off. Now I know when to not push their boundaries.

The professionals certainly have learned a way to ethically approach wildlife without disturbing or harming their way of life. Depending on the species you’re going for, you will have to do your research quite a bit. Learn how the animal reacts to humans in their presence, learn about their nest placement (if it is mating season.) Knowledge is the best approach to avoiding harm.

If you are a wildlife photographer and feel as though you have to move in close enough to scare away the animal, you are doing it wrong!

Putting a bird through distress just so they fly away and you get your “in flight shot” is the worst way to photograph them.

During mating and nesting season, birds are on high alert to protect their hatchlings and nestlings. The problem is that when they are disturbed, the parents of a lot of species will retreat and never return if their nest is threatened.

Ring Billed Gulls at Sunset

Thoughts or opinions? What do you believe is ethical in terms of wildlife? I wanna hear what you have to say.

Take care and get out there.

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Creative States and “Flow”

I am alone in the forest. Focused on the task at hand. A cascading waterfall flows into a stream. I use all of my senses to gauge the situation and potential photographic opportunity. Next I go through my mental checklist to set up the shot.

Leveling the tripod, using the live view, dialing the settings and exposure just right.

Checking the frame’s corners, fine tuning the lens focus, and..

A dog barks, a child yells, a breakaway from focus.

You were 110% sucked into your craft, time felt as though it would cease to exist or matter. Your eyes began to have “tunnel vision.” Then there was a simple noise or distraction and your attention was violently pulled back into reality. Did it ever feel the same after that lapse in focus? Probably not.

I study the light like a sniper trains his crosshairs on the target. Personally for me, being a maldaptive daydreamer quite possibly perpetuates the flow state.

As defined in this article by Psychology Today, flow is “an optimal state of consciousness where feel our best and perform our best.”

While I am just mentioning photography here, any artist or athlete can enter the “flow state,” whether they knew it or not.

This is a strange mix of being hyper-focused and yet seemingly detached from surroundings that are around you.

Typically tense or stressful events can cause our brains to become laser-focused, awareness grows and our performance of that which we do becomes paramount.

I believe this behavioral trait goes back to Darwinism and early homo sapian times, when hunting animals meant that our attention had to be fully given to our actions, lest we become eaten.

Essentially, life or death.

Some studies suggest that people are more creative during flow, and that they feel more creative the day after a flow state.

First, what is one thing you like to do? I mean, love to do.

An activity or hobby that requires intense visual coordination. In a nature photographer’s case, maybe tracking a bird in flight through the viewfinder, or how the evening light plays out as it changes every minute before sunset.

Flow is the reason I spend 8 to 10 hours a day out in nature. I have found some of my best work comes out of creative states of mind such as this.

While all of this may make it sound like I believe Flow is the best thing to ever happen to my creativity, this isn’t always the case. To be honest, Flow can be quite maddening. While I cannot personally recall a time, Flow can divert your attention from nearby dangers and put your safety at risk. All of this single-minded attention may just steer you away from other obligations like a day job, family, friends, and relationships.

Despite this, the creative state known as “Flow” is a fascinating way of mind that most creatives will have to live with. Enjoy its’ presence, as it is quite possibly what keeps you staying energetic and passionate about what you love to do.

How does Flow affect your creativity? Love it? Hate it? Feel free to chime in down below in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

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Music That Inspires The Creative Process

This will be a very off topic blog entry. Photography will be mentioned but not be discussed in this one-off post.

Consider this your warning.

Am I overstepping boundaries? Maybe. But hey, this is my blog after all. One single post won’t hurt anyone.

I would consider myself a very private person, something of a recluse by nature. After socializing for too long at a time, I devote myself to three things: either in front of the computer or on the trails..

..and the third thing has been music. Time and time again, I find music to satisfy that creative itch when I need to escape or reflect. Music stirs up as many emotions as would a compelling photograph, mine or otherwise. Daily music listening of any kind helps me function as a person.

Without it, life would be duller and photography would be harder.

Fortunately, I am always on the lookout for new sounds to grace my ears and inspire the entire creative process. While this isn’t the only music genres I listen to, this is perhaps a fine representation of auditory compositions that remind me of nature and art in general.

I am not a trained musician so bear with my descriptions of these songs.

The majority of these are instrumental tracks from soundtracks and other soundscapes, ranging from ambient, pop, electronica, indie and rock. In no particular order, here is the curated compilation. Enjoy the listening!

Color Therapy – The Dusk Mother

For very warbling and moody electronica, look no further. Color Therapy is from the mastermind of Adam Young, a man with countless side projects. You may have heard of Owl City, as well as Sky Sailing, Windsor Airlift, etc. I am a big fan of just about everything Young has created, but the Color Therapy’s lone debut album Mr. Wolf is Dead is perhaps one of the finest single works he has put out to date. Like the above video, I am instantly teleported to nature and exploration. If music is therapeutic, then this is it. For more recommendations, check out “Drive vs. Fly” and “Yachats.”

Port Blue – June Bug

Another side project from Adam Young, this one resembling the “soundtrack of my dreams.” More ambient-influenced, there is a variety of synths and sounds to adore here. “June Bug” is the perfect example of a beatless instrumental that is a joy to hear. For other tracks, check out “Juneau”, “Parking Lot Fireworks” and “Pond Skater.”

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins is an English producer/musician of melodramatic electronic music. Immunity is an impeccable example of electronica with heart and soul, as if playing out like a movie soundtrack. The titular track above is a fantastic closer to the entire album however I would recommend a straight listen through this entire piece of art.

Charlie Dreaming – Dream #1 (Arrival)

A rather lowkey producer of “sweet dreaming music.” Charlie Dreaming is a Canadian music producer of beatless, droning ambient music. The compositions are rather short yet leave you craving for more. At the time of this writing he has about enough music to listen to in half an hour, but it is all very solid and consistent. I would highly recommend it for reflective creating of your own work.

Connor Youngblood – Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

This track has nature written all over it. The song was literally created for Sustain Music and Nature. The music video features footage of the refuge itself and the song is intermixed with the bird calls of various waterfowl from the refuge. Echoing piano and soothing lyrics mixed with gorgeous cinematography. This indie song pays incredible homage to the song’s namesake refuge in Utah and to nature in general.

Ulrich Schnauss – Between Us and Them

The key to Ulrich Schnauss is crescendos and progression. Over this seven minutes sweeping electronic romp, we are given a hypnotic drum loop over light and airy synth lines. Halfway through right at the seemingly climax is happening, the track dials back only to pick up right where it left off before truly sounding off. For other favorites of mine, listen to “Knuddelmaus” and “Suddenly the Trees Are Giving Way.”

deadmau5 – Strobe

While well known for his dance-influenced club music, Joel Zimmerman can create some very ambient experimental music. The track above is an altered rendition of a former progressive house number with fully orchestrated pieces this time. I fondly remember walking through Autumn woods while listening to “I Forget” as leaves fell all around me. “Snowcone” to me inspires the awe of visiting someplace new. Like the snow-drifted mau5head in the video and the cold-tone synths suggest. This track reminds me of cabin fever and finally emerging out into the cold world we inhabit. His music inspires me through and through.

Tycho – Receiver

Tycho is the brainchild of Scott Hansen. Under the name ISO50, he was a photographer and digital artist at first before expanding into music. The brilliant visuals often accompany all the branding and artwork for Tycho’s music. “Receiver” helps me recall a time when I was listening to it while walking through a small patch of woods near my house. Leaves blowing all around and the sunlight hitting my face.

Nine Inch Nails – 02 Ghosts I

Trent Reznor is at the helm of all things NIN, and Ghosts I-IV is no slouch to being its’ own instrumental album. Tracks like the above “02 Ghosts I” really embody a style that I find endearing to listen to. Some of my first YouTube videos featured intros and outros of music from this album.

Thom Yorke – Twist

The legendary Thom Yorke from Radiohead fame has made himself well known through his solo releases. Much more electronic and moody, “Twist” is a dizzying romp through a seven minute soundscape of synthesized beats. Definitely a track to get lost in and focus on working at the same time!

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Hand Covers Bruise

Picture this: a cold rainy day or night. Time seems to slow. The Social Network Soundtrack always held such a feeling of strange darkness. The opener, “Hand Covers Bruise,” transport you to the grim world. A world where a person is trying to make something big happen, all the while conquering his inner turmoil and winning/losing friends. Who else can relate? Powerful music coming from Mr. Reznor and Ross.

Angels & Airwaves – Reel 1 (Diary)

Angels & Airwaves is a band that has a timeless, positive vibe to their sound. While more or less inactive at the time of this writing. They are a main reason I got out exploring with photography. I would ride my bike to local nature reserves as often as possible during the spring and summer while listening to AVA. If you want to conquer anything, listen to “The Adventure” or “Heaven.” In the case of “Diary,” feel how beautiful and fragile life is, like birth to death in eight minutes. You write your own story when you hear it.

In regards to when I am doing computer work, i.e. post processing or writing on the blog like this, I may listen to a mix of bossa nova jazz or lofi hip hop music. Either one is useful to study and focus on thinking-intensive tasks.

This has helped me relax and focus at the same time.
Less upbeat than jazz, yet all the more relaxing to create work to.

I hope you found some new music to enjoy. Art to me has always been a universal creative endeavor. This is why I use many types of media and mediums to express my love of nature and the outdoors. Art has the power to transcend labels and inspire everyone around us.

Do you have any music that inspires your creativity?

Drop a link down in the comments. Have a great day.

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What Was Your First Camera?

Six years and counting, me and this camera have been through a lot.

My first DSLR camera body was a Canon EOS Rebel T3. With a “whopping” 12.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, this is where I got my start with photography (megapixels don’t mean a whole lot). I had the choice between the Rebel T3 and a comparable Nikon model, I stuck with the Canon and have ever since. Nikon’s don’t feel comfortable in my hands.

The reason I wanted a DSLR of my own was from recently taking photography classes in high school. We were allowed to check out Nikon DSLR’s which I did as much as I can. While this wasn’t my first encounter with photography itself, this sealed the deal for me. I was suddenly very interested in creating with a camera whenever I could.

Here comes Christmas 2013, my only gift that year was this Rebel T3. Rightfully so, as the bundle it was in costed $500. My parents only allowed for a $500 limit.

Little did I know this would be one of the most important gifts I would ever get.

By the time I got my hands on this wonderful piece of tech, there were already new editions in the Rebel EOS line that surpassed this one in performance. None of that mattered to me anyways, I was glad to have a real camera.

This came in a B&H Photo bundle with a standard 18-55mm kit lens, a pretty common beginners’ lens, which I sold a couple of years ago. Kit lenses are great for beginners but I “outgrew” it and began to see all the limitations. Plus, they’re practically worth nothing as they are mass produced for almost every entry-level camera. Also included was a small Ruggard sling bag which fit all the gear.

The ISO levels are pitiful, anything above 1000 will introduce noise. Regardless, this camera sparked my creativity in the earliest days.

The Adventure       

After photographing myself in the mirror, the family dog, and household objects for a week. It was about time and I was itching to get out of the house into the freezing cold to take pictures.

Here comes New Years Eve, and my first venue of choice was Rotary Park, a fairly large and popular spot a few minutes away from my house. I bundled up in layers of clothes and biked down there on an overcast and chilly day. Just about no one was in sight.

Shooting the whole day in full automatic mode and saving as .jpgs, I walked around the various trails in awe, pointing the camera at anything that caught my eye (no wildlife if I remember, this was before I had patience.)

The trails are rather muddy yet that didn’t stop me, this day was like I never skipped a beat from high school photography class. The muscle-memory of point-click-review that digital photography holds became ingrained through brain.

A Lesson Learned

Due to a memory card failure a couple of years ago (that was totally my fault – back up all of your data!!) I no longer have those first batch of photos or some of my other earliest non-nature related work.

I can assure you they were nothing to be proud of, if anything they showed how far I’ve progressed in the past few years.

Everyone Started With Something

What was your first camera? Do you still own or use it? Any fond memories with it? Do you remember or still have the first picture you took with it?

Share it down in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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