education, photography, random thought, writing

Photographic Trophy Hunting

“For me, it’s not enough to leave it up to authorities and governments. I believe in personal responsibility, first and foremost.”

A thought occurred to me recently as I was contemplating how to make my workshops better for my clients… There are a lot of photo enthusiasts and pros out there nowadays that are essentially “trophy hunters”.

You might be wondering, what is a photographic trophy hunter? It’s an individual who sees an image on social media or the internet, and travels to that location to come away with their own social media “trophy” shot.

Now, don’t take that the wrong way. Obviously, actual trophy hunting is not a very well-liked practice by the public these days. I’m not equating the general idea that many folks looking for the trophy shot are somehow shallow or calloused. It’s much more nuanced than this.

What I mean to say, is that even with actual hunting, there are positives and negatives to this trophy-type approach. First positive, hunters are one of the most conservation minded groups out there. They bring in massive amounts of cash that goes directly toward furthering conservation efforts all over the world. In fact, many species have been saved by the efforts and financial support driven by hunters. But trophy hunting clearly also has it’s draw backs.

For one, it feeds a desire to destroy, with little regard for the “why”. Notice, I didn’t say with no regard. In subsistence hunting, there is a clear why. Sustenance. Food. Clothing. Tools. Etc. There is so much that can be done with a deer, elk, moose, or other game species. Now, there are other reasons of course for hunting; population control, strengthening of the species, human rites of passage, etc., that reach symbiosis when coupled with utilizing the entire animal. Mismanagement (at all levels) and illegal poaching are the biggest concerns.

In the realm of photography, the same is true. The dollars brought in to local tourism are undeniable and absolutely necessary. Also, the awareness created through the sharing of these beautiful places, in theory, causes a broader audience to care enough to support protecting these special locations. However, the increased interest leading to the degradation of many of these incredible locations seems unstoppable, simply due to the sheer numbers of trophy seekers. That’s not even to mention the uneducated, or simply those who don’t care beyond their own desires who end up destroying places.

I see it first hand everywhere we go these days. I’d like to think it’s just a matter of educating people into proper outdoor etiquette, but I’m increasingly afraid that there are many folks out there who just don’t think beyond themselves, in this Instagraming culture we’ve created. And what that breeds is two things; closures of public places (which I despise) or destruction for no good reason (which I despise even more).

In each of my workshops, there are undoubtedly trophy locations that all of my clients desire to see and photograph. It is understandable. There are many great reasons why these places have become legendary. However, as a tour/ workshop leader, I do feel a responsibility to educate and minimize our impact. For me, it’s not enough to leave it up to authorities and governments. I believe in personal responsibility, first and foremost.

What this has caused me to begin to do in recent years is to seek out the “off-the-beaten-path” locations. The places I used to frequent, for instance Snake River Overlook (as pictured below), I rarely visit anymore. I have opted away from the easy locations, for the creatively challenging. And though it is markedly less fruitful at times, it is most rewarding to my soul and sense of adventure. And at the very least, it takes one person away from the crowds at these trophy locations.

There is a potentially harmful issue though that arises from this approach as well… at least with the “trophy locations” they are already well known and we as a society can mitigate the risk to the environment at these places more easily. But if we introduce more “off-the-beaten-path” spots to more and more people, they become less “off-the-beaten-path.” In an effort to self regulate, I have incorporated non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) into my workshops, so folks legally cannot share the locations. I know it seems heavy-handed, but I’m adamant about keeping some places sacred.

Over the years, I have changed my tune on the whole sharing locations issue. And I think we all have continually evaluate, re-evaluate, and re-re-evaluate our long held beliefs on how things are and how they should be. We have a drastically changing society and landscape out there, due to technology and social media. Some of it good, and some of it catastrophically bad.

But to me, just like with nearly any issue, it all comes back to the individual. To you, and to me. Personal responsibility.

If we want things to change for the better, we have to live it for ourselves, and educate others with truth and love. Photographic trophy hunting is an important issue we need to tackle head-on, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg for a society increasingly less responsible for our own actions, and more dependent on government or authorities to do the jobs we all should be doing. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have official regulatory practices and entities, it just means that for these regulations to work (and not shut the public out completely), we have to take responsibility for ourselves first.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to know what you think about this issue. Have you seen the affects on our public lands, or special places that you love? Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!

— Andrew


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advanced, beginner, education, instructional, photography

FREE TUTORIAL: FOCUS STACKING

One of my goals (just like everyone else) during this time of quarantine is to finish a few long put-off projects. And I must say that I am pretty happy with some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish when I’m forced to be indoors most of the time.
Once such project has been to create new tutorials for all of you interested out there. I’m pleased to say that I just finished a new one, and I’m offering it for FREE!
It’s a 15 minute video on Focus Stacking. the new technique to achieve hyper-focus. Check it out by clicking the screenshot below.
I have a few more in the works, some free, and some will be for purchase. Check out what’s available and what’s up next HERE. I hope they are helpful! Let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like to see.
— Andrew

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national parks, photography, travel

PARK PEEK // GREAT BASIN

Late in 2017, we ventured west from Wyoming to see new territory. New to us, at least. First up, as we crossed the Utah/ Nevada state line was Great Basin National Park. A relatively small, and unknown Park, Great Basin is a gorgeously diverse gem.

The visitor is likely first captivated by 13,000+ ft. Wheeler Peak. It is impressive from every angle.

But this is not just a mountain park. It boasts sage brush foothills, a bristle cone pine forest, and caves.

We boondock camped in the adjacent BLM land, but the park itself has several camping options for both tent campers and RVers.

The bristlecone pine forest is beautiful and ancient. These trees are gnarly, but the oldest living organisms on the planet.

We visited in October, so the temps were quite cold at higher elevations.

Great Basin is a really nice place to get a glimpse into the diversity of landscapes, plants, and animals in the Great Basin region. It’s a quiet park, remote and little visited, but it’s not because it doesn’t warrant interest.

— Andrew

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photography, wildlife

THE GREAT GRIZ AWAKENING

Just around this time of year, grizzly bears start to emerge from their winter hibernation in our little part of Wyoming.
I get so excited in the spring for this ritual of nature. My heart is breaking that I can’t be there yet, but we are hunkering down until the coronavirus outbreak calms down. So for now, I’ll reminisce over a few encounters from the last several years… I hope you enjoy!
Last year, I got to witness sow 793 with her two cubs. The cubs are both getting to the age where they are preparing to leave mama and venture out on their own. But there’s still important play and learning from mom that has to occur.
They follow her everywhere. But frequently break into play fights with each other when they get bored.
This was a large sow with two younger cubs that I found in Yellowstone several years back. She was gorgeous. And the cubs were so playful and curious.
It was a brief experience, as they moved out of sight only shortly after appearing near the road.
Then there is of course my favorite bear encounter of all time. The other many sightings of these incredible creatures are most often with dozens of other people. Usually on main park roads.
But this one, was just me and this young griz.
It was probably his first spring alone, judging by his relative small size.
I was driving down (what used to be) a little known, inner park dirt road one morning, when I spotted him digging in the wildflowers, looking for food. I slowly pulled up in my truck. He glanced over at me, took a sniff, and then got right back to business.
I likely watched him for around 30-45 minutes… just us. Toward the end of this magical experience, he got within 10 feet. Don’t worry, I was in my truck the whole time, and I never moved closer to him. He never really seemed bothered by my presence. 
Just before he moseyed off, he raised his head and allowed me to make a quick portrait.
I loved being able to capture the raw vulnerability of such a feared and powerful creature, out in his element, all by my lonesome. I will never forget any of my bear encounters, that’s for sure, but this one in particular, is one of my absolute most favorite moments of my entire life.
I don’t expect anything like it will ever happen again, but I pray that it will. 
— Andrew
P.S. Im in the initial stages of putting together a brown bear photography workshop in Finland for summer 2021. If you are interested, drop me a note so I can put you on the early notification list. More info here.

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photography, travel, workshop

LOCATION FEATURE // THE WINDS

In 2005, I packed everything I owned into a Nissan Xterra and headed north, leaving Dallas, my home off and on for almost 25 years. Sure, I lived in Austin for 5, and a short stint in Telluride, CO, but Dallas was HOME, all caps. It was February 13.
The next day, Valentines Day, I arrived in the sleepy, frozen town of Pinedale, WY. The reason; a job as photojournalist for the local weekly newspaper. I had no idea, however, that it would utterly change my life in so many ways. But all of that is for a later post…
My first week, it reached -20ºF every day. Needless to say, not much going on outside, except for the occasional parade of moose clopping through town. Part of my job, aside from community journalism, was to get outside and engage in outdoor activities. I would shoot it, construct a story, and then write about it. This forced us to do something other than sit in the office, the bar, or in front of the TV. Well, needless to say, summer couldn’t come soon enough for us at the Pinedale Roundup.
Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. Summer did not disappoint. Though I did not work for the paper throughout that season, I remained in Pinedale. The draw, you might ask?
The Winds, of course.
Huh?
Sorry, the Wind River Range.
I developed an immediate infatuation. Maybe I should say obsession. Yeah, that seems more appropriate.
Every year since 2005, I returned at least once, sometimes twice or even three times. And over the last four years since we hit the road full time, I have spent more time in the Winds than I have anywhere else. By far. It’s now my home. Even if we only spend the summer and fall there… It’s only because we aren’t quite hearty enough to weather the brutal winter in our trailer.
The area encompasses 2.25 million acres, so although I have extensively explored it over the years, I feel as though I havn’t even begun to scratch the surface. I could easily spend the rest of my life walking those trails, and still never see it all, I suspect. None-the-less, I have made it my life’s work to become one of the few living experts on these mountains. I’m surely on my way.
So, what’s going to happen here is that I plan to open the faucet of images I have made over the joyful years of stepping into this incredible wilderness. During this time of quarantine and daily bad news, I simply hope to bring you (and myself) a little beauty and some memories of better times. I hope it helps, even if for a brief moment. Below are tons of images, and some stories I wanted to share as well.
Maybe just to remind us all of the good that there is out there. And perhaps it will help you hear the wind through the trees, the mountain songbirds, the mighty rushing creeks and the deafening quiet of the wide open wilderness. Maybe you’ll catch a whiff of the lodgepole pines and clean air. Listen for the cry of the eagle, the chirp of the marmot. These good things still exist.
And when all of this ends, I’d love for you to consider joining me out there. Amidst the unending beauty. Check out my newest workshop of backpacking and photography in the Winds.
  
Ellen and I developed an affinity for skinny dipping in these secluded, high mountain lakes during the summer of 2016, when we first hit the road. I dare any of you to tell me of anything more naturally exhilarating than jumping head-first into a 50ºF lake, with towering granite surrounding your fragile frame.
We’ve learned another simple joy these past few years with our wonderful pups; they love nothing more than bounding through open mountain meadows. Witness the pure ecstasy!
    
 
The night sky still elicits awe.
Let me be the first to tell you that hiking these mountains is not always romantic. It’s difficult as hell. Mosquito swarms, submerged trails, freezing temps, grizzlies and other critters of which to be mindful, high elevation and the problems to the human system that can arise from that. These mountains are for real, and quite unforgiving. But the beauty and solitude one can experience are worth every ache and pain.
  
Islay and me in Titcomb Basin…
Only one year later… and one more pup added to the pack, Skye.
More skinny dipping. Actually, this was our first time! Islay loved it from the get go. After a brief, breath-stealing swim, Ellen, Islay, and I sat on the shore in the sun eating cherries as the sun warmed and dried our frozen skin.
A mother moose and her littles (there’s another just out of frame). This is one of my favorite pastimes in this mountain range; it’s full of wildlife. I can spend hours just quietly watching wild animals live their best lives.

The fishing’s damn good too. Islay hasn’t figured out how to help just yet, but she’ll get there, no doubt. She tries.

Every year we spend up here, I find new places that leave my jaw on the ground. So many spots that I want to return to in the “good light” to capture something truly amazing. That’s the plan, Lord willing.

I always felt like this tree somehow belonged on the grounds near Hogwarts.

I’ve spent far too many nights (and it’s not even that many) tent camping in the winter in the Winds. Very little sleep occurs though. I highly recommend NOT doing this.

I truly hope you’ve had a nice little break from the “real world” going on all around us. If you ever need a break, I encourage you to come back and daydream for a bit of this lovely place of immense beauty. It’s what I do.

— Andrew
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VIDEO TUTORIALS
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INTO THE WINDS // BACKPACKING + PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURE
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TELLURIDE // FALL COLOR // LUXE LANDSCAPES
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The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
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Grand Teton National Park
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Andrew Slaton // Canvas + Metal Prints
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Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew Slaton
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national parks, photography, travel

QUARANTINED IN APPALACHIA

With the Covid-19 global pandemic in full strength, our nomad dream has halted abruptly, just like everyone’s normal lives. The state of Florida closed down all of the state parks where we had reservations, so with no where to stay, we headed up to Chattanooga, TN to hole up with my brother and his family. There are much worse places to be.
It’s a beautiful area in Appalachia. Admittedly, we’re not getting out much. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only 2 hours away, but is of course closed. So as we’re quarantined, I’m reminiscing about our spring trip to the Smokies back in 2018. Here are a few images from that month or two we explored the area.
  
  
  
Even though we can’t get out too much, I will still try to share the beauty of our wonderful world with all of you. I hope you all are safe and healthy… when we emerge on the other side of this, we will undoubtedly appreciate our wonderful parks and our freedom with fresh eyes and wearied hearts.
— Andrew

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travel, workshop

PARK PEEK // OLYMPIC

We had the pleasure of visiting several new National Parks over the last several years that I never got around to sharing in the ol’ blogosphere. Shame on me! And one in particular stood out to me as one of the most photogenic and interesting; Olympic National Park in Washington.

Here’s a quick peek at what I found, and why I’ll be planning our return as soon as possible.

Only a few hours from the Seattle area, the first thing you’ll notice when you visit or research Olympic is how large it really is. It has no road that intersects, so in order to see its several distinct ecosystems, you’ll do a decent bit of driving around the entire Olympic Peninsula.

It encompasses nearly a million acres. Within that, you have mountains, rainforests, and dramatic coastlines.

We happened to be there just in time for the Rhododendron bloom, which is pretty spectacular.

One of my favorite things, dirt roads, are abundant around the park. Lots of places “off-the-beaten-path” to explore. And much of the Park runs adjacent to Olympic National Forest, so there are tons of recreation opportunities, including camping.

And every so often, if the conditions are favorable, you’ll get smacked in the face with a view of Mount Rainier, over 100 miles away.

The old-growth forests are spectacular and transport the visitor to another time. One can imagine the terrible and beautiful creatures that must have roamed this lush area.

The flora is the most impressive visual at this park, even though it does contain a surprising amount of animal inhabitants. Surprising only because of the dense populations of people surrounding this vast wilderness. But truly, the plant life reigns supreme here.

And then, there are the Olympics. Majestic and rugged mountains. Not particularly high, the tallest in the range is Mount Olympus, clocking in at just shy of 8,000 feet. However, the eastern slope of the range rises up from sea level at Puget Sound, so the mountains are still quite steep and impressive looking.

On the western slope, the Hoh Rainforest dominates. It is the wettest place in the lower 48, in fact. And because of this, it is the United State’s best glimpse into the temperate rainforest ecosystem.

Unfortunately, I only had a moment during the middle of the last day on the coastline for this trip, so more to come on our next visit. I didn’t get to explore that section as much as I’d like, nor did I come away with any jaw-dropping images, however, it was clear that this section would be just as fruitful and inspiring photographically and from a sight seeing perspective, as the other areas of the park.

The big takeaway for me was that this park demands time. A lot of it, if you really want to get a feel for the incredibly varied looks it will give you. It was my favorite of Washington State, and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever been to Mount Rainier or North Cascades, both spectacular parks in their own right. Olympic National Park is a truly special place.

— Andrew
 

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