photography, random thought, travel

Telluride’s Bounty

I had the absolute pleasure of spending this year’s peak Autumn colors in Telluride, CO.

It’s rare that I stray to far from my usual Wyoming stomping grounds for the Fall, but 2015 was a little different. Thanks to some amazing friends, we had a golden opportunity. And though I missed ol’ Wyom, the southern San Juans put on a great show for us. I have to admit, it was the best display of Autumn I’ve ever seen.

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Wilson Mesa put on a show and lit up several mornings, evenings, and even once by starlight for us.

It would prove to be one of our more fruitful locations.

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Alta Lakes had shifts in hues I’d never seen up there…

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Several of us photographers went up to Gold King to shoot trail running, and the light danced for us. With bouts of clouds and snow, of course.

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With each new solitary morning I spent hunting for photos, the aspens grew bolder.

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We marveled at the beauty.

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Even Hunter Trek felt compelled to try to take it all in with us at Cornet Creek Falls.

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On my last morning drive, the high country got the dusting I had been waiting to see. The chill in the air noticeably bit harder.

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That rare mix of golden light and winter clouds appeared… it’s truly the most dynamic time of year. My favorite time of year.

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Fog rose from the warm valley floor into the sharp, cold. Golden warm hues mingled with blue, cool tones.

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Alta got colder, bluer, and snowier each day.

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It had arrived. That very short time between Autumn’s farewell and Winter’s settling in.

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There’s not enough money in this world to equal the richness of that feeling. To witness the fullness of Autumn. Especially in a magical place like Telluride.

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 
 
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photography, random thought, travel

To Share or Not To Share

The debate rages on.

You might ask, “exactly which debate?”

The subject of sharing is quite broad.

Well, let me explain…

And don’t be surprised if it opens some related subjects on which I too have opinions, and will probably write about later.

A few months ago I was scouting a location to which I was about to travel, like I always do. As a photographer, I spend many hours researching locations before I go, trying to find the best, most beautiful and pristine spots to capture.

So I came across a blog post that mentioned a beautiful waterfall.  And it recognized the fact that it is a little tough to get to and not very well known.  This is the holy grail for photographers. We are constantly searching for the “gardens of eden” that exist out there. Rarely seen. Even more rarely photographed, or at least photographed well. We want to have images and experiences that few others have.

First, let me put something out there.  And I think this provides a lot of confusion for some people. I am a conservationist, not an environmentalist. I line up more closely with Gifford Pinchot than John Muir, though I respect and admire Muir to the hilt. Muir is the heart, and Pinchot is the head.

And I believe wholeheartedly that the responsible use and enjoyment of our natural resources is necessary for nature’s healthy balance and an inherent right of humanity. The environmental movement has grown more radical (as movements led by pure emotion will) over the years, to include such theories as “the only way to preserve nature is to close it off to humans” and “natural resources are too fragile for mass human consumption” and “human beings are no more important than any plant or animal.” Somehow forgetting that human beings too are a part of nature, and in fact, the pinnacle of nature (as we know it), and therefore tasked with stewardship of the rest of the known, natural world. These facts are not inherently good or bad, just facts. It is what we chose to do with such knowledge that is so important.

The earth and its resources belong of right to its people.

Gifford Pinchot

So I believe we, as human beings (the only creatures that we know of with the capabilities of whole earth stewardship) are tasked with conserving the resources and beauty of the natural world for the sake of ourselves and generations to come. It’s pretty simple. And yes, I pump gasoline, use paper products, and eat meat. And no, I do not feel guilty for any of that. Though I do see the need to innovate in these areas and find more long-term sustainable alternatives.

Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.

Gifford Pinchot

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So back to the sharing. I decided to go explore this waterfall with the excitement and wonder I feel anytime I get to see a beautiful location.

It was truly awesome.

It made me feel small and thankful all at the same time. I was enriched for having seen and experienced this place.

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And I wanted to share that with everyone.

Enter the debate.

Many of my kind (photographers, adventurers, explorers) are split on whether it is a good idea to share these lesser known, special places with the rest of the world, except by word of mouth.  And I get it.  I really do. I’m conflicted a bit by it in my heart.

But I want to examine the motivations first behind “to share or not to share” before I make my final decision on what’s right.

Why would I want to share:

+ The good: A genuine desire for others to enjoy the experience.

+ The bad, and the ugly: Selfish ambition and the desire to appear cool, or to be the “first” at something.

Why would I not want to share:

+ The good: A genuine desire to preserve the place.

+ The bad, and the ugly: Selfish ambition to keep it to myself, and to be “in the know” about something very few others have seen.

So both could very easily involve genuine, good desires, and also very selfish, ugly ambitions. Interesting. Well, since I can only know my own intentions, and it is futile to judge the heart and thoughts of another, I think it’s best to examine the eventual outcome of both scenarios.

What happens if I (we) chose not to share? Well, regardless of if I tell you (or anyone else) that I have a unicorn living in my backyard, eventually, people will find out. Whether the yard guy stumbles upon it, or the electricity meter reader, or my neighbor sees it, or a helicopter overhead catches the glint and shine from it’s iridescent rainbow horn, it will eventually become known to others. That is just a fact. Now, it may remain only known to a few for a longer while (if no one else shares), thereby preserving it perhaps a little longer. But the fact remains that eventually, it will become known to a wide enough audience that it may be in danger. So for that time of preservation, only a select few would be able to study it, enjoy it’s beauty, and even have the opportunity to learn something from the unicorn.

Okay, then what happens if I (we) chose to share? Can you imagine?? Immediately, upon finding a unicorn in my backyard, I share on Facebook and Twitter, and even a photo of it on Instagram that I found the earth’s only unicorn!! The world is in a frenzy for a week… news copters flying over my backyard, masses of people on foot peering over my fence, my street completely shut down with hoards of cars, anti-unicorn hate groups gain momentum online and plan attacks on my yard, etc. All of this lasts for a few days.  I have to keep a close eye on my backyard and prized unicorn to ensure that no one try’s to deface it, steal it, or worse, kill it. But before the frenzy even dies down, others start to come out and reveal that they too have unicorns living in their backyard, and it’s not really such a frenzy any more. In fact, a majority of people (except of course for the crazy anti-unicorners) would grow to revere, respect, and possibly even cherish the unicorns we have.  Maybe learn something from them, enjoy their beauty, and even teach their children about them.

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God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.
John Muir

To me, it makes more since to share… to educate and inspire others with the beautiful places we have on this amazing earth. The fact is, these places are not unicorns. And a lot of people aren’t even interested to put their screens down long enough to go hike a few miles to see a waterfall. If I have the opportunity to inspire someone with a photograph to become one of us, those that revel in nature’s beauty and wonder and seek to responsibly enjoy and preserve it, then I think that is a wonderful privilege. Even a responsibility.

I cannot control the anti-unicorners out there. Neither can you. Neither can the government. There will always be those out there that have respect for nothing. That will seek to destroy the beauty. But we cannot try to hide all of the beauty and wonder of our world because of these few fools. If we do, more people become uneducated fools, and run the risk of hating the world’s precious “unicorns”. Even John Muir knew this…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

John Muir

 

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 
 
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photography, travel

#findyourpark | Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park… There is noting small or obscure about this central Washington state treasure.  It is named for it’s highest and most prominent summit, Rainier. I had the opportunity to spend a few days here in August, and it immediately captured my heart. The park’s beauty is completely mesmerizing.
Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is absolutely iconic amidst the landscape. An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A., spawning six major rivers. Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes. Wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems (According to NPS.gov).

Mt. Rainier National Park is only about a two hour drive from Seattle’s SEATAC international airport and 3 hours from Portland, so it’s easily accessible from anywhere in the U.S.

sunset over mount rainier with wildfire smoke

sunset over mount rainier with wildfire smoke

sunset over mount rainier with wildfire smoke

sunset over mount rainier with wildfire smoke

stars and perseids meteor shower over reflection lakes and mount rainier

The stars are spectacular from up near Paradise.  There are several lakes around this high area that are accessible by paved road and have several benches to just sit and marvel at the night sky.

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sunrise over the peaks surrounding mt. rainier

sunrise over the peaks surrounding mt. rainier

silhouette of a man in front of Mt. Rainier

Bordering the National Park to the South and East is Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Named after the turn-of-the-century conservationist and politician, this National Forest is nearly 1.5 million acres of gorgeous forests, rivers, and mountains. And there are dozens of free (or cheap) campsites. Some even just outside the borders of Mt. Rainier National Park.

Camping in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Camping in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

The scenic Ohanapecosh River to the South of the Park, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest has many incredible campsites for those seeking the beauty and solitude of nature.  A wonderful reprieve from the seemingly unending crowds of the nearby National Park.

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

National Park tip #1: Many of our parks are directly bordered by National Forest land.  If you want to save some $$ and avoid the crowds, plan to get a campsite here instead of inside the park.

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

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Trees and leaves

Trees and leaves

Lit Nemo Equipment tent on the Ohanapecosh River

Lit Nemo Equipment tent on the Ohanapecosh River

Mount Rainier National Park is unique because of it’s proximity to so many beautiful areas. Heading south east out of the park toward Yakima, you can see unparalleled vistas from White Pass. Coming down from the pass you’ll hit Rimrock Lake, a beautiful area for recreation and food.

Rimrock Lake

An eerie sunset over Rimrock Lake near Mount Rainier casts yellow and red from the nearby forest fires

early morning fog and trees

You’ll be reminded many mornings that you’re in the wonderfully moody Pacific Northwest with eerily beautiful fog. It’s not so helpful when you’re trying to photograph Rainier though, so be sure to a lot yourself more evenings than mornings to ensure you get the shots you want. It can be a tough area because of the often wet weather. But with that bad weather can come some really magical photographs.  So don’t be discouraged!  Make sure you prepare for the elements and for your patience to be tested.

early morning fog and trees

 

early morning fog and trees

early morning fog and trees

Mount Rainier is one of the “must see” National Parks in the U.S.  It offers excellent opportunities for incredibly scenic drives, hiking, and mountain climbing. Most of the roads are open from late May to early October and all provide really stunning views and access to trials and historical sites of interest.

For photographers, whether active or not, there are so many opportunities! If you are not much of a hiker, the main roads provide some of the most killer spots like Reflection Lakes, near Paradise, or the amazing morning shots from the Sunrise/ White River area.

 

If you’re more ambitious, you can even summit Rainier or several of the peaks around it.

Mount Rainier National Park deserves a few days at a minimum. It is very large and one of the most photogenic landscapes I’ve seen. I can promise I’ll be going back for years to come!

Please let me know you thoughts and experiences about Mt. Rainier in the comments below. And let me know what other kinds of information would be helpful to you in these posts… I have a bunch more coming soon…

— andrew


 
Take your photography to the next level… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
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photography, random thought, travel

The Ocean Song

The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”
― Christopher Paolini

Ellen is an ocean girl.  And clearly I’m a mountain guy.

So I planned a trip recently that I hoped would offer the best of both worlds… the Pacific Northwest Coast.

It really didn’t disappoint.

But I was surprised at how deeply I too fell for the ocean song.

Pacific surf along Del Norte Coast

Dusk falls on the Pacific at Wilson Creek Beach

There’s more to the music of the sea than just the crash of the waves.

A silhouette of a photographer as dusk falls on the Pacific at Wilson Creek Beach

Or the melodic ebb and flow of the tide.

Dusk falls on the Pacific surf at Wilson Creek Beach

There’s the distant surf rolling and rumbling faintly.  Steadily.

Sea birds and pastels accompany the rocks in the Pacific surf along Del Norte Coast

The chatter of the seabirds.

starfish in the tidal pools near Arch Rock

plant life and wildlife in the tidal pools near Arch Rock

The gentle sway of the tiny creatures.

Arch Rock at dusk

There is a sound to the light.  It carries all of these other notes of the sea to create one grand song.

The sun sets on the Pacific and a tent campsite with beautiful displays of color

The sun sets on the Pacific and a tent campsite with beautiful displays of color

The sun sets on the Pacific with beautiful displays of color

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

And when the sun drops beyond the horizon, out of view, the symphony doesn’t end.

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

In fact, the orchestral crescendo begins to take shape with soft colors and the gentleness of the breeze.

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

This is where the song takes shape.  This is where the minor key takes hold.

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

It is primal song. And it is one that I will forever try to capture, impossible as it is… it hangs just out of reach in the air around us and passes through us tenderly. It tells us that we are not alone. That this is not all by chance.

It reminds us that every song has a composer.

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 
 
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equipment review, photography, travel

Canon’s New EF 16-35 f/4L // Field Review

Affordable, super sharp (even called ‘the sharpest Canon has ever made’), and sturdy.  Did I mention it also has IS?  Oh yeah, and a 77mm filter ring. It wasn’t all that long ago (2 years or so) that I posted a review of the Canon EF 17-40 f/4L.  And I liked it.  But let me just say, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the new Canon EF 16-35 f/4L (US $1099).

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 The toil I went through was over whether I should purchase the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L (US $1699) or the 17-40mm f/4L (US $839).  Both are “L series”, Canon’s best glass, and as a professional I generally don’t buy anything less.  As the saying goes, “you’re only as good as the glass you use.”

So I really had a decision to make.

For me, this lens will fill a big gap in my repertoire of focal lengths.  And as more and more of my business is landscape/ cityscape/ architecture, I am in desperate need of a quality super-wide zoom.

Now, just by the nature of super-wides (and zooms for that matter), some sharpness is sacrificed on the edges for the sake of versatility.  If you need tack-sharp, you need a standard prime.  Wide focal lengths will also cause some distortion on the edges… nothing that can’t be easily corrected in post.  Already knowing these drawbacks, I began to research.

Aside from the obvious difference in focal length, the 16-35 is a full stop faster.  But do I need that full stop?  I decided no for the majority of its use.  I would primarily use it as a landscape lens… so shooting outdoors, it’s nearly inconceivable I would need (or want) f/2.8.  And the second most useful application for me is interior architecture.  But again, I typically light the spaces and rarely shoot wider than f/8.  Okay, so is there a sharpness difference between the two?  Well, without having both lenses in front of me to do my own tests, I had to rely on the careful data of others.  I found a fantastic technical analysis of this very comparison on Luminous Landscape.

As you can see in my earlier post, I couldn’t find too much of a difference between the two former Canon super wide zooms, other than price. But this new 16-35, though slower than its big brother at f/4, is sharper and feels even sturdier.

And the main thing other than price that bothered me about the f/2.8 was the fact that it had an 82mm filter threading. Which means having to buy all new filters. Huge headache… when almost every other one of my lenses use the 77mm.

Now I’ve taken the new EF 16-35/4 with me as my primary landscape lens on my last three trips; Wyoming/ Montana/ Colorado, Pacific Northwest, and Florida. So far, this lens has met all my expectations, and more. I’ve never seen a zoom lens with this kind of sharpness, even at the extreme edges.

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A man hiking the rim at sunset in Crater Lake National Park

Massive old-growth trees in Humboldt Redwoods State/ National Park

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Sunset over Trillium Lake

People admiring the majesty of Wahclella Falls

Canon got it right on this lens on all accounts in my book. The autofocus works like a charm, color rings true, the hearty build makes me feel like I’m not going to just snap it in half on accident (like the 17-40), and as I’ve said before, the f/4 works just fine for me with what I shoot.

And if you’re looking for a more technical review, please check out Ken Rockwell’s site.  This guy is amazing and will give you all the tech specs you need!

I can tell you though, If you spend the $1100 USD on this lens, you will not be disappointed.

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 

 

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education, photography, travel

Photographing // Tents

Yeah, it’s a thing.  And if you follow me on Instagram, you know that I clearly enjoy it.

Photographing tents in amazing places is trending on Instagram and other social media outlets, and for good reason… it makes for incredible, eye-catching images and it’s really fun.

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Recently, I’ve begun experimenting with the sources of light inside the tent… but when I began, one might say it was a little less calculated and a bit more haphazard.

One of the first times I made a ‘lit tent image’, it was almost accidental.  I pointed my camera in the direction of Squaretop, and intended to do a ghosting image of Ellen and I getting into the tent.  The image that was created would send me into an obsession that has really paid off…

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In many ways, it is simply a means to document some of the cool places I have laid my head.  But when I started getting serious stock and print inquiries from these images I realized I was on to something.

Man hiking up to a winter campsite overlooking Fremont Lake in Bridger National Forest, Wy

Social media would blow up every time I posted one of the tent shots, and I began to notice they were showing up all over my Instagram feed from some of my favorite photographers.  Something in these shots was resonating with people.

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Dusk, colorful sky, and lit tent under a silhouetted Nugent Mountain

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So I began doing them all over the world and experimenting a bit.

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I’ve used everything from cruddy headlamps, to Canon Speedlights, to my Dynalite strobes. And at this point, I’m not set on one method… I know I have a bit more searching to do to find the one best lighting solution that is compact and lightweight enough to take deep into the backcountry when backpacking.

Any recommendations are much appreciated :)

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But one of the things that I have learned over the years of experimenting is that your best bet is to shoot your tent shots during the blue hour. It is the hour +/- just after the sun has set, or just before the sun rises.  I prefer the evening blue hour because it seems to have a quality of light to it that is better to photograph.  But also because you have the daylight first, which allows you to more easily compose your image before it gets too dark. You get to ease into the shot.

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The blue hour is the optimum time for your artificial light to match the exposure and desired color temperature with the sky.

Dusk at Sparks Lake

Lit tent on the rim at Crater Lake

Lit tent on the rim at Crater Lake

But even if you wait a bit longer, you can get the stars in the shot, as an added bonus.  But beware, it is more difficult to match the exposures, so it may take a little experimentation.  If you have the ability, turn your lights down several stops.

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Knowing all of this, the first thing you need to determine is your composition.  It is best to figure this out during the day when it’s light out.  Once you have a composition you like, it’s time to think about where the best, most compelling placement of the tent will be.

Camping in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

The example above is actually where I slept.  But recently, I’ve been setting up the tent just for dynamic shots, like the ones below.  I did not venture to sleep where the tent was in the four images below.  Sometimes the best shot is not also the best place to camp. And the best, most comfortable place to camp does not always make for the most interesting shot.

Lit Nemo Equipment tent on the Ohanapecosh River

Lit Nemo Equipment tent on the Ohanapecosh River

Lit Nemo Equipment tent on the Ohanapecosh River

I hope sharing what I’ve learned is helpful and hopefully inspiring. But it is a process, and I will keep refining my craft.

The sun sets on the Pacific and a tent campsite with beautiful displays of color

I’ll keep you all posted as I learn more. And feel free to comment below if you have experiences or recommendations of you own to share!

Until next time…

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 
 
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random thought, travel

How To Travel All The Time… Forever

Ellen and I get asked all the time, “How do you do it?!?” With baffled looks, most people begin to wonder whether we are trust fund babies or maybe secret oil barons.

Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

Well the truth is, neither of us come from any money at all, and contrary to popular belief, photographers and yogis really don’t necessarily make a ton of cash. So we’ve learned to be… well… resourceful.

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Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

The road to Willow Lake

Don’t get me wrong, we do just fine and feel so blessed to be able to do what we do and not worry about paying our bills or having enough food for our bellies… most months :)  “So what’s the secret?” you may ask.

silhouette of a man and woman holding hands at dusk with the Tetons in the background

We don’t have children, spend much money on clothes, or even own a home. We have chosen to “invest” our money in experiences. True, they are fleeting, and probably we won’t be able to retire until… well… ever.  But when I think about it, we would both do what we’re doing if no one was paying us, so why would we ever make a goal to retire from our passions??

Rocky Mountain Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Here’s the deal; we have very different priorities from most folks our age.  And that’s okay.  Our way is not better than the folks that prefer the security of a steady job, and making sound financial investments, and sacrificing their lives to raise children.  In fact, those are all wonderful and even very noble things.  But they aren’t what God has called us to in our lives. At least not yet.

So for now, we travel.  And I might even venture to say we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So I’d like to share a few things that we’ve learned over the years to cut costs and keep the dream alive.

Sunlight Basin Road (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wy

Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

Early morning on Lulu Pass in Gallatin National Forest near Cooke City, MT

First thing’s first… once you’ve determined the where, you have to be able to calculate whether it will be cheaper to drive there, or fly and rent a car, or take public transport. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Figure out your gas mileage and divide that by your calculated total driving distance (I recommend very liberal estimates… better to over-prepare and stay under budget than the reverse), then multiply that number by the average price per gallon of gas.  There’s your travel cost for driving.  Sometimes even though driving may be cheaper, the amount of time (including food + lodging) ends up making it a better deal to fly. Know when to say when is too far a distance to drive.  For me, there is no such thing. Except for ocean crossings! But a deal is a deal, and if I can fly for cheaper, then that’s what I’ll do.

van life, early morning on Lulu Pass in Gallatin National Forest near Cooke City, MT

Travel is your first major cost that you can’t really get around. It’s essentially fixed.  The next few elements are more variable, depending upon your resourcefulness and desired comfort level.

Coleman tent with Tetons in the background

Lodging is something that Ellen and I have down to a fine art. Most locations we visit we camp 6 out of 7 nights.  So for our three week Pacific Northwest trip, I only budgeted for three nights in a hotel.  This saves you… big time.  You can expect to camp for an average of $0-35 per night, depending upon the state/ country you’re in, and what regulations they have.  This info is super easy to find nowadays online. I recommend camping in undeveloped National Forest campsites as much as possible. They are free and usually the most beautiful and quiet. Developed sites usually cost between $5-20.

Camping is hands down, the best way to save money, making it possible for you to travel all the time.

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Sunrise over the Winds near Soda Lake, lit Nemo Tent, man camping

Food is the next (somewhat) variable expense.  We try not to eat out much on the road, as it is typically unhealthy and expensive. But it’s not always easy to travel with groceries. Especially if you elect to fly, coolers can be a hassle. But you can always pick up a $2 styrofoam cooler at Walmart, and that will give you a huge advantage when on the road.

If we’re driving, we bring a regular sized cooler, and keep just the essentials in our car at all times: breakfast (coffee, eggs, butter, yogurt, granola), lunch (peanut butter & honey, tortillas, chips, fruit), dinner (veggies, meat), and snacks (nuts, crackers, snack bars, water, etc.). Clearly, this kind of living is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Especially in the U.S.  But the fact is, many of the people of the world live this way because they have to. Sometimes I think of that fact when I’m growing weary of living out of my car, eating peanut butter and honey.

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Cooking over an open fire really can be such a simple way to “spice up” your meals.  Just some fresh veggies and meat (or eggs even!) will break the monotony (and unhealthy nature) of eating on the road.

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And chopping wood is might fine workout, and often free fuel.

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The truth about travel is that it can be really expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be. You just have to have a realistic budget, a good dose of planning, and expectations to match the budget.  If you desire to travel, but don’t have cash to throw around, just be truthful with yourself and manage your expectations.

Morning brings dramatic light on the Winds

Oh yeah… one more thing that’s really important… work. Most folks with steady jobs can’t just pick up and travel all the time, forever. Well, if travel is your thing, I would sincerely consider a career change. But really, nowadays, a lot of jobs can be done remotely. There’s nothing wrong with working while you travel.  That’s what we do. It’s rare that we take an actual “vacation”.

So it may be worth having a sit down with the boss to see if you have the option of working remotely.  Because if not, it may be back to square one.  But there are a lot of ways to make a living from the road.

Travel writers, food bloggers, consultants, photographers… people are even making money from their Instagram following. If you have something to say, there are advertisers that will gladly partner with and enable you to make a decent living from the road.

Ellen Slaton hiking to and looking out over Seneca Lake in the Wind River Range

All of the images in this post are from a Wyoming/ Montana/ Colorado road trip we did this summer. We partnered with Ambler, a fantastic hat company out of Canada to make it happen, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities.  They’re out there.

Ellen Slaton hiking Bridger Wilderness

When wanderlust takes hold, it can be insatiable. And those of us who aren’t independently wealthy need to get creative to carry out our dreams.

Don’t let life on the road intimidate you… you might find it as exciting and fulfilling as we do…

— andrew


 
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