Great e-Gift Ideas For The Photographer In Your Life!

The holidays are upon us and you have a photographer to shop for–you’ll find plenty of gear and gadget lists (and those are great; I’m an avowed gadget freak myself), so I thought I’d offer some non-gear alternatives for the Photographer Who Has Everything. These are all e-books, and one of the greener gifts you can give.  They can all be bought and sent as gifts via email links, and you can look all thoughtful and conscientious even when you’ve completely forgotten until the last minute (don’t worry, I’ll never tell).  I own all of these, and they come with an enthusiastic personal recommendation.  Links to each book are in the titles below.

An Honest Silence: a Celebration of Wilderness

honest silenceThis e-book won’t teach you how to make better images, but it will feed the brain and the soul of anyone who spends time in the wilderness.  It’s a collection of thoughtful essays accompanied by gorgeous photos; a kind of meditation, if you will.  From the book’s description:

“An Honest Silence is a mix of photography and short, intimate essays by each of the authors.  All three authors come from different backgrounds and hold different points of view, but what the book ultimately shows is that wilderness is a common thread in everyone’s life.  From the Colorado Plateau to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, the reader is taken on a personal journey through the wild.”

One of the authors of the e-book is photographer Greg Russell, whose work and contemplations on nature and photography have been one of my guideposts over the years as I’ve grown as a photographer.  He is a great photographer to follow for both his images and his writing.  This gorgeous e-book is just $5, and more than 50% of proceeds go to a conservation group near and dear to my own heart, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  Through 12/25, the book is just $4 if you use the code “wilderness50” at checkout.

Pretty much ANY of Michael Frye’s e-books, but especially this one and this one.

If you’ve ever searched out great pictures of Yosemite National Park, you’ve almost certainly encountered Michael Frye’s beautiful photos.  He’s photographed in and around Yosemite for many LightandLand_cover4years, and is intimately knowledgeable about the area.  He’s also a wonderful writer and teacher about digital photography in general, and his books on landscape photography and the digital darkroom are perennial go-to’s for me.  And they should be for you (or the photographer in your life), too.

His book Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom is a kind of laboratory exercise where he takes you through five featured images, showing you his workflow for each image in the digital darkroom (in this case, Adobe Lightroom).  It’s an incredibly instructive exercise that gives the reader an almost hands-on look at process, and will surely result in an “a-ha!” moment for those still trying to get a handle on processing with Lightroom.  This e-book is a bargain at just $5.

For more in-depth instruction, I’m not sure there’s a better book out there on Lightroom and the digital darkroom in general for nature and landscape photographers than Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step GuideLightroom has become a powerful tool for photographers–so powerful, in fact, that I rely on it (over Photoshop, which I also have and love) LR5-CoverSpreadfor almost all of my image processing.  Later versions of the program have added even more powerful processing tools, and Frye takes you through these step-by-step, including tutorial videos embedded in the PDF-based e-book (which is as great as it sounds!).  As with all of Frye’s books, they’re as aesthetically pleasing as they are instructive, and this e-book features 87 full-page photo spreads interspersed with the lessons.  Even if you THINK you know everything there is to know about processing images in Lightroom, you’ll still find this book an immensely helpful guide.  And it’s a bargain at $14.95.

Mr. Heat Miser vs. Mr. Snow MIser

Okay, okay–I still love the children’s holiday shows, so this inevitably came to mind when thinking about Sarah Marino’s and Ron Coscorrosa’s excellent new e-guides: one for Death Valley National Park, and one for Iceland (see? you thought of it, too, didn’t you?).

desert coverYou’ll have a hard time choosing between Desert Paradise:The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park or Forever Light: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Iceland (oh, go ahead–just buy both!).  I’m still not sure how Ron and Sarah found time to complete these exhaustive, gorgeous photo guides while still maintaining a pretty busy shooting schedule this year.  They’re both gifted photographers, and can now add gifted authors to their resume.  When I search out a photography guide for an area I plan to visit, I am really, really particular.  In a perfect world, every photography guide would be (SHOULD be) like Laurent Martre’s excellent books, which give detailed information on what to shoot, where to find it, what the hike is like to get there, and so on.  I don’t want to know simply where I can find a place on my shooting list–I need you to tell me what to expect and how to prepare.  Ron’s Iceland coverand Sarah’s e-guides do this and more.  In addition to everything I just mentioned as “must haves” for an e-guide, there’s basic instruction on photography and composition, a detailed gear guide, a section on photography ethics (big hat-tip to them for including that), and they’ll even tell you where you can find food and a place to pitch your tent (or check into a motel).

If you’re thinking of visiting either Death Valley or Iceland, have already been, or just like to daydream about either place, these books are the best guides you’ll find for them.  They’re beefy tomes–the Death Valley e-guide clocks in at 134 pages–and priced at $14.95 each.  If you buy both e-guides, you’ll get them at a special price of $24.95, all in.

Any–or all–of these e-books make wonderful gifts, and have a long shelf life as helpful guides to the craft.  Do a photographer (and the environment) a favor and add one of these to their virtual stocking.

New Limited Edition Print – Milford Sunset, New Zealand

I’m pleased to offer my first-ever limited edition print featuring one of my images from this year’s New Zealand trip.  Milford Sound, the iconic location in Fiordlands National Park on New Zealand’s South Island exceeded every expectation when I arrived there–massive jagged peaks rise dramatically from the sound in all directions.  On the evening I took this photo, variable fog and clouds descended on the sound, giving the scene an appropriately mystical appearance.  The setting sun was muted by those clouds, showing pastels of gold, pink and purple as the light faded.  Milford was easily my favorite stop on the trip, and this image is one of my favorites from this amazing, beautiful country.Milford web version

The print I’m offering is a true limited edition, which will number a maximum of 25 numbered prints and one artist’s proof.  Once those are all gone, I will offer no more prints in any format of this image.  I’ve chosen an archival quality heavyweight cotton rag paper for the edition, which has a matte finish (meaning no glare to interfere with image viewing when displayed with non-glare glass or acrylic).  The ink for the print is Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss® 2 pigment ink, and combined with the high-quality paper, will have a lightfastness rating of greater than 200 years, meaning no fading/changing of color when displayed properly (i.e., out of direct sunlight).

The image is 8.5″ by 11″, and is printed on 11″x14″ paper, leaving a 1.5″ border all around.  I will sign each print and include the edition number, i.e., 1/25.  The print comes unframed, and It can be displayed in a standard 11″x14″ frame of your choice.  The print ships flat, not rolled, and I recommend framing the print as soon as possible to protect it from damage.  A certificate of authenticity will be included.  The price for the print is $125, competitively priced for limited editions of similar size and quality.  Shipping is a flat rate of $10 anywhere in the U.S. (inquire by email if you would like this shipped internationally).

As an added incentive, all orders for the limited edition print received by December 31 will also July 2014receive a complimentary copy of my 2014 Visionary Light calendar, a $16.99 value.  The Milford image for the limited edition is also the featured image for July 2014.

The print makes a great gift, so consider purchasing it for your favorite nature lover!

To purchase one of these limited edition prints, please send payment of $125 plus $10 for shipping via PayPal to my email address of  You can expect delivery of the print approximately two weeks from the date of order.

Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.

2014 Visionary Light Calendar Now Available (and at a GREAT price!)

CoverMy 2014 calendar is now available through, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.  I think it’s my best calendar to date, and I’m delighted to be able to offer it at a substantially lower price than calendars from previous years–just $16.99.  You can order them through at this link (that link will also allow you to preview the images for all 12 months).

It features images from my travels over the past year, including a couple of images from my recent trip to New Zealand. One of the New Zealand images (the Milford Sound image pictured here) is previously unreleased; I’ll be offering my first-ever limited edition print of this image, so watch for news on that in the next week or two.July 2014 has guaranteed Christmas delivery for all orders placed by December 10, and right now there’s an offer for free shipping on all orders (use code FREESHIP).

These images summarize a year’s worth of incredible experiences and beautiful light, and I’m so happy to share them with you.  The calendar makes a great gift, so consider picking up a few extras.

Pictures At An Exhibition – Thoughts on my first “big” gallery exhibit

If you saw my previous blog post, then you know I’m part of an exhibit that opened recently at the G2 Gallery in Venice, California–a duet, if you will; I’m one of two featured photographers in their annual “Emerging” exhibit, along with gifted wildlife photographer Susan McConnell.  I’ll be featuring an interview with Susan here in the next few weeks, by the way–stay tuned for her great insights on wildlife photography.G2 Exhibit

I’ve previously had images that were part of bigger exhibits–the biennial International Conservation Photography Awards (where I won first place, landscape) and the annual multi-genre Yosemite Renaissance, among others.  If you’re an artist, be it a photographer or in any other medium, there’s no better thrill than walking into a gallery and seeing one or more of your pieces on display, especially when you’re surrounded by incredible works from other artists.  But having 13 pieces up as a co-exhibitor in a show is quite a different experience.  It has been daunting, stressful (in the BEST possible way), thrilling, enlightening, and an experience I am honored to have had.

Several photography contacts have emailed me over the last few weeks asking how I had my work chosen for the show–in this case, it’s a juried exhibition for which I submitted a sample of my work, along with a detailed written application and photography resume.  For what it’s worth, I was completely surprised when I found out I’d been chosen as one of the two artists in the exhibit–no matter how much confidence you have in your work, these things are highly subjective, and take into consideration everything from the jurors’ personal taste to the individual gallery’s style.  For anybody who has an interest in being part of something like this: SUBMIT YOUR WORK.  Do so often.  Ask for feedback when possible.  The practice is good for you, and you never know when your work is going to (finally) catch a curator’s eye.  I’m still pretty much a neophyte at full-blown gallery exhibits myself, so I’ll just encourage you to do what I did–in addition to submitting often, do your research (on galleries, on juried shows, anything you can think of).  Keep working to improve your portfolio.  Don’t give up–as cliched as that sounds, you really can’t give up if you want to achieve something like this.  Get constructive critical feedback whenever possible, whether it’s through a reputable online forum or during a portfolio review session at a conference or one-on-one with someone you seek out (and pay) for a portfolio review.  Get your work in front of as many educated and critical eyes as possible, and then pay attention to the feedback.  Frames Pieces and White Gloves

It won’t always be helpful–my very first portfolio review a few years ago was at a conference with a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.  The extent of the review was “I don’t really do landscapes, I don’t know anything about conservation photography, but you should put more people in your photos.”  If you’re at all familiar with what I shoot, that was disappointing, unhelpful advice.  But she wasn’t entirely wrong, either–I have a handful (just a bare, bare handful) of photos where I have included people when it helps the image better tell a story.  Seek feedback, and listen.

So, you find out some of your work will be featured in an exhibit–what next?  In my case, because it’s expensive to print and frame 13 images, I opted to do almost everything myself.  Not only did this save me some money (and thank goodness for my college photojournalism professor who insisted we all learn how to dry mount our pics), it also gave the exhibit prep an up-close-and-personal element I hadn’t counted on.  I had my images printed by a printing house I was comfortable with and had worked with before, then ordered frame pieces, dry mount tissue, mats and acrylic, and spent two full days mounting, matting and framing everything.  I spent more up-close, meditative time with those 13 images than I have with any other images of mine, and everything gradually became much more personal to me.  This wasn’t just an assortment of my better work, these were memories and experiences that mean a great deal to me:  the heart-shaped lightning bolt image that taught me to never, ever overlook an opportunity to shoot (it was taken from the 31st floor of the Paris hotel in Vegas, looking south at an active thunderstorm); the stormy sunrise at Moeraki, New Zealand I shared with a dear friend; the surreal lone oak that was the only thing to shoot when I was originally out looking for wildflowers to photograph; the annular eclipse over Wukoki Pueblo in Arizona that was both my most researched and pre-visualized image and also an almost overwhelming astronomical phenomenon to witness in person.  Those 13 pieces are a nice summary of my life for the last few years–moments I’ll never forget; some of them deeply personal, some of them unimaginable encounters with light, all of them mileposts of my ongoing photography education.  Mounting & Matting

I also learned something about my “eye” as a photographer that I hadn’t previously been aware of–and for that, G2’s curator, Jolene Hanson, has my deep gratitude.  When I go out shooting, I always try to come home with something good, and something interesting.  I can endlessly scrutinize an image while working in the digital darkroom, thinking of what works and what could be better.  I study other photographers’ work to think about different ways to work with light and composition.  But I hadn’t given too much thought to my own particular style.  After being chosen for Emerging VI, Jolene asked me to send 30 or so images for her to choose from for the show.  I sent what I thought was a good representation of my work, my best images, a variety of compositions.  In studying the 13 images she chose for the show, I “got” her approach.  Very few (really, only two) conventional landscape comps (wide angle, down low, near-far perspective).  All could be described as “moody” (in a good way, I hope).  Light and/or atmospheric conditions were the primary subject in most of the pics.  She had narrowed down to what my dominant style is–something I’d never really considered before.  It’s easy to feel somewhat abashed when you realize “oh–yeah, that IS mostly what I shoot.”  A “duh” moment.  But it also helped me to understand my creative subconscious (for lack of a better word), and what the common themes are that seem to come up in my work more than others.

All of this rambling is mostly to say this has been an extraordinarily educational experience.  I’ve learned far more about myself as a photographer in the last two months than I have in the last five years.  I am deeply grateful for the experience–and more excited about photography than ever.

New Exhibit Featuring My Work – Emerging VI at G2 Gallery in Venice, California

I’m very, VERY honored to have been chosen for this year’s Emerging exhibit at the G2 Gallery.  I’ve been a fan of the gallery since they opened their doors in 2008, as their mission is one dear to my heart–a gallery filled with incredible images that works to advance environmental issues with nature and wildlife.  If you’re not familiar with them, this is their mission statement:

The G2 Gallery is an award-winning nature and wildlife photography gallery that facilitates change by bringing attention to environmental issues through the persuasive power of photographic art. G2 shares this passion with both celebrated and emerging environmental photographers, who use the camera as a tool to inspire conservation. G2 donates all proceeds from sales of the art to environmental groups.

emerging banner


I have 13 pieces on display in the exhibit.  Most are from various parts of California or the desert southwest, and one is from my recent trip to New Zealand.  I’m honored to share this exhibit with San Francisco wildlife photographer Susan McConnell:

Susan McConnell is a photographer and biology professor at Stanford University. She teaches classes on both brain development and conservation photography at Stanford, and has been at Stanford for more than 25 years in different capacities. A member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, Susan’s interest in biology was the foundation for her passion for conservation photography. Susan’s images have appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, Nature’s Best Photography and Outdoor Photographer. Her photographs of Namibian elephants graced the cover of Smithsonian in 2010 and were exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Susan was also mentored by internationally renowned photographer Frans Lanting.

I look forward to featuring an interview with Susan here on my blog in the coming weeks, so please check back!

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the opening reception for Emerging Vi, along with exhibits on birds of prey and wildfire recovery in the Angeles National Forest (a fantastic documentary project by Michael Caley), as well as a beautiful solo exhibit by Don Gottlieb, will be this Saturday, November 9, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  A $10 donation is requested, proceeds of which supports environmental charities.  Free valet parking (if you’ve spent time in Venice, you can appreciate this!), and wine, non-alcoholic beverages, and hors d’oeuvres will be served.  You can RSVP at the link above.

The exhibit is open now, and will run through January 5, 2014–I hope you can stop by if you’re in the area!

Why I use Lowepro’s camera bags–not a review, but a grateful testimonial

First things first:  if you’re reading this, you may notice that my website looks a bit different and scaled-down.  I’m currently going through a big redesign as I switch most of my galleries to Photoshelter’s excellent format.  This is taking a bit more time than I expected, so please stay tuned; I believe the result will be worth the wait (well, I’m excited about it, anyway!).

Me in the Narrows

In the Virgin Narrows with Lowepro’s Slingshot 202 AW

I have a pending review that I hope–if my under-construction site cooperates–to have up in a few more days on one of Lowepro’s new Urban Transit series of bags.  It’s an awesome bag, and has become the new and much-needed home for my Olympus PEN micro 4/3 setup.  But you’ll have to wait a few for that–until then, I thought I’d recount a recent experience I had in the field that drove home for me exactly why I love Lowepro’s bags and use them exclusively (you’ll notice they have a permanent link in my “stuff I use” section on the right-hand side of this page).

I made a quick weekend trip to Utah last month to see a couple of spots, including a hike in the Virgin River narrows in Zion National Park.  In preparing for the trip, I decided to use my trusty SlingShot 202 AW.  It’s the first Lowepro bag I ever bought, and still probably my favorite.  It lets you keep your gear close to your body, giving easy access without having to take the pack off.  This specific feature is why I wanted it with me in the Narrows–you’re wading through water for almost the entire hike (that’s me in the pic, above, doing just that), so there’s no place to put down your camera pack.

Kanarra Glow

Intimate Slot-Style Narrows on Kanarra Creek

This testimonial would be completely boring and obvious, except for one thing.  It saved my gear.  I’d hiked Kanarra Creek the day before, and the water level was so low and easy going there that I got a bit overconfident.  I’d packed a bunch of gallon-size Ziploc bags so that I could “waterproof” my camera and lenses inside the bag, since I wasn’t using a true dry bag (more on that in a moment).  Kanarra was a piece of cake in that regard, so I foolishly decided I didn’t need to bag up my camera and lenses for the Narrows hike the next morning.  Well, thanks to two weeks of daily monsoon thunderstorms, the water level in the Virgin River was higher and faster than I’d hoped.  It was also muddy as all get-out, so much so that you couldn’t see the river bottom–or where you were stepping.  And there are a lot of rocks in that river bed.  Small river rocks.  Great big nasty river rocks.

What I couldn’t see, about 1/3 of the way up the canyon, was that the current had washed out the sand around one of those big jagged rocks, leaving an un-seeable deep spot around it.  My klutzy feet, naturally, found that deep spot, and down I went.  And my camera bag went with me, ending up completely submerged.  Talk about instant heart attack–even though I’d banged up my knee pretty badly in the fall (stupid rock!), the only thing I could think about was getting my bag up and out of the water as fast as possible.  I was almost afraid to unzip the bag and look inside, sure that my camera must’ve been as soaked as I was. To my amazement, all was dry.

Here’s where I need to emphasize this:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS.

I took a big chance carrying my gear in a non-waterproof bag.  The SlingShot is absolutely, positively NOT a waterproof or “dry” bag.  You should not do what I did.  Or if you do, use my tip from above and bag everything up in Ziplocs for protection.

That said, I strongly believe my gear survived its unexpected baptism SOLELY thanks to Lowepro’s excellent build quality on their bags.  My Slingshot was completely soaked on the outside–down through every bit of the padding.  But inside the bag was completely dry, and with it my 5DMII and lenses.  This is why I only use Lowepro–because even though this bag was in no way designed to protect my gear when it was submerged, it did.  If the SlingShot was my favorite bag before this trip, it holds a truly special place in my heart (and bag collection) now.

Next time I do the Narrows–which will be in a couple of months for fall color–I’ll most likely be using one of Lowepro’s new Dry Zone series of bags (which ARE waterproof, and look great from the reviews I’ve seen so far).  I haven’t been able to get my hands on one yet at my local camera store, but I’m excited by the bag’s specs.  Until then, I remain grateful to Lowepro and my trusty SlingShot, which went FAR above and beyond its intended design on this trip.

Movie Review: “Mile, Mile And A Half”

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” –John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

So what the heck is a movie review doing on my photography blog?  Re-read that Muir quote, and there’s your answer.  My first visit to Yosemite National Park in 2009, including a few days in the Sierra high country, was the singular experience that made me Get Serious (very, very serious) about photography.  I absolutely believe there is something special and life-changing about that place, so when I saw a little video trailer about a group hiking the John Muir Trail linked on Facebook almost two years ago, I had to check it out.  I’ve been borderline obsessed–and completely smitten–ever since, and have followed their project closely all the way to completion.  And now it’s time for you to see it–their official theatrical premiere is this weekend at the Dances With Films festival in Hollywood (and it should soon be available to purchase, so stay tuned for that–I’ll update as soon as that happens).

Mile, Mile And A Half

What began for The Muir Project as a kind of open-ended project quickly evolved upon their return from the trail into a full-blown (indie) feature documentary.  They carried a daunting amount of equipment into the backcountry–something that surely must have been a logistical and (pretty literally) backbreaking challenge.  But that effort paid off with a beautifully produced and directed film.  The cinematography and editing are pretty much perfect; they capture really well the beauty and grandeur of the high Sierra, something that I know from personal experience can be difficult to fully convey on film.  Not only do we see the vast granite landscapes of the Sierra crest and lush high-country meadows and lakes, we’re treated to something most people–even most JMT hikers–will never witness: heavy snow.  And water.  A LOT of both.  The summer of 2011 followed a year of record snowfall, so even in mid-July, the high country still sported massive snowfields, and the streams and rivers roared much higher than usual with the record snowmelt.  This presented a whole new set of physical and logistical challenges for the hikers, and the tension (and beauty) of that adds a whole other layer of WOW to the film.  The score, created by Los Angeles-based musicians Opus Orange, strikes just the right tone–never obtrusive, always perfectly fitting the mood of the film.  And if you’ve seen the trailers, then you’ve already heard the movie’s unofficial theme song, Opus Orange’s irresistibly upbeat single “Almost There.”  Two of the group’s members joined them for several days on the trail, so you get to meet them, too.  Even the title art is exceptional, and also something that happened as a result of The Muir Project’s journey; a chance meeting with hiker (and artist) Kolby Kirk on the trail led to his eventually doing the illustrated title and chapter art for the film, and what a great addition that is to the film.

On Top of Mt. Whitney With Opus Orange (Photo by The Muir Project)

The film looks great–but more important, it’s also got great heart.  Building a narrative structure from documentary footage of a month-long hike must have been a challenge, but it’s seamlessly organic here.  There’s even a plot twist fairly early in the film (which I won’t reveal here) that took me by surprise.  We meet all the characters–the hikers, the Muir Project themselves–and get to know them well enough to feel an emotional connection.  You genuinely like these people, and their friendship and ability to get along well with each other in the wilderness is a huge part of why this film is successful.  This even translates down through the two and a half minute trailers–everyone is instantly likeable, their infectious sense of fun is immediately evident, and I (and I’m sure many others, including my hiking-obsessed nephew Zack) found myself going back and re-watching the trailers over and over–especially on days when I was tied to my desk at work and could only daydream about the mountains.

Their adventures on the trail quickly spread beyond the members of the group–and this, I think, is the key to what makes this such a compelling film.  Early in their trip, they meet a married couple, teachers from Colorado, who are spending their summer on the JMT.  They decide to join up with the Muir Project members, and we follow their journey on the trail as well.  The chemistry, friendship and camaraderie they quickly establish not only adds an unexpected narrative element to the film, but it’s a perfect example of the kind of friendships that can happen on long (LONG) hikes like this.  This, too, is an integral part of the experience of a JMT hike.

Plein Air Painters in the High Country (Photo by The Muir Project)

They meet a brother and sister who aren’t just hiking the JMT, but are doing so with similar artistic goals–only they aren’t filmmakers, they’re en plein air painters.  If you think it’s nutty to carry a lot of camera gear into the wilderness, try carrying several stretched canvases and painting supplies in addition to your pack.  I found their story–and their motivation for doing what they do–completely fascinating.  And perhaps the story that I found most powerful–and moving–is that of a young Japanese woman they met on the trail.  She spoke little to no English, and was hiking solo.  It’s difficult to get your head around the courage that must have taken, and it’s just one more story among many in this film that shows the countless reasons any one hiker may have for setting foot on that almost 220-mile-long trail.  It’s a journey of the heart, soul and mind as much as it is a test of the body.

This film will make you long for the mountains, even if you’ve never stood on top of one.  It does precisely what the filmmakers set out to do: inspires.  They deserve great credit for not only carrying off such a daunting task in the high country, but also in turning the raw footage and images they brought home into a truly beautiful and wonderful film.

Monsoon Sunset, Whitney Crest and Mt. Williamson (and somewhere high up there, the members of The Muir Project)

About that quote at the top of this review: it rang especially true for me (as I’m sure it will for anyone else who loves wild places).  I finally got to see the full-length movie at a private showing here in LA back in October.  As one particularly stormy but stunning sunset flashed on the screen late in the hike, I realized I’d shared that sunset with them.  I did some quick math in my head, then checked my photo files when I got home.  Sure enough, I’d been in the Alabama Hills at the foot of Mt. Whitney that same evening, surrounded by one of the most beautiful, dramatic sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.  How lovely to look at that photo now, and know that The Muir Project members were there, too, somewhere high above me, experiencing that same magnificent sunset.  It always makes me smile now to think about that.  We really are all connected–and Mile, Mile And A Half does a wonderful job of reminding us of this.

So, want to go see it?  (And I HIGHLY recommend you do!)  Their two screenings this weekend at Dances With Films have already sold out (thank goodness I already bought my tickets!), but they have screenings scheduled (so far, with more to be added) in Emeryville, Sacramento, and Durango, Colorado.  You can find details and links to purchase tickets here.  If you’d like to get to know the filmmakers a little better, you can read my interview with them last fall on Dan Bailey’s excellent Adventure Photography blog HERE.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, the mountains are calling, and I must go. . . .


The evolving eye–or why archive diving is a good idea.

I probably hang on to more image files than I need to, and for longer than I need to (so thank goodness memory is cheap).  It isn’t that I’m incapable of killing my darlings, to paraphrase William Faulkner–it’s that I have, on several occasions, come across a forgotten gem that missed the first (or second or third) cut on processing.  I’m also fairly sure I’m in good company with this habit–which is why photographer friends often refer to the practice as “dumpster diving” (humorously, of course).

That I’m able to occasionally rescue an ancient image file is attributable to a few different things.  Boredom, for one.  If I haven’t had time to get out and shoot for a while, I often find myself scrounging through old image files for something to play with.  Some photographers see post-processing work as drudgery, but I love it.  LOVE it.  I can lose hours working on images, and happily so.  And if I can find an old image file to work into something worth sharing when I’m between shooting trips, all the better.  Scattered around this post, you’ll see four images I’ve recently reworked, and all are two to three years old.

Another reason I do this is that my post-processing skills are constantly improving;  sometimes an image just needs a little TLC to take it from an iffy RAW file to a WOW pic.  This photo of the oft-shot abandoned house in California’s eastern sierra is a great example of that.  I experienced some of the most astounding atmospheric conditions when I took that shot, but I was never able to process it to my satisfaction.  Great light can sometimes be very tricky to deal with in post, and my skills simply weren’t up to the task three years ago when I took this photo.

But mostly, I find myself re-examining old image files because my eye as a photographer, as an artist, has evolved a great deal over the years.  That, I think, is something every photographer should give more thought to than they do (and I include myself in that).

Are you the same person you were two years ago? Five? Ten years?  No–or, at least, I hope not.  We grow and refine the more we shoot, and hopefully that’s reflected in how and what we shoot.  That evolution extends to the way we examine the image files we come home with.  An image I’d passed over several times–for example, the high-key sunrise on the Sausolito waterfront–suddenly jumped out at me when I was going through the image folder from that trip.  I’d intentionally overexposed the shot, but was never really moved enough by the final product to do anything with the image in post.  Three years later, I took another look, and knew that with some minor adjustments to tone curves and white balance, that high-key image would be compelling–would be precisely the shot I’d seen in my mind’s eye that day, but my actual “eye” couldn’t yet see it.

Sometimes it’s simple post-processing that can bring out a forgotten gem, but sometimes I look at a RAW file and realize that a certain crop, or a conversion to black and white, achieves what I experienced in the field or better communicates the emotional impact of a scene as I experienced it.  Ansel Adams famously worked and re-worked and then re-worked some more his images in the darkroom–and we should be doing precisely the same thing in today’s digital darkroom.  This should go beyond just advanced processing techniques.  This should always, always take into consideration your eye, your vision.  Unless you’re a straight-up photojournalist where photo realism is key to what you’re doing, you should not overlook your role as artist in post-processing.  To be clear, I’m not talking about extreme photo manipulation, or adding or removing significant elements of a scene.  But I have no problem with using artistic license in post-processing to convey what you experienced, to convey mood, when taking that image.

Whatever stock you wish to put into the old saying that the unexamined life is not worth living, I would certainly apply that to photography.  Go back and reexamine older work.  Approach it again in the digital darkroom, and assess how your skills have improved, and how your photographer’s eye, your artist’s eye, has changed and matured over time.  Studying this is hugely helpful in getting a handle on what your (hopefully unique) “vision” is, as well as in getting an idea where you’re going with your work (and what, if anything, you need to work on in technique).  Athletes track their performance as a way to help them learn how to improve–and photographers should do the same.

Next up on the blog (early next week): a review of John Batdorff’s excellent new book, Plug In with Nik: A Photographer’s Guide to Creating Dynamic Images with Nik Software.

Introducing the NEW Lowepro Flipside Sport AW 20L

Photographers love their camera bags the way women love a great pair (or ten) of black heels–and I say this as a woman who loves her many pairs of black heels, so I know whereof I speak.  Just when we think we have the perfect assortment of bags to use for different outings and shoots, we’ll realize that it’s close–but not perfect.  We’re all looking for just the right bag for what we need, and without fail a new trip or assignment will leave us looking for something new and different that maybe, hopefully, will work a little better for what we need.

I found myself in this situation a couple of months ago.  I’d just finished reviewing Lowepro‘s excellent new RoverPro 45L bag (so, so great for getting your gear into the backcountry), when I started planning for a big trip next month–two weeks in New Zealand, shooting that gorgeous scenery and exploring the country.  I looked at the assortment of camera bags I’ve accumulated over the last few years (all Lowepro–I don’t say I love them for nothing, you know), and realized none of them was going to work well for this trip.  I’ve been using the Flipside Sport 15L since last year, and it’s become the bag I use most.  It’s designed well, organizes perfectly, and wears even better.  Love that bag.  But for this trip, I need to bring along a little more of my gear than I do on shorter trips, including a backup camera body and an extra lens or two above and beyond what I normally carry, and I need to be able to carry it comfortably through both airports and the wilderness.  The 15L is just a bit small for a trip of this nature.

So who better to ask for advice on bags than Lowepro?  I sent a quick email telling them about the upcoming trip, gave them a rough list of gear I’ll be bringing and asked for a recommendation on bags.  When they got back to me suggesting I try out a brand new bag that wasn’t yet on the market, I enthusiastically took them up on the offer.  And when I learned that the new bag is the new Big Brother in the Flipside Sport line, I was really excited.

The Flipside Sport line that Lowepro debuted last year is a great bag, and I snapped up the 15L version as soon as it hit the market.  In addition to the usual great Lowepro design on the inside of the bag, what was going on with the outside of the pack–the build and the fit, specifically–made this an instant winner. This line of bags gets its name from the feature that gives it incredible functionality: you don’t have to take the pack off to access your gear.  Just slip the straps off your shoulders, pull the bag around in front of you, and unzip the flap to get to your gear.  The flat bottom of the bag rests against the front of your hips and keeps the bag stable and in place while you dig around for whatever gear you need.  When you’re done, zip up, slide the pack around to your back, pull the shoulder straps up and continue on your way.  This feature makes the bag very desirable if you’re hiking in places where setting the bag on the ground isn’t really a good option, whether you’re standing in deep snow or up to your knees in the Virgin River in Zion National Park.  It’s more than convenience–it’s added security for your gear.  There’s also a waterproof cover concealed in a bottom pocket that pulls up over the pack for protection should you find yourself caught in wet weather.

The new 20L version takes this design to an even higher level.  There is a wealth of room inside the bag–the pockets are deep and come with multiple padded dividers that you can reconfigure in almost countless ways to better accommodate your specific gear.  In addition to the compartments for cameras, lenses, etc., there’s a zippered accessory pocket on the inside flap that holds memory cards, headlamp, cleaning cloths, and so on.  As you can see by the pic on the right, I’m able to carry everything I need (whether it’s on a long day hike, or a multi-week trek in another country):

  • Canon 5D Mark II with 70-200mm lens attached
  • Crop-sensor backup camera body (plus extra battery, charger and cable release)
  • 17-40mm wide-angle lens
  • 50mm prime lens
  • 2x teleconverter
  • Lowepro filter pouch
  • Additional Singh-Ray filters (that I just can’t live without for landscape shooting)
  • Cable release (plus an extra)
  • Extra batteries + charger
  • Angled viewfinder with pouch
  • Memory cards
  • Filter holder and step-up rings
  • Tripod wrench/toolkit
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Headlamp
  • Hand warmers (great for keeping batteries warm, as well as fingers)

The extra room in the 20 liter version also provides a much-needed outside zippered pocket, which is just big enough to stow my iPad with keyboard case.  On either side of the pack is the tripod flap and cinch straps–something, incidentally, that holds a heavy duty tripod more securely than most other bags I’ve looked at–and a pocket for a hydration bladder, which is a godsend on longer hikes.  And if you have no need for the hydration bladder, that zippered pocket does double-duty as additional storage for other items.  The padded inner compartment can also be removed by lifting out, converting the bag to a great day pack if you want to use the bag for more than toting camera gear.  The only thing this bag doesn’t have–that my old Lowepro Slingshot does have–is a dedicated velcro’d pocket for memory cards.  This allows for fast and secure access, which can be helpful if your memory card maxes out in the middle of a sunset and you’re not left digging around for a fresh card.  This is a really minor issue in an otherwise fantastic camera pack, though.

This bigger version of the Flipside Sport has a wider, sturdier waist belt that sits very comfortably even on long hikes.  The belt has a small pocket on each side where you can stash keys, smartphone, snacks–anything small that you want easy access to, and there are extra straps and loops on the outside of the pack to add on more items if needed.  As with all of Lowepro’s newer backpacks, this one has the same suspension system that I love so much in the 15L version and in the RoverPro.  Adjusting the pack for comfort and weight load is simple and FAST, and immediately became one of my favorite features of the bag.

These are the key features of the bag that Lowepro touts:

• Comfy technology back panel (same as Flipside Sport 15L/10L, and means you get good ventilation, which is important on long hikes)

• Body side main compartment access panel

• Removable camera compartment

• Front storage pocket for tablet and other personal items

• Galaxy Blue; Lowepro Orange

All of these features on the Flipside Sport 20L translate to speed and comfort on the trail, with quick and secure access to your gear, which allows you to stay focused on your shooting.  I can’t think of a better selling point than that, and I’m confident this bag will work perfectly for my upcoming trek in New Zealand.

Lowepro’s new RoverPro – the perfect backcountry photo pack.

I’ve been a fan of Lowepro’s camera bags for a long time–you’ll notice that they’re on my “stuff I use” list to the right of this post, which is limited to the gear, photographic and otherwise, I simply can’t live without in the field.

When I first started out in landscape photography, I tried various bags by different manufacturers, but the only ones I’ve kept, loved and used heavily have been those made by Lowepro–in my experience, they’re better made and are better designed than anything else on the market.  I own two of their Slingshot bags in different sizes, as well as the Flipside Sport 15L, which debuted last year and is now my go-to bag for day hikes.

My dilemma

One particular kind of bag I’ve needed but could never find (to my satisfaction and needs), however, was a good backcountry bag.  There are a couple of other major manufacturers who make a photo backpack designed for use in the backcountry, but they were either too uncomfortable or designed in a way that I just didn’t feel was justified by the (considerable) price tag.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when Lowepro announced their new RoverPro line a few months ago–two packs (a 45 liter and 35 liter) designed for rugged use, with lots of room for both camera gear and supplies for spending a night or two in the wilderness.  They sent me one of the 45L models to try out, which I have done enthusiastically.  Quite simply–I love this pack.

What, exactly, do I require in a backcountry photo pack?

There are two primary gear needs with a pack like this.  First, it has to be comfortable.  I think most of us who backpack learn the hard way how important it is to wear a pack that fits well; anything else makes for pure misery on the trail.  My lesson came during a long weekend a few years ago with an ill-fitting pack deep in the 20 Lakes Basin in the Hoover Wilderness just outside the boundary of Yosemite National Park.  The weight distribution was terrible, the straps rubbed my shoulders so badly I developed blisters, and my back was killing me after just a mile on the trail.

I had no such issues with the RoverPro–from the moment I put it on, and even well into a couple of long hikes, the pack was downright comfy.  The adjustable suspension system is simple to use, and gives an instantly customized fit–no lower back issues at all with this pack, even when fully loaded.  This may be my single favorite feature of the pack.  The trampoline-style mesh back panel provides good ventilation, so you won’t be sweating up a storm.  No rubbing–and no blisters!–from the shoulder straps.  The wide hip belt sits comfortably at the waist, and includes a small zippered pocked on each side that’s just big enough for a smartphone, energy bar or other small items.

Okay, the fit is great–but what about all that gear?

The second issue I’ve had in the past when looking for a backcountry photo backpack was the layout of the pack, and how it incorporated (or didn’t) my camera gear and access to that gear.  As far as the general layout of the 45L is concerned, it is intelligently designed with both camera gear and camping supplies in mind.  The 45L includes two–TWO!–removable padded inserts/bags for camera gear, a small and a large (the 35L includes just the larger bag).  This is especially ideal for me, as I have two camera systems–a full-frame DSLR, with the usual assortment of lenses (I take two with me on trips like this–a wide angle zoom and telephoto zoom), filters, and so on, which works perfectly with the larger bag insert, and a mirrorless micro 4/3 system (also with a couple of lenses, filters, etc.), for when I want a lighter assortment of camera gear in the backcountry, and it fits perfectly in the smaller insert.

In the past, I’ve had to improvise by finding a smallish camera bag that I could just shove into a traditional backpack; there’s no need to do this with the RoverPro.  This gives the pack enormous flexibility, depending on what you want with you on the trail.  In addition to the camera bag inserts, here’s what else fit into the main cavity of the pack: Thermarest sleeping pad, Jetboil with gas canister, rain shell and extra shirt, flashlight, and water filter (my hiking companion carried the tent and the  bear canister full of food, but a one-man tent and small bear canister can fit into this pack when using the smaller of the two camera inserts).  There’s a place on the left side of the pack to securely strap on a tripod (my heavy Induro fit this quite nicely, as you can see in the photo), and there’s a pocket on the right side for a hydration bladder, with an opening for the drinking tube.  If you’re not carrying a hydration bladder, this pocket can easily hold more supplies.

Getting into the pack is easy, too–the top pocket opens up via flap and drawstring to allow easy access that way, and the front panel unzips to give quick access to things buried a bit lower in the pack–in my case, the camera case.  There are straps on the bottom of the pack big enough for a sleeping pad, but I added a couple of strap extensions (a few bucks each at any REI or outdoors store), and strapped my sleeping bag to the bottom of the pack.  And there are additional straps and elastic cords to allow you to easily fasten on other items.

Photo Courtesy of Lowepro

The verdict: Lowepro comes through again with exactly the pack I need.

As I said above, I love this pack.  So far, I’ve been able to test it out on a couple of long hikes in Big Sur, and an overnight in the Los Padres National Forest.  In every case, the pack wore great, was a breeze to load and unload, and gave me enough room to carry everything I need in the backcountry.  The build is solid, and looks like it’ll stand up to the usual rugged wear and tear I give all my Lowepro bags in the field.  This pack is big enough for a solo overnight hike (with bear canister; I could easily use this for a slightly longer trip on a solo hike in bear-free areas), or 2-3 days on the trail in bear country if you’re sharing some of the load with a companion.

One of my favorite features of the 45L is the inclusion of TWO removable camera bag inserts (large and small, plus an extra zippered accessory pouch that’ll hold filters, memory cards or extra batteries), which gives this pack incredible flexibility.  The RoverPro can match quality feature-for-feature with the best backpacks out there–photo or otherwise–and surpasses anything I’ve previously considered in the sub-category of photo backpacks.  If you journey into the backcountry with your camera, you need this pack.

Specifications on the RoverPro 45L can be found here on Lowepro’s site, and a video showing the pack in action is here.