Open Up Compositional Opportunities by Being Awkward

The Pacific Northwest, USA is a grand place with astounding diversity of natural beauty within a day’s drive. In fact, one can shoot the desert, mountains, lush forests, and rugged coastline in a single day if they tried hard enough. It’s no surprise that this area of the country is a destination for landscape and nature photographers from all over the world.

The iconic locations are plentiful and photographs of these places even more-so. It’s easy to walk up to the scene and place your tripod in the optimal position, thus framing the scene perfectly in your viewfinder.  Unfortunately, there’s little doubt that your scene was captured by many before you. If you want to come away with something different, you have to think differently. And sometimes, things can get awkward.

Here’s a short video I made about getting yourself into awkward places in order to get a unique perspective on an often photographed scene:


I am often getting myself into awkward positions. Here’s proof:


Straddling a crevice with the back of my camera against the cliff. I needed multiple exposures for this shot (long shutter for water, short shutter for foliage, darker exposure for highlights) so I was in this position for a while.

Nothing like lying awkwardly on a rocky ledge while you dangle several thousand dollars worth of photography equipment over a rushing river.

I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. Go farther, wade deeper, and duck into places that might not seem obvious. Sometimes getting a unique shot means thinking outside the box in terms of where you go and how you set up.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done to get a shot? Post it in the comments if you got a keeper!

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Crater Lake Artist-in-Residency Thoughts

This blog post is a little overdue for me. I’ve had it written but wanted to take some more time to reflect on the experience.

In some ways it’s hard for me to convey through words. But I’ll try.

My residency at Crater Lake ended on Friday, October 17th. During the last few days and especially since arriving back in Portland, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my experience. I’m going to break my thoughts down into these categories and write a little bit about each one: Creative Drive and Emotional Connection.

Creative Drive

Normally my photographic experience originates internally. I feel that being connected to my subject at a profound level is an important aspect of my work. It’s an escape for me. It’s a chance to reconnect to my true self and to live life as it was meant to be lived. The photograph that comes out of the event is a byproduct and a ‘souvenir’ for my experience.

With the residency, I had an external influence in that I had a ‘goal’ to communicate the effects of climate change within the park through my art. Leading into the residency I thought a lot about this and how it would affect my portfolio, if at all. Do I ‘compromise’ on things that I would put in my portfolio because they fell within the parameters? Do I photograph things that don’t speak to me in a creative way? Do I just carry on with my photography as I normally would?

I struggled a lot with this during the first week as I was scouting and trying to find my zone. The week was dominated by cloudless skies and harsh light. While the weather was beautiful, warm, and sunny (I even came away with a tan), it was equally frustrating because, to me, harsh light on dirt and rocks isn’t the kind of photography that I do. There wouldn’t have been any feeling or soul behind my work. Regardless, I was able to use that week to decompress from life, relax, scout, and soak in the opportunity. I also did a lot of finger-crossing for more favorable conditions.

My scouting taught me numerous things about the park regarding composition. I still kept an eye out for light playing with the landscape in different ways and for that ‘just right’ stand of whitebark pines but, in the end, I used the overview of the residency to learn a lot about the ways the park is being affected. I better appreciated the aspects that are being compromised and decided that I was there to make my art. And I decided to make the kind of photography that I normally would. I just had to wait for the right moments.. for when it felt RIGHT.

My finger-crossing paid off as I was rewarded with some lovely photographic conditions during the second week. Having made the steep climb to a vantage I really wanted a shot from more than half a dozen times, I eventually stood on that peak as the weather moved around and through me. I don’t know what it is about watching the clouds move around me, the sun rise over a snow covered landscape, or many of the other amazing instances that photography has given me the opportunity to experience that moves my soul. Maybe it’s the ephemeralness of the moment and the reminder that life itself is fleeting. Maybe it’s feeling the raw energy of the earth and witnessing it in action. Whatever it is certainly puts me in my place. I’m ALWAYS grateful to spend time outdoors but it’s THESE moments that induce goosebumps the most.

Emotional Connection

I wanted to use the residency as an opportunity for me to really disconnect from things that have been frustrating me in my everyday life. To know that I was going to be out in nature uninhibited for two weeks was a very exciting thought for me and I counted down the days like a child before his birthday.

I got to spend a lot of time just sitting, thinking, and taking in the beauty. I felt guilty that first week that I wasn’t producing any work that I was feeling connected to but this experience was to be about more than that. It was to truly develop a profound connection and appreciation for the land that we aren’t taking care of. It was about bearing witness to a period of time in history and trying to communicate not what I saw, but what I felt, and to educate others on what we are losing. I’ll save that information for when I release the images I captured during the residency.

What I got a taste of is life as I want to live. My heart yearns for a more solid connection to nature. Less metal, concrete, and brick. More wood, rocks, and moss. My return to the city wasn’t seamless. The stresses and busyness happening around me solidified the disconnect that I felt at Crater Lake. It’s taught me that I belong in a more natural environment and moving forward I am going to be taking steps to make that a reality. I want to continue to live my life with things that fill me up. I want to create. I want to do things that make my heart sing and the goosebumps grow. I want to look back on my life and know that I did fulfilling things.

Here’s to the future.

10.13.14 Morning Check-in. Goals, composition, and rambling.

I am discovering that Crater Lake is a challenging place for me to shoot. There are only a handful of different types of images that you can make here, debatable obviously, and you can make those in different ways: The lake framed in rocks, dirt, or trees. But I don’t want to come away with just another ho-hum Crater Lake image. That’s not what I go for. I like to capture my landscapes in different conditions. I want to do what others might shy away from. I want to work harder for my images and I want it to pay off with an original composition, rare conditions, and something that just speaks to me.

I’ve settled on a couple of different shots I am going for. One is from the north side of Hillman Peak. I’m looking for a nice sunrise/set in the sky to match the majesty of the lake below. Another is from the very top of Hillman Peak with a glassy, calm lake and yes.. a nice sky to match. The third image I have in my mind is based more on Wizard Island and confining that in the composition with some kind of framing or isolation. Of course I will shoot other things that present themselves but these are the three that I’ve been chasing. I’ve done the scouting and have found the elements.. now I just have to wait for the conditions. That has been the most frustrating part. I don’t have a lot of luck with getting really nice sunsets or sunrises. Usually when I’m out to capture that specifically I get clear skies and that has pretty much been the case here. I have had one night where the sky absolutely went off but I was experimenting with shooting from a different place on the rim and the compositions just don’t appeal to me from that night. It was amazing to see the land and water bathed in a blood red light. Most other days have resulted in clear skies as the sun drops below the horizon.

I have hopes for tonight. It seems as though the conditions are going to be a lot better than I’ve had so far, and they’re calling for snow this week which, in fact, is why I picked the dates that I did for my residency: I chose as late as they would allow me so that I had a chance of being here for the first snow. So we’ll see how that goes. Either way it’ll be nice to finally get some weather systems moving through and causing interesting things to happen with the light.

Here are two videos I made. Nothing ground breaking. It’s been pretty uneventful lately while I just wait for the conditions to show up for my compositions.

Tonight will be spent on the top of Hillman Peak again. We’ll see how that goes.🙂



10.10.14 Morning Check-in and Videos

It’s been a quiet couple of days. We ended up getting some nice light on Tuesday night, but I was ill positioned to the North of Llao Rock which offers unattractive compositions.

Wednesday I took a day off from shooting to get some provisions/gas, and mix up my scenery a bit. So I headed to Bend and met up with some friends at Sparks Lake before coming back to the park.

Thursday I spent scouting the south side and the top of Hillman Peak for compositions. I’m discovering that the west rim is really the best place for photography. Anything farther north or east renders Wizard Island very small/insignificant and there’s too much empty space caused by the lake on the sides. You could do a panoramic, but without the interest of Wizard Island every shot is going to look the same: A lake framed by trees, rocks, and dirt. From the south you can get better views of the island but it will intersect with the near western rim, and unless I have snow to help separate, it just doesn’t cut it for me.

I made a video talking about these things. I apologize for the wind. I didn’t realize it was that bad:

Getting to the top was a little sketchy on the crumbly ground and unstable rocks. The better approach to Hillman peak is from the west ridge through the White Bark Pine ‘forest’. Here’s a video I made of the top:

I did return for sunset but the lake had turned choppy and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. My ‘shooting’ pack is a lot heavier than my scouting pack (has overnight supplies and ALL of my camera gear..) so it was worrysome traversing the ridges and having to do minimal climbing. But I did it and came back down while it was still daylight to investigate the white bark pines I had walked through.

Heading back out to do some more scouting. We’re supposed to have clouds tonight.🙂

10.7.14 Morning Check-in

Good morning.

Nothing new to report. After coming back to the cabin and recharging my batteries yesterday morning I headed out to scout the western rim for some ideas. I found a couple that perhaps I’ll save for another time. I ended up running into some PCT hikers and accompanied them on a hike to The Watchman Tower overlook. It’s a wonderful view up there.

The lake was a lot choppier last night and again.. the sunset light over the lake wasn’t very appealing, thanks to some forest fire smoke on the opposite side of the rim. I tripped a couple of frames towards the sun to try and capture the layers of the distant hills and called it a night.

I decided to take this morning to sleep in so that I am rested enough to stay up for the lunar eclipse tonight. I don’t do well staying up super late.🙂

I’m about to head out right now and do some scouting. The direction I’ll have face to capture the moon at eclipse puts me on the N-NE side of the rim. I haven’t scouted over there much at all… so today should be a fun time of running through some forests and brush to try to find something nice. I’m going to travel a little lighter for this scouting trip and then come back to the cabin later in the evening to gather the things I’ll need.

NOTHING happens before coffee, though.🙂

10.6.14 Morning Check-in and Videos

Just got back to the cabin from a night out. Batteries are drained so I’m recharging and backing-up my data.

I started the day off with a hike and rest along Plaikni Falls Trail. It was mid-day and the light was harsh. It’s a pretty little falls but it’s also running low and is nothing like the jaw dropping/lush falls of the Columbia River Gorge back home. I just used the hike as a moment to connect and get some exercise.

I then decided to drive around the rim and scope out vantage points again. I find areas I’d like to check out every time. It’ll just be a matter of scoping them out over the two weeks. I will say that my favorite area of the park is the western rim, where Wizard Island can be used in various ways in the composition and not look like the size of a pea.

I hiked up to a more remote spot (remote in that no one really goes there/is no trail) and made a video. I decided to gather some stuff at the cabin and head back for sunset and stars. I planned on staying up the whole night but the calm winds and quietness got a hold of me and I ended up laying out my sleeping bag about 10 feet from my camera and taking naps in between exposures. I took a video talking about my plans for the evening shoot.

I woke up for the sunrise, watched the light, had some coffee, and soaked it in. MAN am I a lucky guy right now.

I also had ‘my moment’ last night. The moment where I finally feel balanced. I was watching the light fade from the sky and the moon move across the sky. The stars were coming out and it was perfectly calm. What a moment to experience.


Here are the two videos:

And an iPhone snap of where I rested in between exposures:


10.4.14 Evening Check-in


I arrived at Crater Lake National Park yesterday at about 4pm. After checking in with my point-person, getting a tour of the cabin, and acquiring a backcountry camping permit I took off to the rim to watch the sun drop behind the horizon. With it being such a busy day I really wanted to take the opportunity to just sit down and get in touch with my environment. I picked an out of the way spot near Hillman Peak to watch the sunset and then retired to the cabin for some much needed sleep.

Here’s a short video I took upon arrival. It was taken with my iPhone.. so I apologize for the quality. I will attempt to do any further videos with my DSLR.

And here is a guided tour of my accomodations:


I slept in.🙂

I needed it.

I took my time getting the day started. As excited as I am to be here and have this time.. I also don’t want to rush things. I’m constantly rushing in my daily life. I am taking this moment to really really be in tune with my environment and I don’t want that to be forced.. pressured.

It’s pretty overwhelming to know that I have so many places to potentially explore and it’s easy to get caught up in too much planning. Again, I am just letting things happen as they may. I didn’t know where I was going to go today, where I was going to sleep, or what I was going to do. So I just drove.

I drove the whole way around the rim, pulling off at viewpoints and scoping potential vantage points.I searched for patterns, lines, curves, and light. I hung next to the weekend tourists. I decompressed a little.

Not until I drove through an area that has piqued my interest every time I have visited the park did I really get out to do some exploring. I spent a couple of hours scouting some stands of White Bark pine trees on a hillside. I decided to take a breather and make another short video. In this one I practiced speaking slower, enunciating my words, not saying ‘ummmm’, and looking into the camera. It still took me a couple of takes.. but I can see me eventually being more used to being IN FRONT of a camera:-)

I didn’t get any photos that speak to me tonight.. but I am also attempting to not dive right into the process of capturing photos. I want the photos to happen to me when they want to.

We’ll see how tomorrow goes. I plan to watch the land wake up, because as Dick Proenneke says, ‘it’s a shame for our eyes to be closed when such things are going on’.