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Live, Play, Shoot

Hipster Barbie and the Meaning of Authenticity

September 17, 2015

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you’ve probably heard about Socality Barbie, the plastic Instagram star who brilliantly parodies hipster-esque outdoorsy accounts down to the tiniest detail.

I have taken a few (but really, just a few!) of the types of photos she mocks and have consumed – and enjoyed – many more. I think she’s hilarious. We can all laugh at ourselves a little bit, right?

What I like the most about her, though, is that she has opened up a discussion about the meaning of authentic nature experiences in our highly technological and world. She has broken the ice on what has become a big trend in photography and on social media: staged photos of people who appear to be so in the moment.

When I first shared the link to Socality Barbie on my personal Facebook page, the responses ranged from “Yes! I love Instagram but this is hilarious!” to “Yes! I hate Instagram. Everything is so fake.” Responses in the blogosphere have both praised and lauded her – thanking her for making light of these oh-so-serious outdoor photos and blasting her for being a bully.

If nothing else, she has definitely gotten us talking.

I’ve had an Instagram account for a while but it wasn’t until this past year that I began to use it to follow people beyond my circle of friends. I had always thought of Instagram as a place to share pictures of your kids, dogs, and desserts and was, honestly, blown away by some of the photos I saw there. There is some insane talent on that little corner of the internet.

And when I started noticing all of the stunning and obviously staged photos of beautiful people in beautiful places? I was all in. I followed a ton of those accounts. Who doesn’t like looking at pretty pictures?

But after a while I started rolling my eyes just a tiny bit at some of the things that I saw. The most grating, to me, were the people posting serious-looking photos of themselves, staring off into the sunset, coming up with big answers to big questions …. while blatantly holding a selfie stick in their hand. Nothing about that feels authentic. It just looks silly.

I don’t mind the staged, perfectly lit photos on Instagram (or anywhere else) because I see them as art. And while they have certainly strayed from the original purpose of Instagram (yanno, the “Insta” part?), they’re beautiful to look at and can be examples of great photos made by very skilled photographers. The image that these photos show (the perfect pour over coffee made on the top of a mountain? the woman wrapped in a Pendleton blanket, gazing off at the ocean?) may not be authentic in that very moment but the feeling that the photographer is trying to create is. That’s not inauthenticity – that’s photography.

We all know that, while those moments may certainly happen, life does not look like an Instagram feed. Does anyone really believe that people spend that much time walking on train tracks in fancy wide-brimmed hats? We all know that this is rarely what life looks like. I’m ok with that.

But I’m also bored with it.

After following a ton of these accounts in my early days of Instagram, I’ve started to jump ship and put the unfollow button to use. I keep some of these accounts around because the photos really are gorgeous to look at, but I want to see something different. It’s not the staging of photos that bugs me (because, let’s be honest, most great photos ARE staged, at least to some degree), it’s the repetitiveness of it all. It’s seeing the same types of pictures taken in the same places over and over again.

Show me something different. Show me something that looks authentic – or at least doesn’t look exactly like everyone else’s version of authentic.

Socality Barbie’s brilliance is in her ability to nail the tiniest details of an entire genre of photos and to make us laugh at the silliness of it all. And I’m totally on board with that.

What are your thoughts on Socality Barbie? Is she funny? Mean? Both? Tell me what you think!

Play, Shoot, Travel

A Morning With a Moose at Brainard Lake

August 22, 2015

I consider myself a morning person but I don’t consider 4 a.m. to be “morning”. 4 a.m. is pretty close to “middle of the freaking night”. And that’s what time my alarm went off. I may have hit snooze a few times but at 4:30 I was pouring a cup of espresso down my throat and by 5 a.m. I was out the door, on a mission to find some moose.

Last summer was my first time shooting the moose at Brainard Lake and I had such a great time doing it that I knew I wanted to get up there again. I was hoping to go on a weekday (you’ve heard of the “bear jams” at Yellowstone, right? Same thing happens at Brainard with the moose.) but it wasn’t in the cards so this weekend I just decided to go for it.

One of last summer’s moose.

Another one from last summer.

I made the long and winding drive up Lefthand Canyon, paid the entrance fee at Brainard, and found a parking spot near the lake. I hung out by the shoreline for a while, hoping to get a picture of one of these beasts as it wandered down to the water for a drink. It didn’t happen. I saw no moose and the longer I waited the more I felt like maybe I was missing something. I walked back up towards the car and then down the road.

When I heard a rustling in the bushes next to me I damn near jumped out of my skin. There, about 10 feet away, was an enormous bull moose. He munched happily on the willows as I tried my best to collect myself. I watched him for a moment and then scurried away to the relative safety of some nearby trees and a group of photographers that were hanging out a short distance away.

We have a lot of “dangerous” animals here but it’s the moose that worry me the most. I feel like mountain lions and bears are smart and skittish enough to move away when they see you coming. They want nothing to do with you and do their best to keep their distance. The moose, on the other hand? They don’t like you either but they also don’t do much to move out of your way. They just do their thing and watch you get closer and closer until you are suddenly WAY TOO CLOSE. And then they’re all antlers and hooves and hundreds of pounds of pure, unpredictable fury.

Yeah, I’m a little scared of moose.

But just because I have no interest in tangling with a moose doesn’t mean that I don’t want to shoot them. In all honesty, I love these guys. Their enormous size, cartoonish appearance, and honeybadger-don’t-care attitude makes them hard not to love. You have to just let them do their thing and hope to get a good shot.

The big bull that I saw today was just doing his thing but, unfortunately, that thing was standing in really tall willows, munching away. It was impossible to get a good shot of anything but his antlers or butt without crowding him, which was unfortunate because he was a beauty!

Not cooperating.

Almost cooperating!


Eventually I gave up, went back to the car, and began heading toward home. And that’s when he decided to leave the willows behind and venture back across the road. I jumped out of the car and shot a few frames before he headed back up into the forest.

I had high hopes for this morning’s outing but didn’t walk away with any shots that I loved. But it was hard to feel to down on the experience. Any morning that I get to spend in the presence of an animal like this (without getting trampled to death …) is a pretty good morning in my book.

Happy weekend, y’all!



Live, Play, Shoot, Travel

Snapshots: A Cool and Creepy Night Up on Hoosier Pass

August 9, 2015

I’m not afraid of the dark, I said to myself confidently as the furry dog and I headed out the door.

It was around 11 p.m. and the first clear, moonless night since I had arrived in the mountains. I had been waiting for a few weeks to go shoot the stars and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought, as I made the short and twisty drive from my family’s house in Blue River up to the summit of Hoosier Pass. With no light and no moon, the hairpin turns on the winding mountain road were infinitely harder to see. I found myself slowing to a near stop to make sure I stayed in my lane.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot near the road’s summit and pulled over. I noticed the semi parked across the street and the white van that was nestled in over by the trees. I fiddled with my camera settings, got out of the car, and set up my tripod. I had forgotten a headlamp and was relegated to using the flashlight on my phone for light. It was less than ideal.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I said, less confidently now, as I waited out the 30-second exposure I was using to try and capture the Milky Way. Those thirty seconds, so short in normal life, seemed endless with no one around, no light to be had, and nothing to do but wait and think.

It doesn’t sound like much but thirty seconds is really an awful lot of time for thinking.

I thought about that semi and that van. I thought about how someone could exit either of those vehicles and I’d never see them coming. I got spooked. I took three shots and packed it in. I had been out of the car for maybe five minutes but my nerves had gotten the best of me. I am not easily rattled by these types of situations but, for whatever reason, this time I was. Goosebumps popped up on my arms as I drove down the mountain.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought. But, tonight, I am afraid of what it hides. 

I wandered into my parents house and breathed a big sigh of relief.

I though the night was a bust, a waste. I thought I would have been better off sipping wine on the couch and finishing the book that I’m currently obsessed with. And then I pulled up the pictures on my camera and saw, in those three shots, this one. When I was up on that dark and spooky pass I didn’t notice the thin layer of clouds covering the stars or that a UFO had apparently landed in Fairplay, which sits down the hill in the bottom left side of the frame. And the night didn’t seem like such a waste anymore.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought, but next time I’m taking a damn flashlight. 

Play, Shoot, Travel

The Goats of Blue Lakes

August 6, 2015

It’s no secret that mountain goats are favorite animals on the planet.

They are adorable, character-filled creatures that look like they are straight out of a fairy tail. They’re also tough as nails. They live in places with shaky footing, low temperatures, and very little oxygen, the kind of places that leave most animals (and most humans) longing for lower ground. But not these guys, and do you know why? Because despite their friendly appearance, they are certifiable badasses.

I like to think that the mountain goat is my spirit animal. I’m probably flattering myself.

A few days ago my mom, son, and I went for a drive up to Blue Lakes, outside of Blue River, Colorado. It was the middle of the afternoon when the light was terrible and the toddler was desperately in need of a nap. And there were mountain goats everywhere! I knew that I needed to go back as soon as possible. And lucky for me, my chance came that very night.

When that evening rolled around I loaded up my camera gear and made the short drive from my parents’ house up the road toward the Quandary Peak trailhead. I was desperately hoping that the goats would be out and, let me tell you, I was in luck!

I spent a good hour or two watching and shooting them before heading down the hill a bit to check out the waterfalls. I could have watched them all night.

Here are some shots from the evening. Enjoy!

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Play, Shoot, Travel

Photographing Colorado’s Waterfalls

August 2, 2015

Last year, in preparation for our trip to Kauai, I made it my mission to learn to shoot waterfalls. I did a ton of research, boned up on the techniques, and bought myself a good ND filter. I had everything I needed to get started except for one thing – any idea of where to go.

So I turned to Google, asked friends and family, and found some amazing – and easy to access – spots. And now I’m going to share those with you!

The waterfalls on this list all have a few things in common: they are gorgeous, easy to access, and somewhat off the beaten path. While you will most likely find other people at all three of these locations, you probably won’t see these on the “best waterfalls in Colorado” lists. And for you, the photographer, that’s a good thing! Don’t get me wrong, I love Hanging Lake as much as the next person, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the crowds (or at least some of them!).

This list is mostly Front Range and Summit County focused because that is where I have been spending most of my time lately! If and when I find more spots in other parts of the state, I will share those with you as well. I understand the motivation to keep secret places secret, but I also love to share what I’ve learned!

So without further ado, here are a few of my favorites:

Montgomery Reservoir (Alma, CO)

Montgomery Reservoir is situated near the summit of Hoosier Pass in between Breckenridge and Alma. A short drive up an easy dirt road takes you to the reservoir. If you keep following the road around, you’ll hit the place where the Blue River comes rushing down the side of the mountain. There are SO MANY cool spots to shoot here, you guys! I feel like I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible in this place. If you continue up the waterfall a bit you’ll see an old millsite (which would also make a really cool foreground for Milky Way or star trail shots!). The road to the reservoir is not plowed in the winter so get up there before the snow starts to fly (or plan on snowmobiling, skiing, or snowshoeing in).

Eldorado Canyon State Park (Boulder, CO)

Eldo is just a quick ten minute drive from my house so I spend a lot of time shooting there. I can notice that the light is starting to get good, have my stuff gathered, and be standing at the base of the waterfall in about twenty minutes. I try to get out there at least once a month and it’s been really fun to see the water levels rise as the snow in the mountains has melted. The main road that goes through Eldo runs parallel to the river and a super quick scramble down any number of paths will take you to the water. If you get bored with shooting the water (is that possible?!) you can always point your camera towards the sky and grab some shots of the rock climbers that cling to the cliffs above the canyon. Eldo is one of the best climbing spots in America and there are always people on the rocks!

Blue Lakes (Breckenridge, CO)

The Blue Lakes area is located just outside of Breckenridge. Pass the busy trailhead for Quandary Peak and keep on driving up the road. Eventually you’ll hit a couple lakes and a great big dam and you’ll know that you’re there. There are plenty of places to shoot the waterfalls that rush through the area, headed for the Blue River. This area has a bunch of fantastic dispersed campsites which could make for a really great weekend of camping, shooting, and general outdoorsy shenanigans. It would be a great place to make a weekend of it! As an added bonus, there are also tons of mountain goats in this area and they make for great subjects.

This list is obviously far from exhaustive! Colorado is a beautiful state with endless opportunities for waterfall photography. If you have a favorite spot to shoot moving water in the Centennial State, I’d love to hear it!

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