Norway Part II: The Experience

My fins and I enjoying a beautiful arctic sunset at the end of an incredible day.

My fins and I enjoying a beautiful arctic sunset at the end of an incredible day.

I’ll start with a little anecdote, shall I? Then maybe I’ll delve into the nitty gritty. I love the above image. It took me quite a while to figure out why. But I finally realized it evokes a lot of memories for me. I found myself, quite often, staring down at my fins hovering above the rushing water, sitting on the edge of our RIB boat awaiting the signal to jump in. At times I’d be excited while staring at those fins (oooo Orca time!) and at other times I’d find myself staring at them, hunched over, simply trying to ignore the cold seeping into my bones. Then I’d look up. The beauty I saw was a respite from the cold. It would remind where I was and what I was doing. And, if only for a brief moment, the cold would melt away. Here I was, at the top of the world, doing what I love.

Northern Lights dance above Ersfjordbotn, Norway on our first night. You can see the shadows of Pasi and I.

Northern Lights dance above Ersfjordbotn, Norway on our first night. You can see the shadows of Pasi and I.

Ok, now I’ll start from the beginning. My flight arrived in Tromso after dark. Everyone was waiting for me at the airport. Thankfully, the fog had cleared and my flight was on time. Bags all arrived (thank goodness!). We piled into the car and headed to the boat which was docked in Ersfjordbotn. On the ride I was looking out the window and saw what I thought was a wispy cloud. As my eyes adjusted I realized it was a glowing green cloud. In other words, the Northern Lights! What a welcome! By the time we got to the boat, they were (momentarily) nowhere to be found. So we loaded onto the boat and before we knew it we were told they were back. Alright boat full of strangers, find your gear and set up for some shots!

Hello! Aren’t they beautiful?!?

Hello! Aren’t they beautiful?!?

Full disclosure, I obsessively looked at the weather in Tromso for a month before the trip. Of course that made no logical sense but I wanted to see what my odds of seeing the northern lights were. Turns out I had nothing to worry about! Which leads me to my two biggest fears regarding this trip… not seeing the northern lights (because of weather) and not seeing the Orcas (because of weather and herring movements). Turns out I worried for nothing. But how was I supposed to know?!? Plus, I’m a worrier. It’s in my genes. Can’t help it. Sorry.

After a day of testing out gear and getting ready we headed out in our new home (for the week) the Ostsee Star, to the small town of Skervoy which is where we ended up being docked for the entire trip.

Skjervoy nestled in the fjords.

Skjervoy nestled in the fjords.

The mountains surrounding Skjervoy were stunning.

The mountains surrounding Skjervoy were stunning.

When the light would rise just above the horizon, it would shine right down the fjords, lighting up the sides of the mountains with it’s incredible warm (looking) glow.

When the light would rise just above the horizon, it would shine right down the fjords, lighting up the sides of the mountains with it’s incredible warm (looking) glow.

Inside the Ostsee Star.

Inside the Ostsee Star.

A place to hang our coats and keep the time.

A place to hang our coats and keep the time.

Windows! Lots of baby feet being made on those foggy windows.

Windows! Lots of baby feet being made on those foggy windows.

Our first day with the Orcas arrived. We struggled into our drysuits and set out. Just the day before, no one had reported seeing the Orcas. We left the harbor and immediately spotted two fishing boats. And they were surrounded by about 100 individual Orcas and a dozen or so humpbacks (and countless birds, of course)! It was the most incredible sight to behold on our first day. We drove the boats over and sat watching and photographing the feeding frenzy. The water was thick with herring scales, bubbles and whales! I honestly didn’t know where to look, let alone photograph. I was getting incredibly frustrated, feeling like I was missing all the shots. Then I realized I just needed to be patient and enjoy the moment. And what an incredible moment it was!

So many birds!

So many birds!

Here come the Orcas!

Here come the Orcas!

A male dorsal fin pokes out of the water amid the feeding frenzy.

A male dorsal fin pokes out of the water amid the feeding frenzy.

A random whale watching boat for a little size perspective. That’s a male Orca.

A random whale watching boat for a little size perspective. That’s a male Orca.

Now it’s time to take a brief moment to mention the amazing Whales Underwater crew that worked their butts off for all of us. Thank you Darren and Jasmine for organizing the trip and leading our “Nemo” boat. Your advice, warm welcome and kindness meant the world to me. Thanks Darren for staying up late and making sure my underwater housing was all ready., and for stepping in when I got frustrated with it! Thank you Jasmine for your warm conversation and infectious love for adventure! Thank you Ali for your amazing drops, your sixth sense when it comes to whale behavior, and for pulling my butt up on the boat (for what felt like) a million times. I’ll work on my pull-ups and hopefully give you a rest next time! Thank you Norbi for manning the Brig, being an amazing skipper, and for your all your help getting us into drysuits and out on the boats in the morning. Thank you to Krisztina for all of your incredible knowledge. Your presentations were amazing and your love for these animals is infectious! I hope to see you here in Monterey one day! And last, but not least, thank you to Torben for keeping the boat running smoothly and Peggy for keeping our bellies full and happy. We couldn’t have gone on this trip without a single one of you! Thank you so much!

And to my fellow guests… holy crap, you were all so awesome I don’t think I could have been luckier meeting all of you! Elvira, thank you for being such an amazing roommate. You never minded my later nights or equipment all over the room and you always set the alarm! I’m eternally grateful. Robert, thank you for the amazing conversation and advice! You’ve changed the way I think about my photography and there’s no going back! And thanks for the beer and whiskey… I owe you a few if you’re ever in the States! Pasi, thanks for the political discussions. Kept me grounded! And thanks for showing me that a photo isn’t about the camera you use, it’s about the photographer. I’m constantly amazed at what you capture with an iPhone! Kei, thanks for sharing all your goodies (including your whiskey!). And thanks for all the post-trip support. Chuta, thanks for your laughter. It’s infectious and an absolute delight to wake up to every morning at breakfast! And last, but not least, Sonya! I’m amazed at what you do in life. I’m amazed at your determination to make it to Norway! And I’m ever so thankful for the post trip support - your comments and likes keep me posting!

Norbi manning the “Brig” with Krisztina and  Pasi  taking photos of the feeding frenzy.

Norbi manning the “Brig” with Krisztina and Pasi taking photos of the feeding frenzy.

Our fearless leader, Jasmine, checking out some of the amazing photos she just took.

Our fearless leader, Jasmine, checking out some of the amazing photos she just took.

I have to say, I anticipated that this trip would be physically challenging. Luckily, I dive a drysuit on a semi-regular basis (although never as much as I want to!!) and I’m aware of the extra buoyancy and weight needed. Not to mention the huge pain in the butt it is to get your head and hands through the drysuit seals… But my biggest worries were the cold and pulling myself up on the boat. Both of which ended up going about as I expected… not great but certainly not horrible. I’m not totally out of shape, but I could always be in better shape. And I’m always cold… so… yeah… I was cold. Not all the time. Not even every day (I think the adrenaline kept me warm the whole time that first day!) but there were moments my brain got a little fuzzy I was so cold. My fingers were always numb… leading to a bit of an injury on my pinky finger. I don’t want to sugar coat anything. The reality is, this was the most challenging environment I’ve ever photographed in. That being said, I’d go back in a second and do it all over again. In fact, I’d go right now if I could. I did ditch the weight belt a few days in, realizing the extra weight wasn’t enough to get me down and was just causing trouble getting back up on the boat. You really have to figure out a routine that works for you. It took me almost 3 days to get into the swing of things. Then I felt like I mostly had my shit together… mostly… except for that one day I forgot my fins…

My fellow adventurers swimming back to the boat after an encounter. The fish below them are not herring. They are what I call the “clean up” crew. Various opportunists feeding on the remaining herring parts.

My fellow adventurers swimming back to the boat after an encounter. The fish below them are not herring. They are what I call the “clean up” crew. Various opportunists feeding on the remaining herring parts.

Sometimes I’d look up after watching the Orcas and just be blown away by the scenery. Beauty was everywhere!

Sometimes I’d look up after watching the Orcas and just be blown away by the scenery. Beauty was everywhere!

Kei  photographing a herring ball.

Kei photographing a herring ball.

Jasmine capturing the herring ball while the fish release bubbles.

Jasmine capturing the herring ball while the fish release bubbles.

We figured waiting around with the herring ball that the Orcas might come back. And they did ;)

We figured waiting around with the herring ball that the Orcas might come back. And they did ;)

Kei taking in the scenery as we wait for the Orcas to circle back around the fishing boat to grace us with their lovely presence.

Kei taking in the scenery as we wait for the Orcas to circle back around the fishing boat to grace us with their lovely presence.

Bubbles emerge from the deep and make their way up to my fellow snorkelers. Too big for fish bubbles…

Bubbles emerge from the deep and make their way up to my fellow snorkelers. Too big for fish bubbles…

Orca bubbles, perhaps?

Orca bubbles, perhaps?

Robert  dives down for a different perspective.

Robert dives down for a different perspective.

Hard to tell, but a humpback is diving down right in front of the fishing boat…. which brings me to…

Hard to tell, but a humpback is diving down right in front of the fishing boat…. which brings me to…

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the humpbacks! They were a huge part of the experience and an added bonus to the encounters! I, for the life of me, couldn’t get a decent underwater photo of one (next time!). It annoyed me, to no end, but the encounters were unforgettable! Even when they ran the Orcas off by eating their bait balls in one huge gulp! Their size and grace is absolutely incredible. I’ll never forget the one encounter where I saw this glaringly white pectoral fin coming out of the gloom below me. It’s approaching at, what feels like, a fast pace. I hold my breath thinking, “oh no! It’s going to bump me!” Of course, the humpback didn’t. Their awareness and dexterity in the water is amazing and mesmerizing. I thought about trying to move but I just couldn’t. I somehow knew, in the back of my head, that the humpback would know I was there and miss me. Sure enough, that’s what happened. And I was just floating there like a duck out of water… totally ungraceful and in complete awe! And, of course, immensely grateful.

Capturing humpbacks… hopefully more successfully than I did!

Capturing humpbacks… hopefully more successfully than I did!

This is that pectoral fin that, shortly following this shot, came toward me as this humpback rolled on it’s side.

This is that pectoral fin that, shortly following this shot, came toward me as this humpback rolled on it’s side.

Dripping flukes during an arctic winter… sigh….

Dripping flukes during an arctic winter… sigh….

Snow topped mountains and whales!

Snow topped mountains and whales!

One of the most joyous sounds a person can hear… a whale breath.

One of the most joyous sounds a person can hear… a whale breath.

The tails of humpbacks are so incredibly fascinating and unique!

The tails of humpbacks are so incredibly fascinating and unique!

We were lucky enough to have another brilliant night full of Northern Lights. And boy what a show they put on for us! We drove out of town and stopped on the side of the road to capture some more images. Below you can see my fellow travelers setting up their own shots. Part way through our photo adventure, Jasmine laid down on the ground to just look up at the sky. For a moment I was jealous! Why wasn’t I just enjoying the spectacular show? So I stopped taking photos, just to look around. That lasted all of about three minutes until the lights started swirling in a circle and I just had to capture it! That balance between living in, and enjoying the moment, and capturing it, is a struggle for me. I want to savor moments. But I also want to capture those moments! What to do?!? Still working on the balance. Hoping I’ll find it one day…

The glowing fjords.

The glowing fjords.

Capturing the best light show on earth!

Capturing the best light show on earth!

So we didn’t just see whales and herring. Those were definitely the highlights (duh), but I can’t describe my experience without giving you the full picture. I love jellyfish! I saw my first comb jelly in the wild. Maybe not that thrilling for most people, but it was for me! Of course I couldn’t dive down far enough to get a great shot, but I compromised by snapping the below shot of a comb jelly among the fish scales. Looks like an alien in outer space!

The only time I wish I had a 3D camera setup is when the fish scales were thick. They gave the seemingly endless green water a sense of depth that a photograph just doesn’t quite capture…

The only time I wish I had a 3D camera setup is when the fish scales were thick. They gave the seemingly endless green water a sense of depth that a photograph just doesn’t quite capture…

Taking photos of my comb jelly friend, I noticed another friend drop by -  Robert!  That ghost-like thing by his leg was the comb jelly…

Taking photos of my comb jelly friend, I noticed another friend drop by - Robert! That ghost-like thing by his leg was the comb jelly…

The green abyss.

The green abyss.

A jelly and a herring.

A jelly and a herring.

So ethereal…

So ethereal…

Ok, I can tell you’re getting sick of jellyfish photos… just one more, I promise!

Ok, I can tell you’re getting sick of jellyfish photos… just one more, I promise!

Looks like a flower. I wish the background didn’t look like it’s at the aquarium, but you can’t have everything!

Looks like a flower. I wish the background didn’t look like it’s at the aquarium, but you can’t have everything!

Darren  getting a killer shot of two male Orcas while I snap a photo of a jellyfish since those Orcas were just out of my range…

Darren getting a killer shot of two male Orcas while I snap a photo of a jellyfish since those Orcas were just out of my range…

And again… seems like I was almost always in the wrong spot at the wrong time… haha.

And again… seems like I was almost always in the wrong spot at the wrong time… haha.

You’re probably wondering right about now, where are all the Orcas?! Yeah, yeah… I know that’s really why you’re here. So thank you for holding out this long. Here are a few. But I have to save some for the next post! So hang tight. This is about my experience photographing them. The few triumphs and the many failures…

Beautiful sunset. Beautiful Orca.

Beautiful sunset. Beautiful Orca.

As I mentioned before, this was one of the most challenging photography experience I’ve ever had. We were working with cold water, low light (hello, it’s November in the arctic!), water full of bubbles and scales, frozen fingers, and fast moving subjects. Despite that (and the urge to pee almost as soon as I got on the boat…) I was able to eek out some shots I’m proud of. As far as the rest… well… they were all learning experiences. Each and every one of them!

Sometimes you panic and don’t wait for the Orcas to swim into your frame… instead you snap a photo with your buddy’s camera in it…

Sometimes you panic and don’t wait for the Orcas to swim into your frame… instead you snap a photo with your buddy’s camera in it…

Bubbles from fish, boats and other snorkelers were always a challenge. But this pod still gave us the drive by of a lifetime!

Bubbles from fish, boats and other snorkelers were always a challenge. But this pod still gave us the drive by of a lifetime!

Oh backscatter… in this case I don’t think I wiped my dome before I started shooting. But hey, instead of editing it out, I embraced it. They’re twinkle lights, OK! haha.

Oh backscatter… in this case I don’t think I wiped my dome before I started shooting. But hey, instead of editing it out, I embraced it. They’re twinkle lights, OK! haha.

After the first day of shooting, I realized that I really wanted to try and capture a photo with both pectoral fins, the dorsal fin and the fluke all in one shot. A tall order, as it turned out. The above image came so close… the Orca was just a little too far away for my liking (and backscatter). And then of course, I had some missed opportunities… like the below image. So close! And yet so far… I botched the focus! Grrr!

Ahhhhhh so close. Silly camera operator couldn’t get focus…

Ahhhhhh so close. Silly camera operator couldn’t get focus…

My other photo goal was an Orca with a bait ball. Uh…. yeah, I didn’t get that either….

Man, this camera operator must have been drunk…

Man, this camera operator must have been drunk…

Robert and the Orcas.

Robert and the Orcas.

But then you get other amazing shots (and video!) and you’re satisfied. At least for now…. I’m going to have to go back. Obviously.

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That’s all for now, folks! My next blog post will be all about the Orcas! Soooo many underwater photos to share (good and bad!). I think they deserve a dedicated post. This trip was about them, after all!

Part III will be posted after the New Year. Sorry guys, we’ve got holiday travel and family time to focus on! But I promise the two week wait will be worth it! Stay tuned… ;)

Happy Holidays!

Much love,

Carra

Norway Part I: My Creative Journey

A traveling Orca family.

A traveling Orca family.

A Word of Caution: Life isn’t the good photographs, or what we share on social media, or what we see in magazines. Its everything in between. It’s hard work, its messy at times, there’s fear and self-doubt, and then occasionally its blissful, almost spiritual. I’ve carefully chosen these images. I’ve carefully edited them to elicit the beauty, emotion and magic I felt on this trip. They don’t show my fears - the self-doubt, or the regrets, or the technical failures, or the fear that the trip wouldn’t line up with my expectations. They don’t show the hard work or the frozen (and injured!) fingers. They don’t show the weariness or fatigue or obsession over photographic perfection (or the complete lack of it!). They don’t show the challenging technical difficulties (the low light, the cold water, the bubbles and fish scales, the new equipment). They don’t show the people behind the scenes working their butts off so I could come home with these images (of which I am eternally grateful!). They deserve a mention, at the very least. It helps to build a more accurate picture of the whole journey. But that’s not what these images are ultimately for. I want these images to awe and inspire, not just because I want you to fall in love with these creatures and this place like I have, but I want you to know that despite the messy in between, this trip exceeded all expectations. The messy has truly begun to fade in memory. All that’s bubbled up to the top is the beauty, the magic. I hope these images portray that. Oh, and thanks for following along!

Wispy Northern Lights.

Wispy Northern Lights.

After throwing down random thoughts about this trip on paper over the weeks I’ve been home, I ultimately decided to split this blog post up into 3 parts. This is part one.

This particular blog post is an interesting one to start with. It’s more abstract than Part 2 (The Trip) and Part 3 (The Orcas). It’s my creative and emotional journey. I want to share some of my triumphs and failures from an artist’s standpoint. I want to cover the quest. The whole “artist” experience. This is how I ended up in Norway photographing Orcas. So here it goes…


Diving down into the depths of the Norwegian fjords.

Diving down into the depths of the Norwegian fjords.

“Some say the creative life is in ideas, some say it is in doing. It seems in most instances to be in a simple being. It is not virtuosity, although that is very fine in itself. It is the love of something, having so much love for something - whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, the land, or humanity - that all that can be done with the overflow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will; one solely must.” - Women who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

The ocean calls me (yes, like Moana. And yes, I get misty every time I watch that movie. And yes, the call is isn’t out there, it’s inside me!) but I can’t stay there forever. I wasn’t made to be there (as one of my dive buddies puts it, the more gear you need to go somewhere, the less you were built for that environment and the less likely you were meant to be there… drysuit diving is kind of like going to space). And yet I can’t stop going. But perhaps part of its draw for me is that I can’t stay. Therefore, it keeps its magic, its mystery. And then my photographs begin to play an important role - they sustain that magic when I’m topside. It’s a piece of the mystery I can share with the world (or just my small sphere). You don’t want to go underwater? No problem, I’ll happily bring it up here to you. Then you can take it, like a small puzzle piece, and fit it into your view of the world, the universe, and your place in it. As artists we try to create images and stories that help us make sense of, or find a place for, us. And as it says above, its something we feel we must do.


A car’s headlights and taillights light up the road as they drive under an incredible green sky.

A car’s headlights and taillights light up the road as they drive under an incredible green sky.

All that is well and good, but nothing goes that smoothly. We are human after all! I’m always seeking that elusive “perfect” photograph. That’s the journey part of being an artist that I didn’t quite understand when I was younger. I always thought my goals would have a destination - a point at which I could claim, “I’m successful!!” But that point is always changing, always moving (and thank God for that!). Art is inherently subjective. Even defining something as “art” is subjective. So therefore I’ve always struggled with questions like, “is this art?” or “am I really an artist or professional photographer?” The easiest answer I’ve come up with is, “yes, if you believe it.” After all, at some point, you come to the conclusion that, “I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression.” (Women who Run with the Wolves) In other words, the “one solely must” part of living a creative life bubbles up to the top and it can’t be ignored. After all, what am I supposed to do with all this love for the ocean and its inhabitants besides capture images of them?

Beauty and grace.

Beauty and grace.

So where does this all fit in with my trip, you ask? Well, about two to three years ago I started seeing some really amazing images of Orcas. And then I started dreaming about them. I’d wake up with a shit eating grin on my face! The dreams were always about being in the water with them (of course!). It took the tiniest bit of digging to find out that people ran trips to swim with Orcas. But two/three years ago I had a small baby I was still nursing. My baby needed me. We even had plans for a larger family. Risky to take a trip like this pregnant (if we were to be so blessed). Annoying to take a trip like this while nursing (ewww 9 days of pumping!). The trip was costly, etc. etc. I made a lot of excuses (valid and otherwise). Then I woke up late in the summer after another Orca dream and I turned to my husband and told him I had to go, with or without him, no matter what other small things cropped up. It was time. I needed a new creative challenge. I needed a new experience. I felt stuck. And after 3 years of focusing mostly on raising a small human, I needed space to grow myself. I felt I had to go. And bless his heart, my husband agreed. (I have the best husband ever! But we can discuss that another time…) And so I went.

I went for the experience. I went to take photographs. I went to give myself space. I went to think. I went to enjoy. I went to create. I went to learn. I came back with so much more!


I came back with new friends. I came back with new editing and photographic techniques and tips. I came back refreshed. I came back with a sense that I’m on the right path. I came back with new paths I want to discover and old paths I want to re-discover. But don’t worry, the doubt, the fear, it’s all still there… it’s just sharing it’s time in the sun now, for a brief moment anyway.

Orcas and birds feast on herring as fisherman scramble to catch the fish before they disappear.

Orcas and birds feast on herring as fisherman scramble to catch the fish before they disappear.

A mother and her baby.

A mother and her baby.

The incredible colors of a November sunrise above the arctic circle!

The incredible colors of a November sunrise above the arctic circle!

“Creativity is the unique and defining trait of our species; and its ultimate goal, self-understanding: What we are, how we came to be, and what destiny, if any, will determine our future historical trajectory. What, then, is creativity? It is the innate quest for originality. The driving force is humanity’s instinctive love of novelty - the discovery of new entities and processes, the solving of old challenges and disclosure of new ones, the aesthetic surprise of unanticipated facts and theories, the pleasure of new faces, the thrill of new worlds. We judge creativity by the magnitude of the emotional response it evokes. We follow it inward, toward the greatest depths of our shared minds, and outward, to imagine reality across the universe. Goals achieved lead to further goals, and the quest never ends.” - The Origins of Creativity, Edward O. Wilson

I think a lot about originality. Probably more than most people. I’m an identical twin. I share the same DNA as another person. Sometimes I laugh at people’s attempts at originality. Why are they trying so hard? True originality is something I have trouble grasping, for I am a copy of someone else. And then I remember science - genetics. The world, it’s ecosystems, have shaped the two of us into two different people with unique journeys. We are two different pieces in this jigsaw puzzle of the world. We fit into two unique spots. Perhaps they are side by side and barely distinguishable, but they are two different pieces nonetheless. And they are two different pieces with two different quests for novelty, discovery, and meaning. I hope you all find your quests. And I hope if you ever feel your quest has hit a dead end, that you’ll uproot yourself, no matter how frightening that may be... and find yourself on a boat in the middle of the arctic winter searching for new friends and magical creatures and space particles that cause brilliant colors to light up the sky! And if it’s not there, I hope it’s somewhere else; somewhere you’re just dying to find yourself. And don’t wait. GO. NOW.


Love always,

Carra


Circular fisheye image of the arctic sky.

Circular fisheye image of the arctic sky.

A young Orca with a fleeing fish.

A young Orca with a fleeing fish.

A mama and her baby swim close by so they can check out those crazy creatures we call “humans.”

A mama and her baby swim close by so they can check out those crazy creatures we call “humans.”

It’s dark down there! Perhaps its that massive cloud of herring… yum!

It’s dark down there! Perhaps its that massive cloud of herring… yum!

Swirly, twirly, aurora borealis!

Swirly, twirly, aurora borealis!

Doesn’t get any better than this!

Doesn’t get any better than this!

That’s it for Part I folks! Stay tuned for Part II next week. Please feel free to ask any questions or leave comments below! <3

Sneak Peek - Schrader Holiday Photos!

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We spent the weekend in Tahoe so we decided to head out to the mountains and take some family photos in the early morning light. There's nothing like autumn, morning, mountain light to get a photographer excited! Unfortunately the kids only lasted about a half hour before melting down but it turned out to be plenty of time to capture some cute photos. That's why I'm offering mini sessions this season! 30 minutes is the perfect amount of time for young families. 

Love these guys! <3 

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Sneak Peek - Samuel's 1 year shoot!

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My friend and I decided on a studio shoot for Samuel's 1 year photos. I have to say, the studio is not my strongest area. I always have all these lofty ambitions when it comes to studio lighting but when you add an active 1 year old they go right out the window! Why? Well, you set up some nice lighting for one specific spot and then they move. So, I try to light the whole scene as best I can. Luckily Samuel is the happiest little kid ever! He made this soooo easy on me. Plus, those big brown eyes and those curls are just to die for! This kid seriously can not take a bad photo! 

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Tried going for a Dr. Seuss theme, but that didn't last long... I had these ideas of him standing, holding onto the chair with the Dr. Seuss animals around him... haha yeah, right! He's 1! Way to put me in my place, Samuel! How quickly this mommy forgot what it's like to have a 1 year old.  

That hair! Someone took his hat off and then tried to put it back on, resulting in the cutest hair I've ever seen!&nbsp;

That hair! Someone took his hat off and then tried to put it back on, resulting in the cutest hair I've ever seen! 

Just dying over this expression!&nbsp;

Just dying over this expression! 

Couldn't get him to stand holding onto the chair so Samuel's Mom suggested an activity table! Thank goodness I had one. What a lifesaver! Thanks Deanna! And can we please talk about those cute suspenders?!?!&nbsp;

Couldn't get him to stand holding onto the chair so Samuel's Mom suggested an activity table! Thank goodness I had one. What a lifesaver! Thanks Deanna! And can we please talk about those cute suspenders?!?! 

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After he had it with the studio, we let him crawl around. He went to the back door to watch my dog, Piper. He loved her! Couldn't resist snapping a few natural light shots :)&nbsp;

After he had it with the studio, we let him crawl around. He went to the back door to watch my dog, Piper. He loved her! Couldn't resist snapping a few natural light shots :) 

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Those big brown eyes!&nbsp;

Those big brown eyes! 

Jianan & Stephen

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These two!! Ahhh! What an incredible wedding at Byington Winery and Vineyard! I actually met these two the day they got engaged in Halfmoon Bay. They stopped me while I was hiking with my sisters and asked me if I could take a photo of them. Of course I said yes, and the rest is history! A serendipitous meeting, if ever there was one :) 

 

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The couple said private vows to each other before the ceremony. It was beautiful!&nbsp;

The couple said private vows to each other before the ceremony. It was beautiful! 

Moody wine cellar lighting! My favorite!&nbsp;

Moody wine cellar lighting! My favorite! 

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Such a short but sweet ceremony full of love and laughter!&nbsp;

Such a short but sweet ceremony full of love and laughter! 

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Seriously, the best first dance I've ever seen!&nbsp;

Seriously, the best first dance I've ever seen! 

In the vineyard at sunset. :)&nbsp;

In the vineyard at sunset. :) 

Cocktail hour in the wine cellar!&nbsp;

Cocktail hour in the wine cellar! 

Eating out under the sky! What a beautiful setting!&nbsp;

Eating out under the sky! What a beautiful setting! 

Walking through the vineyard once the sun set.

Walking through the vineyard once the sun set.

Despite the crazy heat, this was an awesome day! You can't help but notice how much these two love each other. Melts my heart editing these photos. They just have so much fun together and their friends and family have the most incredible love for them too. It was infectious! 

I have to give an extra big shout out to Whitney for helping me again. Especially on this one since I had just got back from Norway and was fighting some pretty rough jet lag. Couldn't have done it without you!! 

I'd also like to mention that they had some incredible vendors. If you're ever looking for any of these services for your big day, these guys come highly recommended! Great working with all of you! 

 

DJ -- www.thewarrenwong.com-- warren@thewarrenwong.com

Byington Winery -- http://byington.com/events/ -- bbauer@byington.com
Photobooth -- http://photobombsj.com/ -- louisxngo@gmail.com
Videography -- www.sworksdesign.com -- sworksdesign.films@gmail.com

Lake George: Underwater

I challenged myself to take underwater photos while on my trip to Lake George, NY this year. In some ways I was successful and in many other ways, I struggled. I'll, of course, explain below... 

The edges of an abandoned beaver lodge in Paradise Bay.&nbsp;

The edges of an abandoned beaver lodge in Paradise Bay. 

I am completely in love with underwater photography. I've done so little of it but I'm totally obsessed. The draw for me is that there are so few people on this earth that even know what it looks like under the surface of most bodies of water. In fact the ocean is truly the last frontier on earth. It's beautiful and scary and surreal. It's like a whole other planet exists right under our noses and we barely notice.

The draw for me to take photos under the surface of Lake George is multifaceted. One, I LOVE Lake George. It's possibly my favorite lake on this planet. I grew up there in the summers. I know the surface of it like the back of my hand. I can close my eyes and tell you where every buoy on the lake from the village up through the narrows is. As a kid (and still as an adult) I love to dive down deep and open my eyes (with or without a mask) and just listen to the underwater sounds and watch the light dance. It's truly the most peaceful and strangely turbulent world I've ever had the privileged of falling in love with. I did a little research and found very few underwater photographs of the lake. Knowing that on good days the visibility is about 30 feet, I figured I'd take a stab at photographing it. I rented a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens and brought it along. My previous underwater photography adventures included a 50mm macro lens. I wanted to try something new and see if I could master underwater landscapes. As you'll see, it didn't come without challenges (even 30ft of visibility is hard to get sharp wide angle images). But despite it's challenges, I had a blast! 

 

This stick had fallen in our swim area. I was going to pull it out but after observing it underwater I noticed it had been there for a while. So I let it be.&nbsp;

This stick had fallen in our swim area. I was going to pull it out but after observing it underwater I noticed it had been there for a while. So I let it be. 

So while I botched this one (soft focus on the log) this image is exactly what I think of when I think of the bottom of Lake George. It's a very common scene in shallow bays.&nbsp;

So while I botched this one (soft focus on the log) this image is exactly what I think of when I think of the bottom of Lake George. It's a very common scene in shallow bays. 

Lily pads growing in our swim area next to the dock.&nbsp;

Lily pads growing in our swim area next to the dock. 

More lily pads.&nbsp;

More lily pads. 

Nesting bluegill&nbsp;

Nesting bluegill 

One dedicated Mama!&nbsp;

One dedicated Mama! 

Please don't feed the wildlife! These ducks are so used to being fed by humans they came right up to me when my husband threw grass into the water in front of me. I appreciate the interesting photo op but I'd rather these ducks not get so used to being fed!&nbsp;

Please don't feed the wildlife! These ducks are so used to being fed by humans they came right up to me when my husband threw grass into the water in front of me. I appreciate the interesting photo op but I'd rather these ducks not get so used to being fed! 

Ducks on top, fish underneath.&nbsp;

Ducks on top, fish underneath. 

Fallen leaves in Paradise Bay

Fallen leaves in Paradise Bay

More images of the abandoned beaver lodge, now home to fish and algea!&nbsp;

More images of the abandoned beaver lodge, now home to fish and algea! 

One of my favorite images from a framing standpoint but once again I botched the focus! Grrrr!&nbsp;

One of my favorite images from a framing standpoint but once again I botched the focus! Grrrr! 

From a little further back... focus is much better on this one.&nbsp;

From a little further back... focus is much better on this one. 

Beavers sure are hard workers&nbsp;

Beavers sure are hard workers 

Crazy reflections

Crazy reflections

Drifting weeds

Drifting weeds

OK, so here's where I tried to capture the dancing light underwater. Paradise bay is quite deep. I asked my twin sister to dive down while I took some photos. With our kids losing their shit on the boat, we had very little time for this. But I captured a couple neat photos. I suppose I'll always be chasing that perfect underwater photo - the one that captures all the wonderment and peace I experience when I dive down deep in this beautiful and clear lake. So, screaming kids or no, I'll be attempting many versions of these photos in the future. 

Mermaid Bri watching the dancing light. So close to what I was hoping to capture, but not quite there yet!&nbsp;

Mermaid Bri watching the dancing light. So close to what I was hoping to capture, but not quite there yet! 

Halo of bubbles

Halo of bubbles

So this is the part where I talk about all my failures and fears. Boy are there A LOT! They all led to some valuable lessons but I really could have done without them... 

First off, like most people, I think that all successful photographers and successful creatives of all types have no fears. They are successful, why would they doubt themselves? Only people like me doubt themselves. Well, I'm 31 now and I realize what a bunch of bullshit that is. We are all afraid. I am afraid all the time. Especially when it comes to my work. I don't want to fail. Failure blows. I'm scared of it all the time! It's stopped me in my tracks. It's terrible. It causes endless procrastination. That fear and self-doubt is the number one reason I seem lazy and the only reason I have not reached the goals I've set for myself. And even being aware of this, I still can't always face the fear and keep working. Because, shit, it's hard to believe in yourself when the judgement of your work is soooo subjective. The only thing that keeps me going is the work itself. When I can manage to drag my butt off the couch and go out and shoot, I lose myself in it. I mean my husband had to drag me out of the water on numerous occasions to remind me that my other slightly more important job of being a mother, needed to be tended to. I heard somewhere (can't remember where) that when it comes to photography, if you don't love the journey you're never going to survive. Why? Because there really isn't a destination. It's a fluid medium. There's no point at which you're going to say, "I've made it. I don't need to learn or create anymore images." That's just ridiculous. So for me, I realized I DO love the journey. So much so that I'm willing to battle the fear almost every day. Sometimes its an easy battle, but most days it's really f'ing hard. 

Now that we've gotten the fear part out of the way, let's talk about my failures on this trip! The biggest thing was thinking things would be easier than they ended up being. I underestimated the challenges of shooting wide angle with only 30 ft. of visibility. While it's doable, it's not easy to get sharp images. I also did a good job of mucking up the water for myself. Especially if I was hovering in the same spot for a while trying to get the nesting fish. Second, I was staying relatively close to the surface to use ambient light which worked sometimes and not other times. Third, I saw a very inspiring photo by adventure photographer Emily Polar that I wanted to try to recreate for a self portrait and I figured it would be cake! Turns out making a normal face while holding your breath is really, really hard. (See below images... I pretty much gave up). And last but not least, my biggest regret and hardest lesson learned... I spent an extra week at the lake with just my son while my husband flew back to work. Because I didn't want to truck a ton of bags and a 2 year old through the airport on my own, I sent him back with my underwater gear. UGH! Total mistake. The day he left this huge mama bass and her school of babies came into our swim area and stayed there ALL DAY LONG. Without my gear I tried using my ancient GoPro to capture them but as you'll see below, it failed miserably. I was grumpy about it most of the rest of the trip. So lesson learned. Suck it up and keep my equipment around. I'll always hate myself if I keep letting opportunities go by because I'm afraid of a little discomfort. 

This was the best self portrait I could manage... I still look like I'm drowning but it's not as bad the rest of them...&nbsp;

This was the best self portrait I could manage... I still look like I'm drowning but it's not as bad the rest of them... 

This one is definitely a winner...&nbsp;

This one is definitely a winner... 

Yup, I look constipated.&nbsp;

Yup, I look constipated. 

There are worse... I know it's hard to believe...&nbsp;

There are worse... I know it's hard to believe... 

There she is. Those dots all around her are her babies! Ahhhhhhh! My husband asked me a million times if I was sure I wanted him to take my equipment back with him... and I said yes....&nbsp;  :(&nbsp;

There she is. Those dots all around her are her babies! Ahhhhhhh! My husband asked me a million times if I was sure I wanted him to take my equipment back with him... and I said yes.... 

:( 

AHHHHH :(

AHHHHH :(

They were there... ALL... DAY... LONG... even after it started to rain....&nbsp;

They were there... ALL... DAY... LONG... even after it started to rain.... 

So many that could have been soooo awesome...&nbsp;

So many that could have been soooo awesome... 

So many great shots...&nbsp;

So many great shots... 

So much regret... so very, very painful...&nbsp;

So much regret... so very, very painful... 

That concludes the underwater portion of my two week trip to Lake George. Next week stay tuned for the kid travel portion. I'll go over flying by myself with a two year old (yikes!) and what it's like to photograph with toddlers around and, of course, some really awesome photos I took of the kiddo and his cousins. 

In conclusion, I just want to mention that I recently watched Chasing Coral on Netflix. I cried through most of it. Please watch it. After this blog post you have to know that I love the water. Watching the oceans die is really emotional for me. I always find myself wondering what the oceans looked like 30 years ago. Especially since I've noticed the coral bleaching and dying on dives I've taken in Hawaii. It's heartbreaking. I'd like to share this underwater world with my kid someday. We need to protect it. That's all! Enjoy your week and let me know if you have any questions or want to share your own fears and failures in the comments below! 

New Zealand Day 1

Day 1. So we flew into Christchurch, arriving around lunch time. We decided to then immediately drive to Queenstown and take in a few sights along the way. In hindsight, not the greatest plan since a long road trip after 12 hours of flying is a bit rough on an almost two year old... but the drive was incredible! We weren't able to take our eyes off the scenery and we instantly fell in love with this country! Below are a few photos I quickly snapped along the road. 

Church of the Good Shepard on the shores of Lake Tekapo.&nbsp;

Church of the Good Shepard on the shores of Lake Tekapo. 

The incredible blue waters of Lake Tekapo.&nbsp;

The incredible blue waters of Lake Tekapo. 

Church of the Good Shepard. It was hard to get a photo without a ton of tourists in it... tried my best!&nbsp;

Church of the Good Shepard. It was hard to get a photo without a ton of tourists in it... tried my best! 

We arrived at the very beginning of fall. Here are a few fading lupine stalks blowing in the wind.&nbsp;

We arrived at the very beginning of fall. Here are a few fading lupine stalks blowing in the wind. 

Again, trying to avoid strangers in my photos. So I got down on the ground!&nbsp;

Again, trying to avoid strangers in my photos. So I got down on the ground! 

Can't avoid everyone... but at least that guy provides a sense of scale!&nbsp;

Can't avoid everyone... but at least that guy provides a sense of scale! 

We were passing Lake Pukaki pretty close to sunset. With the snowy peaks in the background, I was very excited to get out and photograph. Unfortunately, Lee woke up from what was supposed to be the beginning of his night time sleep and was screaming bloody murder. So all I got was the above and below hastily composed and shot images. I wish I could have gotten more because the drive along this lake was nothing short of spectacular! But my kid's comfort definitely means more to me. So off we zoomed and the kid fell back asleep (for another hour or so...)!&nbsp;

We were passing Lake Pukaki pretty close to sunset. With the snowy peaks in the background, I was very excited to get out and photograph. Unfortunately, Lee woke up from what was supposed to be the beginning of his night time sleep and was screaming bloody murder. So all I got was the above and below hastily composed and shot images. I wish I could have gotten more because the drive along this lake was nothing short of spectacular! But my kid's comfort definitely means more to me. So off we zoomed and the kid fell back asleep (for another hour or so...)! 

Does anyone know if that's Mount Cook in the center? I figured it was but I'm no expert...&nbsp;

Does anyone know if that's Mount Cook in the center? I figured it was but I'm no expert... 

I know I've sort of dropped off the map, lately. I've been pretty silent on the blog and social media. But please stay tuned for a blog post about Day 2, hopefully next week! I'm so excited to share all the details of our trip and hopefully inspire you parents to drag your little ones along on all your adventures! 

In the meantime, also look out for my next blog post about the incredible wedding of two of my favorite people! I was so lucky to be their photographer and capture their special day! Staying true my my incredible procrastination roots, I shot the wedding back in April and STILL haven't posted a sneak peek! It's forthcoming, I promise! Thanks for sticking with me, folks! 

Enjoy your week!

2012 Lake Powell Time Lapse

Check out a really old time lapse I did of the night sky at Lake Powell back in 2012!

I've been organizing our server and clearing out space on my hard drives to improve Lightroom's performance. I came across this time lapse that I never finished back in 2012. I had shot it and created the video but never graded it. Why, you say? Because back then I shot my images really, really flat with no saturation (see the straight out of the camera image below). The idea was that I would have more room to color grade it exactly the way I wanted it. Which is true. But it's super time consuming! So I never finished... until now! And even now it's not the exact way I envisioned it. But I've learned a valuable lesson... yes, shooting flat gives you more control over the final image but, to use a very famous quote, "AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT!" While certain projects in the future may require more precise color grading, I do not use this method anymore. I like the images to come out of my camera a little closer to a final product. Saves me time, even if I have to deal with a little frustration over the final image. After all, time is money! 

I hope to do some more time lapse photography since I haven't done any since this! Maybe this summer I'll find some time... :) 

Unedited image from time lapse

Unedited image from time lapse

Sneak Peek: Riley's First Birthday Shoot!

I can't believe Riley is almost one! She is such a joy! Boy was this a fun and laid back shoot! I wish more families would do morning shoots. Riley was in an incredibly good mood and the spring light just rising up over the hills in Alamo was incredible! Can't beat the green hills, either! 

So while the Yahrs were totally on top of it, I unfortunately was not... forgot the picnic blanket (Bri saved me on that one!) and messed up my battery system so I thought I had 2 charged batteries when I really had a fully charged battery and a half charged battery... And for some weird reason I used the half charged one first and had to run to my car and change it out halfway through...Thankfully Justin and Megan were awesome enough to put up with my scatter brain! :) 

Happy Birthday Riley!! 

That smile!! :)&nbsp;

That smile!! :) 

Those blue eyes!!&nbsp;

Those blue eyes!! 

Absolutely in love with Megan's hair.&nbsp;I know this is about Riley, but I'm obsessed with the color!&nbsp;

Absolutely in love with Megan's hair. I know this is about Riley, but I'm obsessed with the color! 

Daddy's little girl.&nbsp;

Daddy's little girl. 

Love these moments!&nbsp;

Love these moments! 

My favorite couple moment is always right before a kiss. I sort of botched this one (too low of a shutter speed) but I still love this photo! So much love!&nbsp;

My favorite couple moment is always right before a kiss. I sort of botched this one (too low of a shutter speed) but I still love this photo! So much love! 

Loved this dress! Wishing I had a little girl right about now ;)&nbsp;

Loved this dress! Wishing I had a little girl right about now ;) 

New Territory: Product Photography!

I ventured into new territory recently! A client who I did family portraits for last year has her own Fair Trade earring business and she asked me to do some product photography for her site and her social media accounts. I thought, why not? Below is a small sample of the shots I took. Check out her site for more photos and, of course, to order these beautiful earrings! http://www.skyeandgrace.com/ And to see more of my photos and to stay up to date on any sales, check out Skye and Grace on Instagram. @skyeandgrace 

Working with different backgrounds for some of their social media accounts. Check this one out on Instagram! @skyeandgrace

Working with different backgrounds for some of their social media accounts. Check this one out on Instagram! @skyeandgrace

Getting the perfect white background while still maintaining shadow detail for a website is a bit of a challenge... I watched 3 different tutorials before finding the method that worked best for me!&nbsp;

Getting the perfect white background while still maintaining shadow detail for a website is a bit of a challenge... I watched 3 different tutorials before finding the method that worked best for me! 

Working with colors and different backgrounds!&nbsp;

Working with colors and different backgrounds! 

Putting the earrings in context!&nbsp;

Putting the earrings in context! 

I also took a crack at studio portraits for social media marketing. What a ton of fun this shoot was!&nbsp;

I also took a crack at studio portraits for social media marketing. What a ton of fun this shoot was! 

Stay tuned for more studio portraits! I will be taking a crack at a studio newborn shoot this weekend. Hopefully I can soon offer that as a regular service!

Also heading to New Zealand at the end of next week. For those of you missing my landscape, wildlife and underwater photography, stay tuned for some epic shots next month! Super stoked! 

I'd love to hear what you guys think so far and what you'd like to see more of! Leave me a comment on this post or head on over to my contact page and give me a shout out! Thanks!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! A special shout out to my wonderful family. Love you all so much! 

Two of my three valentines. Piper and Lee. Image taken back in December.&nbsp;

Two of my three valentines. Piper and Lee. Image taken back in December. 

And Happy Belated Birthday to my third valentine ;)&nbsp;

And Happy Belated Birthday to my third valentine ;) 

A Muir Woods Wedding

What a unique and wonderful wedding this was! Beautifully executed in just two weeks, this wedding took place in Muir Woods at dusk on the Winter Solstice with just a few guests as witnesses. The fading light proved to be a bit of a photographic challenge for me but resulted in truly unique and beautiful images! Thank you to the newlyweds for including me! 

Almost got swept away! Picture on Muir Beach. Incredible sunset that evening.&nbsp;

Almost got swept away! Picture on Muir Beach. Incredible sunset that evening. 

The perfect wedding in the woods!&nbsp;

The perfect wedding in the woods! 

I love Chiana's expression and her beautiful blue eyes in this one!

I love Chiana's expression and her beautiful blue eyes in this one!

So much love.&nbsp;

So much love. 

Ancient trees.&nbsp;

Ancient trees. 

Silly faces.&nbsp;

Silly faces. 

The whole family!

The whole family!

Traditional Persian dress.&nbsp;

Traditional Persian dress. 

Same as the first photo but in black and white. I think I find this so compelling in black and white because the pattern of the light on the water almost matches the lace pattern on her dress.&nbsp;

Same as the first photo but in black and white. I think I find this so compelling in black and white because the pattern of the light on the water almost matches the lace pattern on her dress. 

Marisa & Kyle's Surprise Wedding!

Here's a quick sneak peak of some of my initial favorites.

Marisa put this small ceremony together in a week! I can't believe it! It was just perfect. Exactly the small and intimate ceremony she always wanted. I had such a wonderful time shooting this wedding. The whole evening was laid back and despite the cold it was full of so much joy and love! 

Love these two!

Love these two!

Getting ready.&nbsp;

Getting ready. 

Kona even dressed up for the occassion!&nbsp;

Kona even dressed up for the occassion! 

Dodging Raindrops!

This time of year brings some seriously unpredictable weather. After moving this shoot earlier in the day to avoid rain we still got caught in some! And all this after rescheduling the first time because the entire park was closed last weekend! But these guys kept their spirits up and, as it turns out, umbrellas are fun to play with! 

Kaia was an absolute joy to photograph! Her sly smiles just crack me up. What a personality!&nbsp;

Kaia was an absolute joy to photograph! Her sly smiles just crack me up. What a personality! 

Staying dry and having a little fun!&nbsp;

Staying dry and having a little fun! 

I probably shouldn't admit this but this photo is one of my all time favorites. It's moments like this that make my job so awesome and fulfilling!&nbsp;

I probably shouldn't admit this but this photo is one of my all time favorites. It's moments like this that make my job so awesome and fulfilling! 

Kaia didn't want to smile for me at first but there was no shortage of smiles for Mama!&nbsp;

Kaia didn't want to smile for me at first but there was no shortage of smiles for Mama! 

Alana was the biggest trooper of them all! Didn't seem to notice the cold weather or the rain. Even fell asleep on her Mama for most of the shoot!&nbsp;

Alana was the biggest trooper of them all! Didn't seem to notice the cold weather or the rain. Even fell asleep on her Mama for most of the shoot! 

I think you're in trouble with this one Jaime and Ken!&nbsp;

I think you're in trouble with this one Jaime and Ken! 

Despite multiple scheduling roadblocks and foul weather I'd say we pulled off a successful shoot! FINALLY! :)