Road Trippin’ USA: Part 2————————————–21st March 2016

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Arches National Park, Utah

Ok, ok so it’s mid-March and that wonderful streak I had updating my blog last year seems to be shot. What excuse can I make other than the truth – it’s been quite busy, but in the best possible way. So many things have happened from then ‘til now and I have been enjoying it every step of the way.

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Columbine, Colorado

The big ones included having my work featured at Miami Art Basel 2015 on South Beach (2nd year in a row), joining the Digital Photography School team, writing “The Adventures of Candice”, a children’s book that has since been published (so go get your copy on Amazon), interviews with A Big Box of Crayons and BooksGoSocial and just last month getting featured in two local Sunday newspapers (on the same day). Oh and I started back painting … which is a big deal for me personally.

New England Fall

So yeah add my regular 9 to 5 job to that and I am sure you can understand why this blog fell a little by the wayside, though I don’t feel too guilty since I have been blogging at DPS.  I can’t explain how proud I am to be part of such an amazing team of writers and photographers.

In my last post I promised to do a Part 2 to my Road Trippin’ article, so I am gonna deliver on that promise by sharing my article: 3 Tips to Maximize Your Road Trip Photos. Back then, I hoped to share thoughts along this line – but this has since been expanded to help with your own photography, so check it out when you can.

Later this week, I head up to New England again and hopefully I can use my many-hour plane times to put some more thoughts on paper. Until then, I leave you with a few of my favourite moments for the times we’ve been apart …

My 2016 mantra thus far “Every time you subtract negative from your life, you make room for positive”

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park Sunset

Road Trippin’ USA: Part 1————————————–27th September 2015

A panoramic shot on the Utah drive

A panoramic shot on the Utah drive

My first rule of vacation planning is have only the shell of a plan – nothing must be cast in stone, there must be no itinerary or set course of events, simply because go-with-the-flow plans are wayyyyyy more fun and give birth to the best travel stories.

I have been on quite a few road trips in my lifetime, but this one was the first without an actual destination – thus the framework was made up as the journey progressed.  Through fifteen states and six thousand, two hundred and ten miles later, it turned out to be the most productive, hassle-free, exhilarating, most fun and best vacation I have ever had!

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

An early morning start in Rhode Island and a late night return to starting point twelve days later, was packed with adventure, new experiences, great food and beer discoveries, scenic drives through mountains, forests, prairies and desert, cultural backdrops and absolutely breathtaking landscapes along the way.

I have so many things to write, so many things to share, say and re-live, that days later I found myself drenched in a downpour of thoughts and words and just didn’t know where to start. Definitely not going to be a chronological recount, even though I took enough travel notes during my trip to be able to add a detailed timeline – hey, the trip had no structure, why should the blog post?

Among the most memorable moments this trip were: overnight camping in Yellowstone National Park where the temperature dropped from a sweltering 102F (39C) at midday to a freezing 28F (-2C) at midnight; seeing my first grizzly bear in Wyoming (saw two in fact); taking in the music of my favourite band Dave Matthews in Colorado (and yes that location is legally significant); watching and capturing a lightning storm over the desert right after sunset in Arches National Park and disturbing the peace in lazy Nebraska with Nirvana (I will have to withhold the details of this shenanigan so that I may not usurp the angelic image you have of me, wink wink).

Arches National Park, Utah

Out of the fifteen states I touched on during this trip, I must say that Wyoming was by far by favourite.  The expansive, scenic prairies, abundant wildlife; outstanding (and environmentally friendly) welcome centre and rest stops; home to America’s first National Park (Yellowstone) and lastly the preservation of a timeline and lifestyle.  My mother has travelled to Canada but she has never been to the United States and if she went to Wyoming first, it would fulfill her expectations of what she thinks the U.S. to be – like she walked on the studio set of her favourite 70s western show, Bonanza.

The American heartland seemed all very similar to the eyes of this outsider, people living off the land – acres and acres of corn, soy and sunflower; fields of grazing cattle, homes styled with barns and silos dotted miles apart and surrounded by non-obtrusive but definitive farm fencing.  Though this scene seemed to repeat itself in several states, it never became monotonous since each place added its own flavour.

Kansas Scenery

Kansas Scenery

Moab in Utah was probably my favourite town – south of Arches National Park, nestled in the heart of sandstone country, not to mention getting there is via a mandatory awe inspiring drive through giant mountainous red rock formations – what’s not to love?  The town itself is quaint and touristy, but in a more authentic way that many other tourist spots I’ve visited.  The best part of course is that it’s only a few miles away from the National Park which allowed this photographer easier access to late evening and early morning light, eliminating daunting long drives back to accommodation after a long day of park exploration.

That just reminded me of another great moment when leaving the park after an amazing sunset and earlier referenced lightning storm – parked on a cliff flanked by a huge wall of sandstone, with silhouettes of magnificent eroded monoliths at Arches, sitting on the floor outside the car, under a moon hanging so low, you felt that if you stood up and stretched a little further you might be able to touch it somehow … the kind of moon that makes you feel safe enough to howl at …uninhibited.

Are you disconnecting? ——————————————- 19th July 2015

Last Light at Beavertail Lighthouse

Last Light at Beavertail Lighthouse

“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere … and in the middle of nowhere you find yourself …” – Stacy Westfall

In the last week, I have been offline more than on – it started off unintentionally as my Internet Service Provider seemed to have neglected their core duty of providing the Internet service I pay for – seems to be more widespread than isolated. Well I’m not complaining, since other than getting a raw deal there, offline mode seems to work for me at times, as I learned a few months ago.

Back in April, I took a solitary vacation in Tennessee – the intention was to take a break from the daily grind and spend some time grounding myself to nature. Almost every day I was out hiking, nature walking and doing either photography or simply enjoying some view of the Great Smokey Mountains.

Somewhere close to me leaving Tennessee and proceeding to the next leg of my vacation, I decided I would stay in the cabin one day and catch up on email and social media. So I woke up late, made some tea, powered up and … alas no Internet. I tried all my devices before I called the front desk to enquire. Seems that a truck had accidentally pulled down the connection that linked the resort to the rest of the world and they didn’t know when it would be resolved. A quick roll of my eyes to the heavens and a sigh, followed by a small reassurance to self that this was a first world country and that service would certainly be restored within the hour, I hung up on a very polite girl named Sue whose accent was so adorable that when she gave me the news, it was easy to withhold the shriek of disbelief.

My first thought “why oh why did I chose today of all days to stay in the cabin … I really should have done something outdoors”. So I went down to the restaurant and got lunch, watched whatever there was on the tube since I had no phone to distract me … and then noticed that everyone else there was doing the same … it may seem trivial, but in the last few years with people getting more and more intimate with their phone, it seems like we hardly ever watch anything else, let alone have our focus in a common direction or …each other. Gasp!

I went back to my room, took a nap, followed by a long soak in my jacuzzi (which was simply decorative until this point), did laundry, watched a movie and then realized that in between all that, I had checked if the Internet was back up…oh at least a hundred times … sigh I thought, now I know what “stir-crazy” feels like (thankfully it seems a long way off from “bat-sh*t-crazy) and on realization of this I made a conscious effort to check less often.

“Unplug the World, Ground Yourself and Rewire Your Thoughts” – Nisha Ramroop

I read … I wrote and several cups of tea later I was sitting on my balcony listening to the birds, then to the rain, then to the music I had stored on my iPad, mostly hours of the haunting and beautiful voices of Florence Welsh and Lana Del Rey. By dinner time, the front desk called me to let me know that the service wouldn’t be back up until the next day and in that instant I realized that not only I could, but I would survive 24 hours plus with being disconnected. I blissfully started planning the rest of my night, which included more writing and music and it was almost surreal, a powerful reminder that this was how I spent many hours on the weekend growing up and it was nice to be back there in my head. I felt truly happy.

Lots of time to think, to reflect on self and the choices that I made for the year thus far (which has been pretty awesome by the way). I have become a strong advocate for getting rid of the negative energies in your life as quickly as possible – people and things that suck the life force out of you … that detracts more than it adds and makes you feel less than the person you really are at times. In the direct opposite to that, I have started surrounding myself with creative, happy, fun, positive people and I know that I add to their lives as much as they each do to mine.

So many ideas have seen fruition this year, so many more successes to feel proud of and thrilled to have started back drawing and painting and realize that I still have that skill, even though it has been dormant for years.

So yes in that day back in April, I woke up at close to midday and proceeded to have the most boring, uneventful and albeit restful day that I have had in years. And I took a page out of that to reference at will. I was disconnected from the world and all of it’s distractions as I reconnected to self … a reminder of an uncomplicated time … a simple feeling I wish for you …

Enjoying my own company [Tennessee]

Projecting: But first let me take a … ———————————— 30th June 2015

I recently stumbled across a quote that said:

“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide”

Words that resonated deep within..  Most artists I know, especially photographers, have few (if any) photos of themselves.  We seem to be in a tug-of-war between our extrovert and introvert halves.  I guess it’s just how we are… we don’t like to be in front of the lens (or do we?).  Maybe it’s because we are most critical of the end result or just painfully aware that we have only seen ourselves “backwards” (aka mirror image).

Last year I resolved to do one thing that scares me (often) and several months later while testing lights for a conceptual shoot, I had an aha moment which birthed a self-portrait project.  As I started storyboarding technique, lighting and outfits, the project quickly took on a life of its own and my fear of being in front of the camera started to slowly dissipate.  My remote trigger became a staple as I invested hours of reading and watching videos of successful self-portraits artists, Brooke Shaden at the definite top of my list.  I even adopted her “set timer, throw remote and pose” working model (this has since evolved into interval timing which allows me a better work flow).

In this evolution, these “self-sessions” have taught me many lessons since it is definitely not as easy as it looks!  And with each shoot I find myself becoming more and more comfortable, but bigger than that, it has helped me with workflow posing of my clients.

I will tell you this much, it is indeed rewarding to put a shoot together and then see it through to the end and at this rate I foresee more elaborate sets and costuming in the works.

Stay tuned as I have lots of fun with this 🙂

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Amid the Forsythias ———————————————— 4th May 2015

The Smoky Mountains: Mount Le Conte Ridge

The Great Smoky Mountains: Mount Le Conte; TN

Hiking up the Great Smokies

Hiking up the Great Smokies

I’ve been traveling for many years and yet this was my first Spring.  I usually choose either earlier or later months in the year to vacation, but that might have to be reconsidered after what turned out to be an experience of spiritual renewal which I never anticipated.

Spring sprung late this year … as defined by snow still present in early May; especially at some of the higher elevations (I even had a brilliant idea to photo-record this apparent slow melt process for future reference and jumped in a knee-deep pile … can you feel the wet socks? Such fun …!)

This trip wasn’t planned in any detail (if at all) … it was an opportunity that presented itself in the form of a paid-for, lonely, log cabin resort and I said what the heck…might as well make the most of it.

My whirlwind trip started in Tennessee in said amazing resort, with several treks to The Great Smoky Mountains – one that I ventured on by myself and two others that I did with a guided group – all filled with breathtaking vistas and that feeling of rebirth and awakening in the air. I was absolutely awestruck by the Smokies, but a few days later I ventured a few states away and managed to fall in love with The White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Ascending the Smokies; TN

Ascending the Smokies; TN

I drove and hiked in The Smokies to its highest elevations (over 6600 feet) and I must report that the ever changing flora, the random sightings of black bears in the wild (even next to my own cabin), the history and preserved remnants of the early settlers and the sheer beauty and magnitude of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a lot to inhale … and the only word that I can honestly come up with to describe it all is “awesome” … and breathtakingly so…

The White Mountains – a whole other scenery – the mountains themselves were vastly varied; from snow capped peaks that reflected the sun in beautiful and blinding proportions to others covered with naked trees still recovering from this year’s bitter winter, onto those of green mountains dotted with blossoms of white and purple and then to huge bare-faced rock walls flanking some areas like armoured Roman bodyguards.

The varying landscape of The White Mountains NH

The varying landscape of The White Mountains NH

The route itself was also more spectacular in its own way – while The Smokies had changing tree types and magnificent ridges, The White Mountains were lined with stony rivers, cascading waterfalls and the scenic changing of green and coloured roads to snow lined ones as I undertook each ascent and descent.

Lower Basin, White Mountains NH

Lower Basin, White Mountains NH

In between Tennessee and New Hampshire though lay a transition and the best part of my trip … my discovery of Forsythias in Rhode Island and in reflection, what Spring has come to mean to me.  I saw these flowering shrubs as soon as I landed in that airport and then to my amazement realized they were planted in almost every home … all over the state in their magnificent golden yellow glory adding laughter to a landscape that was also recovering from a record breaking New England winter gone by …  It spoke to me on a deeper level, a previously unadorned tree waking up to the changing weather, blossoming in the most splendiferous way, signaling the other trees to wake up and perhaps burst into own their glory (most of them seem to still be in disbelief that the cold was actually gone) with these yellow sunshiny “can’t-help-but-look-at-me” happy blooms urging them on …

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Forsythias

If springtime is about renewal and rebirth and all things anew; if it’s about discovery and overcoming struggle to shine brilliantly among ice wrecked stark bareness and if it’s about the annual rejuvenation of nature’s hibernating soul … then that is what the Forsythia now means to me …  the embellishment of a previously austere landscape and its resurgence to joyous beginnings …

Whether it was on the chilly mountain top of Clingman’s Cove in Smoky Tennessee, the picturesque town of North Conway nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or the simple truth of a four-lobed golden flower in Rhode Island, my take away from this Spring vacation has amounted to a quote by Rumi: “If your eyes are opened, you will see the things worth seeing…”

Time Capsule, Bear North; NH

Time Capsule, Bear Notch; NH

Lonely Girl Series: Red Queen —————————————- 21st March 2015

“I told you to hide your heart once. You should have listened.” – Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen

Quite a lot has happened this month photography wise… but I decided to take a step into the past and recognise a shoot I did back in early 2013 (my “Red Queen” series) with one of my favourite girls, local model – Adele.

As a landscape photographer, my scenes are usually devoid of people…the way I have always preferred it.  However when most of my photographer friends look at my photos, their first comment usually seems to start “If we put a model right there…”

*insert heavy sigh here*

Putting together the dress [Photo by my assistant, location guide and awesome friend, Bruce Anton]

Putting together the dress [Photo by my assistant, location guide and awesome friend, Bruce Anton]

So a few years ago I decided heck why not, let me give it a go – let me attempt to share my beautiful landscapes with another subject of beauty … thus commenced the turning of the creative cogs to make it happen; there were lots of ideas, but I found myself less attracted to images where the model dominated the scene and what actually spoke to me were those that used people as “props” … yeah that probably doesn’t sound too politically correct, but hear me out … people as props; meaning they became a part of the scenery, showcasing and enhancing the environment as much as the reverse was true … my right-brain found this a more harmonious and pleasing take.

“Words can lie. See beyond them.” – Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen

I took a few ideas to my storyboard and what emerged was a series whose protagonist was a lonesome girl, who found her peace and hope in the bosom of the natural world.  The wardrobe I had in mind was way more than I could afford at the time and instead of letting that further delay my project (which I was now excited about) I decided I would make the dresses – ambitious I know but I think these are the moments that it feels amazing to be a creative … those times when you feel driven enough that everything feels possible and doable… moments that I look forward to in each project.

Below are two of my favourites from “Red Queen”, the latter of two projects [from The Lonely Girl Series] done to date.  Adele (my model for both sets) is an awesome girl to work with and in this shoot she spent over an hour in the freezing water so that we could get the desired shots, with plenty conversations on thinking warm thoughts to stop her teeth from chattering … she was an absolute sport and we managed to have lots of fun (and quite a few beers after too 🙂 )

Maybe later on I will do a throwback to the first set where she wore white…

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

Red Queen

Red Queen

[Click for a larger view]

All photos copyrighted ©Niko Photo; http://www.nikophotography.com

Gone to the Birds ————————————— 15th February 2015

Cardinal

Cardinal (Rhode Island, USA)

So guess which landscape photographer you know and love discovered birding while on one of her trips? If you told me that would be me a few months ago, I would said “nahhhh…”, with no good reason whatsoever.

My dad was a bird lover, I won’t categorize him as birder … you know those guys (and gals) that can name and distinguish birds on sight, study field guides and rattle off interesting facts in a heartbeat … my dad was only a bit of the latter but his love for birds led to him participating in many conservation efforts over my growing up years.  In fact, we still have two parrots he saved from the forest twenty years ago – he wrestled with the idea of having caged birds because it was against his beliefs (that they should be left in the wild), but he grew so attached to them that they were sleeping by his head or on his shoulder most days and roaming around the house like they owned it – left plenty for me to clean up, but like I said they are with me 20 years now and definitely part of the family.

I have always been a great admirer of bird photographers and over the years developed a profound respect for them (after having tried it myself); the craft certainly requires additional patience, in synergy with the usual timing and skill.

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Juvenile Savannah Hawk (Biche, T&T)

While in the U.S. earlier this year, I had the good fortune of having a bird feeder outside my bedroom window and I felt myself sitting there a number of times just looking at the birds come by … I never imagined something so simple to be such a fascinating thing.  Naturally the next step was to grab my camera … I mean how hard could it be, they were within range, not going anywhere and in abundance a few feet away and even better they were not spooked by me being so close … sufficed to say I had to ante up cause it was not as easy as it looked even with these conditions… birds move fast … hardly a lightbulb moment I know, but definitely made me stop and think.

Today, I went on a small expedition with some birding photographer friends of mine to a remote part of Trinidad called Biche, a place where I haven’t been since I was 13/14 years old.  My dad used to frequent Biche, it was where we spent many weekends camping and being back there today was rather nostalgic and almost emotive for me. And yup there were birds … hundreds of birds, different species …everywhere … more in the earlier hours of this morning (did I mention I got up at 4:30 am?).

At one point when we were driving through the forested areas, with the car windows down, all you could hear were birds whistling their carefree tunes. At the end of the day I saw and learned more than I actually shot … and I grew an even deeper respect for my birding photographer friends, who had me in awe with not only their captures but with their incredible knowledge … I might not be one of them yet, but I was and always will be a bird lover like my dad …

Sunrise in Biche

Sunrise in Biche