Total Eclipse of the Sun

I’m a little late to the game here, but after all of the frenzy around the solar eclipse, I needed to decompress a little bit before I thought about the experience again.

My newsroom was directly in the path of totality; located in the first state capital that would experience the eclipse, in the first state it would be visible in, in the first USA Today/Gannett newsroom that would get the chance to report on it. So it’s safe to say that it was a big deal for our paper. We spent months and months leading up to it discussing our plans, and the week-of was a frantic rush of activity.

I went to Central Oregon to cover the event, stationed in a small town called Madras. Or, at least, it was a small town… Until thousands of eclipse viewers descended on the fields outside of town and set up camp for a few days. Myself included.

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Much of what myself and reporter Capi Lynn covered were the happenings in the camp we stayed in. Solartown was set up on farm fields just north of Madras, and hosted about 5,000 campsites for the weekend. I spent most of Friday and Saturday wandering around camp, getting the lay of the land, practicing my shots for the big event.

We met people who had traveled from as far away as Netherlands and as close as Washington and California. There were a handful of Oregonians there, but many of the people in the Madras area seemed to be from out of state. I talked to amateur astronomers, eclipse fanatics who had already seen five total or partial eclipses, and families who turned the event into a road trip. Though my newsroom is in Salem, we knew that Madras – a NASA designated site for one of the best places to view the eclipse – was going to be a large gathering point. While we were obviously there to cover the eclipse itself, the almost-bigger story was all of the people who had come together to experience it.

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We had some fantastic sunsets and a great view of both Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood, so every evening I’d scale the RV and photograph the skydivers that descended each sunrise and sunset.

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We also met one of the locals – an alfalfa farmer named Dean, whose fields bordered the ones that had been rented out for the weekend. Dean had declined an offer to rent his land, hoping to avoid the insanity of eclipse weekend. Unfortunately for him, his neighbors took advantage of the situation and rented out their adjoining fields.

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Capi and I stopped by on Saturday evening to chat with Dean (and meet his adorable puppy!), and follow him out into the field as he changed some watering lines. Imagine our luck when we found out he’s originally from Salem. It was a great local tie-in for us. Dean was gracious with his time and even invited me back the next day to climb on top of his hay barn for an overview of the campsite, although this ended up not panning out…

Because the next day, Capi and I were called out to one of the weirdest things I’ve had the fortune to photograph. One of the largest events in Oregon for the eclipse was a festival out past Prineville; we’re still unsure of what the official name is but it’s been called everything from Oregon Eclipse 2017 to the Symbiosis Festival to just ‘that weird thing near Prineville.’

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On Sunday our newsroom decided to dispatch us to this event, and after an hour drive to Prineville, another ninety minute drive down some dirt roads, and about an hour and a half waiting to get approval to get in, we walked through crowds of festival-goers dressed in anything you could imagine. Including their birthday suits. I would have loved to stay longer than we did, but after all the red tape we had about 45 minutes on the ground before we had to turn back. It was a complete overload of visuals and sound, and I could hardly decide what to photograph as we walked through the dusty landscape.

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I’ve only got a few photos to show here, but if you’re interested in seeing what this festival really looked like, I highly recommend the work by my friend (and former mentor/colleague) Beth Nakamura for The Oregonian

All of a sudden it was Monday and the big day was here. Camp was quiet in the morning, but quiet in a hushed, excited way. People were making final adjustments to their telescopes and cameras. Some were already packing up camp and ready to hit the road the second totality was over.

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I set up my cameras on the roof of the RV – I’m going to get a little technical here but I know I’ve been asked many times how I photographed the event.

The biggest shot I needed to pull off was a composite image I’d been planning of the scene throughout the eclipse. Around 9 a.m., I set up my Nikon D810 with a 24-70mm, at 24mm, on the roof. I attached my solar filter and started the intervalometer to click every 10 minutes – this was capturing an almost completely black frame, with the sun’s orange disk being the only thing visible. During totality I would need to remove the solar filter to make an exposure for the foreground – crossing my fingers that people would decide to view the event from the roof of their RVs, I’d set up a vertical frame with the RVs in the bottom and enough room to show the progression of the sun through the sky.

I’d practiced this two or three times in the days prior to get the framing right and make sure I had room to capture the complete line of suns, but it was still nerve-wracking trying to decide if I really was in the right spot.

The exposures had to start just before 9 a.m. – with first contact of the sun and moon occurring at 9:06 a.m. – and run until about 11:41 – when the last contact on the exit path would occur. Though I wish I’d done shorter intervals to add more suns to the image, the end result is something I’m happy with. My hunch that people would be on their RV paid off, as you can see a number of families watching from their roofs. This is one image of the eclipse during totality (RVs, twilight sky, people watching, etc), with 16 tiny suns layered over the top (the orange disks from the exposures that were taken with the solar filter attached).

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During totality, as I made the above exposure, I also had a number of other cameras in play. I’d set up a GoPro timelapse, attached to the legs of the tripod holding the Nikon D810. I put a 360 Camera in the center of the roof in the hopes of catching both totality and the horizon behind me in the same video – watching the horizon change during totality had to be one of the most magical things about this event. I haven’t had time or resources to put this together yet, as our paper is still experimenting with 360, but I think it came out ok. I had a Canon 5D with a 70-200 to photograph the crowds around me as they watched the event, and a Canon 7D with a 400mm on a tripod to photograph a tight shot of the sun. And because I’m crazy, at the last minute I threw my iPhone onto a time-lapse mode to capture it as well. Because five cameras wasn’t enough already, you know?

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The eclipse passed in the blink of an eye for many, and I’m a little sad to report that it felt that way for me, too. Running all of those cameras and sweating trying to get my composite to work properly was incredibly stressful. I hardly had time to look at the total eclipse in the sky, as I was too busy jumping between each thing on the roof and making sure it was working.

You’ll notice that I don’t have a large image of the sun and moon during totality. This is partly because, as I mentioned above, the bigger story for us was the crowd that had come from all over the country (and the world) to watch. We also knew that hundreds of photographers would be capturing the typical eclipse image of a black frame with the sun’s corona shining around the disk of the moon. So knowing that I didn’t need to make this image a priority because we had other photographers shooting it, I left it until last on my shot list. And by the time I’d managed enough crowd shots to feel comfortable, and I’d worked on my composite image, I jumped back to the 400mm, removed the solar filter, put my face up to the eye piece and… the sun was beginning to peek around the side of the moon again and totality was over. In the blink of an eye.

But now, a few weeks later, when I think about what it was like? I’d use the same words as everyone else. Breathtaking. Once-in-a-lifetime. Unreal. Watching the sky suddenly go dark, seeing what looked like a 360 degree sunset, noticing the last light on Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood, hearing the crowds around me whooping and cheering… it was simply incredible. When the sun started to re-emerge just two short minutes later, I was so thrown off and sad that it was ‘daytime’ again. If you ever get the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse, I cannot recommend it enough. And put the camera down and enjoy it! I hope to get that opportunity for the next one.

Throwback: Australia

It’s been a year to the day since I returned from my summer in Australia. As with many things, that feels both so recent and still so far away.

I was working for Rustic Pathways, who I also worked with in Southeast Asia two years ago. It’s hard to explain what exactly Rustic does, because there is so much wrapped up in it, but the short story is that it’s a travel company for high school students. They work with local communities to offer immersive, educational travel programs, many with service components. As a photographer for the company, I was responsible not only for taking photographs but also taking care of the students.

I always intended to post this last round of images from Australia when I returned to the U.S., but several things held me back. The same as when I left Asia, it was almost too hard to look at the photos again. I both missed my travels but was happy to be home; I was still processing everything I had learned but also figuring out what my next move would be.

Coming home after Rustic always left me a little lost. You spend all summer working with teenagers and co-workers who both inspire you and challenge you – and who you will probably never see again. You come home to people that don’t understand the experiences you’ve just been through, and there’s no way to put it into words.

So I let myself put off the final blog post I had planned in a series of three (parts one and two here). I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to show. And then it felt like it had been too long to post them. With the year anniversary of my return looming, I decided to look through the folder of images again.

What I found are the images I have replayed over and over in my head for the last year – a whirlwind final 9 days in which I traveled from the Great Barrier Reef to Uluru to Sydney with two co-workers I loved and a fantastic group of students. I haven’t forgotten the images I looked out for this blog. I just didn’t have the words to put to it.

What I was really grappling with was, that was probably the last summer I’ll travel with Rustic Pathways. I love the work, but it’s a challenging thing to drop your life every summer to go abroad and then come back basically unemployed again. It felt like going back to square one. I knew that it would probably be my last time when I went to Australia. I knew that when I returned. But I don’t think it really hit me until this summer. It’s the first I’ve spent stateside in three years, and I’ve seen all my co-workers, friends and students from previous summers back out there traveling. And it’s not like I’ve been “stuck” here. I’m living in a place I love, I have a great life here, I have a job in an industry I spent many years dreaming about. But the wanderlust still pulls me, as I think it does for every Rustic traveler. That’s why we keep going back. The promise of more places to discover, more people to meet, more connections to experience.

Safe travels to my friends out there. I know many of you are returning home this month, and I know it can be both a wonderful and difficult time. Here’s to the last days of my summer down under.

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This is one of the last photos I took in Australia. It’s not my favorite image by far, but it was a special moment for me. It’s self portrait taken only hours before I boarded a plane home. My friend and mentor Jose Lopez always encourages us to take self portraits – it was the first assignment he gave us at the New York Times Institute a few years ago. That was the first time I’d taken one, and this is only the second one since that assignment. But as I ran through this park in Sydney at 4 a.m. trying to catch the sunrise over the Harbor Bridge (the image above this one), I thought so much about all of the lessons Jose has taught me. And I thought, what the heck. Just one. You have a few minutes. So I set the camera down, ran to this spot, and gazed up, looking into the future and also at the last Australian night sky I would see.

Two lenses are better than one

It’s not often that I find myself shooting alongside another photographer. With the exception of sporting events, most of my assignments are solo affairs. It’s usually just me, and sometimes the reporter, and whatever event or person we’re covering that day.

So when I got two weeks of vacation to take a road trip to some great national parks with Michael, I was looking forward to seeing what our different creative eyes would come away with. Though we’ve both worked as photojournalists before (he at his college paper), he now works as a wedding photographer while I’m still at newspapers. I find my style is more photojournalistic, while his eye is more artistic.

We’ve been on many hikes, road trips and adventures together. We’ve even photographed a few weddings side-by-side. And I’ve often found myself marveling at the compositions he finds. This trip was no different. It feels as though a lot of this comes down to a willingness to experiment and look beyond the obvious. With newspapers, you are doing these things but you are also trying to communicate as much information as you can with one image, and it doesn’t always leave a lot of room for something out of the ordinary.

A lot of this is, I’m sure, my own worries. Yes, newspapers can be more traditional, but I also know that there are many fellow photojournalists who take chances with their images every day and come away with something beautiful. Whether it comes from the culture of their newsroom, personal drive, or some combination of the two, I’m not sure. It’s been a long while since I’ve had a photo editor that has encouraged me to push my boundaries and appreciated something a little different. Now that I’m really the only one approving my photos for (online) publication, I find I’m picking my compositions more conservatively. Perhaps it comes down to my own hesitation to push the boundaries of what can/should be published. I know what I like, but I pick the safer choice. Some of it is also me getting into a rut with my shooting style.

The point is, when I went on this trip I tried to let my eye wander a little more. I looked for something I may not have noticed before. I think having a bit of friendly competition helped. The first few days of the trip I’d come away from a scene sometimes a little frustrated that I couldn’t make something more out of it, already knowing I hadn’t got what I wanted, and then I’d see Michael’s frames and go, “…how?!” And it made me realize – we’re in the same place. We’re shooting with the same gear – passing back and forth two identical cameras with different lenses – and I’m still getting my ass kicked. Time to step it up.

So I did. Or I tried, at least. None of these photos are groundbreaking. They won’t make your jaw drop. But they did help me break out of a bit of a rut and attempt to capture the beauty of some of the places we saw. Now that I’m back to work, I’ve tried to bring some of that inspiration back with me.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite images from our National Parks trip. We had an ambitious schedule and a lot of hiking, but it was an amazing trip. I already miss the great outdoors.

Portland > Redwoods (CA) > Yosemite (CA) > Zion (UT) > Snow Canyon (UT) > Bryce Canyon (UT) > Provo (UT) > Grand Teton (WY) > Yellowstone (WY) > Sun Valley (ID) > Bend (OR) > Portland

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As a footnote, there are two reasons for the title of this post. Often I write the title last, with whatever random phrase has popped into my head. This one partly refers to the gear we used. Michael and I shot this whole trip with a collection of prime lenses, and we were forever debating which one or two to take with us on hikes. Inevitably, we’d always wish we’d brought a different one or an additional focal length. Every time.

It was also inspired by (stolen from..?) an article I read on PDN about photo power couple Brinson + Banks. I’m no where near the skill level of either Kendrick Brinson or David Walter Banks, but these two really inspire me. I really enjoyed this read (here!) about their partnership, both personal and professional, and the advice they had to give about working as a photographer.

Summer Down Under: Back to the Coast

After six weeks in the Australian outback, I returned to tropical Queensland to photograph programs based in the Glass House Mountains and along the coast. It was strange to return to the place I trained at in-country in early June; after weeks in the Northern Territory I’d almost started to forget about the beaches and forests that awaited me.

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I’d say it was nice to sleep in a proper bed again, but the truth is that missed sleeping under the stars in the outback. It was an adjustment to stay in a nice house near the beach and to have a real kitchen to cook in, rather than the camping stoves and fires we had in the outback. We had lived out of one trailer and the back of the four-wheel drive cars we took everywhere. Now I was driving a 12-seater luxury van on paved roads and I could actually unpack my bag in my room.

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The Queensland programs are based between a beach house in famous Noosa Beach and a cozy home in the Glass House Mountains. Students spend the beach week taking surfing lessons, and the other week volunteering at a local school and staying at an outdoor outback-style camp. So, not a total break from camping for me, but it still had many bonuses we didn’t have for the first half of my summer. Namely the German man who runs the place, Richard, who cooked us all wonderful meals and dispensed great advice to all of the students. Richard built the farm in the style of an old bush camp, and he runs rehabilitation programs for youth on the property. Every summer he kindly opens his home to Rustic Pathways and teaches students to work with horses, as well as a few other skills (spear throwing, boomerang throwing, lassoing, etc).

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I have one more round of photos to share from my summer in Australia, all of which are from my last ten days in country. They’re a mix of coastal photos as well as a brief return to the outback.

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Summer Down Under: Six Weeks in the Australian Outback

I’ll be posting my images from Australia across the next few blogs, this being the first post of (most likely) three. I’d originally intended to blog while I was traveling, the way I did in Asia last year, but that proved to be difficult while spending my first six weeks in the outback. Many of these images I managed to share on my Instagram when I had service, but for some this is the first time I’ve published them.

There are so many incredible things I saw and experienced in Australia, it seems almost impossible to condense over 500 GB worth of images down to just a handful to show. It feels like the easiest way is to split them into regions or segments of my summer, so this post is dedicated to my time in the Northern Territory and the outback. Australia is a beautiful and wildly diverse country, and I’m lucky to have spent time in a region that many Australians don’t even get to see.

(*The first three images are from my week of staff training in the Glasshouse Mountains; the rest were taken in the Northern Territory and Western Australia between June and July while working for Rustic Pathways.)

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Part of the reason I applied to the Australia programs, out of all of Rustic’s travel destinations, is because I wanted to spend time working with and learning about the Aboriginal community there. The Outback Aboriginal Service Program is a trip that spends time volunteering with local Indigenous organizations and schools as well as visiting a handful of sacred sights to learn about Aboriginal culture and tradition. I photographed three of these trips, spending most of June and part of July traveling between Darwin, Kununurra, Katherine and Arnhem Land along the northern end of Australia.

Aboriginal culture is thought of as the longest surviving culture in the world, having been around continuously for at least 40,000 years (though many estimates I heard are closer to 60,000 years and beyond). Many of their stories and beliefs have been passed down orally, and Aboriginals today can still look at paintings from thousands of years ago and tell you what Dreamtime story the images represent. Within Australia, there are hundreds of Aboriginal countries, some the size of small European countries and each with their own unique songs and language. Today it’s estimated that all but 13 of these languages – that once numbered over 250 – are considered endangered.

The challenges this society faces in modern-day Australia are complex, and difficult even for born-and-raised Australians to explain to visitors. I spent time in several different communities and I feel lucky to have witnessed different lifestyles and perspectives on the issue, but I am by no means an expert on the subject. There is so much more to learn and understand. For that reason I won’t expand upon it too much here, except to say a big thank you to those that welcomed myself and our Rustic students into their homes and communities. I won’t forget the magic I saw in this part of the world.

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Five countries, 24 cities, 92 days

5 countries, 24 cities, 92 days.

28 flights, 13 buses, 6 boats, 3 overnight trains, 1 motorbike and an infinite number of taxis and tuk tuks.

I’ve boated down the Mekong River, traveled by bus through the Shan state of Burma, journeyed alone through Cambodia, hiked through Laotian jungles covered in leeches, climbed over thousand-year-old temples, cycled through ancient cities, fallen off an elephant in Laos, taken a night train from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam and then another from Chiang Mai to Bangkok in Thailand… the list goes on.

And now, after three long months, my Southeast Asia adventure is over. My time with Rustic Pathways ended about two weeks ago, and now that my solo travel through Cambodia is done, it’s time for me to return home. I’ve got a lot to figure out in terms of what I want going forward. What I am sure of is that this summer has been a life changing experience, and despite some of the challenges faced along the way, it was worth every second. A big thank you goes out to the people I’ve met along the way. It wouldn’t have been the same without you all.

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My flight back home also marks a year to the day since I left Portland, Oregon. It’s a little overwhelming to think about all of the experiences I’ve had in that year. In some ways I’m right back to where I started last September 1 – returning to Arizona with no clear next step and no job on the horizon.

But so much has also changed. So much has been packed into that time. Moving from Oregon back to Arizona, beginning to freelance, dropping all of that to move to New York City’s backyard in New Jersey for seven months, and then leaving that internship for Southeast Asia… What a year. I haven’t truly been home since last November; there was only a three-day gap between my move back from Jersey and my departure for Thailand. Now, as I return to Arizona, I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing next. I can only hope it will be as exhilarating and fulfilling as the work I did this summer.

So, without further ado, here’s the last of my images shot for Rustic Pathways. Plus a few at the end from my solo adventure at the ancient temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Until we meet again, Southeast Asia. I’ll be missing your noodle soup and delicious mango smoothies, but not the rice. So. Much. Rice.

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Angkor Wat

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Sawasdee from Thailand

It’s been two months since I last updated this blog, and a lot has changed. For starters, I’m writing this from a town called Keng Tung in the Shan state of Myanmar (Burma, to the Western world) (also Kyaing Tong, Chiang Tung, or something else, depending on who you ask).

I left New Jersey a month ago for a new job. I was offered a summer position working for a travel company called Rustic Pathways, and I’m spending three months in Southeast Asia photographing and leading some of their tours through the region. The job combines a few things I’m passionate about: traveling, teaching and photography. After a week of staff training, I spent two weeks at the company’s Thailand base houses in Udon Thani and Mae Sariang, where travelers complete service projects like building local homes and teaching English to local children. I can say hello in Thai (sawasdee ka!) and I’m working on my Burmese (sounds like: min ga la ba).

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It’s been an incredible opportunity so far, and the whirlwind has only just begun. Two days ago I left the base houses to begin leading a trip of my own. Myself and another photographer, along with our fantastic local staff, are leading six students on a photography workshop across Burma and Laos. It’s early in the trip, but I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and learn more as the days go on.

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I’ve also recently passed my one year mark as a college graduate, and what a crazy year it’s been. Photographically speaking, last summer through the winter was a period of incredible growth for me. I made huge strides in my voice and style as a photographer that, for a long time, I was worried I would never make.

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The internship I did in Jersey is probably the hardest I’ve ever worked. But for all the pressures that came with it, I know that I learned a lot and grew even more. After six months I’d really started to feel connected to the community and confident that, when I showed up for an assignment, I could handle whatever came my way. It was tough to say goodbye to that. I don’t know when I’ll be working at a daily paper again, and when I do I’ll probably have to get to know another community all over again.

I was also shooting so much for myself, and in that way, there was less pressure there than there is here. As long as I met my slideshow counts and did a decent job, the office was happy. So I began to shoot to please myself, as I was sometimes the only one that cared if my images were pushing any boundaries or experimenting with my style. Now, I’m shooting for an editor again. The pressure is on to impress them and make sure that they are glad they chose me for such a great opportunity.

I suppose that’s typical of any new job. There’s always a break in period. I just won’t be getting any feedback until the job is done in August. For now, I haven’t shot anything that I totally love, but maybe it’s because I’m also setting the bar really high for myself. Here’s to hoping I rise to the challenge.

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