A Road Trip through Southern Africa with Intrepid Travel

I'm thrilled to finally share stories from my recent travels to Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. It was a whirlwind adventure, packed with lots of laughter and locals, plenty of campfire cookouts, and exhilarating searches for Africa's wildlife all stars, the "Big Five." I absolutely loved traveling with tour company, Intrepid.

Read my story paired with all the photos I love to capture so much over on Intrepid's adventure blog, The Journal. And of course, additional photos and portraits are always up on the galleries right here on my site.

I hope you enjoy! Stay tuned for more of my stories and adventures from this wild ride around the world.

xoxo,
Allison

Portraits of Africa

It's been an amazing ride so far - living this travel dream, visiting places unknown, taking a break from the day-to-day. I've been to Southern Africa and back already stepping foot in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa.

The most memorable part of my journey wasn't the wildlife, as one would expect (although that was amazing). The most memorable part was the local people we encountered along the way. We live in a great big world and everywhere far is actually much closer than you think. Despite language barriers, we connected through a smile, a dance, a gift and a laugh - universal connective tissue that binds us all.

Now, more than ever, I am thrilled to celebrate the people I've connected with by sharing my favorite photos from my African travels - Portraits of Africa

In Prep for Africa at the San Francisco Zoo

In case you missed it, I recently announced my plans to take some extended time off of work to travel the world and practice photography. 

My first trip brings me to Africa for safari with Intrepid Travel. I'll be practicing wildlife, cultural and travel photography in ways I’ve never done before.

There’s a reason why photographers tend to specialize in one area - each type of subject requires a masterful understanding of very specific requirements.

For wildlife, I need to work with a super telephoto lens - one that’s also light enough to carry along with me. Telephotos are heavy, enormous beasts! So, it’s key to be realistic and decide what's most important: choosing the best possible lens out there or one that’s good and manageable on the road.

A majority of my time will be spent rattling and bouncing around a safari vehicle and a big piece of expensive glass is even tougher to deal with in that kind of precarious situation.

With all of that in mind, I decided to go with Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II weighing in at 3.5 pounds and fitting snugly into my backpack.

  • Weight: 3.5 lbs
  • Rental Cost for 10 days: $135
  • Retail: $2,199
 

I’ve also decided to rent from BorrowLenses - an easy choice for those who aren’t committed to own. (For the curious, I am shooting with a Mark IV.)

For comparison, if I was a pro, had assistants and was setting up for the most idealistic shot, I’d probably go for the 500mm f/4L IS II. Prime lenses are always better.
 

  • Weight: 7.03 lbs (!)
  • Rental Cost for 10 days: $540
  • Retail: $10,500

Kind of a no-brainer when income is being reduced to zero.

Before leaving for Africa, I had to get out there and try this new-to-me telephoto lens to get a feel for its weight, quality, distance, and to get an overall understanding of how the lens works. So, I rented it for a weekend and took it for a spin.

What better place to go practice photographing wildlife under known conditions than the San Francisco Zoo? (Author’s Note: Zoos make me feel sad).

I’m really excited about the images that I was able to create. The lens was smooth and wasn’t terribly heavy. By the end of the day my arm was sore, but not painfully so. The image quality was superb as well. 

I am concerned that the max focal length of 400mm won’t be enough to capture animals in the wild at greater distances, but now I have proper expectations set and am ready to face whatever this safari gives me.

I call this series: Animals in Captivity, 2016

 

For these shots, I went with a high shutter speed for these fast moving animals, a wide aperture to minimize detail in the already dark cage backgrounds and a low ISO to get the least amount of noise. I used only natural light - the afternoon was soft, darkish and cloudy.

All the shots were intentionally underexposed to bring out some drama and slightly edited in Lightroom to make the shadows darker and the highlights brighter.

I had the most fun with the birds, of course.

Can’t wait to get my hands back on this lens and get out there to Africa. Follow along with me as I head out on January 13th.

xoxo,
Allison

2017, It's Time to Shake Things Up.

Hello Friends and Family, Travelers, Photographers, Visitors and the Curious. I am so glad you’re here!

I’m crazy thankful for all that 2016 has offered and feel crazy lucky to live the life I lead. While I would have much preferred alternative outcomes to many things this year, I feel nothing but joy ringing in the new year.

2017 will be a big one for me. 

My posts have fallen short since Antarctica as I settled into my day-to-day and into the comfortable routine of life and work. But it’s time to shake things up...

Starting January 11th through April 11th, I will be a taking a huge amount of time off to travel the world and do what I love most - photography!

Here's where I'm going:

  • Camping on a safari drive in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa
  • Shooting frozen landscapes & the auroras in Iceland
  • Sailing on a catamaran in Phuket, Thailand & the Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar 
  • Traversing the South Island of New Zealand with Sam 

I've chosen these destinations very intentionally, starting with the most "out of my comfort zone" leading up to the longest and most comfortable. It was important for me to visit reasonably diverse places that each have a special and unique personality - but are also deeply meaningful to me in one way or another. 

Each destination will center around photography, of course, and I'm excited to see what themes develop while I'm out there: from culture and wildlife and ice (again!) and tropical landscapes. 

I can't wait to practice my craft this way - and refocus for a moment before ultimately deciding what's next.

I hope you can join me here (subscribe!), on MediumInstagram, and Twitter as I share these adventures, before, during and after and share the impact that each adventure will have on my photography and my spirit. 

I’ll be back in between each trip for some relaxing time at home with Sam, some reflection and lots of editing, storytelling a bite-sized Medium posts.

The time for change is now and I can’t wait to tell you more as I leap forward.

xoxo,
Allison

Antarctica Noir: A New Photo Series

Over the last few months, I've spent a great deal of time away from my photos of Antarctica. Having taken over 9,000 shots, I decided to close up Lightroom for a while and let them rest. There were just too many.

Recently however, I started experimenting with the tone of my photos — playing with mood and mystery over the usual bright and colorful shots that I tend to focus on. And suddenly, I was inspired to relive the adventure — in black and white.

In doing so, I discovered many shots that I had overlooked, hidden moments I didn’t see and epic landscapes that came to life in new ways through various shades of gray.

So with that, I give you something new, something different, something on the moodier side... A new series I’m incredibly happy with that will continue to grow as I continue to discover new moments from Antarctica.

Antarctica Noir
A brooding journey through the Antarctic.

A Fresh New Site, Now with Photo Galleries

I've spent the last few months going through many years of photos and travels, stories and adventures and finally put together a complete site with a fresh design and dedicated photography galleries! This probably seems fairly simple, but it was quite a feat making selects and finalizing the layouts. I'm crazy thrilled to finally have a space that I truly love one that can grow and evolve as I do.

While this new site doesn't capture all of my projects and all of the places I've visited over the years, it's a great start toward creating dedicated galleries for my work. I'm so excited for my next adventure, especially now that this new platform for travel planning, photography and storytelling is complete. Huge thanks for all of your support so far, I hope you continue to follow along as I plan, prep and ultimately photograph this great big world of ours. 

Onward!

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Tiny Atlas Quarterly Photography Show

I'm thrilled and honored to have been included in the Tiny Atlas Quarterly #LOVEMytinyatlas show at the Scott Ellsworth Gallery inside Alite Outpost here in San Francisco. The show celebrates travel photography from around the world and features an incredible set of inspiring work curated by Emily Nathan and Michael O'Neal. Of course, Antarctica did all of the hard work, but I'm excited to be a part of it.

For those in town, this is the last week to visit the gallery space. The show has been since up since February 13th and runs through March 16th. Thanks to everyone who already came out in person and in spirit!  

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Inspiration Talk on My Visit to Antarctica

I was recently asked to give an Inspiration Talk on my experience in Antarctica. Of course, I'm always super happy to talk about all things Antarctica, so I jumped on this right away. Though it’s quite a bit less compelling without my exuberant voiceover and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, I thought I would share the slides from my presentation regardless. Hope you're into it! 

Solo Traveling: Don't Sweat It!

Travel companions make things a whole lot easier. You get to go from place to place leaning on each other as you make your way through unknown places, language barriers, confusing directions and tricky situations. Pals make it comfortable, stress-free (mostly) and provide laughs and company out in the middle of nowhere.

But traveling alone opens up a whole new world of awesome. Nothing puts me outside my comfort zone (in a good way) like solo adventures — from meeting new, now lifelong friends to total self-reliance, traveling alone makes me feel scared and alive. And I need to do more of it.

Luckily, Antarctica is one of the easiest places to visit as a solo traveler. Here are some reasons why:

  1. You’re on a ship the whole time, with lots of crazy people, just like you.
  2. There are many other solo travelers too, all friendly and looking for other people to hang out with.
  3. These solo travelers come in all ages. No matter where you are in life, you will be able to make a new friend. Everyone has a story.
  4. If you’re going alone, the ship will set you up with a cabin-mate(s). Depending on your ship, this will be 1-3 other people of the same gender. Instant companionship!
  5. You're constantly so absorbed in the magical world of Antarctica that you get totally lost in it all. In that state,  you actually want to be on your own, in your head, taking it all in. These moments of introverted reflection were absolutely priceless and a critical part of my experience.
  6. Ushuaia, the port of call for Antarctica, is filled with lots of English-speaking adventurers, making their way to and from Antarctica or Patagonia. Hostels and Hotels are everywhere and the town is easily walkable and easy to for non-Spanish speakers to have a good time.
  7. It’s super easy to get from the airports to Ushuaia, to hikes, to the port, and it’s likely that the tour company will have done everything to help you get from A to B with little thought from you. 
     

I’m telling you, it’s really, shockingly easy. 

So, if you’ve been dying to go to Antarctica and nobody will go with you (because they don’t quite get why’d you go in the first place), just go! Go on your own. Plan it now! 

It will always seem harder than it is, but trust me it’s a breeze — and you might just have a better time than you ever expected.

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Frequently Asked Questions: The Return

Friends, family, co-workers, tweeters and facebookers have all asked me lots of questions about my experience since I've returned. Here are the ones that have been coming up the most.

1. So… How was it?!
Legendary! EPIC! Amazing. Better than I expected. Far beyond what I could have imagined. I didn’t quite expect to be so moved! So touched. But, when you’re surrounded by incredible, remote wilderness, it’s impossible not to be affected by it in some profound way. I’d like to bring the spirit of Antarctica and the connection I had to it into my everyday life. Not sure what that means quite yet, but it was too special and too important for me to overlook. It’s hard to explain exactly what about it was so life-changing or why… it just was. 

Since I’ve returned, I’ve already looked into several ways of going back, donated to many organizations dedicated to its preservation (more on that in a future post), and researched like-minded people, companies and organizations whose lives are focused on Antarctica.

Needless to say, it was that good.
 

2. What did you do every day?
On the Drake (2 days in both directions), I spent most of the time going to educational lectures presented by the Expedition Guides. We had ornithologists, marine biologists, historians, geologists - all teaching us about their expertise in Antarctica. 

On the peninsula, we visited two locations per day each with activities including kayaking (if you signed up for it), zodiac cruising, or going ashore. In many cases, I got to do all three. On land, we hiked and watched the penguins (so many curious penguins, they got so close!) and other wildlife. The zodiac cruises got us up-close to the icebergs and glaciers. In between each location, we were aboard the ship, watching wildlife (whales!) from the deck, having meals, listening to more lectures or getting in a quick nap until it was time to do something amazing again. Since it was always light... there was always something to see. I didn't sleep much!

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Photos & Stories, Now on Exposure

I really love Exposure. It's a photography blogging platform specifically designed for photographers to share their images and their stories in deeply engaging ways. Every story I post shines so bright on Exposure. The photo formats are gorgeous. The design is top notch. I always spend a great deal of time crafting my photo narratives there, in ways I really can't do anywhere else. I like to keep my writing short and let my photos really take over. 

Antarctica was a photo adventure for me, so I couldn't be happier with the outcome of my Exposure story on Antarctica. The feedback has been incredible! Thank you to everyone whose supported me so far and to anyone else in the future who throws a thumbs up my way. It means so much! Check it out. 

Antarctica: A Most Legendary Adventure

Antarctica: A Most Legendary Adventure

I'm so excited to share the full recap of my trip to Antarctica with you! I genuinely hope that the love I have for this place shines through in all of my posts and hopefully inspires travel in you! 

A Brief Introduction

It never occurred to me that you could visit Antarctica. The Antarctic in my head was filled with science and research stations and relics of explorers past. On my long list of places to travel, Antarctica didn’t even make the cut. But, in 2013, I met a family while in Peru who regaled me with tales of the great white continent siting Antarctica as the best place they’d ever been. The idea had stuck with me ever since. Why was it so great?

In July 2014, I was laying in bed at night thinking about life and travel and suddenly, without warning, Antarctica popped into the forefront of my mind. I had to go. I had to take pictures of the ice. I had to see for myself. I was booked and paid-in-full a few weeks later. Friends often asked why I didn’t just go to Iceland or Alaska, or some place easier to get to. I didn’t have a good answer. Only that for whatever unwritten reason, it had to be Antarctica.

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Antarctica Photos, Coming Soon

I’m so, so close! Nights and weekends have been dedicated to reviewing, editing and organizing photos. There’s so many gems! I’ve gone from over 9,000 to roughly 400 pics. I am thrilled to show you the final set — The goal is early next week.

I’m a bit hesitant to finish my posts and stories, pictures and recaps. It will mean the trip is fully wrapped and the adventure will feel completely over. Hopefully I can continue to bring the spirit of Antarctica in my every day life, tapping into the energy and excitement that was so strong while I was there. 

Or perhaps I just need to plan another trip to the great white continent — to build on my photos and continue the immense respect and love I have for its epic beauty... 

In the meantime, get ready for some photos! And some stories. And some lessons and tidbits in the future.

Contact Sheet of photo selects from the Drake Passage aboard the Sea Adventurer.

Contact Sheet of photo selects from the Drake Passage aboard the Sea Adventurer.

A Quick Preview of Some Top Shots

Since it’s taking me so long to sort through my photos and tell the right stories, I’ve decided to share a little teaser of my favorite images so far. I’ve also posted photos from Ushuaia to Flickr as a bit of an appetizer to the Antarctic main course. I’m psyched to reveal the rest! For now, enjoy these few gems.
 

Nick and Marie waiting for the rest of the group to launch into their kayaks. This photo was taken at Salvesen Cove, our first time out on the water. The morning started with mysterious, quiet snowfall and freshly forming sea ice all around us. Within an hour, the sun revealed an incredible glacier cove. The weather changes fast in Antarctica, and my was it magical.

Nick and Marie waiting for the rest of the group to launch into their kayaks. This photo was taken at Salvesen Cove, our first time out on the water. The morning started with mysterious, quiet snowfall and freshly forming sea ice all around us. Within an hour, the sun revealed an incredible glacier cove. The weather changes fast in Antarctica, and my was it magical.

Ahh, Paradise Bay, where the sun was shining and the air was uncharacteristically warm. I took this photo while we were cruising around the bay, exploring the ice and glaciers from the zodiac. This is the only time I opted for the zodiac over the kayak, and in the case I'm glad I did. I was able to use my fancier lenses and capture this moment when the engine was off and the water was still. 

Ahh, Paradise Bay, where the sun was shining and the air was uncharacteristically warm. I took this photo while we were cruising around the bay, exploring the ice and glaciers from the zodiac. This is the only time I opted for the zodiac over the kayak, and in the case I'm glad I did. I was able to use my fancier lenses and capture this moment when the engine was off and the water was still. 

A proud chinstrap penguin watches over Orne Harbor. These guys are not afraid of people and it was such a delight getting fairly close to them, observing their behavior.

A proud chinstrap penguin watches over Orne Harbor. These guys are not afraid of people and it was such a delight getting fairly close to them, observing their behavior.

This is a crazy iceberg with a hole and slide at Charlotte Bay, one of my absolute favorite places on the Antarctic Peninsula (so far). We spent the afternoon kayaking through the icebergs and hiking up to Portal Point for an expansive view of the entire bay.  I took this photo as we were leaving the area, just after an epic outdoor BBQ on the ship.

This is a crazy iceberg with a hole and slide at Charlotte Bay, one of my absolute favorite places on the Antarctic Peninsula (so far). We spent the afternoon kayaking through the icebergs and hiking up to Portal Point for an expansive view of the entire bay.  I took this photo as we were leaving the area, just after an epic outdoor BBQ on the ship.

This was a lucky moment for me. Every night, I woke up around 2:00am to catch the "sunrise" (even though it never gets dark) and every night, the light was just OK. This night, I gave up on the dream and decided to get a full night's sleep and go to bed at 12:00. But not without checking outside first! The sky was a gorgeous pink hue - just what I was looking for. I spent the following hour enjoying the light and snapping photos, of course.

This was a lucky moment for me. Every night, I woke up around 2:00am to catch the "sunrise" (even though it never gets dark) and every night, the light was just OK. This night, I gave up on the dream and decided to get a full night's sleep and go to bed at 12:00. But not without checking outside first! The sky was a gorgeous pink hue - just what I was looking for. I spent the following hour enjoying the light and snapping photos, of course.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Baily Head on Deception Island. It's a pretty tough beach landing with the shore completely exposed to the elements. Our expedition team was amazing, so of course they were able to get us there and allow us to spend so much time with an insane amount of chinstrap penguins on a snowy morning. Here's a curious pair who got up close for a while. I loved it.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Baily Head on Deception Island. It's a pretty tough beach landing with the shore completely exposed to the elements. Our expedition team was amazing, so of course they were able to get us there and allow us to spend so much time with an insane amount of chinstrap penguins on a snowy morning. Here's a curious pair who got up close for a while. I loved it.

A gorgeous view of the Antarctic Peninsula as we were leaving Charlotte Bay, making our way to Orne Harbor for the night. The light, the landscapes, the wildlife in Antarctica was always changing, making it nearly impossible for me to peel myself away from the decks and the windows. I was often leaving early or arriving late for meals, skimping out on sleep, or missing lectures and programs to take it all in. Every moment was filled with amazing things to see. 

A gorgeous view of the Antarctic Peninsula as we were leaving Charlotte Bay, making our way to Orne Harbor for the night. The light, the landscapes, the wildlife in Antarctica was always changing, making it nearly impossible for me to peel myself away from the decks and the windows. I was often leaving early or arriving late for meals, skimping out on sleep, or missing lectures and programs to take it all in. Every moment was filled with amazing things to see. 

Coming Home & the Plan for Sharing

Hey guys! 

Antarctica. Wow.

This experience will be sticking with me for a long, long time…

Anyway, I wanted to give you an update.

It has been so exciting having you guys follow along with me and now that I’ve returned, I’m thrilled to tell the stories, share the moments and unveil the photos I’ve taken (9,369 in total!). 

I’ll need some time to process this epic and transformative adventure, so bear with me while I get organized and try to find the right words and the best photos to describe it. We live in an incredible world and I hope to be able to somehow give you a tiny glimpse into my utterly legendary experience of the Antarctic wilderness.

It will probably all come together after the holidays while I take the time to let it sink in and attempt to adjust to regular life. 

Until then, have an amazing holiday and a happy new year. 

PS - I updated the hero image on my blog with my own shot! I love Antarctica. 

Return from Antarctica

I've just returned to Ushuaia from Antarctica. The trip was legendary. Far and beyond the best and most epic experience of my life. I'm really looking forward to showing you guys some of the places I've seen and sharing some of my stories. Coming soon...

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego & New Friends

Over the last few days, I've been enjoying lovely weather and the company of new friends in Ushuaia. The gang at Freestyle (the travel agency I booked with) got together on Friday night for drinks at the Irish pub in town. I met a whole group of people traveling on two Quark ships in the coming days. We shared a lot of laughs and stories over pizza and beer and I got to know a few hilarious people, some on my ship some on other ships, bonding over our upcoming adventure. 

Abandoned ship at the port of Ushuaia 

Abandoned ship at the port of Ushuaia 

One of the young couples I met (Noelle and Stephen) at the pub is from Santa Cruz, right in my backyard! We spent the next day hiking Tierra del Fuego National Park, taking pictures and exploring nature. It was such a blast! We also met a world traveler from Canada (Sarah) who became fast friends with our group -- also on our ship. After about four hours adventuring in the park, we went to a quick briefing about our ship and then parted ways for the night. 

Pan del Indio (Indian bread) tree fungus that can be found all over Tierra del Fuego. This one fell from a tree and soaked up the sea

Pan del Indio (Indian bread) tree fungus that can be found all over Tierra del Fuego. This one fell from a tree and soaked up the sea

Pink flowers along the coast at Tierra del Fuego National Park

Pink flowers along the coast at Tierra del Fuego National Park

Mossy coastline on a lovely, misty afternoon. Nature's colors really shine in Tierra del Fuego.

Mossy coastline on a lovely, misty afternoon. Nature's colors really shine in Tierra del Fuego.

More incredible colors. The lichen at Tierra del Fuego sparkles against the gray skies.

More incredible colors. The lichen at Tierra del Fuego sparkles against the gray skies.

For dinner, I met up with one of the photographers (Ira) I've been chatting with since I started planning this whole thing. He happened to be Ushuaia at the same time as me and it was great to finally meet in person and hear his stories.

I don't know what the wifi will be like, so this may be it. And if I do get a wifi, I'll only post once or twice and maybe a pic a day on Instagram (aquinnm).

It's been fun, Ushuaia! But now, it's time to get real. It's embarkation day. It's time for Antarctica...

The setting sky of Ushuaia, take around 10pm. The days are long this far south.

The setting sky of Ushuaia, take around 10pm. The days are long this far south.

Views of a very leaning Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world and port of call for Antarctica

Views of a very leaning Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world and port of call for Antarctica

Arrival in Ushuaia

The start of my four-flight trip to Ushuaia was as good as anyone could hope for. Getting to the SFO airport was easy, through security -- a breeze. The sunrise was lovely and to top it off, we flew by a rainbow. That's right, my trip kicked off with rainbows! Magic. 

Golden sunrise and rainbows over SFO

Golden sunrise and rainbows over SFO

My seat mate was also on the same flight plan to Ushuaia and also embarking to Antarctica (different ship than me, though). We chatted over planning, ship options, and photos and hung out during layovers. It was nice to have the same friendly encounter after each landing.  

The whole journey was fine. Long and draining, but smooth and went on without a hitch. In sum, here's what I did:

  1. SFO - LAX: 1.5hrs
  2. LAX - PTY: 6hrs
  3. PTY - EZE: 7.5hrs
  4. EZE - USH: 3hrs

I'm glad that's over. 

I'm now in Ushuaia where I will relax and explore for a few days before boarding the ship to Antarctica.

View from my hotel in Ushuaia.

View from my hotel in Ushuaia.