Photography

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! 

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.

Read More

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. 

Practicing for Antarctica: Photography Edition

My trip is coming up fast -- 14 days, fast! I'm still in practice mode, switching focus from the kayak to the camera.

Part 1: Travel Photography & Storytelling
To start this phase, I enrolled in Travel Photography & Storytelling with Bob Krist put on by National Geographic at the San Francisco Art Institute (not to be confused with the more generic Art Institutes).

This was a four-hour, indoor, no-window lecture session where he simply talked about photography. This event could have been totally boring, but it was an absolute joy. Bob was hilarious! I learned the basics of what kind of pictures and themes make up the best kind of stories -- all drawing from cinema.  

The lecture was designed to help transform my travel photography from “first I did this and then I did that...” to a narrative that says something about me and my journey. He shared tips on how to step away from the expected and the linear and focus on finding the thread that brings it all together. I can’t wait to put this into practice!

 Travel Photography & Storytelling with Bob Krist

Travel Photography & Storytelling with Bob Krist

Part 2: Landscape Photography Workshop in Big Sur, California
Next, I wanted to get out in the field and learn more technical aspects of photography, so I joined a landscape photography workshop in Big Sur, hosted by the Aperture Academy. We drove from iconic location to the next, photographing the gorgeous California coast.

I let go of my Av crutch and embraced manual mode, learned how to use ND graduated filters, and got even more comfortable with polarizers, tripods and all the gear that makes landscape shots shine. What a blast!

Planning and prepping for this trip has been amazing -- I get excited about all the pre-travel details and have been so proud of everything I’ve learned and practiced leading up to the big departure. (I’m even ready to dedicate a blog exclusively to planning trips! Maybe even plan for others?) 

All that’s left is to pack… repack… and do it again a few more times, and then I’ll be on my way.

WOW.

Photography Gear: What I'm Packing

First,  a disclaimer. 

I have no idea what I’m doing. I take a lot of pictures, so there’s some lessons learned and some getting better by sheer, brunt-force practice. But, I’m not a pro. I’m an enthusiast. Or rather, a very enthusiastic novice.

Now that that’s out of the way… Here’s my gear plan:

Lenses (Renting):

lenses

Body:

  • Canon EOS 6D Digital SLR 
  • Backup: Yikes, I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll rent a 5D MKIII and use the 6D as a backup...


Additional Cameras:

  • iPhone 6 + Moment Wide Lens 
  • Fujifilm Quicksnap 800 Waterproof 35mm Disposable Camera 
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Accessories:

 

I picked this gear based on lots of research and talking to people who are legit photographers (thanks, Ira Meyer, Steve Boyle, Martin Bailey, and many more!). Ultimately, taking too much stuff makes travel cumbersome and difficult, so I’ll have to choose a small subset of this gear each day for a happier me and happier photos.

What about you guys? People who have been and people visiting soon… what are you bringing?

Can I take Underwater Shots from a Kayak?

Last weekend, I designed another kayak practice session and gear test for this trip. The biggest question to answer was: Can I take pictures in my underwater bag from a kayak? 

I’ll set the stage:

I’m paddling along in my kayak. I’m wearing a lot of *bulky gear and look pretty ridiculous. (Spray skirt, PFD: aka life jacket, a drysuit, winter parka, hat and gloves).

I’ve got a DSLR inside an ewa-underwater bag around my neck (or resting atop the skirt), a protected point and shoot and/or an old iPhone shoved into my PFD and a lens cloth -- also jammed in wherever it makes sense.

Then, I'm dipping the camera in and out of the water from the side of an unstable boat...

So, can I manage all that stuff and take a decent picture? 

The short answer is a resounding, YES!  
The long answer is… it’s complicated.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. You get wet. Which is fine in the warm California waters… but in the ice? Hmmm...
  2. The kayak is wobbly! It takes some getting used to, but manageable with time.
  3. Getting a shot is a big guess. You stick your camera in the water, fire the shutter and hope for the best.
  4. You’re constantly in motion. Between the kayak and moving subjects, I’m not sure I’ll get anything…
  5. Shooting pics on the left side is impossible since I have to cross my body in awkward ways. All the cool stuff better happen on the right, Nature!
  6. It’s much easier to shoot in portrait since I have easier access to the shutter this way.
  7. The big neoprene gloves make it awkward, but it still works!
  8. Paddle management is also super awkward and laughably inelegant. Like eating spaghetti on a first date. It’s all doable... Albeit very dorky.

In sum, I’ll keep practicing! Though, I’m sure I’ll just forget everything when I get there, fumble like crazy and just wing it. Isn’t that how it always goes?

*Note: I didn't actually wear all the warm weather gear for this test. It was 80 degrees out and I just wasn't up for excessive sweating.

 Test shots with my DSLR inside an ewa-marine bag from the side of a kayak in Tomales Bay, CA.

Test shots with my DSLR inside an ewa-marine bag from the side of a kayak in Tomales Bay, CA.

The Great Underwater Photography Fantasy

Taking pictures above ground is the easy part. Keep the gear dry and safe on the zodiacs when traveling to and from shore. Be mindful of cold and ever-changing weather conditions. Respect the wildlife and understand the light. Bring some wide angles, bring some telephotos and bam, I’m set.

But, I’ve decided to complicate the whole thing by adding an underwater twist. I’ve got big dreams of bright blue icebergs below the surface and playful swimming penguins - all captured in high quality glory with my DSLR inside a ewa-marine bag. I dream of photos like this one by David Doubilet:

 Amazing photograph by Underwater Photographer,  David Boubilet .

Amazing photograph by Underwater Photographer, David Boubilet.

Of course, that kind of shot poses many challenges since won't actually be IN the water. Hopefully I can achieve something close with these fantasy scenarios:

Scenario 01: Dipping my underwater bag in the water from my kayak.

  • Subjects: Ice, swimming penguins, other swimming sea life.
  • Risks: Falling in the water. Not the camera… ME. Oh, and the bag failing, killing my camera.
  • Questions: How am I going to fire the shutter with big neoprene gloves? Is the water too cold? 
  • Note: Coincidentally, a photographer name Kyle has done this before!

Scenario 02: Dipping my underwater bag in the water on the shore.

  • Subjects: Splashing about wildlife.
  • Risks: Generally getting wet and being cold. 
  • Questions: Is there even a shot “underwater” here? This is not my dream.

Scenario 03: Dipping my underwater bag in the water from a slow zodiac “cruise”

  • Subjects: Ice, swimming penguins, other swimming sea life.
  • Risks: Zodiac drivers giving me hell. Falling in the water. Again, MY body, not the camera. 
  • Question: Will zodiac drivers let me do this? The same questions as the kayak.

I’m bringing some underwater point and shoots (film!), which should be fun and low risk and a complete mystery — which is half the fun! I’m also considering a GoPro - but am less into video and the photo quality isn’t as good. And of course, multiple camera bodies in case I kill a camera with this possibly ridiculous and mostly amazing ambition.

I have a practice simulation planned in a few weeks to try these scenarios out. Anyone have an experience or stories attempting something similar? 

Antarctica Practice Schedule

The whole point of going to Antarctica (aside from just going to experience Antarctica), is to take pictures. Amazing, spectacular, incredible pictures of ice and penguins above and beneath the surface! This means taking pictures from an unsteady kayak, from a rocking ship, in cold climates, with super thick gloves, focusing on subjects near and far that are moving fast or hard to get.

And I have no real idea what I am doing, to boot. All the quality shots I’ve have taken in life so far have been purely by accident… and because I take thousands of awful pictures for every good one.

Anyway, in an effort to get comfortable with these unusual circumstances, my plan is to learn and read, test and practice, and willingly make a fool of myself in the months before so that when I finally get there, I can be cool and composed (at least in theory) as I create the shots I long for. 

Here are some of the things I’ve got planned:

September 6: Intro to Kayaking Class 
I have to learn to be comfortable (and safe) in a kayak before I can start getting crazy and shooting from one.

September 19 - 21: Kayak Weekeend
Time to test those skills on a weekend of unsupervised kayaking. First, a night-time bioluminescence tour — which is just plain cool and less about specific practice.

Then, it’s a day of full-scale simulation. I’m bringing my DSLR, underwater setup, lenses, point-and-shoots, big ol’ neoprene gloves and winter parka to see what it might be like. Can I manage all of this from a kayak? Can I avoid tipping? How much stuff can I actually bring in one of these things? This weekend is the big test.

October 18: Advanced Kayaking Class
Time to up the ante! I’m going pro here. This is practice for Antarctica after all. 

UPDATE: Just got back from the intro class and... I'm not advanced enough for the advanced class.  I'll be using this time in my schedule to practice my basic skills again.

November 9: National Geographic Photography Lecture in San Francisco
Time to focus my attention on general photography practice! I'm heading to a lecture to hear about ways to go beyond the linear "here's my trip!" experience and tell better stories and moments in my travels.

November 16: Landscape Photography Workshop in Big Sur
I'll be heading south to work with several photographers on tuning my landscape and wildlife skills and get acquainted with any special equipment and gear that might help me on my adventure.

Of course, I’ve got a library filled with a ton of antarctica-specific podcasts, articles, books and stories to help ensure that I am totally prepared for the unexpected.