All Posts By

Erin Sullivan

INSPIRATION

Keep Going

I woke up with this message on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t always wake up with something clear on my mind. Sometimes I don’t feel like trying, to be honest.

Keep going. This message is for you, but it’s for me, too. Because there are days that it’s a challenge to do anything that feels productive. I end up wasting my own time, doing things that aren’t important. And I think as entrepreneurs, we don’t talk about this part of the gig nearly as much as we could.

This blog has always been me, always been real, always been the high highs and the low lows. I’ve been writing here for nearly three years, and when first I started it, I did not look at my future in a crystal ball and see my life as it is right now. I didn’t see much of anything. I had just moved back to the States from traveling full time, had taken a job I wasn’t really sure about, and wasn’t clear on any kind of vision. I started this blog on a hunch that people might find these words helpful someday. That hunch never promised me a clear or straight shot to success. But it did prove to be a foundation for something–– I just had to decide on what to build, and then get to building it.

Today, I just want to offer you some encouragement. Whatever it is that you are fighting for, dealing with, working toward: keep going.

Nobody promises you ease or flow, it’s up to you to find it. We don’t get the final product dropped on our front doorstep, or success delivered in a package. It’s up to us to create it, and to struggle and learn with it in the process. And I do mean process–– something that takes time, energy, patience, and a little bit of luck along the way.

If you’re pursuing a path less traveled, be prepared to commit. Be prepared for it to last a lifetime. Be prepared to take your best guess most of the time. Be prepared to sit with yourself throughout your seasons of both loving and hating the journey. Of successes and inevitable failures, both of which you will learn from. I’m telling you this because I’ve been through it.

Part of my work involves writing. There are days I don’t write, and there are days I write and I don’t like any of it. I don’t wake up feeling inspired every day. And there are certainly periods of time when I don’t think my work is very good. That is just how all of this works. There are days when you think you’re a genius. Those are balanced out by the days you think you’re a total failure. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. (and no, you’re not a total failure.)

Do not discredit your journey, today or ever. Look at the big picture. Look at how far you have come. And keep going, because the world needs your innovation, your creativity, your words, your love, your ingenuity.

If there has been any key to my success, it’s that I’ve been doing this consistently without giving up. Hard stuff takes discipline. And creativity is, well, hard. So notice what is working, ditch what isn’t, and pursue what is. There is no magic pill, no secret key I possess that you don’t. It’s just hard work and creativity over time. It’s not like the people who you look up to have “made it.” It’s not like they live in a perpetual state of having “made it” after they booked that one gig or had that one photo published in that one place. Everyone is looking for their next mountain to climb.

My friend, we have to bet on ourselves. We have to make joy a habit. We have to let it be easy when and where we can. Sharing truth matters. Bold, real, gritty truth and experience. Connection fuels this world and its movement and you are invited to be a part of that by doing whatever it is that you do.

I come back to a lot of the same themes from time to time–– but I do so because they are important. A creative and adventurous life is often also full of doubt and fear. We can’t let those things get in the way of actually doing or actually creating.

If you feel like you have lost your momentum, it is up to you to find it again. Movement inspires movement. Remind yourself that you have taken many steps before, and many more are required of you. So take another step, and keep going.

TRAVEL TRIP REPORTS

Two Weeks in Namibia

Last month, I spent two weeks in Namibia. It all started because of this Facebook post:

I met my friend Colby Brown at a Sony conference. Colby is a fellow photographer and Sony Artisan of Imagery, creating images and leading workshops all over the world. He also runs a humanitarian organization called The Giving Lens, and he’s got about 10 years on me in terms of experience and expertise in the photography world.

I saw Colby’s post and thought: well, I guess I should probably go to Namibia. I did some math, looked at my schedule, and booked a ticket within 24 hours. The next challenge? Plan a two-week photographic adventure in Namibia during high season on just a few weeks’ notice.

I’m no stranger to last-minute trip planning, but it helps to have experts on your team. We consulted with Chris McIntyre of Expert Africa for help with the details. Chris and the EA team were extremely helpful in their recommendations and feedback on our itinerary, especially when it came to creating an authentic experience with responsible travel in mind. Chris literally wrote the book on Namibia and I highly recommend his expertise to anyone who could use a hand planning a spectacular trip. Here is a ton of bookmark-worthy info about travel in Namibia on the Expert Africa site.

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the people to consult if you need…well… experts.

 

Before this trip, I honestly didn’t know much about Namibia. I knew it was vast and has a small population (2 million) relative to its massive size, and I had seen a few photos of its seemingly endless desert courtesy of my friend and fellow blogger Glo Atanmo… but I wasn’t prepared for the stunning landscape and fascinating culture I’d experience over the course of my two-week trip.

I hope this post gives you some helpful info and lots of inspiration to go experience Namibia for yourself!

Mars or Namibia? (it's the second one)

Mars or Namibia?

 

WHEN TO GO

Generally speaking, dry season (winter) is May to October, and wet season (summer) is October to April. If you want to see wildlife, it’s best to go during the dry season. Many of our guides said it that it’s harder to see wildlife in the rainy season because animals don’t necessarily need to go to a watering hole for water, plus there are more obstacles in your line of sight (i.e., lush vegetation). Keep in mind that Namibia’s dry season is also its high season for tourism, which means that you may want to book earlier than you normally would. We got lucky with a lot of our bookings, but had to be very flexible when it came to dates in case our first choice was booked. Of course, this was our fault… but maybe you won’t do things as last-minute as we did. 😛

Our trip spanned two weeks in the middle/end of September. It was generally quite hot (in the 90’s Fahrenheit) during the day, cooling down at night. In the southern parts of the country, it wasn’t as hot during the day (70’s and 80’s Fahrenheit), but still warm.

WHAT TO PACK

I travel frequently, and as a result, I can pretty much pack for a two week trip on command. For this trip, I swapped some items in my normal summer attire for more conservative (but lightweight) options. My denim shorts were replaced by lightweight pants, and I brought neutrals instead of bright colors. For shoes, I brought my Blundstone boots and a pair of comfortable sandals–– these were more than enough. I brought a sweatshirt and my Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber for cooler nights and mornings.

 

In terms of luggage, I recommend a soft-sided duffel rather than a hard-shell suitcase for easy loading when it comes to safari-style travel. I brought my Cotopaxi 50L Roca Duffel because it’s water resistant and durable. I also brought my LowePro 500 AW II as my camera bag, and my Ubuntu Made Canvas Tote for items I wanted easily accessible during the day.

Cotopaxi Roca 50L

Cotopaxi Roca 50L

 

Generally speaking, if you forget something, you can probably buy it in Windhoek. But preferably you’ll remember whatever you forgot before heading into the bush. 😉

OUR ITINERARY

Namibia is a large country full of amazing sights, and the distances between the things you’ll probably want to see are far. Unless you have endless time, you will probably have to make choices on what you want to see. Our top priorities were wildlife photography, the sand dunes of Sossusvlei, and spending time with the Himba people, so that’s what our itinerary reflects.

Our options were to try to cover more places (and therefore drive more), or spend more time in fewer places and drive less. We opted for the latter. We didn’t want to feel rushed, and as photographers, we wanted to have plenty of time to get the shots we were looking for.

A note about cars: For this itinerary, a 4×4 was an absolute must. The parts of the trip that required the 4×4 were the last 5km to Dead Vlei, and the drive out from Opuwo to camp with the Himba. Other than that, the roads were excellent and 4×4 was not required. We rented a double-cab truck and it worked great.

Click on photo for map on Google maps.

Click on photo to access this map on Google maps.

 

Day 1: Arrive Windhoek airport, drive to Sossusvlei (drive time 5h 40min)

We arrived, picked up our rental car, snacks and water (get a lot, it’s dry out there), and headed south. Our goal was to get to the dunes–– we had a sunrise helicopter flight booked for Day 2.

Days 2 & 3: Sossusvlei

In Sossusvlei, we stayed at the Sossus Dune Lodge (operated by NWR), the only place inside the gates of the park, and the place you must stay if you would like access to the dunes at sunrise or sunset. There are a handful of other nice spots to stay outside the park, but the gates are closed between sunset and sunrise, so if you’re a photographer and good light matters, do yourself a favor and book the Sossus Dune Lodge. It’s expensive, but this is your only option to be in the park at sunrise/sunset.

My first impression of the dunes was from above, and holy crap, what a unique and spectacular landscape! The colors that appeared as the sun came over the horizon were gorgeous reds, oranges and purples, and the different shapes the dunes formed were nothing short of art. I highly recommend a doors off helicopter flight if you are able. We booked through the adventure center at the Sossusvlei Lodge.

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We spent another sunrise exploring Dead Vlei, a very interesting and alien-like desert-scape consisting of dead trees scattered among a dry clay flat, surrounded by orange dunes. It was definitely worth being there at sunrise to watch the way the light played on the dunes as the sun came up. Note that you need a 4×4 to drive the last 5km to Dead Vlei, but there was a vehicle that left with some of the other folks who were staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge, so this is an option if you don’t end up renting a 4×4. Definitely do confirm this with them in advance though.

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Our sunsets were spent driving the road towards Dead Vlei, stopping to photograph whichever dune seemed interesting… which was… well, lots of them, obviously.

Days 4 & 5: Erindi Private Game Reserve (drive time from Sossusvlei 7h 17min)

We woke up early for the long drive and checked in to Old Trader’s Lodge at Erindi Private Game Reserve in the afternoon. We headed for lunch on the incredible deck overlooking a large watering hole, where we were greeted by a herd of elephants. So cool! We ate all of our meals on the deck, and also found it to be a great place to do quick edits of the (many) images we captured while on the Reserve.

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We spent two full days at Erindi, and our guide Warren ensured our morning and evening game drives were excellent. Warren was extremely knowledgeable about all of the animals we saw. We had a great time with him!

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Day 6: Cheetah Conservation Fund (drive time from Erindi 2h 30min)

After our last game drive at Erindi, we drove to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and stayed at their new Cheetah View Lodge. In the morning, we watched the CCF staff run the cheetahs and did the behind-the-scenes activity they offer as well. It was great to learn about some of the programs the CCF is doing to protect the species. Worth a stop.

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Days 7 & 8: Camping with the Himba outside of Opuwo (drive time 6h 48min to Opuwo, then 1-3 hours to a village depending on where you go)

Through a contact we through a friend, we were able to hire a guide in Opuwo and spend a couple of days with a Himba village. This was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it. There is a lot to unpack here regarding visiting the tribe in a respectful and responsible manner, and I’ll write a longer blog post to discuss this.

The main points? Don’t be the tourists that show up bringing no gifts, take photos for five minutes, and leave. Hire a guide/company who contributes (do the research!), buy staple items the village needs and/or make a monetary donation, be inquisitive and ask questions, and always ask permission before taking photos of people. Put respect above all else. If you’d like to see more photos from our experience, as well as more information on many of the people I photographed, I posted an album on my Facebook page here.

Some of the kids playing with our cameras :)

Some of the kids in the village playing with our cameras :)

 

Days 9 & 10: Okuakuejo Camp at Etosha National Park (drive time from Opowu approx. 5h)

Etosha National Park is on everyone’s list, and for good reason. The park covers over 20,000 square km, and with a self-drive option, you can explore on your own or opt to join a drive with a guide. We decided to take our chances and drive ourselves, but we were not disappointed. Within our first half hour of driving in the park, we came across three male lions walking along the road. Once they moved into the bush, I captured this image, one of my favorites from the trip.

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The perhaps obvious drawback of Etosha is that it does feel a bit like an amusement park at times because of the self-drive aspect. Cars and safari vehicles pack into a small spot to catch a glimpse of the wildlife–– it’s anything but private. If you’re after a more serene wildlife viewing experience, a private game reserve is worthy of a splurge.

In Etosha, we stayed at Okuakuejo Resort, another NWR property like the Sossus Dune Lodge. It seems to be pretty unanimous that this is the place to stay in Etosha if you can. It’s got a pretty stunning watering hole where we watched a couple of gorgeous sunsets. Here’s a shot from our second night–– we could not have asked for more!

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Days 11 & 12: Ongava Private Game Reserve (drive time from Okuakuejo 30min)

Oh, Ongava. I didn’t want to leave! Ongava Private Game Reserve was a massive highlight of this trip for me, and I’m so glad it was our last stop. It was the perfect place to celebrate the beauty of Namibia and wrap up such a fantastic trip.

We stayed at Ongava Tented Camp, which consists of eight luxury tents immersed in the bush in a classic safari style. The best part, in my opinion, is the glorious outdoor shower each tent includes. We ate our meals under a thatched roof with a waterhole front-and-center for wildlife viewing at all times of the day and night. Ongava’s attention to detail was impressive, especially in the way that they put nature first in everything they do–– indeed “Nature First” is their motto. It was inspiring to hear about their commitment to conservation and their plans for the future as well.

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Our guide Michael was extremely knowledgeable and we enjoyed all of our drives with him. Wildlife highlights at Ongava included lots of lions (with cubs), cheetahs (with cubs), and white rhino, which we felt very lucky to see! FYI: the animals at Ongava do not wear tracking collars (which are common on other reserves and parks), which makes them both easier to photograph and maybe slightly harder to find.DSC08368

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Highly recommended.

Day 13: Drive back to Windhoek (drive time from Ongava 4h 30min)

After our final drive at Ongava, we headed south to Windhoek. A friend recommended Joe’s Beerhouse, where you can get pretty much any type of meat you want. Colby ordered a skewer of pretty much everything (and contemplated going vegan in the aftermath!). This place is worth checking out for the decor alone–– it’s a beer house meets safari meets Caribbean beach bar. Quirky.

On our last night, we stayed at Etango Ranch Guest House due to its convenient proximity to the airport. It was easy and a good place to re-pack our bags for the journey home.

Day 14: Fly out of Windhoek

Goodbye, Namibia!

OTHER HELPFUL INFO

Some places we skipped on this trip, but that are worth considering: Caprivi region, Swakopmund, Fish River Canyon, Twyfelfontein. Colby went to Kolmanskop on his own before I arrived.

Colby's view photographing Kolmanskop.

Colby’s view photographing Kolmanskop.

 

A note about booking NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) properties (for us, that was Okaukuejo and Sossus Dune Lodge)–– these are government-run, and it can be hard to hear back from them! I found emailing to be inconsistent, and ended up calling their Windhoek office directly to make our bookings. I then paid for one of the bookings online, and one in person.

Etosha National Park is a must, but I do recommend splurging on a few nights at a private reserve if you are able. This will get you closer to the animals and provide a more intimate experience. Of the two we visited, I would book Ongava for a quieter/more relaxed stay, and Erindi if I was traveling with family or small children.

Driving times between the places you’ll want to see are long! Make sure you’re prepared with podcasts and some great playlists. Our rental car didn’t have an aux cord input, so we bought an FM transmitter like this one in Windhoek. I recommend bringing one with you just in case!

In general for trip planning, your options are to join a pre-designed trip with other travelers, or to plan something on your own. If you’re a less experienced traveler or would like to have a social trip, group trips are a good option for you. If you’re wanting something a bit more tailored to your preferences, planning your itinerary on your own is what you’ll prefer. If you want to do less work in the planning stage, you can hire a specialist to plan and book your entire trip for you. As stated above, we tasked Expert Africa with this for part of our itinerary and they were great.

If you are looking to join a photography tour, consider Malcolm Fackender’s Spotlight on Africa, who currently has tours available for July/August 2018. I’m sure Colby and I will each be leading trips in Namibia eventually–– until then, if you want to go on a trip with either of us, you can check out Colby’s photography workshops here and my trip offerings by clicking the “Trips” tab above (or just follow this link).

MY PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR

Here’s the list of photo gear I used on this trip:

For wildlife photography, the winning combination by far was the Sony A9 with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens + 1.4x Teleconverter. Due to the high frame rate and awesome autofocus, this made my job so easy when it came to capturing images.

If you want to see an updated list of my current gear kit, click here.

This was an epic trip and I loved sharing it with you on social media! If you have more questions about Namibia, photography, or travel in general, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com. Thanks for following along.

INSPIRATION LIFE ADVICE WITH ERIN

Your Question: Is there time for everything?

Hi, Erin!

Do you think there is enough time for “it all”? By that I mean, personally, right now I’m 24 and I want to go back to school and finish my bachelors degree then get my PhD in either psych or history. I also want to be a full-time adventurer and environment advocate. At some point I want to hike the PCT from Oregon up to Canada. Want to join the Peace Corps too. Then there is the simple dream of working at a brewery and sleeping in an old Toyota Land Cruiser and reading the books and research studies I WANT to read and writing things I WANT to write. Is there time for all of this or do you think we have to narrow our dreams down to one or two manageable things? My mom tells me if I want something badly enough and I’m willing to work for it I’ll get it but I still feel this pressure that I should be settled down by a certain age and, even at 24, I feel like I’m running out of time. My priorities in life aren’t to get married or have kids, it’s myself but there’s still that voice in the back of my mind that says I shouldn’t hike the PCT after a certain age or backpack across Europe when I should be writing a thesis. I’m lost. I get chastised for feeling passionate about too many things then I feel ashamed for craving so much out of life that I don’t chase anything that my heart desires.

–M.


Dear M,

I totally get it. I’ve been there. There is so much out there. So many roads to explore. And it feels like they are one-way streets, but they aren’t. Let me explain.

At 22, I had the same question. There was a feeling of having to do it all right then and there. What was that urgency actually rooted in?

It can come from the fear of falling behind. The fear of never being “successful,” and an unfair definition of “success” in the first place. The fear of having to start over if you make a “wrong” choice. Why do these fears feel true when there are plenty of examples that show us otherwise?

You can always change your mind. Write that down and make it your mantra. We need to shift your thinking from a stressful space to a fun one–– your life is full of opportunity, how f*ing awesome is that?! It is important to recognize that this sense of overwhelm is coming from an immense place of privilege. You are blessed to have so many choices and resources. Don’t mistake this for a guilt-trip–– it’s not meant to be–– but it’s important to recognize the broad opportunities you possess.

“Which of these awesome things should I pursue?” is a fun question, so let’s take the pressure off. Let’s let it be fun. The fact that this is a worry for you tells me that you’re a passionate and dynamic person with a lot to offer, and that is something to celebrate.

First, look at your list of things. Your list of possibilities. What’s the Why behind them? Answer the following honestly.

  • Why do you want an advanced degree?
  • Why do you want to pursue full-time adventure?
  • Why you want to hike the PCT?
  • Why do you want to join the Peace Corps?
  • Why do you want to work at a brewery and live in a Land Rover?

When you answer these, identify which things you’re wanting for the right reasons. Not for prestige, for recognition, or to prove something to yourself about an insecurity. Get really stinkin’ honest with yourself here and see what comes up. Ditch the things you feel drawn to for the wrong reasons and keep the things that feel fulfilling to your soul.

What is the theme throughout the answers that remain? Is it creativity, adventure, giving back? Is it environmental? Does it involve you working behind the scenes, or standing on the stage? Connect the dots and identify the common themes, especially the Why. You can’t go wrong when you are connected to your Why. So can you soften? Can you stop being so hard on yourself?

I know that you want to get it right the first time. Listen: it’s OK if you don’t, and it’s a hell of a lot easier if you get used to the idea of failure right now–– because we rarely do things right on our first attempt. There aren’t right or wrong ways to do this whole Life thing anyway. You can change your mind anytime, remember? You can turn around whenever you want. Failure is only failure if you decide to purpose it that way. Repurpose your failure as a learning opportunity.

Is there time to do all the things? Yes, you’ll make it work! Why does it have to be so black-and-white? Could you work part-time at a brewery, read and write what you want, apply for PhD programs and take a semester off to hike the PCT?  Stop overthinking it, pick one thing to start with, and go for it. It will become clear if it’s the right path once you’re on your way.

Sitting and stressing about a lack of time is a gigantic waste of time. I know because I’m an expert at overthinking. In college, I had six months to write a thesis. I spent one week writing it (the week before it was due, obviously), and spent the other five months and three weeks worrying about not having enough time. The reality is that I always had enough time, I just convinced myself I didn’t.

So start doing. Start trying the things. Where do you feel the excitement? The real excitement–– not the stuff you feel you “should” do. I’m taking about the stuff that tugs on your heart, not your ego.

Your mom is right. If you put your mind to something, you’ll do it. Look at what your own history tells you–– if you always got shit done in the past, there’s no reason to doubt that you’ll get it done in the future. It’s time to put your energy somewhere it can be used. Choose one thing you are curious about, and the answers to your questions will reveal themselves over time.

If you only take one thing from this, here’s what I want you to hear: Stop overthinking and start doing. Don’t let indecision stop you.

If and when you do fail along this journey, take it as a blessing, learn what you can, and get back up. You got this.

-Erin


Have a question you’d like me to address on this blog for everyone’s benefit? Email info@erinoutdoors.com with the subject “Advice”.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Getting Started with Photography

First, I want to tell you about how I got into this whole thing.

In high school, I was a creative kid. I borrowed my dad’s old film camera to take an intro photography class and I was hooked. I loved the feel of the camera in my hands, I loved being able to capture moments the way I saw them, I loved developing the film, I loved the darkroom. I loved the process. I loved that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer.

I got in to a university art & design program with my photography portfolio, but within my first semester at college, I changed my major to something else. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of it, that it wasn’t a “real job.” I let doubt get in the way, and as a result, I didn’t end up taking a single photography class in college. Do I wish I did? Um, yeah. Was it necessary for me to take specific photography classes in order to become a photographer? Well… you tell me.

The first thing to know about diving into this industry is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. There isn’t a gear checklist or a step-by-step guide (though there are definitely some things I wish I knew). I’m willing to bet that getting into photography is one of the biggest questions I receive because it seems like a mysterious process. But those who have done it know it’s much simpler than it seems. You just have to pick up a camera and start.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE CAMERA… BUT GET A CAMERA.

If you want to get into photography, you need a camera. Duh. It doesn’t have to be fancy. My first camera was my dad’s Nikon F1. After that, I had a Canon Rebel XTI. Then came a series of Canon PowerShot and Lumix Active Lifestyle point-and-shoots. I didn’t own a smartphone of any kind until 2014, shortly after buying a GoPro Hero4 Silver. Then came an iPhone and finally my first Sony camera, a Sony a5100, which I used exclusively until earlier this year when I bought my Sony A7Rii, the best camera I’ve ever used.

I have only been getting paid for my photography since the Spring of 2016. It hasn’t been that long. Pretty incredible when you think about how short that timeline is, and that in the past year I’ve completed many gigs with just my a5100.

A good camera for starting out is whatever camera you have available to you. Find something in your budget, read reviews before you buy anything, and borrow someone else’s or rent first if you can. Use what you can within your resources. I don’t recommend splurging on a super expensive camera you don’t know how to use yet. One example is the new Sony A9– this is a fantastic camera, and lots of people asked if I was going to get one when it came out. My answer is no. The A9 has some awesome features, but it’s overkill for me unless I start shooting lots of action or wildlife (its main feature is high frames-per-second). I just don’t need to spend all that money for a feature I will rarely use.

In my opinion it is better to outgrow something and then upgrade when you know exactly what you want (and why). When I went to buy my first camera, I was tempted to go straight for the big guns I had heard about, but I am so glad I went with something less expensive because it allowed me to actually learn my preferences. Spending time practicing on my first camera helped me make my decision when it was time to throw down bigger bucks.

I get asked all the time what a good first camera would be. If you’re looking to get into a mirrorless system, I recommend the Sony a6000 with the kit lens (the lens it comes with). This camera is an excellent introduction to the Sony system and the small size is great for travel.

GO SHOOT (AND THEN SHOOT SOME MORE)

Go out with your camera and practice. If you are wanting to get paid to take photos eventually, your photos need to be good, and that comes from lots of practice! Not only does your work need to be good, you need to know how to operate your gear comfortably. You need to know how you change your settings quickly. You need to know how light works and how to position your models/clients/subject. You need to get comfortable interacting with your subject.

Develop your style. The way to do this is through a lot of trial and error. A lot of creating photos you don’t like. A lot of frustrating nights editing an impossible image and wanting to throw your computer against the wall.

If you want to do outdoor photography, get outdoors. Portraits? Take ’em of your pals. Weddings? Practice at the next one you go to. The only way you get better at this craft is through experience. So work hard, keep going, and practice your craft.

LEARN WHAT THE NUMBERS MEAN

The technical stuff is not the most important thing, but it is important. I am not above Googling super basic stuff. I didn’t even know what dynamic range was until a few months ago. There’s a lot of technical verbiage in the photography world and it’s actually not all that complicated once you understand the main principles. I and everyone else in the industry figured it out as we went, so please go do the same, and never be afraid to ask questions even if you think they’re stupid. Everyone has been there at some point.

A very brief crash course on numbers:

  • ISO: Basically, this is the level of sensitivity of your camera to light. Lower ISO = least sensitive to light = sharpest image. Higher ISO = more sensitive to light = more grain/noise. Typically you want to shoot at a lower ISO because it produces the sharpest image.
  • Aperture: A hole in your lens that light travels through (like the pupil in an eye). The larger the aperture, the more light can get in. Aperture is expressed in f-numbers, and a larger f-number means a smaller aperture. Confusing, but this is where practice matters. A larger aperture (smaller f-number) will give you more depth of field (i.e. the blurry background with the subject in focus), whereas a smaller aperture (larger f-number) will bring more things into focus. This is all about depth.
  • Shutter Speed: A measurement of time a camera’s shutter is open to allow light in (and therefore capture your image). A shorter shutter speed lets less light in, a longer one lets more light (and motion) in.

I guarantee you can find the answers to almost any photography question you have online. YouTube is one of my favorite resources for pretty much anything–– whatever your question is, someone, somewhere has probably explained it in video format. Bless you, Internet.

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES EVERYWHERE


Say yes to the work that comes your way–– even if you’re doing it for the exposure and practice while you are getting things up and running. If you’re serious about this, you will eventually get to a point where you can’t work in exchange for exposure, but you’re not necessarily there yet, so step away from the high horse. There are mixed opinions about working for free, but if you are looking for experience and if it gets your work out there, I think it’s worth considering.

How do you start getting paid? Eventually, you start charging money for your services. You can start charging money today if you want to–– this is up to you. However, obviously there has to be demand. And how do you create demand? You get the word out. You put your work into the world. You do good work and people talk about it to their friends and family. You let absolutely everyone know that you are available for hire. You won’t know what to charge at first, and that’s OK. Try to find out what the going rates are. Ask around. Google it. And when all else fails, you can ask what their budget is before you even throw out a number and take it from there.

Know that when I say opportunity, I don’t just mean job opportunity. I also mean relationships, mentorships, and building your skill set. Identify people you look up to and watch what they do that makes them successful. Identify the people you hope to be surrounded by, and try to get yourself (and your best work) in the same room with them.

…AND PLEASE *TRY* NOT TO OVERTHINK IT

I know you will overthink things at some point, but please try not to think too hard about this. Spend your energy doing things instead of micro-managing yourself and getting stuck in loops of worry and doubt.

It will feel frustrating, and that’s a promise. It will feel like it’s taking forever. You will wonder if you are doing it right. WELCOME… This is the process. It’s not all glam. Photographers can make their lives seem really adventurous and easy on social media, and there is so much more to the story. You stay up late, you wake up early, you take more risks in your career than you ever thought you would. If you’re in it for the right reasons, it’s worth it.

A lot of my advice isn’t photography-specific–– it’s applicable to a lot of different professions, and to life in general. Work hard, consistently, for a long time, and if you don’t have a good Why behind it, find something else to do with your time that really fires you up.

Quality, consistency and passion will take you a long way. Welcome to the journey.


More specific photography questions? Let me know in the comments so I can write more blog posts like this.

TRAVEL

How to Come Back to Reality after Traveling

Welcome back.

If you found yourself to this post, I’m gonna assume you’re struggling to get back into your everyday. So first, welcome back. And second, you’re not alone if you’re feeling the post-trip blues.

You’ve had an experience that completely shattered your routine– an experience that other people could never understand, because they weren’t you. Travel can be transformative and impactful, and it’s no surprise that arriving home after a big trip can be a rough landing.

Anyone who has traveled has most likely dealt with the dread of the aftermath– you are no longer on your trip. You are no longer studying abroad, or teaching English, or on your wilderness trip. Wherever you went, coming home can somehow feel harsh and uneventful at the same time.

However you feel, it’s OK. You are not the first or last person to feel the way you do.

However you feel, it might be a bummer or less than ideal. But the fact is, you are now home. And you have some options. You can marinate in your misery, or you can try to move through and eventually out of it. Which one sounds better?

Here are some tips from my experiences coming home from big trips or stays abroad.

FIND YOUR HOME GROOVE

When I got back from nine months in Portugal, waking up in my own bed felt foreign but mildly familiar… like a dream that I could only barely remember. Getting back is going to feel weird– you’re not heading to your usual café for breakfast, you’re not greeted by the same smells or sights as you were on your trip, and that can be underwhelming and just plain strange.

Trust me, sitting inside in your anxiety cave is not going to make you feel better. You have to get out.

Find things in your home country that speak to your highest excitement. Explore the places you haven’t explored yet, travel domestically, make it a goal to meet new people. Find things that you are excited to build into your routine– force yourself to get up and get into that groove. The hardest part is getting yourself out the door.

SHIFT YOUR FOCUS

Instead of focusing on what your home country lacks, focus on what you loved so much about your trip and incorporate more of it into your home life. Nope, you’re not going to get the *exact* pastries you used to get in Paris, but maybe you’ll discover a new bakery or even learn to make them yourself.

Instead of, “Man, it really blows that I don’t have the same view here as I did in Florence,” can you shift to, “My view in Florence was gorgeous and I’m so thankful I got to experience that”?

Don’t let your fond memories drain you. Let them inspire you instead. Watch the language you use and the story you are telling yourself about being home. Choose to rephrase the story to one coming from a place of abundance instead of a place of lack.

APPLY WHAT YOU LEARNED

If a part of your heart misses your trip, it must have meant something to you. It must have taught you something.

Your trip most likely taught you how to be more independent. It probably forced you to be friends with different types of people. It probably got you outside of your comfort zone. It probably put you in situations where you had to order food in a different language, or ask for directions, or communicate in a new way. And you can apply many of these takeaways to your life at home.

You had an amazing experience abroad, and that is noteworthy. Now how can you bring some of the learnings into your day to day life? Ask yourself this question and take it seriously. Build upon your newest foundation.

PLAN SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO

If you can’t seem to get out of this funk, if the black hole of boredom seems never-ending, plan something that truly excites you. Maybe it’s a creative project. Maybe it’s a trip with friends. Maybe it’s some solo time to do some soul searching. Maybe it’s a big move. Whatever it is, let it be something to look forward to.

Mix it up and sprinkle your weeks with fun activities, You time, and things that interest you. You’re not going to get through this lull by keeping everything the same.


If you are feeling like you want to escape, can you view your everyday with the same amount of curiosity as you had while you were traveling? Can you challenge yourself to see it with new eyes?

Whatever blues you may be feeling, I totally get it. But you have to look back on your trip fondly without dwelling on the negative stuff. You are the only one who can make this shift. Love the memories and the relationships you made. Take what you learned and use it. Although it’s hard to come back, it’s far more important that you went in the first place.

PACKING LISTS TRAVEL

Packing List: Adventure Travel in Europe

This is what I brought for a 5 week summer trip to New York City, Connecticut, London, Greece (islands and mountains), and Ireland.

I pack my stuff in a 50L duffel bag (Cotopaxi 50L Chumpi Duffel) and a 26L backpack (Cotopaxi 26L Cusco Backpack) as my daypack. Please note that if the airline is weighing your stuff, you MAY have to check your duffel bag, so make sure you can put all your valuables in your daypack just in case, and weigh your bag beforehand so you know what to expect. Every airline is different.

In general, I find that it’s always better to bring too little rather than too much stuff. As long as you have your necessities, you can buy most things abroad. There are a couple of items on the list below that I forgot to mention in the video! Use your best judgment and keep in mind what you typically use on a daily basis.

MY BASIC PACKING LIST FOR ADVENTURE TRAVEL

  • Shoes – I don’t mind the extra weight because I like variety.
  • Shirts – 9, a few of which can be dressed up
  • Pants & Shorts
    • 2 jeans – one nice
    • 2 shorts – one nice
    • 1 flowy beach pant
    • 1 running shorts
    • 1 pair leggings
    • 1 pair cozy sweats
    • NOTE: I trade out one pair of jeans for more leggings and running shorts if I know I will be doing a lot of hiking or other outdoor activities on the trip.
  • Layers
    • 1 cozy sweater/sweatshirt
    • 1 warm jacket – I bring the Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber
    • 1 rain jacket if you’re going somewhere it’s for sure gonna rain
  • Underwear – Lots. I bring 14+ pairs.
  • Bras – 7 sports bras or bralettes
  • Swimsuit– 1 or 2. I forgot this in the video. SORRY!
  • Socks
    • 1 cozy
    • 3 athletic
    • 3 casual
  • Bandanas– I bring 4.
  • Laundry bag
  • Tech etc.
    • Camera with Internal Camera Unit (alternatively, I recommend using a camera bag instead of a regular backpack if your trip is very photography focused)
    • Lightweight tripod if you are planning on shooting night photography or lots of self-timer shots
    • Batteries
    • Mophie charger
    • 2 hard drives or back-ups for your data
    • Camera battery charger
    • Converter if necessary
    • Memory card reader
    • Memory cards
    • Laptop
    • Laptop charger
    • Phone charger
    • Headphones
    • Small multi-tool that’s “travel friendly” – I have the Leatherman Style PS. Be aware that TSA can take anything from you, depending on the agent!
  • Small TSA approved lock
  • Toiletries (all under 100mL and can fit inside a 1 quart ziplock bag)
    • Shampoo
    • Conditioner
    • Body wash/soap
    • Facewash/makeup remover
    • Dry shampoo
    • Deoderant
    • Makeup
    • Tweezers if not in your multi-tool
    • Curling iron (if you’re me)
  • Journal
  • Paperback book or kindle
  • Wallet with cash, credit cards, ATM card and ID
  • Passport
  • Water bottle
  • Ibuprofen and/or small first aid kit
    • Bandaids
    • Betadine (also doubles as emergency water treatment)
    • Alcohol wipes
    • Earplugs (if you are a light sleeper like me, these are a lifesaver)

Some parting words…

On my first trip abroad, I packed as if shirts did not exist anywhere else. Spoiler alert!!! They do. Also, you can buy pants abroad. And toothbrushes. And most other necessary items. Over the years, I’ve noticed that I never say “oh damn, I packed too light.” It is always the other way around–– I am usually kicking myself for overpacking, wishing I had left more room to bring home cool stuff from my travels or just traveled lighter in general.

Overall, my advice is to pack for the type of adventure you are going on. I have traveled with suitcases, expedition packs, duffel bags… and this is what works for me! Know that you will most likely not get it perfect the first time, and that’s OK! You will figure out what works and what doesn’t while you’re on the road– follow your best guess now and you’ll learn to adjust where necessary.

If this video was helpful, let me know in the comments below!

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

How to Monetize Your Passion

I work as an adventure photographer and writer. The biggest question I get about what I do… is HOW.

How do I travel so much? How did I get started as a photographer? How do I get paid to blog? How did I make this my job? How do I live such an adventurous life and still eat food make a living?

If you’re curious about what I do and how I do it, see my FAQs here. But let me make it clear that there was a time when these questions plagued me. The career that I currently have would have absolutely baffled me in my early 20’s. How the hell was I supposed to make money doing something I actually liked?!

It turns out it was pretty simple. I had to answer a few important questions for myself really thoroughly and often (they’re coming, keep reading), then I had to take action.

Before we dive in, just a note on this whole analysis paralysis thing you’re probably going through that brought you to this post. In order for anything to happen, you have to do something. This article isn’t meant to be passive. Read it, then answer the following questions.

Let’s go.

WHAT YOU DO THAT PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR?

Make a list of your potential products and services. What are you good at? What do people ask you for advice about? What are you known for in your friends group? What kinds of questions do people come to you with naturally? What are you good at making or creating? What do you enjoy doing?

And which of these things can you make money from?

Are people always asking you for travel advice? For exercises to get a firmer butt? For smoothie recipes? For gardening tips? For super sweet video editing techniques? For makeup or hair? For help figuring out what’s wrong with their car? You don’t have to do all this stuff for free.

Make a list of items you could potentially charge money for.

WHAT IS YOUR THING WORTH?

When I first started blogging for brands and companies, I had no clue what I should have been charging. At first, I worked in exchange for exposure because it was worth it to me at the time.

I get that this is hard. I get that you can’t exactly reach out to a complete stranger and ask them for their rates– not everyone is comfortable talking numbers. Maybe you have to get a little creative. Make sure your questions are specific. Who do you know that does what you want to do? Find some kind of connection to that person and explain where you are coming from. Maybe they can give you some insight.

Do some market research using whatever resources are available to you. That includes Google.

Eventually, you have to pick a price and go with it. “I didn’t know what to charge” is a dumb reason for not selling a product or service that people want. Whatever you charge is probably more than you’re getting right now ($0.00, right?).

If everyone is saying “oh hell yeah” to your rate without trying to negotiate with you, then you’re charging too little. If nobody is responding, or if your pricing is shutting down the conversation altogether, then you’re charging too much or you’re in the wrong market. Change something and see what works.

Next to the list you just made, write the range of what you can charge for each item.

WHO WILL PAY YOU FOR YOUR THING?

Figure out your ideal consumer/demographic. Who are they? How old are they and where are they located? What are they going through in their life? What do they do in their spare time? How much money do they make? Where do they shop? Why do they need your product or service?

You need to identify your target demographic for a couple of reasons:

  1. You might need influence
  2. You definitely need people to buy your thing

If what you do/make is made more credible or valuable by having a large audience, you need to attract this audience (side note- do not buy followers) and give them value. How can you be most valuable to this group of people? How will you attract them? And why will they want to buy your thing?

For each item you could potentially sell, write a sentence or two describing your perfect customer.

WHERE WILL YOU SELL IT?

Where do you want your thing to be available for purchase? If you’re a consultant, how will people know you exist and how will they contact you? If you sell a product, is your store online? Do you sell at pop-ups, craft fairs, trade shows? If you lead workshops, how do people book those?

However people are giving you money, make it easy for them. Look at your own spending patterns. How do you spend your money and why? When you think about your own purchasing experience, what makes it smooth and seamless? What makes you want to buy something again?

Give your customer options, but make the best deal clear and obvious– all they have to do is say YES.

Make a list of how and/or where you will sell your thing.

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN?

Look at your answers to all of the questions above. They should give you some clarity on your next step. It should give you some idea of the options you have and the avenues you could potentially go down. It will also give you an idea of how scalable your thing is– and scalability matters if you are looking to make a fully grown career out of your passion.

If this feels overwhelming, ask yourself which of the things you wrote down is low-hanging fruit, i.e. which one of them feels easiest? Which of these could you start selling this week? Which of these could you start selling today?

Pick one of your products or services, and write yourself a 5-step plan from creation to sale. Here is a personal example:

Getting a project-based photography or collaboration job

  1. Make a list of 5 specific target brands
  2. Shoot or compile images I have taken that are consistent with their branding
  3. Make a portfolio specific to that style
  4. Send portfolio with package rates (& make one of the packages stand out as a great deal)
  5. Negotiate prices and packages

It won’t always be 5 steps– sometimes it’ll be 3 and sometimes it’ll be 10. Monetizing your passion can be big and scary. Breaking it down into actionable steps can make things seem much more attainable. After you make your plan, the next step is setting times or dates for when each of these will be completed.

CREATE, TRY, REPEAT.

Not everything you do will be a huge hit, and you have to accept that right now, otherwise failure will bog you down every step of the way. You can love it or hate it, failure is a crucial part of the process.

Do I think all passions can make you a ton of money? No. Do I think everyone should try to monetize their passions? No. But if you want to do it, now is the time. You are most likely not going to get any more clarity than what you now have. Entrepreneurship, creativity, starting a business or a side-hustle– these are not endeavors that come with a guidebook. You have to see what works and take it from there.

Get to it. And don’t forget to have fun.


 

Feature photo by William Reed Olds-Benton.