Photography in the Outdoors

Falling in Love with the Outdoors All Over Again Through the Camera Lens

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“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams

 I have zero artistic ability but I have always had a keen eye for angles, colors, patterns and textures. My favorite era of art is Post-Impressionism, Vincent Van Gogh is my hero, I have seen The Lion King on Broadway 12 times, I spend way too much money collecting antique furniture and I am obsessed with Sunflowers (the painting and the real live flowers). I often design my own bags and jewelry when I travel abroad and I can spend hours and hours perusing art museums and antique stores. I strongly believe I have a natural artistic vision but when it comes to putting my vision into reality, it often ends in disaster (I cannot even draw a straight line, or throw a stitch in any type of fabric). I have always been interested in photography but the competitiveness of the industry, the financial investment in lenses and the confusing technology deterred me from going anywhere near a camera. I was convinced I would get by just fine with taking pretty iPhone photos, and to be honest, it worked for awhile but after making the decision to spend the next three months in Africa, I knew I needed a proper camera to document my life among the zebras. I recently took the plunge and bought myself a big girl camera and I am IN LOVE. Before making my big purchase, I spent weeks researching cameras, talking with outdoor photographers and looking at all the fancy camera accessories because I wanted to be 100% happy with my decision. After I clicked the “complete purchase” button on the Amazon website I knew I had my work cut out for me. I dove right in, headfirst. I watched hours of YouTube photography videos, bought a couple of books and took a few private lessons with well-known local photographers in Orange County. If I was going to spend a decent amount of money on a camera, lenses and accessories, I better know what I’m doing right?

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Photography in the outdoors is a steep learning curve. I struggle with lighting, become overly annoyed when a strange person stands in the middle of my photo, and will take 300 shots before I am happy with one image but documenting Mother Nature through the lens of my camera has been one of my favorite learning experiences thus far. If you have a camera, I will most likely ask you a million questions about your settings with the hope I can learn one new tiny trick or tip. If you do not have a camera and you are hiking with me, I apologize in advance for making you wait on the trails while I take 58 photos of the same leaf.

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 I am not in anyway an experienced photographer and every time I pick up my camera, I struggle with finding the right angle, the right settings and the right lighting but I also find myself completely engulfed in the task at hand and to be honest, very few things in life receive my undivided attention. I have honestly fallen in love with nature all over again through the lens of my camera (my Sony alpha 600 to be exact).

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If you are on the fence about picking up a camera, learning a new hobby or stepping out of your comfort zone, I strongly urge you to do it. Take the leap of faith and invest in your happiness because you will not only find more joy in life but you may inspire others during your journey. Below are some of my favorite photos I have shot within the first month of owning my new camera and I cannot believe the next time I share photos I will be writing to you from Africa (I am currently en route on a 22 hour flight).

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 Thanks for reading and following along in my journey.

 See you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Social Media and the Outdoors: The Third World War

Dear Girls Across the Globe,
Let's stop body-shaming each other with hurtful comments about how another girl looks or doesn't look. We are all beautiful in our own unique way; so let's speak about each other with the dignity that we would want others to have when they speak about us.
” 
― Miya Yamanouchi, Embrace Your Sexual Self: A Practical Guide for Women

Trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram =) But more importantly, I finally bought a real CAMERA. The Sony alpha 6000 is my new child. I cannot wait to share some of the photos I have taken with this camera! I plan on using this as my everyday camera in Africa and hoping to take some stellar safari shots.

Trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram =) But more importantly, I finally bought a real CAMERA. The Sony alpha 6000 is my new child. I cannot wait to share some of the photos I have taken with this camera! I plan on using this as my everyday camera in Africa and hoping to take some stellar safari shots.

Most of us can probably agree that social media is CRAZY. Filters, poses, rose colored glasses, the perfect outfits, hair and makeup just to post that perfect photo on the ‘gram and potentially risk falling off a cliff (too soon?) is a just a bit over the edge (no pun intended). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good photo, a funny caption and an inspiring story and I have met some great people through social media but the amount of back and forth on whether or not social media is good for the outdoors seems to be a hot debate (just Googling “social media and the outdoors” brings up a plethora of well-written blogs and articles by some very well known magazines and outdoor authors). I have seen people get in fights on social media over this topic (keyboard warriors who fight behind screens) and I have read a lot of great and not so great articles on this topic and yes overcrowded trails do lead to destruction but I truly believe there is an underlying issue here that goes beyond the outdoors.

 One camp argues that social media is ruining the outdoors by overcrowding the trails, creating more human impact on Mother Nature, and advertising all the earth’s “secret spots” to the general public, thanks to geotagging (just the debate over geotagging makes my head spin). They also argue that SAR missions have drastically increased in the recent years due to social media (I believe there are many more factors involved other than social media).  The opposing camp argues that social media is a great way to bring the outdoor community together and there is a lot more encouragement to get outside (especially for the younger generations). Also, most people did not grow up hiking and camping so they use social media as a way to gain education and insight on how to prepare for the outdoors (guilty as charged, if you are reading this blog).

 This one is for the mean girls

I personally have witnessed a surge in crowds in the outdoors, especially in National Parks over the years and yes, I believe outdoor adventuring has become a marketing fad but I also believe in the healing power of Mother Nature and if more people are experiencing serenity in the outdoors instead of the hustle and bustle in urban everyday life, isn’t that a good thing? Are people getting outdoors to enjoy the healing power of nature or are people getting outside just for the ‘gram? To be honest, I really don’t care because there are much bigger issues at hand.

Social media has a disturbing impact on everyday life and it is affecting female self-esteem in a negative manner.

I still wonder to myself, “does the general public understand that social media accounts are curated profiles?” THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE PEOPLE!

Haha told you these photos are curated!

Haha told you these photos are curated!

And reviewed and edited…

And reviewed and edited…

I have had many girlfriends tell me they have become depressed by looking at social media accounts because they feel as though their lives are not worthy, they are not good enough, not pretty enough, not adventurous enough and they are missing out on all the fun. I know people who are so obsessed with Instagram to the point they only hike with people who have a certain number of followers (umm exclusive much?) Instagram is no longer “instant” posts but curated photos that could be days, months and years old that people are most likely posting while lying in bed at home. Let’s not forget the hair, makeup and fake poses that are often depicted on top of Half Dome. I was in Yosemite last summer camping with a group of gals who would take an hour to get ready because they had to put on fake eye lashes so they could look good in photos they were posting on social media (I ended up spending most of the weekend by myself because I do not want to be around anyone who wears fake eyelashes in the outdoors).

What happened to real women in the outdoors getting dirty on the trails, climbing rocks and not giving a damn if their hair is messy and they have sweat stains under their arms? As women, shouldn’t we be bonding on the trails, posing for silly photos, sharing stories and drinking wine? Or are we seriously getting into nature to just have a library of beautiful photos on Instagram so we can judge each other and compare our lives to a complete stranger?

I truly believe instead of debating whether social media is ruining the outdoors, we need to focus on what social media is doing to women and our society. We are tearing each other down, fat shaming girls we don’t even know, comparing ourselves to women who spent an hour putting on fake eyelashes and attacking each other for taking topless photos (do not even get me started on what I see in the mental health and eating disorder world of social media).

 Let’s get real on social, shall we?

Let’s talk about our mishaps in the outdoors, our embarrassing moments, why we have found healing in nature and let’s educate the general public (in a positive manner) why we choose to get outside.

No matter what you see on social media, remember you are beautiful, stop comparing yourself to another individual’s highlight reel, post that photo of you with boob sweat on the summit, and please do not allow other people to tear you down.

Real life versus Instagram. I carry sheet masks with me when I camp, backpack and travel and I may or may not wear them in my tent, at camp or in the car.

Real life versus Instagram. I carry sheet masks with me when I camp, backpack and travel and I may or may not wear them in my tent, at camp or in the car.

A super dirty, sweaty and happy selfie…

A super dirty, sweaty and happy selfie…

Ehh… I am mildly obsessed with Smokey the Bear and I may have already been a bottle of Champagne in deep. Are my eyes open?

Ehh… I am mildly obsessed with Smokey the Bear and I may have already been a bottle of Champagne in deep. Are my eyes open?

 **For those of you wondering (and maybe even judging), YES I am on social media. I love using social media to connect with friends and family members and I find it incredibly useful for travel information, photography tips and it is a great way to stay in contact with people who I meet on the trails.  I also use social media as an avenue to share this blog as well as my Psychology Today Blog. Writing has been one of my passions since I was in grade school and I have learned to use my electronic pen and paper to share my thoughts, experiences, mistakes and lessons with others in hopes they can gain knowledge, self-esteem and maybe have a laugh or two. Do I deal with trolls and crazy people on social media? Yep, every damn day!**

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Ridiculous Trail Lingo That Every Hiker (and non-hiker) Should Know

“She wanted more, more slang, more figures of speech, the bee's knees, the cats pajamas, horse of a different color, dog-tired, she wanted to talk like she was born here, like she never came from anywhere else” 
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word  cauldron  but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word cauldron but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

The other week I was perusing a hiking Facebook group and I literally laughed out loud when I saw a post on trail lingo, common words or phrases used on the trail that common folk would never understand. I have had so many conversations with friends, strangers and my MOM in regards to the outdoors and when I start dropping words like “trail magic”, “cathole”, “alpine start” and “sweep” I tend to get some pretty ridiculous looks. Usually I just ignore the looks and go about my conversation regarding my most recent adventure. But seriously, how ridiculous are some of these terms?  I think this would make the BEST drinking game around a campfire; whoever shouts out the wrong description to a term has to drink. I thought I would drop some knowledge by sharing the meaning of some trail terms I often hear from others and use myself. Do you know the meaning to all these terms? I really hope my mom reads this!

Cat Hole: A small hole (6-8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.

Alpine start: Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight-3AM) to avoid lightning or rock falls.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Gogirl: A device women can use to allow them to urinate standing up aka pee like a man

Sweep: The last hiker that takes up the rear in a group to ensure the entire group makes it safely to their final destination (I love my sweeps on group hikes!)

Trowel: A shovel to dig a cat hole.

Summit fever: When a hiker will do anything in his or her power to reach the summit, even if they put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness (we have all been there).

GORP: Good old raisins and peanuts aka trail mix.

SOBO/NOBO: Southbound or Northbound in reference to the direction a hiker is traveling on a trail, usually on a thru-hike. FYI I am hiking the John Muir Trail NOBO next summer =)

SAR: Search and Rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.

Widowmaker: Trees that have already lost limbs or have a potential to fall; don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Wag bag: A bag you carry your poop in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole aka one of the many reasons why I do not enjoy Mt. Whitney.

Scree ski: That shitty loose tiny gravel that is difficult to walk on but would be more fun to ski on.

Switchback: Oh Lord no! The never-ending zig-zag pathways that lead to the summit (top of the mountain). These apparently make the climb easier and prevent erosion. Do people actually enjoy switchbacks?

Cairn: Those ridiculous looking man made rock towers made to direct hikers in the correct direction on the trail (trail markers). They should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow. Unfortunately the general public likes to build these for “fun” or as a form of expression, without understanding the actual meaning behind them. This confuses hikers and breaks the rules of LNT.

Dirty Girls: The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!

Shuttle hike: When you have to drop one car off at the end of the trail and leave one car at the beginning of the trail when you plan on going on a one-way hike. If you do not shuttle then you will have to hitch a ride back to the trailhead!

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

Cowboy camping: Sleeping under the stars without any form of shelter. Just a sleeping bag and mat does the trick in warm weather (watch out for bugs).

Scat: Animal poop

Scrambling: This term does not just apply to eggs but it also applies to using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and boulders. (I despise scrambling).

Crampons: Yes this term sounds like menstruation but it actually refers to a spike like traction device you put on your hiking boots in order to hike through snow and ice.

Bear canister: A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear proof (if you use it correctly).

Blaze: A colored mark, usually painted or nailed to a tree, about 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide. These are used to help guide hikers if the trail gets hard to follow or makes an abrupt turn. White blazers refer to the trail markers on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Pink blazers refer to guys chasing attractive women on the trail.

Bonus miles: Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these! (Shannon this is YOUR term).

LNT: Leave No Trace, a set of 7 guidelines hikers must follow that prevents trail and outdoor destruction. Don’t pee in a river, please bury your poop, don’t camp on new green growth and please carry out all of your trash (including toilet paper).

Posthole: Hiking in deep slushy snow usually without snowshoes or skis where you leave large holes behind, a sloppy way to hike but sometimes unavoidable. When I was hiking Mt. Bierdstat (A Colorado Fourtneener) last spring in the snow, I was postholing to my waist the last 3 miles WITH snowshoes and it was the longest and most painful 3 miles of my life. At one point I became stuck and had to dig myself out.

Single track: A trail made for one-way traffic, think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.

Slackpacking: Lazy backpacking aka only carrying your daypack while porters, mules or vehicles, haul your gear.

Trail candy: Eye candy but on the trail aka an attractive hiker.

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Triple crown: No, not a horse race! A true badass bucket list item: to hike all three major National Scenic Trails, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. I am guessing this is just less than 8,000 miles.

Ultralight: Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds.

Fun Factor: The amount of fun you are actually having on the trail. I always say if there is no fun factor, it is not worth the hike and it is time to turn around and go home.

Zero: The best term ever when you are on a long trip/thru-hike, taking a day to rest at camp or stay in town to eat, shower, drink or do whatever you want that does not involve hiking.

Wetted out: When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!

Alpine zone: The zone above the tree line at the top of a mountain that is characterized by rocks and soil, which resembles the moon. This can range in elevation, usually between 9,000-11,000 feet above sea level.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Dirt bag: A dirty hiker. I was walking into El Pollo Loco to get my burrito fix after finishing a 4 day hike on the Lost Coast Trail, I camped 2 nights beforehand, so I did not shower in 6 days, my clothes were dirty and my hair was a wreck. I basically resembled a homeless person wearing expensive brand-named hiking clothes ordering a burrito without a care in the world. This is the ultimate description of a dirt bag.

Glissade: An incredibly fun way to descend a snow capped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

Woofer: WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a weeklong course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.

Death March: A long boring hike with no views in 90-degree weather or an uninteresting trail you must take in order to reach the desired trail. I consider fire roads a death march but yet we must take them in order to get to the beautiful trail.

Fourteener: A mountain that stands above 14,000 feet in elevation. My mom still thinks this refers to a hike that is 14 miles long, no matter how many times I explain this concept to her.

Bear burrito: Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos so this is my favorite term.

Blowout: No, not a diaper blowout. When your hiking boots take a beating and you need to repair them with duct tape or string to hold the sole and shoe together. It is now time for a pair of new shoes!

Dry Camp: A waterless camping spot. In other words, you have to carry all of your water in aka backpacking in the desert. I have had my fair share of dry camping trips, some were fun, others were just plain aggravating.

Trail magic: When something spontaneously wonderful happens on the trail; you meet a fantastic person, someone gives you food or supplies (in my case beer), or you are offered a ride from a passing stranger. Trail angels are often people who give out trail magic and let me tell you; trail magic goes around and comes back around to you.