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

Girls Who Glamp: Big Sur Style

A summary of camping in style in one of the most coveted destinations on the West Coast

Pfeiffer Beach: I could sit here all day and photograph this beautiful spot.

Pfeiffer Beach: I could sit here all day and photograph this beautiful spot.

In case you haven’t heard, a glamorous camping trip is also known as GLAMPING!

Cruising down PCH, jaw dropping ocean vistas, elephant seals barking on the beach, waterfalls, winding roads, redwood trees, lighthouses, boardwalks and stunning sunsets are some of the many reasons why Big Sur is one of the most popular road trip destinations in the entire United States and is a perfect spot for a girls glamping trip. I recently organized a fabulous camping trip to Big Sur for 15 ladies so I thought it would be fun to class it up a little bit; think string lights, real food, campfire desserts, mimosas, fancy plate settings and centerpieces (we even had a toaster AND an oven).

Tent camping at popular destinations has never been my jam because there are tons of people, it can be very noisy (we were woken up in the middle of the night to police sirens pulling over a drunk driver in our campsite) and the campsites can be littered with trash (my pup was chewing on a used tampon from a previous camping group). I have always been a fan of backpacking out into the middle of nowhere and surviving on lightweight gear, vodka, a good book and freeze dried food without being disrupted by screaming babies, drunk people and tourists but Big Sur was a special trip because it was my last official Girl Who Hike camping event so I decided to glam it up, because who doesn’t want yummy mimosas and a campfire at 9am??

Burgers and champagne for dinner.

Burgers and champagne for dinner.

Its all about the details…

Its all about the details…

I am clearly trying to get the best angle =)

I am clearly trying to get the best angle =)

Important lessons from “Girls Who Glamp” Big Sur Style

  • Do not plan to hike on closed trails as trails are closed for a reason ( I about lost my mind regarding this issue).

  • Champagne makes everything better.

  • Always bring extra cash for parking.

  • Don’t get an intense chemical peel with a booster two days before a camping trip.

  • When the women’s bathroom is out of toilet paper, there are probably 10 rolls in the men’s bathroom.

  • There is poison oak EVERYWHERE so mind your footing and keep your dogs on a leash.

  • Don’t rent a car with an overly sensitive alarm ( our car alarm went off 100 times with Moo sitting in the car by herself and I about lost my mind every single time).

  • Plan out when you stop at photogenic locations because midday light is awful for photos.

  • If you are camping with a group, be a nice person and offer to buy firewood.

  • Don’t leave your used tampons in your campsite for the next camper (or dog) to cleanup.

  • Bring extra lens caps for your camera.

  • Don’t ever leave home without a wine or bottle opener.

  • Keep in mind that camping gear takes up a lot of car space so be mindful of storage space versus people space. My rule of thumb is #passengers = total number of car seats minus 2 and limit one duffle bag and one small daypack per passenger.

Forget kissing the chef, how about filling her champagne glass?

Forget kissing the chef, how about filling her champagne glass?

Practicing my aperture settings on my big daddy lens

Practicing my aperture settings on my big daddy lens

Camping and hiking in Big Sur

Big Sur is a popular destination for EVERYONE (literally everyone and their mom are pulled over on every turnout snapping photos) and as a result it is difficult to obtain a camping reservation. Most reservations become booked up at least 6 months in advance so if you are planning a camping (or glamping) trip to this beautiful destination, start your planning early.  There are three State Parks with camping in Big Sur (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Limekiln SP and Pfeiffer Big Sur SP) and all can be reserved online through ReserveCalifornia.  I have had the pleasure of camping at all three locations and I think all three are equally spectacular. There are also tons of private campsites that can be reserved through Hipcamp and some hotels and lodges also offer camping spots. Most of the hiking trails are located within the State Parks so if you do not have a campsite reservation, be ready to pay the daily State Park entrance fee (for those with a camping reservation, the daily hiker fee is waived at all State Parks). From waterfalls, ocean views and redwood trees the hiking in Big Sur is outstanding however many of the trails are still closed so be sure to check before you go and respect the rules and regulations of all hiking trails (do not try to hike on closed trails).

How many tents can you fit into one campsite? Apparently 10!

How many tents can you fit into one campsite? Apparently 10!

Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Road tripping up the coast

One of the most magical parts about visiting Big Sur is the actual road trip along PCH (they didn’t name it highway #1 for no reason). This particular stretch (from Santa Barbara to Monterey) of PCH is rated one of the best road trips in the United States. There are so many great places to stop, take in the sights, taste some delicious wine and snap some beautiful photos.

  • Santa Barbara

  • Solvang (Danish style town with some great wineries)

  • Bubblegum Alley San Luis Obispo

  • Morro Bay: Check out the sea otters, sea lions and blue herons onboard Captain Stew’s Bay Cruise. Daily cruise times are 11am, 1pm and 3pm. The cost is $10 per person and it is the best 45 minutes you will spend on this trip. Morro Bay also has some great wine tasting rooms that grow and harvest their grapes in Paso Robles.

  • Paso Robles Wine Tasting:  Paso is famous for many great wineries.

  • Moonstone Beach in Cambria: Walk along the beautiful wooden boardwalk and collect colored moonstones off the beach (please don’t bring any home).

  • Hearst Castle: Schedule a half-day and be ready to shell out $100 for the full tour of this beautiful famous castle.

  • San Simon Elephant Seal Sanctuary: Watch the elephant seals play, swim and nap along this protected coastline.

  • Ragged Point: A great lunch and coffee spot.

Moo in the middle of Bubblegum Alley in SLO

Moo in the middle of Bubblegum Alley in SLO

Morro Bay with terrific lighting

Morro Bay with terrific lighting

 Places to visit in Big Sur

  • Bixby Bridge: Photo-op and viewpoint

  • River Inn: Enjoy a drink or a bite to eat while lounging on a Adirondack chair and soaking your feet in the river (dog friendly).

  • McWay Falls: One of two waterfalls that empties into the ocean in North America (Alamere Falls is the other one) and is a must-see in Big Sur. It can be accessed from the side of the road as a viewpoint and is a great photo spot in the early morning or late afternoon.

  • Pfeiffer Beach: Great for a sunset photo-op and a picnic. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

  • Point Sur lighthouse: Advanced reservations are required for the four hour tour.

  • Sand dollar beach

  • Andrew Molera State Beach: Great day hiking

  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Some of the best hiking and wildlife viewing in the area

  • Carmel and Monterey: These are great towns but should be explored on their own as an entire day-trip as they are an hour drive from Big Sur and there are tons of great sights to check out in both of these quaint coastal towns.

These cattails were everywhere!

These cattails were everywhere!

McWay Falls in overexposed, noon lighting. I highly recommend shooting these falls in the early morning or before sunset.

McWay Falls in overexposed, noon lighting. I highly recommend shooting these falls in the early morning or before sunset.

Bixby bridge in not so great lighting.

Bixby bridge in not so great lighting.

Relaxing in the creek at River Inn.

Relaxing in the creek at River Inn.

The gardens at River Inn were gorgeous.

The gardens at River Inn were gorgeous.

Food, champs and more food

Glamping requires a lot of prep work (and a lot of champagne). From meal planning, grocery shopping and food prepping to making sure all the serving utensils, cooking supplies, and decorations are accounted for, I usually spend an entire day getting ready for a big glamping trip. The more time and effort you put into the planning process the less time and effort is required during the actual trip (which means more time for sipping champs and hanging out).

Setting up our glamping site!

Setting up our glamping site!

My mom made these adorable center pieces. Succulents in blue mason jars! Go Mom!

My mom made these adorable center pieces. Succulents in blue mason jars! Go Mom!

Cooking over a fire and keeping the rest of our food warm. I highly recommend these aluminum containers for warming and cooking food over a campfire.

Cooking over a fire and keeping the rest of our food warm. I highly recommend these aluminum containers for warming and cooking food over a campfire.

Meal prepping tips before you hit the campground

Prep EVERYTHING before you go!

  • Slice, marinate, season and individually package all meats and veggies.

  • Crack, scramble, season and place egg mixture in plastic sealed bags for breakfast.

  • Purchase individual ketchup, mustard and relish packets (or take a few here and there from fast food chains) to save room in the ice chest or storage bins.

  • Slice and dice potatoes with seasoning and wrap them in foil (to place over the campfire stove).

  • Pour olive oil and camp soap in small re-usable containers for easy access and storage.

  • Bring tin trays to keep food warm when cooking for large groups (I covered these with tin foil and placed them over the campfire while cooking the rest of the food).

  • Bring dishtowels, scrub brushes and a large bucket to wash dishes throughout the trip.

  • Bring extra seasonings and spices in small ziplock bags.

  • A large teakettle is always helpful to boil hot water in the morning for your camp crew.

  • Don’t forget your camp stove, extra propane, camp pots and pans, cooking utensils, wine opener, cooking mittens, lighter, coffee, avocados, hot sauce, apron, tablecloth, serving utensils, knives, napkins, cutting board, or trash bags. I store all of my kitchen camping gear in a large plastic bin.

  • Don’t forget your champagne, wine and beer.

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String lights are SO extra.

String lights are SO extra.

Camp toaster because buns are better toasted.

Camp toaster because buns are better toasted.

We are SO extra

We had everything from plastic semi re-usable champagne glasses, string lights, mimosas, centerpieces, homemade desserts, tablecloths, and fancy semi re-usable dishes to a hand washing station, a camp toaster and a camp oven.

  • Don’t forget your Bluetooth speakers.

  • Remember that most string lights are battery operated and require extra rope to hang from trees (nails are not allowed in the trees).

  • Purchase plastic semi re-usable dishware so you can wash and re-use during the camping trip and toss out at the end of the weekend/week.

  • Plastic semi re-usable champagne or wine glasses make drinking SO much better. You can toss these out at the end of the trip.

  • Encourage each individual to bring his or her own eating re-usable eating utensils.

Elephant seals playing in San Simeon

Elephant seals playing in San Simeon

Everyone needs a hug.

Everyone needs a hug.

Hey buddy!

Hey buddy!

That one day when I hijacked the captain’s seat.

That one day when I hijacked the captain’s seat.

Sea otter and her pup floating in Morro Bay.

Sea otter and her pup floating in Morro Bay.

Sea lions in Morro Bay.

Sea lions in Morro Bay.

There were lots of birds in Morro Bay.

There were lots of birds in Morro Bay.

Blue Heron in Morro Bay.

Blue Heron in Morro Bay.