If you celebrate, I hope that however you spent Thanksgiving was really lovely. And that your meal was as delicious as this monkey's was. I think for many of us, this time of year is a time of reflection and gratitude. The older I get, the more aware of the immense blessings in my life, many of which are so easy to take for granted. And I hope that this may remind you of your blessings as well, if you're not already aware of them. For example, if you had a Thanksgiving meal, you are so fortunate. If people that you love joined you for that meal, you are so fortunate. If you were able to see those loved ones with your eyes, and hug them with your arms, you are so fortunate. If you were able to speak to those loved ones with your voice, and were capable of hearing their voice in return, you are so fortunate. If you hosted that meal in a safe, warm home, you are so fortunate. I could go on and on and on. For these things, and many more, I am extremely grateful. What are you grateful for this year?
"When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in."
The morning that I took this photo may end up being the biggest catalyst for the new style I've been playing around with since my adventure in Indonesia. The most noticeable change being that previously I would patiently wait for humans to leave the scene in order to get a completely natural landscape shot. While that's still nice, what I immediately learned by simply observing Jord Hammond and his work, is how important having a subject (human, car, motorcycle, flower, tree, etc.) is in order to draw focus, provide scale, add contrast and create an extra layer of complexity to the scene. I'm proud of this new chapter in my photography, but I am very aware that I still have a ton to learn. Which actually really excites me to know, because it means that I am currently the worst I will ever likely be again, and that the best photos of my life are still waiting to be captured.
"Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow."
-Anthony J. D’Angelo
While making large life decisions, I often use regrets to guide the decision. I'm not talking about past regrets, instead I'm basing my current decision on preventing future regrets. As in, "which path would I most regret NOT taking?" Making sure that future me will be happy with my decision. I'm sure all of us do this to certain degrees, but this tendency in me was strengthened by a book many of you have likely read. Walden by Thoreau, easily the most dense book I've ever read, and while frustratingly dry at times, is scattered with gems of wisdom and inspiration. The most profound quote for me, and easily the most popular, lives in my mind. And while the first part of the quote is his most well-known, the rest of the quote, although lesser-known, contains wisdom as well. I'd be honored if you read it below and shared with me what this quote means to you.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."
-Henry David Thoreau
Out of all the pleasant surprises we encountered while cruising the Indonesian ocean, Padar Island was definitely a highlight. And even though it's a very prestigious location, I didn't know it by name, so when I saw it on our itinerary I didn't realize what we were about to see. In fact, it wasn't until I got to the viewpoint that it fully sunk in where I was. The night before we anchored the boat about an hour away, so the following day, in order to beat the crowds, we raised anchor before sunrise and ended up being among the first people there. And, as usual, the early wake-up was completely worth it. It is such an incredible place! And this photo is honestly just a small glimpse into the vast beauty of this spot. Some places that I've visited I can sort of check off the list and move on to the next place, happy to have seen it, but without the need to return. Padar Island is one I'm definitely leaving on the list and can't wait to see again.
"On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it."
Apart from occasional days on a pontoon or ski boat, I had never spent substantial time on the water. But 3 days boating around Indonesian islands did give me a tiny glimpse into that world. It was an amazing experience for a few different reasons. First, the physical surroundings had obviously changed dramatically; lots of water and occasional land, which was just fun and new for me. Also, cell reception was very spotty, so I spent very little time on my phone, which always feels like an inconvenience at first, then ends up feeling like medicine that I didn't know I needed. In addition, being so physically remote and isolated from most of civilization felt super healing and necessary. But what struck me the most is how the world, and life, just felt a little bit simpler after being on a boat for a while. Like, at the end of the day, most things in modern life, while nice, aren't really that important to me.
"At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much."
-Robin Lee Graham
This photo was taken on the very first morning of the photography workshop (I'm sure you recognize this man) and it was such an incredible start to the trip. Looking back, an aspect of this experience that I really enjoyed was when we would encounter locals that didn't mind our group photographing them (sometimes for quite a while) and in addition to repaying their patience with massive amounts of gratitude and respect, we would also repay them with money. Which, even though it was never a gigantic amount of money in terms of US Dollars, it amounted to a fairly substantial amount in their local currency. I found it to be a really fun way to create a win-win exchange; we got to take some really amazing photographs and they were rewarded with financial gain and our profound appreciation. And by doing so, I like to think we represented photographers and tourists in general, in a really positive light. This is something I look forward to continuing in the future; spreading art, wealth and kindness throughout the world.
"Money is but one venue for generosity. Kindness is an even more valuable currency."
I mentioned previously that after the workshop in Bali, a few of us planned a trip to the Indonesian island of Flores for a few days. We wanted to experience a different island and culture, and were especially eager to hike an incredible volcano, Kelimutu. Unfortunately (and we didn't realize this until after we had already purchased our flights), there was a massive conference taking place on the island at the same time, and all of the hotels had already been claimed. We had our flights but nowhere to stay. Fortunately, this area is very popular for short cruises around the hundreds of islands in the area, and what started as a disappointment for not having a hotel, ended with 4 of us chartering a private boat, with a captain, crew and guide. For 3 days they took us from amazing location to amazing location, filled with hiking various islands, tons of snorkeling, amazing food on board, and the opportunity to experience scenes and landscapes that I don't normally get to photograph from land. Living on the water for a few days was incredibly peaceful and therapeutic. While sailing from island to island, all there was to do was to sit and think and breath and observe the world around us. And it was really lovely. I'll be sharing more about this experience in the future.
"You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things."
After the photography workshop in Bali, a few of us from the group decided to do some traveling together and caught a flight to the Indonesian island of Flores. From there we hopped on a boat and cruised from island to island for a couple days. It was amazing, and there were many highlights; one of which was seeing, and photographing, the notorious Komodo dragons. I had heard about these giant lizards my entire life and it was cool to finally see them in person. It was fairly warm when we visited and most of the dragons were just napping in the shade, preserving their energy, but a few came out to put on a little show for us. Including this one which wandered into some pretty ideal lighting.
"The Komodo dragon is the largest living lizard in the world. These wild dragons typically weigh about 154 pounds (70 kilograms), but the largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 meters) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kilograms)."
-Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute
I've been thinking a lot about fear; how it can be paralyzing and restrictive, but also life-saving in certain circumstances. From an evolutionary standpoint I enjoy contemplating the massive impact that fear has had on our ability to survive as a species. Without fear causing us to flee dangerous situations, or to be especially alert when we hear a strange noise behind us, we as individuals would have undoubtedly died way more often, possibly to the point of extinction. It could be a bear, or simply a pinecone falling. The fear response happens either way. The tricky part is that, in these modern times, where imminent death has lessened significantly, fear can hold us back. Our ancient brains have a hard time discerning life-threatening danger from social, financial and career type risks. The feeling of fear is the same, even if the risk is less. As I'm considering life, and what my future might look like, this subtle fear keeps arising within me and I haven't quite put my finger on what exactly is triggering it. Either way, I'm trying to learn from it as much as possible, and while I appreciate its protective role, I sense that it will remain with me until I simply jump.
"Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them."
-Brendan Francis Behan
In the spirit of absolute transparency, I'm not 100% sure that I took this photo. You're probably confused, so let me clarify: you may recall that my drone malfunctioned in Indonesia and ended up in the ocean, never to be seen again. A very sad day. But there was still another couple days of the photography workshop left, so when the group visited the seaweed farms, which was a great opportunity to get some aerial shots, the group leader, Jord Hammond, graciously let me borrow his drone so I could participate in the fun. The thing is, we both used the same memory card, and because so many of the photos each of us took ended up so similar (because we were both shooting in the same area, with the same workers, the same boats, etc.), it was difficult to discern which photo was taken by which person. But I loved the photo so much that I decided not to stress about it and got to work editing it. I hope you like it either way.
"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."
As a finance nerd, while traveling abroad I often think about money and the ways in which different cultures handle it. I'm generalizing obviously, but in the west, we have grown into a very individualistic society in which it's basically every man, women or household for themselves. And because there is not a lot of teamwork, even amongst family, it has forced the need for everyone to amass as much wealth as possible to pay for their needs whenever they retire. Now, I am far from a cultural expert, and would love for someone with more knowledge to weigh-in, but I sense this western approach to money far less in other societies. I imagine there is still a desire to amass wealth, as wealth creates options and freedom in any culture, but the entire format seems different. I'm not sure if this applies to all socioeconomic levels, but it seems that instead of every person or household having to amass as much money as possible to retire on, instead they share the financial burden generationally. Meaning, the parents work for as long as they can, raise their children who eventually enter the workforce - increasing the family income. Then, when the parents eventually retire, their children (now adults) continue to work and (here's the biggest difference), continue to provide for their parents. Meanwhile, the grandparents would look after their grandchildren, who eventually enter the workforce themselves and provide for the family. So on and so forth. And it seems to me that this is how humans survived our entire existence; family and teamwork. As I said, I would love for someone with more knowledge or experience to weigh-in, or correct me if I'm off on anything.
"In Mediterranean and Latin cultures [...] it's commonplace for multiple generations to live under one roof, sharing a home and all the duties that come with maintaining one. In the contemporary iteration of this living arrangement, the oldest generation often is relied on to assist with caring for the youngest, while the breadwinners labor outside the home. As such, the aged remain thoroughly integrated well into their last days."
I recently heard a stranger say to their friend something along the lines of "we love the ocean because that was our home for millions of years." Now, I am clearly in no position to confirm or deny the science behind that statement, but the sentiment and image it instilled in my mind was profound. I'm fairly certain that all of us have stood on the edge of the water and felt the enormous energy and power and healing that the ocean effortlessly forces upon us. It's addicting, in a way. Many can't live without it. And I can't help but wonder if small parts of our DNA do actually remember that it was once our home and miss, crave and need it from time to time. As if our biology can't help but be drawn to this powerful place that we used to call home.
"We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came…"
-John F. Kennedy
While taking portraits of locals in Indonesia, I noticed the same response from multiple different people. After asking permission to take their photo in Indonesian, I would raise my camera to start photographing them. At which point most people would give a big smile, or toss up a peace sign, or take a drag from their cigarette. All of which was fun, but not the raw, natural shot I wanted. It was the shy ones, the people that were most uncomfortable around a camera, that would give me the shot I was looking for. Because after briefly attempting to pose for the camera, they were so shy that they would immediately just go back to their work, gaining comfort and protection from their job. It's hard to put into words, but each time I saw this happen, I got butterflies in my chest. It almost felt like a quick blast of human connection; like they finally let me into their world for a tiny moment. They were able to find their comfort in an uncomfortable moment, and I was lucky enough to witness it; a small glimpse of their humanness. And that's one thing that makes photography so amazing; the camera can create connection where without it there might not be one.
"The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation."
You may recall that my drone malfunctioned in Indonesia and ended up in the ocean, never to be seen again. A very sad day, especially since there were still a couple days left of the photography workshop. It wasn't until we visited the seaweed farms that I started to miss my drone big time, as it was a great opportunity to snap some super unique aerial shots. I spent about an hour or so photographing the area with my handheld camera, which was still really fun, however, at one point our group leader, Jord Hammond, came up to me like a knight in shining armor and graciously offered to loan me his drone so that I could participate in the seaweed farming fun. It was a really kind gesture, and one I hope to be able to pay forward to someone else one day.
"Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting."
One of my favorite parts of visiting Indonesia was photographing the seaweed farmers. From what I observed, the seaweed is grown in shallow salt water, and when ready for harvest, the farmers would wade into the water, pluck the seaweed, fill large baskets and stack them on top of inner tubes for easy transport back to shore. Sometimes kayaks or canoes were used instead of inner tubes, depending on which type of seaweed was being harvested. Once back on land, the seaweed would go through various stripping, sorting, and drying processes, all done by hand. And all of which you will see in future photos.
"[Seaweed farming] has recently been thrust onto the global agenda as a coastal livelihood alternative that links economic growth both to food security and to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Seaweed, a marine algae, requires no fresh water or fertilizers to thrive, is fast-growing and nutrient-intense, and doesn't interfere with land-based systems. It has a number of end-uses, including carbon-dioxide removal via bio-sequestration."
In Bali, the weather conditions for photography were incredible, however on the 5th day it poured down rain all morning. This effected our sunrise plans, obviously, so we ended up having a lazy morning around the hotel and then went shooting in the afternoon once the rain stopped. This was the only day in which we didn't go to some jaw-dropping location where there were obvious photo opportunities everywhere we looked. Instead, we went to a pretty normal, rocky beach, and just poked around; having to search for photos. To be honest, this is similar to how I learned to photograph; finding beauty in relatively ordinary places, and something I still love doing. While I ended up finding some fun nature photos, for me what ended up being the highlight was the locals; this father and daughter in particular. Their energy was incredibly peaceful, and the constant physical contact between the two was heartwarming to witness.
"The more we learn about touch, the more we realize just how central it is in all aspects of our lives — cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioral — from womb into old age. It's no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful ways."
I'm not sure if it's me, the culture I live in, or simply the world in general, but life can feel so chaotic and confusing at times. And this may sound strange, but when things get especially overwhelming or complicated, I find myself craving a code of ethics to live by. Like a list of principles, morals and core values to take a bit of the decision-making pressure off and to help guide my way when I'm having a hard time navigating on my own. In business I've been taught to create a vision and mission statement for this exact reason and I'm beginning to think that perhaps I should just create my own, as an individual. Do any of you have this sort of thing in your own lives? I'd be curious to hear more if you do.
"Let your thoughts be ruled by principle, and then live up to your thoughts."
-Wallace D. Wattles
Another fun aspect of attending the photography workshop that I attended in Bali is that the photographer leading the group, Jord Hammond, is fascinated with photographing people doing interesting work in unique settings. And he built this fascination into parts of the workshop. I'll be honest, this isn't something I had ever sought out before, but it became a little bit addicting by the end of the workshop. In this photo we went to a quarry and photographed men cutting down massive chunks of stone into smaller, more useful sizes. Debris and dust were in the air constantly, and the saws were almost unbearably loud; this definitely appeared to be an extremely tedious and dangerous job, especially without the use of even basic protective gear. Yet the men just kept on working tirelessly as we photographed the scene. A reminder of the intense service to society that is often done far behind the scenes.
"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
There's an aspect to photography that I really love, and that's that it allows me to test out basically any creative idea I have. For example, if I see something that I think might make a nice photo, but I'm not entirely sure, all I have to do is capture the moment, bring it up on my laptop and then decide whether it's worth editing at that point. If it's worth editing, and if I like the final result, I can share the photo with others or simply keep it to myself. If I don't like the photo, I can effortlessly push it out of my mind because I know I gave it a try. Either way, I love that I'm able to test the idea and proceed accordingly. It's clean and it's simple. I often wish more aspects of life could be tested so easily.
"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed."
The people. When I'm asked what was the most memorable part of my adventures in Asia, the first thing that always comes to mind is the people. Until visiting Asia, I had never experienced cultures as warm, gentle and respectful as those I encountered while in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. And hands down my favorite part was the respectful bow that can be exchanged as a greeting, as a goodbye and as a thank you. It's just bringing your hands to prayer and doing a subtle bend at the waist. Even to absolute strangers. I found it to be an incredibly warming gesture and, in my opinion, is a beautiful example of the hearts and souls of the people and of the culture.
"A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people."
After shooting the sunrise one morning in Bali, we noticed a nearby temple with some people milling about. We figured we'd stop by and ask permission to take photos of them and the temple. What we initially thought was a few people turned out to be a group of 20 or 30 men preparing for a ceremony. They graciously welcomed us inside and allowed us to photograph their multiple preparations. This man, while taking a break to enjoy a cigarette, had positioned himself in this intense stream of morning light. He kept himself partially in the shadow so the sun wouldn't shine directly into his eyes. And as you can see, it made for a pretty cool image. I find myself seeking duality in my photographs whenever possible; light and dark, clear and blurry, warm and cool, stuff like that. And this scene naturally gave me exactly what I wanted.
"Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography."
I have no idea who this person is, but I really appreciate the extra dynamic they added to this photo. I actually think this represents a bit of a new style I've been enjoying since completing the photography workshop in Bali. You'll likely start seeing more subjects (people) in my photos in the future. Previously, I would patiently wait for people to leave the scene, so I could take a nature focused photo without anyone in it. But now I find myself doing the exact opposite by patiently waiting for subjects to enter the scene - I find it adds a bit of perspective and complexity to my photos. Subjects are not always available, obviously, and they do not always add to the photo, but I definitely learned how a properly positioned subject can add a whole new dimension to the photo. It feels like I've learned a new skill and I can't wait to master it.
"All of the top achievers I know are life-long learners. Looking for new skills, insights, and ideas. If they're not learning, they're not growing and not moving toward excellence."
This photo was taken on day 3 of the photography workshop in Bali. We had incredible conditions the first two mornings but, I'm a little ashamed to admit, I sensed that our luck was about to run out on the 3rd day. As you can see, I was wrong. We woke up before sunrise and got to our location just as the sun was beginning to emerge from behind the volcano. The skies were clear and there was some fog in the distance - a solid start. To our delight, it just kept getting better as the sun started blasting long, thin rays of sunshine through the various clusters of trees. The photos from ground level were beautiful, but the real magic took place when we sent the drones into the sky. Even though I probably should have been more optimistic about my day 3 predictions, I was very happy to be proven wrong.
"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed."
I've already learned a few things in my brief foray into portrait photography; a little about photography and a little about life. One thing I've noticed that's especially interesting to me, is that while photographing someone else, it is extremely easy for me to respect, and even admire, the "imperfections" and signs of age that they wear on their face. They add so much character and portray a person's story, in a subtle way. Yet when I look in the mirror, and see these same changes in myself, it's with nowhere near the same level of admiration. And I don't think I'm alone in this. I'm not sure if it's a cultural thing, or a personal thing or a bit of both, but I think it's fair to say that I, and likely we, can be a bit more gentle with ourselves.
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."
If you followed my Instagram Story during my trip to Indonesia you likely saw that towards the end of the trip, my beloved drone went for an unplanned swim in the ocean off the island of Nusa Penida. I was standing on top of a massive ridge, probably 400 feet above sea level, with a gorgeous (accessible) beach on one side and a sketchy (inaccessible) cove on the other. I'll let you guess which side my drone fell into. Unfortunately, even though I had an almost full battery, the drone lost signal with the remote control and spiraled down, down, down. I was close enough to the drone that I didn't even have to use the screen on the remote control to navigate, I was watching with my own eyes. I flew it past where I was standing, and even gave it a little wave as it passed by. And as I turned to watch it go, that's right when it lost signal and began spiraling into the ocean. I'll be honest, it was a little traumatic and I couldn't quite believe it for a couple hours. It felt like a bad dream that I'd soon wake up from. But nope. There was nothing I could do to change it, so I had to just get over it. And before too long I did. And once I did, instead of being upset that I didn't have a drone for the last two days of the photography workshop, I became extremely grateful that it didn't happen earlier in the trip. It sometimes takes me a while, but I almost always end up finding the silver lining.
"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."