Being Wild

I recently spoke at the 2016 Shooting the West Photography Symposium, in Winnemucca, Nevada, talking about being able to get off the grid and find your wild side.  I was super nervous, maybe because I had at least 30 minutes worth of content which I had to squeeze into 15 minutes.  I skipped around a bit, jumping over some of the information I planned to share, but the feedback was supportive, and everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation.  I’m posting the entire speech below, just for posterity.

Dotty Tree Squirrel

I am a Florida native and happily moved to the Mountains above Reno, Nevada in 2006, taking a giant leap of faith and following a boyfriend all the way across the country. My friends have told me that they are now living vicariously through me, and that I inspire them with my adventures. They call me a trail blazer. I Laugh at that, BUT
I think I’ve always been fearless. As a child, I loved to climb trees, spending hours in the tree fort my Father built which towered, (in my eyes) a good twenty feet off of the ground. I swung down from the fort from a rope swing, which would rocket to the ground then fly right back up in the air taking me with it. It was exhilarating, but the best part was being up in the trees, looking down on the world from up in the sky.

I read science fiction, and fantasy novels, where worlds were beautiful beyond imagination, where the land was colored every shade of the rainbow. As an only child, I spent hours alone, learning to enjoy being alone with myself. I chose to stay away from the herd mentality, instead choosing to do things my way. Not one to settle for an ordinary life, I chose paths, and made decisions that led me ultimately, to the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range over Reno, Nevada.

I’ve had a camera, like most people, since I was a teenager, but my semi professional photographic journey began with a Canon Rebel, which that same boyfriend bought for me after I moved to Reno. I saw the images of Elizabeth Carmel, and others who captured light and color on Lake Tahoe and started to started to read about how they achieved the results I desired, reading about Magic Hour and how light reflects and refracts. How clouds affect everything you photograph adding depth to an image, texture, color. My photographs lit up! Color everywhere, but especially at sunrise and sunset. The Magic hour! I found what I’d been seeking, the magical landscape described only in novels. Lake Tahoe became my playground, until I grew bored with the same lines and shapes of the beautiful images. Isn’t it true that when you go somewhere new, your creative mind lights up? You’re inspired? Time for a change!

CB Kaleidascope (^ dpi

My other half has no desire to leave Lake Tahoe, having traveled extensively in his younger years. That’s what he says but I think that’s actually just an excuse, he doesn’t like road trips, hiking or backpacking either. I think that some people just have wanderlust.

So, I started traveling alone, which is easier than asking someone else to get up at O Dark Thirty to photograph sunrise, or to skip dinner because the clouds look like there are going to blow up at sunset. I was a little uneasy at first, but since there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, I Jumped in the Jeep and started driving. I started with weekend trips, Yosemite, Mono Lake, Lundy Canyon. Just 3-5 hours away from Reno. Then I ventured down to Death Valley, got lost in the Valley of Fire, and hiked all over Big Sur. I photographed wildflowers and fall foliage, sunrises and sunsets to my hearts content. How peaceful to be alone on the road, to make U-Turns without anyone complaining, to follow the clouds, to wait for the sun to set, to stay out till midnight photographing the Milky Way! And then I found an Extreme photography workshop in The Narrows of Zion. Hiking in the Virgin River, wearing a dry suit, wet shoes, walking into the current of a cold river ,it sounded extreme so I signed up as fast as I could.

I fell in Love with Utah !

Pillar of Light pano©DottyMolt2012

After capturing one of my favorite images, Pillar of Light on that workshop, I decided it was time to really get off the grid so I planned a road trip for April of the following year, driving from Reno down to Death Valley, up through the Valley of Fire, through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, over to Canyonlands and Arches, Moab, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, South Coyote Buttes, Kanab, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, then Yosemite, and back home. I drove in deep sand to South Coyote Buttes, and hiked all the way down to the Subway and Archangel Falls. Over 3000 miles in two weeks…Heaven ! The layers of color in the Desert Southwest are amazingly beautiful, magnificent mountains, stark desert landscapes with HooDoos and Toadstools. Places where you felt like you’d stumbled into another world, one that you’d read about, or seen in a movie. And only a few hours away, off the grid, out of the mainstream, into the Wild. I stayed in hotels, did laundry on the road, had the best time! It was empowering !!!

So, how does one become wild, to lead the way, instead of following the pack?

First things first. Get in shape…get outside, walk, run, hike, bike, climb. UPHILL ! If you don’t live at a higher elevation, remember that when you travel, you’re going to be challenged by altitude. Fitness is a daily activity. You’ll feel better, have more energy, and be able to hike down the side of a ravine to a creek filled with wildflowers. And climb back out again ! I’ve taught fitness classes for almost 30 years, and Yoga for 10 years, and being active will save you. You can start practicing yoga at any age, and you will develop flexibility, strength and balance. And that’s really what life is all about…balance in everything you do. I miss a lot of sunrises because I either teach yoga in the morning or I’m out running my 3 mile loop.


Eat healthy, processed food is killing us. The healthier you are, the more energy you have, the further off the grid you can travel.

Get up Early ! Most people start hiking after 9am, If you start hiking before the majority of the world, you’ll have better light, a more peaceful experience, and less people in your images.

We all have locations on our bucket list. Pick one and start researching the location. Find out where it is, and then what else is in the area. For instance, Antelope Canyon is in Page, Arizona, along with Horseshoe Bend, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and if you head East, Monument Valley, Bryce and Zion are North West, and so on and so on. Sit down with Google Maps and plug in all of those places. Then start mapping out your trip. Now, just a side note, Antelope Canyon has become a huge tourist trap. There are, on average, 300 people in the slot canyon at the same time. They offer a photographers tour, which is a smaller group, but the rest of the people are still there with you. It’s pretty chaotic and when you’re photographing it there’s nothing peaceful about it. There are more slot canyons in the area. There are books about them. Grab one and start reading. Get off the crowded grid !

Lower Antelope Surfs Up 2 WEB
Find books about photographing the area where you’re headed. Buy a map and read it before you get in the car and the fine print is too small to see. Thank God for Siri and her friend Garmin. She is pretty efficient about sending you in the right direction, but if she’s sleeping on the job, or thinks you’re speaking a foreign language that day, the map always rules.

Be prepared for anything to happen in the sky, carry your rain gear, flashlight, water and food, first aid kit. If there’s a place to fill up your car in the desert, stop and do it now. Carry bear mace, the kind that has two long 17 foot shots, unless you’re licensed to carry more than that, then take lessons in self defense. It’s unlikely that you’ll experience any issues, but be prepared. Get used to peeing in the woods! Bears do it ! Men do it ! Know how to change a flat tire, carry a compass. Use common sense !

If you’re staying at a hotel, make friends with the locals who work there, ask questions, and if they know any places that are off the grid and worth investigating. Ro sent me up to the top of Winnemucca Peak last year, where I photographed a beautiful sunset.  This year I ventured off on a side road where I photogrpahed some lovely wildflowers at sunset and wandered through the Sand Dunes which continue for miles through the desert.

Winnemucca Windy Sunset 96 dpi

Explore side roads. I just got back from a trip to Hood River, Oregon to photograph wildflowers. I knew that the fruit trees would be blooming, too, so I found some backroads and just started driving. I found some beautiful compositions, and a hard cider tasting event. My favorite was the blueberry.

Cider Tasting Hood River

Be fearless ! Remember all the admonishments from your Mom to stand tall, have a strong handshake, and look someone right in the eye? Someone who can do that exudes confidence ! They also look taller and stronger. *-) I recently photographed street art in NYC, hopping on a subway near East 79th street around 7am, and getting off down in NOHO with camera in hand. I’ll have to admit, I really was nervous at first, but every time I came across someone on the street, I smiled and said good morning to them. I was rewarded with the most beautiful smiles from the scariest people, and even made a new Facebook friend. I wandered for a few hours, walking up and down alleys, keeping my eyes open, but having the time of my life. I went back again the next day! It’s empowering to be fearless !

Turtle web

Don’t forget to Hike with your head held high, and your core held tight, of course watching your step along the way, because there’s probably a 20 or 30 pound backpack hanging from your back. and if your body isn’t used to that extra weight, your experience out there will not be as pleasant as it could be.

Alstrom Point wide open sky

All of this brings us to the ability to really get off the grid, and into the landscape where we’re able to find perspectives that echo our true vision. Sure, anyone can stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon, take hundreds of shots at different angles at sunset and get one beautiful photo….. that everyone else has already taken. And if you’re new to photography, that’s probably something that will make you happy. But when you venture down into the landscape, when you have the ability, and the fearlessness to go off the grid, to go deep into the world, your perspective gets much more unique. From there, shooting from a low angle, through trees, finding a composition that tells a story rather than just captures a pretty scene…that is an art. And that’s finding your wild side.

Scouting out your location

Finding the perfect place to photograph a scene when you’ve never been in the area before can be especially daunting, especially if it’s pouring buckets of water all over you and your equipment.

I think the hardest thing about photographing a location that’s new to you is finding the best place to set up for sunrise or sunset. You can read other photographer’s blogs, research the area online, map it all out with a pretty good idea of what you want to shoot, find the location, then realize that it’s bigger than what you expected, or the clouds are in the wrong position for what you thought was going to be the perfect composition.
That happened on my first day in Oregon last week. After driving to my hotel in a torrential rainstorm, which felt almost like a hurricane, dropping off my luggage, unpacking, then changing rooms because there was a party going on next door, I finally headed out the door at 4pm. I found the Tom McCall Preserve, and started hiking out into a beautiful field of flowers. The sun was still high, the clouds were thick, the wind was still steady and strong, I had plenty of time, so after an hour of dawdling there, I headed up the trail, passing photographers in another field of flowers that overlooked the Columbia River. Little did I know that I should have stayed there…
The climb up the Rowena Crest Trail was consistently steep, and slippery in a few spots, the rain kept coming and going, and the wind kept the fields of flowers dancing, making it hard to photograph. I kept passing signs that said the path was closed for reconstruction, so somewhere near the top, I turned around to make my way back down to a beautiful area that looked just right for sunset.
By this time, the sun was starting to vanish behind clouds, and I realized that the sunstar I was planning to shoot was going to happen sooner than I expected. I started running downhill.
I stopped when I saw the sun disappear behind the clouds, and pulled out my Sony, which I never use, but it had the wide angle lens on it, so I cranked up the ISO to 1600 to try and freeze the wildly dancing flowers, and hand held these images. I wasn’t where I planned to be, that field was another 5 minutes down the hill, but the light was right, right then, so that’s where I stopped for sunset.
I came back to the open field of flowers that overlooked the Columbia River the next morning for sunrise.  It was indeed beautiful, and there were about 20 other photographers spaced out all over the field.  Mainly men, (what’s that all about) ?  and a few latecomers who kept pacing around looking for the perfect shot, (basically a flower in the foreground that’s facing the camera).  One person was still walking around looking for a spot as the sun crested the mountains and washed out the scene, ruining the beautiful soft light that happens during magic hour.  Certainly there were still plenty of options for beautiful images, and I stayed there another hour playing with macros and compositions to the west where the sky was deepening into a beautiful blue.
I did hike up to the top of that hill the next day when the winds had finally died down, but that’s another story.  OR Rowena Crest Trail Sunset 96 dpiOR Rowena Crest Trail 2 sunset 96 dpi

Road Trip with my Buddy


I moved to Reno, Nevada back in 2006, leaving my, then, 18 year old son back in Florida.  Fast forward to 2014, he’s 26, handsome, happy, and the light of my life.  I don’t spend enough time with him, so we’ve been going on trips together.  Last year was a Backroads trip to Alaska, this year, a road trip from Reno to Yosemite, across California to Big Sur, up the coast to Carmel, Monterey Bay, San Francisco, Bodega Bay, Santa Rosa, and back to Reno.  1000 miles in 7 days.  

I live at 6000 feet and thought I was a pretty strong hiker, until we started hiking.  We headed up a mountain, and after about 10 minutes, I lost sight of him.  !  “Buddy, wait for Momma!”  He obligingly came back, and we hiked together for the rest of the trip.  I know I was holding him back, but he was the perfect gentleman, never complaining, and using his IPhone to take better photos than I was with the Canon 5D Markiii.  Ah, youth.

Our first hike was just past the East entrance into Yosemite, up to Gaylor Lake.  We found the lake covered in melting snow in the middle of June.


Then we hiked The John Muir Mist Trail, which took about 4 hours, although we did stop quite a bit for Ray to use his IPhone.  We stayed up late to try and capture photos of the Milky Way from Tunnel View, but gave up when the moon came out and started shining all over the mountains, dimming all the stars.  I don’t think Ray wanted to stay up there until 11pm anyhow.  On the way back to the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, we saw hikers scaling El Capitan, so I snagged a photo of that.  Kinda like that one.


The next morning we left Yosemite to drive 3 hours to Big Sur, noticing giant stalks of Broccoli growing along the side of the road as we drove through farm country, commenting on the fact that the produce was hopefully not organic, cause if it was, we were all eating car fumes.

Big Sur was beautiful, although our first hotel was a little disappointing…no coffee !!!!  And non in the lobby until 8am !  I’m up at 530am or earlier every day, and that just wasn’t working for me.  Call me princess, I don’t care.  Ray was upset because we didn’t have a TV, and the walls were paper thin.  He kept commenting that we were going to get killed in the middle of the night.  I was more worried about the hotel sliding down the side of the cliff!  Needless to say, we were safe and lived to tell this tale.  


In Carmel, we ate at the Dametra Cafe twice, (yes, it was that good !),  and visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium on our way to San Francisco.  Ray again outshined me with his IPhone.  We did a little exploring in Jenner, above Bodega Bay, and got stuck in rush hour traffic twice, once just outside of San Francisco, and then again in Sacramento, driving 10 miles in two hours both times.  We also did a wine and cheese pairing in Santa Clara, which we both thoroughly enjoyed.  The best shot of that day was this lizard which Ray put to sleep after he captured him.  They scurry off after you flip them back on their bellies.  


I almost forgot our hike along the Big Sur coastline.  I’ve seen McWay Falls before, so we skipped that, but this was a pretty amazing hike through the redwoods.  We found a beautiful stream, and took what we thought was a spur road to a beautiful overlook.  Turns out we were on the trial the entire time.  


Back in Reno, I was really excited because we had two more days to Kayak, hike, standup paddle board, and fly fish!!!  I asked Ray what he wanted to do first, and he told me, “All I want to do is workout at the gym, get massive, have you cook meatballs and fudge, and watch movies on TV”.  I was surprised, but I realized that even though he was 26, he was still my little boy who missed his Momma, so we watched Darkman 1, 2 and 3, Hunger Games, and Ace Ventura.  It was the best trip ever!

The Perfect Poppy


I have seen the most beautiful photographs of poppies, and up until now, I didn’t have any.  Back in April, at the end of my Southwest trip of 3000 miles in 10 days, I drove all the way from Death Valley to the Antelope Poppy preserve outside of Los Angeles, with every intention of finally capturing my perfect poppy shot.  Well…after driving through gale force winds, watching the hood of the Jeep jump up and down for miles and miles, seemingly about to come loose and fly up in my face, I made it.  Along with hundreds of other people.  The winds were still blowing, there was smog on the horizon, and my vision of the perfect shot went up in…uh… the smog.  

So fast forward to my trip to Napa with my Yoga teacher a few weeks later.  The morning everyone got up and had a massage, I drove about 30 miles south to a state park in Napa, walked up a lovely hill filled with oak trees and blankets of wildflowers and found a small patch of poppies on the side of the hill.  I spend an hour composing, shooting, waiting for the breeze to die down, and finally got what I wanted.  

Success !!!

Post processing for the best image


Over the years, I’ve gone from shooting ten or so rolls of film on vacation, being careful not to waste space because processing 36 photos plus the cost of the film was $15, to 500 photos a day thanks to the digital age, where we shoot from every possible angle, at every reasonable setting, sometimes in threes for HDR, (how much storage do you have?), to a much more reasonable between 10 to 50 at sunset, if the light keeps changing, finding a few perspectives which use the color in the sky to the best advantage. What a relief for me and the storage drive on my computer, which after 3 years of collecting images, is really getting full.  Time to delete.  

Which takes more time than you think, because there’s a possibility that you missed something the first time around, or you’ve learned something new about how to edit.  So, you need to look at your files before you delete the 500 you took on the Lake in August of 2011, or the 800 you brought home from Italy.  Trust me, it’s very time consuming.  

But…imagine when you start bringing some of the images up in Raw, using new techniques, and create a much better image than your first version.  I started processing images in Jpeg in Photoshop 2.0 in 2006.  I switched to RAW files in 2012, and upgraded to Photoshop CC last December. I’ve read tutorials, played with settings, and finally gotten a good handle on how to get the most out of a photo.  Take for example the photos in this series.  The first one, above, is an image that has a beautifully balanced histogram. I darkened the highlights a bit, lightened the shadows, and voila’, a lovely sunset.


The next photo is a longer exposure which was done to soften the slight movement in the water, making the surface of the Lake looked dreamy.  But with a longer exposure, the highlights blow out a bit, and you lose the color around the area where the sun is setting.  So, to make myself happy, I took the sky from the first photo, and copy/pasted it over the sky on the longer exposure to create the image below.  I think.  It’s all subjective, isn’t it?  Now if I had taken one photo in RAW, I probably would have been happy with the image.  But when you’re shooting water, sometimes that dreamy look goes a long way.  What do you think?  


50 Below Zero ?

Last Fall, I drove with a friend of mine to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, only to be shut out of both parks by the government shutdown. A little frustrating, a little expensive and quite an adventure.  That was from 2013, the year of Murphy’s Law, rearing it’s ugly head over and over..

But that year is over, and I now have my Guardian Angel with me, so back I went to Yellowstone for a photography workshop in the park.  What attracted me to this was the fact that the photographer grew up in the area around Yellowstone, and knew the area like the back of his hand. Plus, you can’t just drive into the park, you have to ride a snowmobile, or rent a snow cat which is what we did.  

My friend and I started in Idaho Falls and drove to Jackson, which is a few miles outside of the Grand Tetons. We had planned to photograph the iconic Mormans Row at Sunrise with The Grand Tetons towering majestically in the background and Oxbow Bend at Sunset, with beautiful colors reflecting off of the …snow.

Oh yes, I forgot, it was snowing.  Kind of a light powdery snow that would have been fun to play in, but not so great for brilliant sunsets. And it hadn’t snowed like that for weeks.  Was it Murphy’s Law again?  We did see Elk, which my friend scared away by calling it BooBoo, a weasel in his winter coat, and some beautiful snowy landscapes.  

We spent the day exploring, had a wonderful dinner at an organic restaurant, shopped in town, laughed a lot, and headed to Yellowstone the next day, retracing our steps from October.  I’d call the drive through Driggs and Tetonia kind of a white out.  No clouds, just white everywhere.  And slippery roads! Needless to say, we didn’t turn around much, but we did stop to rephotograph a few locations we’d shot in the Fall.  My favorite was Hill House, which was surrounded by Aspens, so we have two seasons of that location.  And we found my red barn, which made my day.  As we got closer to Yellowstone, the wind picked up, I swear there were hurricane force winds driving us into the park!  something was up…or down.

After meeting the group we’d be photographing with the next day, we all headed to bed to get ready for a sunrise in Yellowstone.  The next morning It was cold.  No, not just cold, it was freezing! No, not just freezing, USA Today reported that West Yellowstone was the coldest place in the country that day at MINUS 50.  That’s 50 BELOW ZERO!  Have you ever ???  So, we found our place by the river, stood in the snowbank for 20 minutes waiting for some light to break through, it never did, and by the time we all got back in the snow cat, we couldn’t feel our fingers, toes, arms, legs, nose, I’m surprised we could even move !  The “warming hut” wasn’t open when we got there, but the bathrooms weren’t too bad.  They were probably 20 above zero.  So we warmed up a little in there.  I developed a headache that lasted 24 hours, and I think my feet finally thawed out around 8pm. Did I ALREADY say it was Cold?  50 BELOW?  Seriously?

But there’s always a silver lining, right? We drove through the park that day, stopping here and there, getting out for snapshots because it was too cold for anything else.  We saw a Bobcat, coyote, and the ubiquitous Bison, in fact a lot to them.  And we drove around again the next day, which was a warmer day with the temperature hovering around ZERO.  MY favorite part of our trip, aside from experiencing 50 below was the Norris Geyser Basin.  Beautiful!  

And I’m going back again in the Fall…but this time I’m headed to Bozeman and driving in from the Northern Entrance.  The Western Entrance just hasn’t been good to me.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again !Image  







A Sign from Above

With the beginning of a New Year, I’ve resolved to step outside of the safe little box that I’ve sheltered in, and create the life that I’ve always wanted to live, exploring this beautiful world and bringing home beautiful images to remind me everyday that finding your dream isn’t hard, or scary, you just have to start moving.  So, this year, I began my travels with a trip to Death Valley, a short 6.5 hour drive south of Reno, Nevada.  A fairly straight drive, well paved rolling highways, which I definitely rolled down and up and down again getting into Death Valley.

When I travel someplace new, I always have this vision in my mind’s eye of a place that’s foreign, where I won’t see many people, where the roads could be steep, and I might get lost.  It’s never the case, although I have gotten a little lost once or twice.  But you just have to turn the car around and head back where you came, and you’re back on track. So, on a Friday morning, noticing some cloudy weather in the forecast, which as a photographer would “make my day”, or actually my sunset and sunrise, I packed up my gear, lunch and dinner, hopped in my Jeep and set out to parts “unknown”.

My plan was to arrive in Death Valley at sunset and photograph the Mesquite Sand Dunes. I stopped a few times on the way down, watching the clouds roll in, buying gas twice, (the Jeep is a gas hog), and drove into the Valley just in time…to realize that there were hundreds of people swarming over the Dunes.  There went my visualization of pristine untrodden lines across the ridge lines of the Dunes, unless I ran, at top speed in sinking sand, way out there, (imagine me pointing about 2 miles out into the desert).  I tried, but with the sun sinking and the sky turning all kinds of pretty, I stopped, popped off a few shots and stood still just watching the color evolve.

I stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch, and had a map of Death Valley which I’d studied so I’d know where to go for sunrise and sunset.  Zabriskie Point was my sunrise location.  I woke up at 4am, headed out at 5am, found it at about 530am, headed up the little hill from the parking lot in the dark with my headlamp, set up my tripod and waited.  Sunrise is harder to predict than sunset.  You really can’t see the clouds in the sky, so you could be up and out there for nothing at all.  But this was a New Year, and at 6am, the sky started to glow !  I snapped off a few shots, then as the light came up, walked around finding my “Spot”.  As the sun peaked on the horizon, the sky light up in beautiful shades of pink, orange, yellow, and blue.  This was the perfect sunrise !  I’d never seen Zabriskie Point before, and I’ll never forget the feeling of joy that washed through me as I ran around shooting from different spots, capturing beautiful colors in a truly beautiful place.

I hiked around all day, exploring Golden Canyon, Artists Drive and Artists Palette, Mosaic Canyon, making my way back over to the Dunes.  This time I started hiking out on the Dunes around 4pm, leaving plenty of time to make it to an area where there weren’t any footprints, or so I thought.  In hindsight, I should have headed East on the Dunes, but I went straight out to the highest one, and shot from there at sunset.  I love my photos, even with the footprints.  As the sun set, I sat and enjoyed the beauty all around me.  There was a group of 20 somethings on the next dune over, laughing and enjoying the warm sand and soft light.  We waved across the Dunes, connected in peace by the golden light around us.

I shot sunrise over the Badwater Basin the next morning, and never made it to the Racetrack.  I was told by a park ranger that it was a two hour drive over a really really bumpy road, and the ground was wet, making it likely that if you did make it out there, if you walked on the ground, you’d leave permanent footprints.  That kinda sounded cool, but 2 hours of bumping each way just didn’t appeal to me. I made it home Monday afternoon, and downloaded my photos to my big screen.  Lo and behold, there was an angel in my sunrise at Zabriskie Point.  On top of the beautiful colors, I found my Guardian Angel.  She was with me the whole time, and appeared at Sunrise to remind me that life is what you make it to be.  If you sit home, wishing for things to come to you, it probably won’t happen.  You have to go out and find your life. I’m on my way.