If you ask me every year where I want to go on vacation almost every time I will choose to go to the mountains. It's not that I have anything against anywhere else, but when you're deep in the middle of summer in Oklahoma that usually means the heat has set in so you're seeing 95-100 degree temps on a regular basis. And what better way to beat the heat than to head to the mountains. Not only are they incredibly beautiful, but you get the added bonus of cool weather (for the most part).
This year we did a little something different and chose to spend our summer vacation down along the Gulf Coast in Florida near Destin. At first I thought we might be staying in Destin but we actually ended up in a condo down the road about 8-10 miles in the area of Santa Rosa Beach. I didn't know it at the time, but the 30A road looks to be pretty popular so I'm just now catching up on it. I was pretty happy that we weren't actually staying in Destin because I may have lost my sanity with the traffic along Highway 98 into town. It was tough enough coming in because it was the 4th of July weekend and it appeared half the nation had the same idea we did, so it was slow going getting onto peninsula initially. Once we arrived it was a blast from the get-go.
We spent a lot of time on the beach of course, and the first day the beaches were full of people and the water was full of some kind of sea moss so it stuck to you as you walked in or out. If you got out far enough, you were able to move into clearer waters where the water was warm and so enjoyable. The second day out the water was full of waves. I'm assuming storms further off the coast were pushing water in, but at any rate the turbulence moved all the plant life out and the waters were crystal clear. From further back the Gulf appeared to have a teal color and couldn't have been more visually appealing. The sand was so soft it was pretty much perfect to walk in, and it stuck to your feet pretty well too so thank goodness for the water hoses at the beach entrances.
Later we went on a Dolphin cruise with Flipper's Adventures in Destin. They took us out on a decently sized pontoon boat and provided free beer to the adults and soft drinks for the kids. We were happy because we not only saw dolphins, but we also saw a sea turtle swimming in the open waters which from what I understand is pretty rare. The ride lasted a couple of hours and they made sure we got to see dolphins even though it meant searching a little longer than normal.
Another highlight of the trip was eating Elmo's Grill in Santa Rosa Beach. Although a bit pricey (which all seafood seems to be that way) it was outstanding.
We also went back with Flipper's Adventures for a 3 hour snorkeling trip later in the week. Back on the same boat, they took us to a beach with a nearby reef where we all jumped off and snorkeled for a good hour on the first stop. It was so incredible swimming with the colorful fish, seeing the hermit crabs and getting a view of sea life I'd never experienced. After the first stop, we went to a second stop along a remote beach with abundant sea life and although it was for a shorter time we had a blast. We finished the trip up with another dolphin hunt, and came away with an even better view of the dolphins than we did in the first trip.
Before we left, we took a 6 mile hike around the Top-Sail wildlife refuge. It was hot, around 93 degrees and the humidity was in the upper 80's, but we made it and felt quite accomplished after it was done.
Overall, it's an area I'd definitely recommend visiting at least once especially with a family. I had a great time, and being a mountain guy that's quite an achievement. Here's a few of the shots I captured along the way while we were in the area. All of these photos are available as prints or canvas in the store.
When I think of landscape photography in Oklahoma I see a picture that's mostly sky and a little bit of landscape. Finding beautiful untouched spots in Oklahoma is a challenge and you have to be really resourceful and have a good eye to frame things in ways that look totally natural (if that's what you're going after, which I am). One of my favorite places to visit and photograph is the Wichita Wildlife Refuge located just west of Lawton. It's a pretty large preserve that has abundant animal life including buffalo and longhorns, and the occasional elk that I have yet to see myself. It has several places to stop and check out the history of the place, and it also has some scenery where the plains rise and give way to low level granite mountains.
I spent an evening there in the fall and I was fortunate enough to capture a couple of scenes that I thought turned out out pretty well. I ended up using one of the small lakes as somewhat of a mirror of the incredible sky (see, I told you) but kept the focus on the landscape and the scenery of the area.
Here are two shots from the evening. I think they do Oklahoma proud and I can't wait to spend some more time down there (it's to the south of me, so it's down) and see what the area has in store.
Both of these photos are available for purchase as prints or canvas in the store.
I was pretty much like everyone else in the world. Wake up, TV goes on and the news begins blaring immediately. Get home, turn on the TV, watch the evening news and sit in my chair and watch some shows in the evening. Go to bed, turn the tv off. Rinse and repeat.
But, along the way things started bugging me. I began seeing news stories in the media specifically worded to sound the alarms, create some kind of concern and started picking up on the meaningless information being passed along, sometimes lazily being picked up from social media. TV shows in the evening were starting to become predictable and more annoying than ever. I don't think anything changed in how things were being presented. News and tv shows have a formula that has worked for ages. No, I think that somewhere along the way I changed. I started feeling like the relentless media presentation was more noise than anything. I didn't want to hear teasers anymore, I didn't want to be sold to. I wanted some quiet.
I remembered a time when I was much younger, sometime around 19 years old when I didn't have a television, much less cable. And I remember more about life in that time than I ever had at any other time. I needed to get back to this, back to where I wasn't worried about what the world was doing, but more worried about what I was doing. I knew it wouldn't be easy because we now live in a world where media is everywhere. Every minute, every second there is news or advertisements or something being thrown at you due to cable and the internet.
But, I broke away.
About a year ago I turned off the cable and it got quiet in a hurry. I picked up Netflix and Hulu for a total of $15 and watched them sparingly along the way. My evenings all of a sudden started lasting longer, conversations became a little more in depth. The relaxation factor increased tremendously. No longer did I have to worry about something that happened 5000 miles away, no longer did I have the loud voice car guy yelling at me to buy a new car. Was I disconnected from the world? Yes, I was. Did I miss it? Nope. I didn't feel bad about not joining in on the Facebook conversations about the latest uproar, and I didn't feel bad about things I couldn't control that were being delivered directly into my living room. Being a big sports fan I was concerned about missing the big events, but that was easy to address. I just hopped in the car and went to my local restaurant and met some good people and cheered alongside others.
I do live in Oklahoma though and because I chase storms I know the importance of weather, so I ended up picking up an antenna so we could pick up the local stations when the weather got bad so when I'm out the family has a way to keep an eye on the weather. Today when I turned on the antenna the national news was on. Twenty five minutes of roller coaster accidents, floods, fires, presidential politics and a mass stabbing. It reminded me of what I'm not missing, and it also reminded me that silence is golden. I don't miss the noise.
Recently I traveled to Page, Arizona to spend some time out west and do some photography in an area that I've never visited before. It was an amazing experience and I thought I would jot down some of the things I experience in planning the trip out there that someone else might find useful.
I chose Page because there are several locations that are very photogenic and easily within driving distance. I usually choose a location as my home base for a few days and set out from there rather than staying near a location each night. This allows me to get to know the area a little better so if I return I'm familiar with most everything and spend less time trying to figure out things.
My first stop was in Monument Valley along the Arizona/Utah border north of Kayenta about 20 miles. I've always had it in my head that Monument Valley was some huge open valley in the west that a highway happens to run through, mostly because of the many westerns I've seen that showcase this landscape, but many times what we see in our head and what is reality is usually much different.
As you travel north from Kayenta there are indeed formations that can take your breath away. I was entranced by the sight of Agaltha Peak just north of town along the highway. There are a few places you can pull over and get some good shots, but there are houses along the way that can get in the shot if you aren't careful, but I was able to find some areas where human activity wasn't evident in the photo. Finally you get to the area of Monument Valley but it's not entirely evident you are there. There are signs about the visitors center, the hotel and restaurant, but if it weren't for that you'd easily drive right by. Long story short, follow the signs to the visitors center because this will take you to the valley, as it isn't right along the highway. If you visit during business hours, you will be charged $20 to enter. I traveled back to this place to capture a few sunset shots after business hours (later than 5pm) and with the booth being unmanned drove right in for free. It's a beautiful place, with dirt roads that take you down into the valley and around the area, which if you take your time can easily take up a couple of hours. Along the way there are a bunch of Navajo vendors ready to sell you their wares, so if you're looking for an inexpensive gift to bring home for others this is a cool way to do it.
After my visit to Monument Valley, I traveled on to Page which is about 90 minutes away to the west. Page is a small town which fits me perfectly, as I'm not one that enjoys a lot of traffic and overcrowded restaurants and such.
Just to the south of Page, about two miles or so, is the world famous Horseshoe Bend. It's shaped exactly like its name where the Colorado River runs through it. There is a small sign along the highway that tells you where it is, and there is a parking lot. You don't see the canyon as you walk from the parking lot, as it's a nice little hike up a sand laden path, then about another 5-10 minute walk to the canyon itself, which luckily is downhill most of the way. The canyon itself is spectacular. There are no barriers, no fences, nothing that would keep you from going over the edge so you have to be extremely careful as you approach. It took me a good half hour to get comfortable enough to approach the ledge to get a wide angle shot that didn't include a good portion of the ledge. I went several times to this area to try to capture the best shots, but it seemed that the sunset hour was the best time to capture the colors. The day I went there were no clouds whatsoever, so it made it tough not to get a blown out shot with the sun setting in the west, so bracketing your shot is recommended when this is the case. I believe if I were luckier I would have captured at least some clouds in the sky, but in the two days I stopped by this wasn't the case.
My next stop was a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon west of town. You can't just show up at the canyon and walk through, you must book a tour with one of the companies in the area where they will bus you down into the canyon. I booked my tour with Chief Tsosie's Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. The tour I booked was not the normal tourist tour where you are with a large group, but I had booked the photographer's tour which is a bit more pricey at $90 or so but well worth the extra money. After meeting at the tour's central location in town, I rode in a van with my assigned tour guide (Vera, who was awesome btw!) out of town and to the canyon. With the photographer's tour, I was given ample opportunity to capture shots within the canyon, and although it was very crowded in the canyon, they give the photographers time to take their shots and in many cases hold up other groups from traveling through so it's possible to capture shots without people in them. There isn't a ton of time to set up or adjust your settings, so you have to be quick. But, they help you with the best settings ahead of time so you are able to go in with your tripod and shoot away. There were only two in my group that afternoon, so I felt like I had VIP treatment and came away with some amazing shots. I didn't travel to the Lower Antelope Canyon, so I guess that's for another day, but the Upper Canyon was awesome.
My last day I traveled down to the Grand Canyon south rim, which is about 2 hours and 30 minutes away. The highway that travels west to the canyon was pretty light on traffic so that was nice, but I wasn't terribly excited about visiting the canyon for the first time. The canyon itself is impressive, and of course is always north of the road not very far away, but once you stop at the first few pull-offs along the way you feel like you've seen most of what there is to see already. I've never been one for tourism and like to get to know places much more intimately, and this is what I would recommend if you are going to spend time there. I think I spent a couple of hours there, and came away thinking "that was cool" but without getting deep into the park and getting to know the parts that aren't as visible I felt mostly empty from the "tourists" trip in.
A bit of advice and a couple of places I would recommend. When you book your Antelope Canyon tour, do it as soon as possible so you aren't scrambling at the last minute, especially if you are wanting to capture sunbeams in the canyon. Horseshoe Bend in the evening, preferably with some sparse clouds. If you're into night photography, book when there is no moon. The Milky Way Galaxy viewing is awesome here. Days Inn in Page is very nice and accommodating. Slackers is a great place if you want a burger or beer in an informal setting, especially when you're out shooting photos at sunset and you want to eat a little earlier.
Here's a few photos from my visit:
Late last year I took some time to travel north to South Dakota and visit Badlands National Park. I wanted to do some photography in the area and get to know the landscape intimately, and at the same time scratch an itch to visit since it had been about 30 years since I first visited and I didn't have a lot of memories from the time.
I drove north on the first day, working my way up I-35 from Oklahoma and most of the way through Kansas, and made it to Grand Island where I was greeted by construction along I-80 and a round of thunderstorms moving through the area. After staying the night I woke up early and drove northwest through Ravenna and Broken Bow, moving into the Nebraska Sandhills. I really enjoyed this area, especially around Valentine. It's very beautiful if you're into rolling hills and sparsely populated areas that aren't developed, which fits me to a T. I was also really intrigued driving through the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations and observing life as I drove through the towns of Mission and Wanblee. I've always been interested in the history of the area, studying and reading a lot about Wounded Knee and the relationships between the Plains Tribes and the U.S. Government.
As I drove to the east towards Wanblee, the landscape began to change and I was super excited to see the first signs of the barren desert of the Badlands. It's amazing how you can go from a beautiful sea of buffalo grass to a landscape void of any plant life in the blink of an eye.
Along the way it was really amazing the amount of round hay bales that dotted the landscape, and if you're a photographer and you're missing the standard round bale photograph in your arsenal, this is the place to capture it. Of course, I had to stop and get mine. I also made it black and white for art's sake.
I arrived in the Badlands around 11am after about a 5 hour drive and stopped in the very small town of Interior. With the main stop in the town being the gas station/convenience store, it serves as a gateway into the park from the south entrance.
As you enter the park from the south towards the east, you have a restaurant and souvenir shop that appear to stay pretty busy during the day even in the off-season and nearby there is a campground for those who are traveling via RV. The road then forks two ways, one to the northwest that takes you through the park, and one that takes you to the northeast that clips the park's east side. When I first arrived there was no doubt I was going into the heart of the park. The road winds through the park with many unique views and seemingly unending vistas. Being there in the middle of the day for me though was a problem with the harsh sunlight that is not conducive to great landscape shots, so after scoping the area out I went to the KOA that was south of Interior about three miles and checked into my cabin. By the way, this KOA was top notch and the cabin I stayed in was very well kept. If you looking for a place to stay in the area for a night or two I definitely recommend.
Later that evening I ventured back out into the park for evening and night sky shots, and it was amazing because most of the tourists had left the park for the night and it seemed like I had the whole park to myself. The feeling that came with this was awesome, and the photos that it allowed me to compose I felt came out as well as I could have ever hoped for.
Wildlife was abundant as well as I traveled through the park the next day. Bighorn sheep and prairie dogs were the main attraction as I drove through, and they were very accessible for photos.
Overall, I spent three full days around the park, which ended up being a little much even with the goal of doing strictly photography. It takes about an hour to drive through the park and for a tourist most of it can be experienced in a day. I spent a good half day though to the west of the park in the vehicle accessible grassland getting off the highway and spending time well off the beaten path. This is a great way to get to know the land and have a little fun along the way if you're staying the area for a few days.
Here is a collection of shots I captured from the trip. It's a beautiful place that will feed the soul. Prints of these photos are available in the store.
A long time ago I began storm chasing, which lead to a passion for storm photography, which lead to a passion for photography, which lead to starting my business. Today I am blessed with enough demand that I am able to step away from my full time managerial position, giving me a more open schedule and allowing me to pursue larger ideas and places much further away that I just couldn't reach in a 40 hour a week job.
I've always had a tremendous passion for the western United States. I love the landscapes, the small towns, the weather, the history and now I have decided to turn that passion into a project that will document the west in a unique way. The project will be called "The American West - A Documentary in Photographs". This extended project will take me through places off the beaten path, shooting landscapes, buildings, main streets...you name it, and telling their stories along the way no matter how big or small, important or inconsequential. These places will be from Texas to North Dakota, Washington to California and everywhere in between. I'll still be chasing storms in the spring, in fact I'll be chasing a lot more. I'll just be spending a little more time as I travel in areas that I may have just passed through with out blinking an eye before. It's so exciting thinking about being able to stop and explore, and get to know western America intimately.
So I'll be posting my travels here and will update often with the photos and stories along the way. Be sure to follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/seanramseyspp for notifications of postings and other updates along the way.
So I never mentioned it here, but National Geographic did a blog feature on my work in late October which of course is really exciting for me. I can't describe the feeling when others recognize the work you do. It really motivates me to keep getting out, travel farther and work harder to get those special shots. Check out my feature here and let me know what you think!
The Quiet Moments of the Storm - National Geographic
Kansas is known for its agriculture, small town life, and of course Jayhawks basketball. It's also a land of beauty and ever changing scenery. These five photos showcase the beauty of the Sunflower state. All photos can be purchased as prints through my store.
The sky is painted in brilliant hues in this photo near Sanford, Kansas.
The Kansas prairies are ever changing and can offer the most amazing scenery in the world.
Captured near Great Bend.
Scenery can appear as if it were straight out of the Wizard of Oz.
Captured near Oakley.
Rain on the plains brings sculpted clouds that can rival any artwork, like this photo from Smith Center.
From its bustling cities to the harvested fields, Kansas is a place of wonder and beauty.
Oklahoma skies are amazing and so unique. Here are five examples of the beauty that you might see when you look up.
The setting sun can change the landscape in a heartbeat, as in this photo from Central Oklahoma.
It won't take long to find a pot of gold in the Oklahoma panhandle with a rainbow lighting the way.
Bubbly mammatus can make the Western Oklahoma sky seem as if it were a painting.
A Southwest Oklahoma sky that will warm your eyes and your heart.
If you need a little inspiration, just go outside and look up. Oklahoma skies are as good as it gets.
First, let me just say that New Mexico is a beautiful place. No matter whether it's the open plains where the horizon seems forever away, or in the mountains where the smells and sounds can transport you to another place and time, or in the desert where one can spend time alone with Mother Nature, it's is a state that is full of views, vistas and wonder.
I captured "Mountain Stream" on the way to Taos Ski Valley. It has a beautiful mountain stream that runs along the highway almost all the way up, and there were a few opportunities to take my time and capture a few shots along the way, so I did and this is the result. I really have fun trying to capture the water flowing in a way that helps give a photo character, and I think I captured this one just right.
"Mountain Stream" is available as a print in the online store.
It is also available as a framed print, canvas or greeting card at Fine Art America.
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