Yellowstone & Grand Tetons

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Wild Horses roam the plains in Grand Teton National Park

Well it’s been a little while since I’ve posted but in my absence I’ve travelled about 2,000 miles up to Yellowstone National Park and now down to the Tetons. The first 5 days I spent in Gardiner, MT near the north entrance of Yellowstone. From there we traveled to Flagg Ranch, WY for a couple nights. Today we drove a couple hours south to work the southern portion of Grand Teton National Park from Jackson, WY.

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Right to Carry

Well it won’t be long before we’re take I-15 north toward Lehi, Utah for the first night of the coming trip. After staying the night and seeing some family in Pleasant Grove, UT we’ll head to Gardiner, Montana for 5 nights and begin photographing Yellowstone N.P. around September 5th. Unfortunately there have been several fires raging in Yellowstone throughout August but as of today, only two fires remain active. The Alum fire is burning in central Yellowstone and the Druid fire also remains active in the northeastern region of the park. Smoke is said to be minimal and the roads are all open which is great news. InciWeb is the government’s site used to track active wildfires http://www.inciweb.org/. 

We picked up our 4 holsters from Tex Shoemaker in San Dimas a couple of days ago and have been conditioning them to make the leather more pliable. Doug is the owner of Tex Shoemaker and he makes some incredible leather products. He mostly produces equipment for law enforcement and rodeo customers but he also does jobs from private individuals. He made two holsters with no drop from the belt loop and two more with drops of 2″ so we could choose which one was more comfortable and fit with our backpacks on. Some people with longer arms prefer holsters that ride lower (like myself). They also feature a forward swivel so that when we sit down the holster can swivel out of the way and remain parallel with the leg. Lastly, a leather “shoelace” is run through the bottom of the holsters to tie around the leg for a tighter fit when riding horses, atvs, or hiking thus insuring the holster doesn’t flop and bang your quadricep all day. Doug also made us some belts that match the holsters and distribute the weight around the waist evenly. 

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Hanging the leather to bake in the sun after conditioning.

Unlike California, the majority of the states we’ll be spending time in will allow us to openly carry firearms without a permit. This is great because not only will it intimidate anybody who would think of robbing us, it also adds a last resort option should we come in contact with deadly animals. Of course, we are prepared with bear spray and other techniques, but you can never be too cautious. 

A couple final modifications have been made to the truck. We drilled a hole in the truck vault to put a lock on thus securing the slide out from being accessible. We also got the truck tinted with 3M film, on sides and the front windshield to cut down on the UV light and heat entering the cab. The one thing I can say though is that although the 3M tint film is supposed to be the best film on the market, it has a ‘3M’ logo about every 2 feet that’s slightly visible on the windows. This is bothersome if you’re particular about vehicles like I am, but nonetheless it’s functional.

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We went with a 70% tint in front, although it’s barely visible, it makes a big difference in heat and glare reduction.

 

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Rear function with the truck vault

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Dad drilling out the slideout to put on a lock. It’s made of aluminum so it’s not impossible to drill out with a standard drill and bit.

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~ImageryAdventures

Snow Chains in August

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Yesterday I fitted the snow chains on the truck that we received from TireChains.com out of Johnstown, PA. When ordering the chains, I called to ask for some direction regarding wear, weight, and installation. I was very pleased to talk to the owner on a Saturday morning on the second ring. No auto-answer-I’ll-connect-you crap here. He reassured me that we had ordered the best tire chains for our application and explained the advantages of cams vs. no cams when it comes to mud and rocks. Basically cams are an easy way of tightening snow chains around a tire but the drawback is that they can become caked with mud or come undone when coming into contact with a rock or curb. We don’t have cams on our chains. Our order also came with 1.3# rubber tighteners to keep the slack of the chains on the outside of the tire. ~ImageryAdventures

Feeling anxious…

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The house is a mess as we prepare our equipment for the next trip. Needless to say, mom’s living room is full of dad’s stuff.

Well we’re now less than two weeks from our departure date. We’ve got a day to drive to Orem, Utah where we’ll see my aunt before  heading to Gallatin, Montana. The plan is to work the northern half of Yellowstone National Park from Gallatin and then drive south to Moran, Wyoming and base camp there. We’ll have about 16 days of shooting in Yellowstone and although I am a little nervous about bears, I’m very excited to photograph elk, moose, and other animals Yellowstone has to offer. I’ve seen a wolf in Yellowstone once and it was one of the most beautiful animals I’ve seen in person.

Now that the trip is getting closer every day seems to pass slowly. I’m anxious to get on the road and put some of my newer skills to use with the cameras but we still have so much to do. We received our snow chains from TireChains.com today for the truck and they weighed a whopping 80 lbs! We are still waiting on some backup batteries for the Polarion dive lights and some mosquito suits which are coming from Canada. 

Yesterday I called about 8 different county sheriff offices in several states to confirm that we could carry firearms. I was surprised at how helpful and willing all of the deputies were to answer my questions – not that I expected them to be cold to such questions, it was just a nice surprise. We will also carry a 50-state guide to gun and knife laws in our truck in order to make sure we are following the rules as we journey across 7 states. Doug at Tex Shoemaker in San Dimas, CA is making us some custom holsters for our Smith and Wesson 500’s. The SW 500 is the largest handgun made today with a .50 caliber round. This would be sufficient stopping power in the event a grizzly bear charges us. We will be able to legal carry our revolvers unconcealed in most states but of course California is not one of those states.

Today we also took the truck over to Lou at Custom Truck Shop in San Dimas, CA to get a special locking system put on the rollout drawers. They have done lots of work for us on past vehicles and always do a great job. Lou started the off road shop over two decades ago and today enjoys a well-deserved flow of business from all over southern California. Their website is http://lge-ctsmotorsports.com/.

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Front-left view

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2013 F-350 Fx4 King Ranch with SnugPro shell and TruckVault bedstorage.

The preparation is probably one of the most boring stages of photography but each day we are closer to leaving. Thanks for following. ~ImageryAdventures

Light up the night

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The Polarion Abyss ‘S’ is actually a diving lamp but provides great illumination for early morning hikes in the dark.

Very often we start our days pretty early to catch the sun come up. As a general rule it takes us at minimum 30 minutes to set up the camera equipment and laptop depending on which system we are using for that particular shot. This means that we are hiking to the shoot location an hour or more before sunrise. When we hike at night or early morning we carry Polarion Abyss ‘S’ flashlights. Polarion is based in San Diego, CA and makes some of the worlds most powerful illumination instruments, largely for the U.S. military. Although the batteries only last 30 minutes on high power or an hour on low, these lights will light up an entire forrest. We carry extra batteries if the hike is longer than one battery life. This illumination is key because so many animals feed in the early morning hours. We have run across elk, deer, and ram on multiple occasions. In addition to the Polarion dive lamps we wear headlamps for hands-free light in the field. 

 

On early morning drives we use several auxiliary lights mounted on the front and rear of the truck to illuminate the road. We have some LED bars and extra foglamps front and rear to increase our visibility from both inside the truck and to others who may be on the road externally. In addition, we equipped the truck with an ultrasonic pulsating sound that warns large animals that we are present. The sound is supposed to be unpleasant so that the animals avoid the truck and run the other direction. It is faintly audible to humans and we can activate the sound for continuous noise via a switch on the dashboard.

 

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Front of the truck, lower amber light is a foglight.

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Rear view with FabFours bumper

~ImageryAdventures

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Three weeks from yesterday we set out in the road again. Needless to say the next 20 days will be full of packing and checking the equipment, cleaning lenses, making reservations, and securing national park permits.

Unlike many traditional DSLRs (digital single lens reflex) cameras, when you remove the lens from the body of the camera the image sensor becomes exposed to the elements. In a traditional DSLR, a mirror blocks most debris from being able to reach the sensor which ‘burns’ or records the digital image. However, the Arca Swiss body is no regular DSLR and because there is no viewfinder allowing the photographer to preview the shot, there is no mirror blocking the sensor. This requires either 1) the user to never remove the lens from the body this creating a closed camera or 2) the user to clean the sensor after working in the field with an exposed sensor, or back. We are using a Phase One IQ180 back which is currently the most advanced digital back in the world. Instead of capturing hues in 12-13 bit like most Canon and Nikon cameras, the Phase One IQ180 allows for 16 bit hue capture essentially making it 16x more sensitive to color.

The other issue when shooting to a higher quality camera becomes focus. When you blow up a picture to an 8″x10″ print it’s difficult to discern what subject matter is slightly put of focus. But when you blow an image up and print a 3’x9′ panoramic image, suddenly focus becomes very important. For this reason we shoot tethered with the camera directly connected via a fire-wire cable to a laptop which we take with us in the field. This allows for a couple efficiencies: first, we do not have to later import large image files to a laptop after shooting. And second, we can check for absolute focus and composition using a 15″ laptop screen and software versus a small LCD. Shooting to a laptop presents several challenges though, namely weight when backpacking, extra setup time prior to shooting, and ensuring the equipment is protected from the ever-changing elements.

All in all we have a unique combination of tools and techniques which allow us to capture the highest quality images. Until next time, thanks for reading. ~ImageryAdventures

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Passion through Preservation

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“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” -Ansel Adams

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word preserve means: to maintain something in its original state. In today’s fast-paced world, things change instantaneously – including landscapes. My goal throughout my career as a landscape and nature photographer is to share my passion for the beautiful world we live in through photography. Although it is impossible to halt the hands of time, one can preserve still moments of time in an image.

One of the most wonderful aspects of nature photography is that it is a non-destructive pleasure. Of course there is a carbon footprint behind just about everything but the essential elements necessary to take a picture is very clean. Just ten years ago the word ‘green’ became a buzzword and mainstream companies began increasing their awareness and efficiencies to meet the demands of a more environmentally conscious consumer. This trend is great but there is an underlying issue still at hand: population growth. 

Think for just a moment about all of the resources you will use throughout your lifetime; food, fuel, furniture, electricity, school supplies, sporting goods, etc. All of these items will be produced somewhere, shipped, used, and will most likely be discarded to a mass landfill if they are not recycled. Now multiply that times 7.1 billion people (of course we must remember Americans produce upwards of 50x the waste of the average world citizen). That’s a massive amount of “stuff”. It’s very easy to understand that as the world population steadily climbs, there will be less and less space for mother nature.

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Residential Construction in Phoenix, Arizona

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Exponential population growth in the last 50 years.

It goes without saying that as an avid outdoorsman I am concerned for the environment in which we all call home. Over my career I hope to photograph some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes and beautiful animals in hopes of inspiring others who may also view the images. 

I can’t wait to get on the road and it literally consumes my thoughts each day. The plan is to leave Glendora, CA on August 25th and return sometime in late October. The itinerary includes such locations as the Teton Mountain Range, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park. 

I really can’t express my gratitude enough for the opportunities my parents are providing for me. They have been wonderful parents, mentors, and friends over the last 22 years and I look forward to working closely with them over my career. I know there will be times I’ll need to step away and create space between us, but every career has its challenges. There is no company I would rather work for than the family business; there’s just something about having your name on the door that is completely satisfying. 

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Arches NP 2012Image

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Cold and windy, waiting for sunset.Image

Until next time, thanks for reading. ~ImageryAdventures

 

 

Learning in the 21st Century

Today, learning just about anything is more accessible than it ever has been in history. According to YouTube’s in-house statistics, each minute, more than 100 hours of video are uploaded to the website. And that’s just one of hundreds of wonderful websites which allow visitors to explore and learn about a variety of subjects all around the world. 

YouTube is localized in 56 countries in 61 languages worldwide.

 

So when I made the decision to drop out of college and pursue a career in the family photography and printing businesses I knew that this didn’t have to mean I would not keep learning. College is structured of course so that a graduate has undergone a quantifiable and standard learning regiment. Most universities offer their students ‘a tailored education’ to meet the needs of each individual student but in a way it’s like going to In’N’Out where you can get a burger with or without cheese, pickles, tomatoes, or sauce – essentially you will still have a hamburger not a burrito. If that product works for you then it’s a great way to become educated without having to come up with a truly unique education. However, for anybody who wants to learn a new language, better writing skills, a new workout, or the history of traditional Buddhism, it’s merely a matter of willing yourself to seek out said information.

 

There are a smattering of photography schools, especially in the metro Los Angeles area. These schools range from one day workshops in general tips and tricks to full degrees in Photography and Fine Arts. Yet again, as helpful as these courses may be to a photography student none will offer a truly tailored program which allows the student to explore the aspects of photography he or she is interested in with unlimited depth, or skip over parts of the field which they will not use in their career. Of course it’s impossible to say what exactly I will do in photography but shelling out thousands of dollars to LA Film School or the Academy of the Arts seems like a less-direct investment than applying those funds to a photography trip with real-world challenges and opportunities. Thus I have elected to forgo a traditional education in photography and use my closest resource as a mentor. 

 

My father has been shooting photography since he was a kid but really got into it more seriously once his printing business began to be successful. In the early 90s, he and my mom took a three month trip and several shorter trips to photograph the United States. They made beautiful landscape calendars and also printed them to sell for christmas gifts. Although these calendars were less than a million-dollar idea, they did allow our family to travel and enjoy tax writeoffs because the equipment was used for business purposes. We first started with a Lazy Dayz motorhome but after experiencing strong winds in southern Utah sold it to get something heavier. Later came a 45ft. Blue Bird coach which had overheating issues. Finally we settled on a 45ft. Marathon coach complete with a K2500 Suburban 4×4 in tow. My first spoken word was actually ‘burban. From a very young age I was fascinated with anything transportation. The ‘burban later gave way to a Hummer H1 wagon which was the first sold to civilians in California after Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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From a very early age I was fortunate to travel and ride in some neat vehicles. These are passions I still hold today and look forward to sharing with my kids someday.

 

I felt a brief history was due and again, learning can happen in any variety of forms. ~ImageryAdventures

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

^Such a cliché title, I know. But it really is true – one image can create nearly endless connections. ImageryAdventures will be my platform for sharing some of the experiences I will be having over the early stages of my photography career.

Hello and welcome to my blog, my name is Russell Layton. I’m just shy of 22 years old – college educated but not graduated. I never thought it was important to prove to others what I was capable of with a piece of paper. No, worth comes from real results, products, and innovation. Doing something everybody else does is celebrated at college graduation because it is a milestone rather than something truly incredible. Now I’m not downplaying education or even college for that matter, but graduating with a degree doesn’t necessarily make someone smart or capable in my book. Their abilities outside of college is a stronger indication of what that person can accomplish.

L-R: Nate Troscinski (roomate), Me, Trevor Spencer, Sebastian Burcombe

L-R: Nate Troscinski (roomate), Me, Trevor Spencer, Sebastian Burcombe

I made friends with one of the employees in the cafeteria. He speaks 8 languages and has now returned to Afghanistan to be a translator.

I made friends with one of the employees in the cafeteria. He speaks 8 languages and has now returned to Afghanistan to be a translator.

Currently I am typing this blog from my apartment in Phoenix, Arizona where I have lived for the past 8 months. I have had many “plans” for my life. Out of high school the plan was to attend a large university and graduate in Accounting to eventually run a big company. I did a semester at Indiana University my freshman year of college and decided I was wasting my parents money with out-of-state tuition. Shortly after this realization I moved home and returned to work at the family printing business and went to school at the local community college where both of my parents and my older sister had attended classes. Although it felt a bit like an extension of Glendora High School, Citrus College delivered a decent education at a great value. Upon completing my General Education requirements and core pre-requisites for a business major I was at another planning intersection.

My patio in Arizona

My patio in Arizona

During much of the time I spent in community college I dated a girl I had met through a mutual friend. She moved to Arizona and thus I went to visit her many times during our relationship. Ultimately, I moved to Phoenix to be near her and also to attend Arizona State University to finish my degree. The move to Arizona was the best decision I have ever made because it gave my life a new clarity. It was the first time in my life I was not in school and also the first time I was completely financially independent. I found an apartment and held several jobs from selling insurance to waiting tables at Chilis and IHOP to later valeting cars at a 5-star resort.

Valeting at Four Seasons Resort North Scottsdale

During this time in Arizona I debated what I wanted to do with my life more than ever. I knew from selling insurance that I hated sitting at a computer for 8-9 hours a day. I wanted a job where I could travel and be new places, but not have to be on a plane 4 days a week for corporate meetings and such. I definitely liked the freedom and responsibility that small business offered seen through the businesses of my parents, uncles, and grandpa. But what would I do? I had no revolutionary ideas, no real money to speak of, and I didn’t even have my degree.  In my mind I knew I had only a small handful of assets working for me: a good personality, a strong work ethic, and a healthy body and mind.

Over the last several years it turns out my parents had been undergoing a similar challenge: what direction to move the business in. Since printing is such a mature industry we knew we needed to evolve our products and services to offer new areas of value to our clients. This is where my father’s longheld hobby for photography came into play. During my time in between Indiana and Arizona I took a couple trips with my father to shoot photography in the southwest United States. My parents also traveled the bulk of the last two years going to Hawaii, Florida, Bahamas, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, and Utah to shoot landscape photography.

Rainy weather in Moab, UT

Rainy weather in Moab, UT

Old camera system we used to use - we modified the focus knobs to about 400% of original size to allow for finer focus adjustment.

Old camera system we used to use – we modified the focus knobs to about 400% of original size to allow for finer focus adjustment.

Well you can see where the story is going. It turns out the business my parents were evolving had the very elements I was searching for in a career: travelling, nature, photography, off-roading, exploring, and meeting new people. What’s more, working in Arizona gave me a chance to realize that I did like working for my dad as tough as he seemed sometimes. I had an amazing childhood thanks to my parents and if one day I could repay them in some small way then I would be happy. I’m going back into the family business with a new vigor – the hope that my youth and energy can be harnessed with my dad’s experience to push us to the next level. We will be a team, both interested as much as the other to succeed.

My parents purchased a Renegade motorhome to travel in for a while.

My parents purchased a Renegade motorhome to travel in for a while.

It may look big but living out of an RV for months can still be cramped.

It may look big but living out of an RV for months can still be cramped.

The list of mods is ridiculous on this thing. This shot shows about 70% completed here.

The list of mods is ridiculous on this thing. This shot shows about 70% completed here.

I will be moving home from Arizona in the next couple weeks. It is a bitter sweet feeling because I will be leaving my newfound friends here in the desert but returning to my family at home. Shortly after returning home I will be flying to Washington to join my parents up north and continue photographing beautiful landscapes. ~ImageryAdventures

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