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Today I would like to share a journey to one of the most challenging and fascinating places on earth.

Want to stand on the edge of a crater and watch lava flowing beneath your feet? Want to explore the ancient churches of Lalibela? How about witnessing the culture and rituals of the lip plated Mursi people? Well, then this place is for you – welcome to Ethiopia.

I first learned about Ethiopia when a friend showed me a photograph of Erta Ale  – one of only six active lava lakes in the world. At the time I had no idea there is a place on Earth where you can stand right on the edge of an active volcano. How exciting! I knew right then and I must visit this place.

Little did I know how much more there is to see here – I explored centuries old churches of Lalibela, survived the scorching heat of the Danakil Depression and witnessed unique customs of the Omo Valley tribes.

Traveling in Ethiopia is not exactly comfortable – extreme heat and humidity, long hours in the car to get to most places, very basic accommodations with electricity and running water not always available. Almost every day I was pushed to my limits physically, emotionally and photographically.    

Some of you may wonder if it was worth it? There were moments on the journey when I wondered the same. What I have learned as a travel photographer is how important it is to test your own boundaries. Just when you think you cant take that next step, when you just want to give up and go home, when you are feeling frustrated and exhausted – that’s when you need to push yourself even harder, that’s when you will grow the most and transform. Your whole world opens up and you are never the same. One of the rewards of travel I welcome even more than breathtaking landscapes – learning to live in the moment. So is it worth it – absolutely! Never stop pushing yourself beyond the boundaries.    

The Salt Trade of Northern Ethiopia
Each day the salt miners make a 100km journey to Mekele – the nearest hub of the “white gold” trade.  Starting from the Danakil Depression where the salt is mined, it’s a three day trek through one of the hottest and cruelest places on earth with temperatures rarely falling below 40-60 C (104-140 F) during the day. This has been the livelihood of the Afar people for hundreds of years, and still continues to this day. Barren landscape, dust storms, unbearable heat and lack of water – after spending just a few days here – I’m truly fascinated by the resilience of the people living in this region.

Erta Ale Volcano – Staring Into The Mouth Of Hell
After a nine hour drive over lava fields, salt flats and sand, it’s a three hour hike in the dark until you finally reach the rim of the caldera. Not too far in the distance, you see the red smoke and ash coming from the ground – a mere 500 meters and you will witness what you’ve traveled so far to see – Erta Ale’s active crater.

Excited, you forget about exhaustion and want to run to it as fast as possible, but the local guide cautions you that this is the most dangerous part. As you descend there is no trail – you are walking on freshly crusted lava that cracks under your feet, one false step and you can fall into an air pocket – who knows what’s underneath?  Finally you made it – it’s a live volcano right in front of you  – you feel the heat, hear the lava bubble, see the ash and sparks flying up in mini explosions… It is one of nature’s most mesmerizing and dangerous shows.

The Faces Of Lalibela
Lalibela – the center of Ethiopian Christianity – is famous for its monolithic churches built underground. To this day the exact details of their construction remain a mystery. All the churches are active and priests still use century old books to pray, with the only source of light shining though small windows cut in the massive walls.

The Tribes Of The Omo Valley
Over 20 tribes live in the Omo Valley in the south of Ethiopia, close to the border with Kenya. Each tribe still follows unique rituals and traditions passed on from one generation to the next. Decorative scars, lip plates, being here feels like a time capsule to a foreign traveler.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Ethiopia. For those interested in joining me on adventure trips to some of the most unique corners of the world, feel free to send me a message at natalia@nataliastone.com.

Natalia Stone is a travel photographer based in New York City. Her passion for adventure and photography has taken her to over 40 counties and some of the most remote corners of the world. Whether standing on a rim of an active volcano in Ethiopia, photographing the northern lights in Norway or navigating through glacial waters of Greenland, her goal is to tell visual stories of the incredible treasures our planet holds.

You can see more of her work at NataliaStone.com, and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you missed last week’s episode of “The Grid,” ( our live weekly show about photography) with the super awesome Kalebra as my in-studio guest — we opened the show by announcing the artist whose work will open “The Gallery at KelbyOne” (a beautiful new photographic art gallery at the KelbyOne headquarters in Florida).

The winner is: photographer and Art Director, Mark Wegner from Sonoma County, California

We were really taken with both Mark’s B&W and his color work, and the strong graphic aesthetic he brings to his compositions.

I did a full Q&A about this on-going project a few weeks back here on the blog when we opened submissions for the gallery showing to KelbyOne members. If you’ve got a moment, I think you’ll enjoying reading how the idea came about and why we’re hosting this gallery. It’s something we’re very excited about, and very proud of, and once you read about it, we hope you will be, too.

 

We’re working out the exact date of Mark’s opening now, and as soon as we have that nailed down, I’ll share it here on the blog (and we’ll be inviting members to join us for the opening night’s reception, and live interview with Mark in the theater).

Our hearty congratulations to Mark, and thanks to everyone who took the time to enter. We’ll be opening submissions to find our next featured artist in the gallery very soon, so stayed tuned.

Blind Photo Critiques Tomorrow on “The Grid!”
Plus, tomorrow we reveal our all-new “underground hacker” set for the show with all new graphics and a new look, new intro music, heck — new everything!  (Note: we did 269 episodes — just short of six years, on that old set, which debuted live on March 7, 2011 ); My guest tomorrow is Rick Sammon and we’re doing our monthly “Blind Photo Critiques” episode, so if you’d like to have your work considered for blind critique, here’s the link to submit your images. Good luck, and see you tomorrow at 4pm ET at kelbytv.com/thegrid

Best,

-Scott

Hi gang, and happy Friday. My new Photoshop Elements 15 book just hit bookstores — if you’re an Elements user, check out the official trailer below. If you’re not, keep reading for some Lightroom news.

Here’s the link to it on Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble (but you can find it wherever cool books are sold). :)

This other Lightroom stuff (below) is for all you awesome KelbyOne Members out there:

The new issue of “Lightroom magazine” is out. Here’s the link to check it out (or hit the magazines link in the left side panel in your member dashboard).

Our first new addition in 2017 to the KelbyOne Member Creative Toolkit is my brand new “Lightroom Q&A” eBook — you can find here (or click the Toolkit link on your Member Dashboard). This eBook is free as part of your KelbyOne membership. More to come in your Creative Toolkit, as our way of saying thanks for being a member.

Hope you all have a safe, fun, and awesome weekend! #GoFalcons #RiseUp

Best,

-Scott

P.S. Two more cities were just added for my “Lightroom On Tour” full day seminar — Chicago on April 10th, and the Detroit area on April 11th. Come on out and spend the day with me learning Lightroom. 

Perfecting Selections in Adobe Photoshop with Dave Cross
Perfect your Photoshop selection powers! Join Dave Cross as he equips you with all the information you need to know to create accurate selections as efficiently as possible. Dave goes through all of the various selection tools, discussing their pros and cons, and demonstrating how to get the most out of each one. From learning pre-selection strategies to mastering techniques for fine tuning your selections, Dave will provide you with the key elements needed to choose the right selection techniques for the job at hand to end up with a great selection.

In Case You Missed It
Learn the core fundamentals of retouching hair! Join Kristi Sherk as she teaches you how to retouch hair smarter, not harder. From removing stray hairs to changing your subject’s hair color, and from creating custom hair brushes to adding dimension and shine, Kristi will show you how to do the best things possible in the fastest amount of time. Every photographer working with people can benefit from adding these hair retouching techniques to their set of skills, so that you can deliver outstanding work to your clients and get back behind the camera. By the end of the class you’ll know how to make your clients look red-carpet ready and how to do it faster than ever.

First of all, I would like to thank Scott Kelby and his wonderful team for this amazing opportunity.  Like many photographers I am self taught.  The classes and learning resources Scott has made available through the years has served as a foundation from which I built a career doing what I love.

Sometimes the light finds you. It was playing tricks with me all morning at Anse St-Jean on the Saguenay River
This is a compressed version of a much larger 36 megapixel stitched panoramic. Many don’t know that you can stitch images natively up to 60 megapixels. Do you know of any 60MP DSLR’s? Try this at home and shoot vertical when you do.

I have so many passions in life but three bubble up to the top: photography, travel, and teaching. I’m truly blessed to be able to do all three full time. They feed off of each other, as I write this blog post I’m in a motel in West Virginia making my way across the country from NYC, working on a personal project and scouting several locations for future workshops.

My first RAW photo taken with my iPhone 6S plus. Capturing dynamic range like this was simply not possible. This opens up many more creative possibilities.
Taken in the old city in Quebec. Embracing simplicity and color.

I have a very close connection with my students; there’s a real bond there. I understand that fiery passion of the creative process, that unyielding obsession and the frustration that inevitably comes with it. They’re two sides of the same coin. That frustration, that struggle, as Scott has said once, is a good thing. The frustration is the result of the recognition that we’re not where we want to be creatively. Yet! It’s also, however, an acknowledgement that we have a creative direction, we know where we want to be, if only (fill in the blank here).

Beauty truly is all around us. You just have to look harder sometimes.
Nature peeking through. The best part about being a photographer is recognizing the beauty in scenes like this. Capturing it is a bonus!

That frustration is an acknowledgement of our potential. Imagine the alternative. Take the top performers, in any creative endeavor, if there’s one thing they have in common, they’ll tell you their work is not finished, there’s more to the story. It’s a game of continuous improvement, with each step up the ladder a result of struggle, failure and success. There is no top to this ladder, it just gets higher and higher, the view just gets better. We’re all at different points on this latter. Joe McNally has a great view. No matter where we are and how good the view, we all get stuck.

This shaft of light produced a beautiful pattern, shining through the enormous windows of the NY public library.
Looking back into the streets of SoHo. Part of a project I’m working on for a gallery show just down the street from here later this year.

The Unplayable Piano
In Cologne, Germany in 1975, American jazz legend Keith Jarrett, already world famous, sat down to give the performance of his life. The recording of this session produced the best selling piano album and best selling solo jazz album in history. Just hours before however, he refused to play. There was a problem; the piano was the worst he’d ever seen, half the size of a typical piano, the keys stuck, the pedals broken. It was an unplayable piano. Sitting in his car outside the concert hall, listening to the pleas of a desperate teenage promoter standing in the rain, begging him to play, he agreed.

Taken in an abandoned hallway at one of the many pre-war buildings in Chelsea filled to the brim with art galleries. The light and color reflecting off the glossy walls of this dark corridor caught my immediately.
The blue hour just after sunset from an elevated platform on The High Line in NYC.

Playing in the middle of the range, no pedals, standing up and literally banging on the keys at point for bass and to project the sound, that unplayable piano allowed him to give the performance of his life. This story is recounted in a recent Ted Talks by Tim Harford, which I highly recommend. During the talk, he states, “We don’t want to be asked to do good work with bad tools. We don’t want to have to overcome unnecessary hurdles, but Jarret’s instinct was wrong.” Had he been playing on the best piano, if everything was finely tuned and working perfectly, that magical night never would have happened. He certainly wouldn’t have chosen those circumstances intentionally. None of us would. Perhaps we should. That frustration, that limitation, that hurdle makes us more creative.

Last year I discovered my unplayable piano.

Reflections are one of the scenes best served by the smaller sensor of the phone and the deeper depth of field it provides. I often shoot scenes in a way that takes advantage of this rather than to consider it a disadvantage. Macro photography is another area that benefits from this.

Apple reached out to me last year and asked me to give a presentation for them on iPhone photography, to simply inspire people to go out and shoot more with their iPhone. And so I did, using it as an excuse to embark on a road trip with my DSLR and my iphone and put it to the test. Before then, honestly, I would never have considered shooting with my phone. I’m a professional photographer, I take what I do very seriously, no self respecting photographer would… My instinct, like Jarret’s, was wrong.

Over the past year, my unplayable piano has taught me much about photography, about the creative process, about myself as a photographer. Ultimately, the experience has helped me to reflect who I am as a photographer and what is important to me, the quality of the image and the quality of the experience.

It’s still crazy to me how we’re supposed to capture our vision, our unique vision with this ridiculous piece of glass and metal and circuits we call a camera. I now know what every setting is, I know what every menu means, I know what every dial does. Who cares? Now what? The ability to create a meaningful image is much different than actually creating one. If you’re like me, the achievement of technical perfection and gear lust and acquisition is a comfortable safe distraction. Technical mastery is not the top rung of the latter, it doesn’t even have a good view.  It’s the start of something more. I feel like I’ve been stuck on this rung of the ladder for a while now, pursuing perfection over creativity, knowledge over experience. My unplayed piano helped me climb higher.

Taken with an app using a Photoshop process know as stacking to merge multiple photos. This allows not only for longer actual exposures but the ability to stack multiple short exposures. which comes in handy on windy days. Taken during one of the worst storms in recent history in Nova Scotia a few weeks ago.

My iPhone is handicapped compared to my full frame 42 megapixel DSLR in every way. Paradoxically however, these limitations, the lack of choice and options, are the very things that have challenged me, inspired me and helped me grow as a photographer. The limited resolution has forced me to carefully consider my compositions, the fixed focal length, severely limiting my options, has forced me to use my feet more, the lack of depth of field has required me to pay more attention to all of the details at the edge of the frame as well as more carefully considering the background.

Up until recently, shooting RAW wasn’t an option, shooting compressed jpegs required a more careful consideration of color balance and exposure control. The lack of a viewfinder has been incredibly helpful in breaking the habit of pulling the camera up to my eye and taking every picture from the lofty perspective of 5’7”. Holding the camera away from my body, the very thing we’re taught not to do, has allowed me to see a scene and compose with much greater freedom of movement. Also, a funny thing happens when you don’t have a big camera and lens in front of your face… you’re more approachable. This is me banging on the keys, flexing my creativity, making the system work for me.

A single RAW capture shooting directly into the sun rising over the St. Lawrence river. This should not be possible with a mobile phone. Taken with the iPhone 6S Plus the day after the 7 was released.

Consider again Jarrett’s performance. What made it the best selling solo jazz record ever, was how much it resonated with the audience. It was that what was being played was much more important than how it sounded, the bass was muffled, the treble sharp, it didn’t matter. If we can just suspend the importance of edge to edge sharpness, frame rate and ISO performance long enough, then maybe we can focus on what really matters; our vision, what initially caught our eye. Then, the light, the color, the composition, the gesture, the moment.

These are the timeless ingredients that truly comprise a great photograph and they have so very little to do with the camera we sling around our neck or the lens attached to it. If we can redefine, for ourselves, what image quality truly is, then maybe that camera we all have in our pockets is all we need to create meaningful work. Maybe, like that unplayable piano, it’s exactly what we need to create our best work yet.

I’d like once more to extent my gratitude to Brad Moore, Scott Kelby and the team at KelbyOne for this opportunity as well as Ron Martinsen from Ronmartblog for making the connection.

For those interested in learning more about my capture and post-processing workflow, I will be teaching several workshops this year in NYC and around the world this year. For those in NYC, in March, I’ll be leading my annual two-day Lightroom Bootcamp in NYC, in April I will partnering with world class street photographer Steve Simon in a special iPhone street photography workshop in NYC, October will be a very special and unique photography workshop on the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia in concert with the Celtic Colours festival and in November, an active adventure photography workshop in Bhutan with Zephyr Adventures. More information can be found by clicking the links above, signing up for my newsletter or reaching out to me directly at cliff@cliffordpickett.com I’d love to hear from you.

You can see more of Clifford’s work at CliffordPickett.com, and follow him on Instagram@cliffordpickettphotography and @eyephonephotographer, Twitter, and 500px.

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