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Outside: Get out there and shoot — photography is perfect reason for your next outdoor excursion

With the advances in smartphones and their cameras, it’s easier than ever to grab quality images.
Taken in Tromso, Norway.

January brings challenges as temperature swings and potentially inclement weather can put a frosty damper on outdoor desires. Sometimes a little extra motivation to get out and breathe the icy air can help get the blood rushing.

The Cottonwood Institute’s Changemakers, high school students involved in outdoor education and environmental activism, want to meet the new year with a challenge of their own. The student-led initiative has started a “Get Outside” photo challenge for January. Each day offers a specific prompt such as “animal tracks” or “a dog you don’t know personally,” with encouragement to get out there and get creative. 

2021_01_07_LL_outside_photo_challengeThe calendar for Cottonwood Institute Changemakers' "Get Outside" photo challenge. By Courtesy image
Cottonwood Institute’s staff and students are hoping to get as many people involved in the challenge as possible. Anyone that wants to join can post photos to social media, tagging @cottonwoodinstitute on Instagram and using the hashtag #exploreoutside.

“The students designed the prompts and have so far been the most dedicated participants,” Program Manager Andrew Miller said. “We’ll definitely be encouraging the CI staff, board and community to send in their photos but all are welcome to join in.”

Cottonwood instructor Chelsea Tossing gave credit to students for the challenge.

“Erin (Angel) had the idea of an ‘outdoor new year's resolution’ — a daily challenge to get outside and do something every day this month. We brought it to our Changemakers … to see what they might come up with, and they had the brilliant idea of creating a photo-a-day challenge.”

Photography can foster connections, not just over social media, but in daily life. An outdoor educator with the Cottonwood Institute and Longmont Museum, Erin Angel considers herself an amateur photographer. Her work with students results in a lot of event photos, but it doesn’t stop her from capturing memories for herself or her husband.

2021_01_07_LL_outside_photo_challenge3A smartphone photo of an icicle. By Erin Angel / Courtesy photo
“I love being alone and relish an hour or two every morning out in nature, but sometimes I really want to share what I am seeing with others,” Angel said. “My husband is disabled, so he doesn't come with me and he doesn't get out on the trails himself. Sometimes when I come back from my runs, I share the images I have taken with him.”

With the advances in smartphones and their cameras, it’s easier than ever to grab quality images. With the technology there, all that’s left is technique. Kristina Karrie Brown, a Boulder County resident and portrait photographer, has some advice for improving photos. 

“My biggest tip is work with the light you have,” Brown said. “If you have to do a shoot at noon, find shade. Most phones have a ‘pro’ option where you can change exposure, aperture and ISO.”

“My biggest pet peeve: Always straighten your horizons. It makes such a huge difference,” she added.

Joel Terrel, Longmont resident and owner of Falcon Reid Design, does landscape and nature photography alongside his graphic design and portrait work. 

“I am amazed at the quality of smartphone pics sometimes,” Terrell said. “It’s not too hard to come up with a really decent shot if you just pay attention to framing and lighting. Looking for unique angles and points of view will provide some more enjoyable pictures.”

Staying local is a good start for the year, particularly since planning trips out of state or country can be difficult if not impossible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We had a trip to Iceland planned, which has always been my dream because the photo opportunities are endless, but we decided to cancel due to the uncertainty in the world with COVID,” Brown said. 

“I’m definitely going to check out the scars from the forest fires around this summer. It’s sad but could make for some neat photo opportunities.”

2021_01_07_LL_outside_photo_challenge2A smartphone photo of Lone Eagle Peak. By Kristina Karrie Brown / Courtesy photo
Local opportunities can offer challenges for professionals or budding amateurs. 

“This year I did get a new camera and tripod, so I definitely would hope to try and do some night sky photography,” Terrell said. “We were down in Great (Sand) Dunes for Labor Day but the weather was not cooperating with me.”

With the prevalence and ease of social media, it can be great to share the sights locally and abroad. Still, not all of the shots taken need to leave a storage drive.

“More often, I don't actually share the images with anyone,”  Angel said. “But the thought that they are there, captured so I could share them, is a kind of a comfort.”

Whether it’s joining the Changemakers in their January challenge, or just to be reminded of a gorgeous sunrise from a morning run, keep a lens nearby and ready.