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Why Photography?

We continue working on Uncharted. We appreciate the feedback and support that many of you have given as we continue to develop our online exploration community. We hope you enjoy this slide show by Uncharted’s Alan Murray about how photography can enhance life and help us explore the uncharted.


Diving into Fears

By Alan Murray,
Uncharted Staff

Uncharted's President and founder dives at Dutch Springs near Bethlehem, Pa. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Uncharted’s President and founder dives at Dutch Springs near Bethlehem, Pa.  “One reason I keep diving is because I think it’s important to take on new challenges outside my personal comfort zone. The lessons I learn have helped me gain greater self-confidence and have enhanced my work for Uncharted,” Murray said. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Uncharted is about exploration. One of the reasons we founded the company is because we love exploring the world and sharing our adventures with others. That’s the idea behind the new online exploration community we are developing. Sometimes our explorations take us far from home, while other times we make discoveries in our own backyards. But it’s those discoveries we make within ourselves that I have found are the most rewarding. It could be finding a hidden talent, learning a new skill, taking on a challenging task, or, in my case, overcoming a personal fear.

I’m afraid of scuba diving. I’m not exactly sure what it is that makes me nervous about diving. I like swimming and enjoy all kinds of water sports, but for some reason I get nervous when it comes time to go below.

I’ve been a certified open water diver for over two years. After several practice sessions in a local swimming pool, a written final exam and four open water dives in two different locations, I completed Diver Level 2 certification. But my fears about diving didn’t suddenly disappear when the certification card arrived in the mail. Each time I dive, I still feel a little anxious.

Last weekend I went to Dutch Springs, a recreation area and aqua park near Bethlehem, Pa. that offers scuba diving, camping and boating. It reminds me of a life-size freshwater aquarium filled with fish, some dive platforms and a variety of submerged vehicles, aircraft and other decorative objects for divers to explore.

A diver swims near the surface of Dutch Spring in Bethlehem, Pa. The former quarry is now a recreational area and aqua park for diving, camping and boating. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

A diver swims near the surface of Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, Pa. The former quarry is now a recreational area and aqua park for diving, camping and boating. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

One reason I keep diving is that I think it’s important to take on new challenges outside my personal comfort zone. The lessons I learn have helped me gain greater self-confidence and have enhanced my work for Uncharted.

I also hate having limits on where I can go. A large part of being a journalist is putting yourself in the right place at the right time to capture moments that tell compelling stories, either with a camera, audio or through the written word. It’s hard to take photos or write about underwater locations if you can’t hang out underwater longer than the amount of time you can hold your breath.

I have two goals each time I dive – improve my diving skills and become a better underwater photographer. I have a lot to learn about diving. It takes practice and concentration. Depending on the water temperature, you’re often wearing a very constrictive wetsuit, hood and gloves, to say nothing of the upwards of 20 pounds strung around your weight belt, your buoyancy control device (BCD) and your regulator. You have to watch the level of air in your tank, manage buoyancy, keep track of where you are, make sure you don’t collide with other divers and see that your diving buddy is safe. Taking photos is just one more thing that can distract from performing the many skills needed for a successful and safe dive.

Because of my inexperience as a diver, my photography usually suffers. I’ve returned from many of my dives disappointed in my photographs. On several occasions, I’ve come back without any usable images.

Uncharted's Alan Murray dives at Dutch Springs near Bethlehem, Pa. This image was taken with a GoPro Hero 3 Black edition. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Uncharted’s Alan Murray dives at Dutch Springs near Bethlehem, Pa. This image was taken with a GoPro Hero 3 Black edition. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Things I would normally do instinctively while taking photos above the water are more difficult below. It’s more challenging to keep the camera steady while floating and dealing with currents. Perspectives underwater are also distorted, making objects appear closer than they really are.  And I’m still getting used to maneuvering myself to the right place at the right time for capturing an image. While I have demonstrated repeatedly the ability to do these commonplace things above the water, my diving skills sometimes hold me back from getting an image that would ordinarily be easier to capture on the surface.

I usually dive with my friend Steve, an experienced professional diver and engineer who dives under difficult conditions for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). We start slow at a depth of 20 feet near some dive platforms used for training students. We review some basic skills and soon venture a little deeper, exploring a submerged fire truck.

At this point, I’m comfortable enough with the dive to switch my camera on and begin taking photos. Out of all the dives I’ve been on, this one is the first time where I feel completely comfortable focusing on some photography. While I clearly have room for improvement, I manage to come back with some images that convey how it feels to explore underwater locations. As my diving skills improve, my underwater photography seems to follow.

 Alan Murray is the President and a co-founder of Uncharted. He likes snowshoeing and scuba diving. To learn about Alan or to see more of his photography, check out his personal photo website. If you have questions for Alan, feel free to comment below.


Night Photography at French Creek State Park

By Alan Murray,
Uncharted Staff

Stars peek through patches of cloud over French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pa. This exposure was taken with a Nikon D800 at ISO 1000 with a 24mm lens at f/2.8 for 20 seconds. (© 2013 Alan Murray/Uncharted)

Stars peek through patches of clouds over French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pa. This exposure was taken with a Nikon D800 at ISO 1000 with a 24mm lens at f/2.8 for 20 seconds. Click on the image to view larger. (© 2013 Alan Murray/Uncharted)

Things don’t always go the way I plan. This is especially true when it comes to photography. I was reminded of that this week as I kicked off a long-term project that includes photographing night skies for Uncharted. The idea is to document different astronomical events taking place at various locations around the world, and show how different cultures perceive and interact with the cosmos. It’s a great excuse for taking a break from web programming, project managing, and other forms of tedious office work that have kept me inside more than a person who works at Uncharted should be required to do.

It’s going to be some time before I finish, but I’ll be sharing how things are going, including some occasional glimpses of images I collect along my travels. I’ll also share some helpful tips for taking your own photos.

This week I decided to explore French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pa. Once an industrial complex for the United States, the park is the largest contiguous block of forest between Washington D.C. and New York City, offering a variety of activities that include hiking, fishing, camping and biking.

Even though I grew up only 50 miles away, I had never been there and was hoping it might provide a good backdrop for portions of my project. I was also hoping to capture some glimpses of the Perseids meteor shower which peaked over the weekend.

I knew a couple factors would affect how my images turned out. The Philadelphia area is no friend to dark skies, and even though French Creek is more than 50 miles from there, its proximity to smaller cities such as Reading and Pottstown could pose some challenges, especially for capturing glimpses of meteor showers.

I confirmed my suspicions with the Dark Sky Finder, a helpful online tool that maps light pollution levels around the world. Areas highlighted in black, blue and green are more ideal for stargazing, while the ambient light emanating from nearby cities limits visibility in yellow, orange, red and white zones.

French Creek was in the orange.

The weather forecast was ambiguous, promising anything from thunderstorms to clear conditions. This, coupled with a typically humid and hazy climate, threatened to make things even more difficult than usual.

I scouted some locations and planned the night. Visibility was good and the weather looked like it was going to cooperate. I set up camp, ate dinner, and prepared my gear for the evening.

For this shoot, I used two cameras, a Nikon D800 and a Nikon D700. Both cameras, mounted on tripods, were focused on different scenes to increase the likelihood of capturing more meteors.  I set the built-in intervalometer in both cameras to take 20-second exposures every 21 seconds.  This is helpful because you can increase your chances of having the shutter open when an unexpected meteor passes, and it frees you up to take other photos, take a nap or grab an evening snack. If your camera doesn’t have one, there are a variety of wired intervalometers compatible with different brands and models. To avoid camera shake, I also used a cable release to trigger the camera.

I won’t go into too much more detail about exposures and camera settings except to say that I set my ISO at 1000 and used a 24mm lens at f/2.8. I also used a white balance in the area of 3800 Kelvin. I suggest experimenting with different ISO, white balance and exposure settings until you find what works best. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn, and when we learn from our mistakes we begin taking better photos more consistently.

I was planning on shooting from about 11 p.m. until sunrise, but at 2 a.m. clouds slowly smothered my view. They were followed by a storm that lasted until morning. This reminded me of a couple months earlier when clouds covered my view while photographing the supermoon at Valley Forge National Historic Park. 

I snapped this photo while scouting out locations for my night photography. It's important not to lose site of other opportunities even though your primary objective might be something completely different. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

I snapped this photo at Scotts Run Lake while scouting out locations for my night photography. It’s important not to lose sight of other opportunities even though your primary objective might be something completely different. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

I’ve learned on a number of occasions that when things don’t quite work out the way you expect, that there are often opportunities to use the very things keeping you from getting the shot you want (in this case clouds and light pollution) to capture an improvised alternative shot. This philosophy is easily adaptable to just about anything else that I do at Uncharted or in life.

Even though the clouds obstructed the meteors I was trying to capture, they provided a unique effect as they moved across the sky over those 20-second exposures. This, combined with light pollution from nearby cities somehow worked to my advantage and gave the scene a more colorful and layered look. Earlier, as I scouted locations for my night shots, I found a nice scene of a fisher at Scotts Run Lake during sunset. While I hadn’t planned on these alternative shots, being open to other options helped me see moments I otherwise might have passed over.

If there is anything I haven’t covered here or you have more questions, post a comment below and I’ll do my best to help out. If you’re looking for more hands-on learning, you can sign up for my travel photography course. 

Alan Murray is the President and a co-founder of Uncharted. He likes scuba diving and snowshoeing. When Alan was five, he wanted to be an astronaut. If you’d like to learn more about Alan or view samples of his photography, check out his personal photo site. 

 


First Cameras and Learning Travel Photography

By Alan Murray,
Uncharted Staff

My very first camera was a Canon AT-1. It survived 11 years of pounding, dropping and water damage before I finally decided to upgrade my equipment. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

My very first camera was a Canon AT-1. It survived 11 years of pounding, dropping and water damage before I finally decided to upgrade my equipment. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

I still have my very first camera. It hangs on my office door, a reminder of when cameras didn’t automatically focus, set exposure and advance frames. Covered with a thin layer of dust, its once shiny metallic body is now stained with rust and engraved with scratches. There are smudges on the lens and its battery door is ajar, exposing an old six-volt lithium that once powered the camera’s only electronic function – the light meter.

That was the camera I used in high school while working for the school paper. It was the camera I used when I went to college. It was the camera I used at my first job.

With it I documented the life of Catholic Cistercian monks in a small western town. I used it to cover professional and collegiate sports, accidents, fires and severe storms. And despite the absence of sophisticated electronics and automatic functions, I somehow won several state and national awards with it.

Eventually, I reached a point in my photography where I needed to upgrade my equipment, but the things I learned using that very first camera still help me today as I use the latest digital photographic technology to document the world’s people, cultures and hidden places for Uncharted.

Uncharted's Alan Murray works on a photo shoot at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Northwestern Utah. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Uncharted’s Alan Murray works on a photo shoot at the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah. (© 2013 Andrew E. Clark/Uncharted)

I love photography and I love exploring the world, so it’s great when I get a chance to bring my two passions together. That’s why I’m excited to offer personalized travel photography instruction through Uncharted. If you’re a beginner with your very first digital camera, I can help you figure it out. If you’re an advanced amateur or somewhere in between, I can help you polish your skills. If you need help picking out your first camera, I can give you some advice.

To get started, sign up for a free online consultation. I’ll talk with you about your personal goals and skill level and come up with a training plan just for you or your group. I’ll also keep you informed about upcoming photo workshops and other learning opportunities in your area. Speaking of other opportunities, our resident geographer and orienteering athlete is offering instruction in both land navigation and map reading. These are helpful skills for avoiding getting lost on your way to capture a cool photo.

At Uncharted, we love exploring the world and sharing our adventures with everyone. We’re excited to offer these learning opportunities and hope they will be helpful as you create your own adventures.

Alan Murray is President and a co-founder of Uncharted. He likes scuba diving and snowshoeing. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and has lived and traveled extensively in South and Central America. Alan resides in the Philadelphia, Pa. area. To learn more about Alan and see some of his photography, take a look at his personal photography site


New “Do” Menu and “Learn” Options Activated

By GeoJoe,
Uncharted Staff

DO
We’re happy to announce that the “Do” menu is now active, and the first submenu, “Learn,” is also active!  In practical terms, this means that you can start learning and improving your explorer skills through Uncharted. The first learning opportunities include personalized custom training in map reading and land navigation.  We’ll add additional learning opportunities as we move the project along.  We’ve been eager to provide this kind of support to our audience, so we’re very happy to have reached this milestone and look forward to delivering this training many times over!


National Trail Day Top Ten – 2013

GD CRATERS 14 8-18-07

By GeoJoe,
Uncharted Staff

This Saturday the American Hiking Society and thousands of people across the United States at hundreds of events celebrate National Trail Day, the nation’s largest annual celebration of trails. It is a time to enjoy and show your appreciation for trails by doing something to make them better for everybody. Typical activities include hikes, biking and horseback rides, paddling trips, birdwatching, geocaching, gear demonstrations, stewardship projects and more.

National Trail Day is an Uncharted day. Our goal at Uncharted is to help you make your own discoveries, experience new adventures and gain new skills that empower your journeys. We hope everyone will join us this Saturday on National Trail Day to visit a favorite or new trail, enjoy it for a while, and do something nice for that trail that you enjoy so much.

You might also consider visiting one of literally hundreds of National Trail Day events being held across the country. In reviewing these events, there are ten that stand out as perfectly suited for an Uncharted explorer at heart:

1.  Trail Reclamation, Bear Mountain State Park, N.Y.  You might recall our earlier blog post where we discussed Uncharted’s drive to empower our audience with the information, tools and skills they need to go where there is no path, leaving a trail for others to follow. Given Uncharted’s commitment to acts of exploration, education and service, awarding the No. 1 spot to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s Trail Reclamation event was an easy choice. Those who come, will work with Trail Builder and Educator, Ama Koenigshof, and the Bear Mountain interns to help build trails on the mountain.

2.  Summer Outdoor Slam, Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyo. This event showcases great things to do outside-hiking, cycling, rock climbing, fishing, archery, kayaking, and more. You’ll be able to try your hand at all these activities. Environmental education, art in the park, and wildlife identification are also offered.  Instruction is lead by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

3.  Experience the Gem at Your Own Backdoor – the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Trenton, Mich. Hosted by the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance at the Humbug Marsh Unit, you can explore these trails and experience the last untouched mile of shoreline on the Detroit River. Two trails are available for use, including one where you will likely see nesting bald eagles soar above the water. Another trail takes you back to an old oak-hickory forest with 300-year-old trees! At noon EST. you can help with a reforestation project in the Refuge Gateway by planting trees from noon to 2 p.m. Plant a native tree, get the GPS coordinate, and watch it grow in the upcoming years. Families are welcome!

4.  XtremeFest of the Blue Ridge, Constitution Park, Waynesboro, Va.  This event will show you the ins and outs of adventure sports like rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking with a goal to promote a healthy, active lifestyle. There will be something for everyone–novices included.  The event also includes day product demonstrations and informative classes. You also can test your skills with opportunities to hike, bike, paddle and climb throughout the day.

5.  Geocaching the Boggy Creek Trail, Jimmie Davis State Park, La. Geocachers can enjoy a great family day exploring the Boggy Creek Trail and searching for six newly-placed geocaches. GPS coordinates are available at the park entrance station. The trailhead is located in the boat launch parking lot.

6.  National Trail Day Summer Sampler: Rock Climbing Skills, Crow Hill, Mass. Enjoy a day of climbing at Crow Hill and learning skills for safely moving over steep terrain, brought to you by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Rope-work will be taught and reviewed, climbing skills will be demonstrated and practiced, and you will have an opportunity to complete single pitch rock climbs. E-mail dogmandb@gmail.com for info.

7.  The California Trail Demonstrations, Southfork State Recreation Area, Nev.  Hosted by Nevada State Parks. Meet at the East campground.  Demonstrations will reflect the hardships, hazards and triumphs experienced by families who dared to journey west. Journey back in time and see what life was like for these pioneers who were in search of a better life. Call the park for more information at 775-744-4346.

8.  National Trail Days Low Impact Canoeing, Deerfield & Connecticut Rivers, Mass. Enjoy canoeing and camping trails of water, also known as rivers! Instruction on bow and stern canoe paddling strokes and managing a canoe or kayak in strong currents is available as needed.

9.  First Ever Park Volunteer Event, Powhatan on the James State Park, Va. Come out to help a brand new state park preparing to open later in June 2013. It will be their first ever volunteer work day to help them prepare for their grand opening. Hot Dog Lunch and brief organizational meeting of the Friends of Powhatan State Park at noon EST.

10.  Photo Scavenger Hunt, Groen Park, Chatfield, Minn. Take pictures while hiking on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail. Photos will be submitted to and judged by members of the Bluff Country Hiking Club.

These are just a sampling of great events being held this Saturday on National Trail Day. Chances are high that if you can’t make it to any of the Uncharted Top 10 National Trail Day events, there will still be plenty of others to choose from wherever you are at. Check the National Trail Day event finder for a Trail Day event near you.

We’ll be excited to see how your trail day went. Post a photo of your trail day event on our Facebook page to inspire the rest of us. Happy trails!