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Jen Magnuson Photography - Visual Stories of Outdoor Adventure

Commercial and Editorial Photographer

Mountain Biking in Golden, Colorado

Iranian Refugee looks to 2020 for Olympic Mountain Bike Dreams. . .

Thanksgiving morning, and it's still dark.  My car is loaded with cameras and lights, and I'm dressed like an alpine explorer.  I'm heading out to Golden, Colorado to meet with Sina Solouksaran, a mountain biking phenom originally from Iran.  Click his name to read about how he came to be exiled from his home country and forbidden from representing Iran on their national MTB team.  It's quite a story, and having had the opportunity to shoot with him, I can tell you that he's quite a rider too!

The trails at White Ranch were pretty deserted in the frigid pre-dawn darkness as Sina unloaded his bicycle, and I hooked up radio triggers and attached lights to clamps.  Snow flurries are falling, the wind is ripping across the ridges, and the sky beyond Denver is burning with emerging color.  It's perfect.  Here are my favorites from the morning. . .  I'll spare you the photos of the GIANT breakfast burritos we scarfed after the shoot!

Whitewater Kayaking on the Snake River, Jackson, Wyoming

Outdoor Adventure abounds in Jackson, Wyoming

In September, I had the opportunity to take a scenic six hour drive up to Jackson, Wyoming to spend the week shooting with some of the top outdoor adventure photographers and editors in the business.  I'll be sharing some of the images and stories from my Jackson adventure here.

Whitewater kayaking on the Snake River

In the pre-dawn darkness, we gathered in front of the Snow King Resort Hotel to board a bus to Jackson Hole Whitewater to spend the day on the river shooting some of Jackson's whitewater talent doing their thing on the rapids.  Outfitted with pfds and neoprene booties, we arrived at the put-in to golden morning sun filtering through the fog rising from the river.  It was perfection, and the day just got better as our guides shuttled us and our camera gear down the river.

Afternoon on the river

The fog burned off, and the guides graciously picked lines through the rapids that were least likely to splash too much water on our camera gear, but we got plenty wet regardless.  Shooting moving boats from a moving boat was no match for the Nikon 3-D autofocus feature, and as my memory cards filled up, I knew I was in for a hard edit!

A lunch break allowed us ample opportunities to shoot from the shore as the kayakers played in rapids nearby.  Here are a few of my favorites from the afternoon.

 

Check back for more outdoor adventure. . . Camping, Climbing, Trail Running. . .

And if you're intrigued about how I got the opportunity to spend the week working with the likes of Corey Rich, Lucas Gilman, Bo Bridges, Bob Smith, Dave Black, Jen Edney, Ryan Taylor, Brad Smith, Scott Willson, and Ron Taniwaki, well check out Summit Workshops Adventure Photography Workshop.  The participants the workshop attracts are all pretty dang amazing photographers as well.  I am more than grateful to have met all of the ridiculously talented people who participated!

Building on a Passion for Outdoor Adventure

I moved to Colorado after that blissfully tough time on the Appalachian Trail.  It was still summer, hot along the Front Range, and sunny with a slight chill in the mountains.  When it got too hot down in the 5,000 ft zone, we set off to visit some of our favorite spots. . . Mount Evans, Loveland Pass, Hoosier Pass. . .  I knew I needed to be shooting for my outdoor adventure portfolio.  I had even had the most amazing four hour conversation/brain picking session with one of my most admired commercial photographers, the very generous, Chip Kalback, when I was in Denver in July, so I KNEW what I needed to be doing, and I KNEW what to do with that work once I had created it.

I shot some nice nature work, some of which you can find for sale at Magnuson Photographic, where my husband, Jeff, and I sell some of our work.  I could not seem to bring myself to actually shoot for my portfolio.  I was paralyzed.  Fear of failure?  Fear of success?  The old "not good enough" belief creeping in?

I was creating a lot. . . of excuses.  I don't know who to get to model.  The weather is bad today.  It's too windy.  What if they ask for a permit, even though I'm only shooting for myself?  I need someone else to assist.  Too short notice.  The light is bad.  My batteries are all dead.  I should quit.  I suck at this.  I should just get a job.  What if I just see if I can get my medical history past a police department out here, and I go back to law enforcement.  I was really good at that.  I think I'll just concentrate on doing really awesome headshots for people!

Next thing I knew it's March, and I had shot literally two portfolio photos, both of Jeff, and both on a hike we did in September.  I finally called bullshit on myself.  I booked a date in the studio share I joined, and I packed up the car with tons of gear, clothing, Jeff's Specialized Roubaix Pro, and my photo equipment.  I was going to start with SOMETHING!

So here it is!  The beginning of my commercial outdoor adventure portfolio!  My model is a member of the winning Race Across the West 2011 Four Man Team RAAM.  He's an accomplished ultra-cyclist, and long distance backpacker.  He's my lighting assistant, my husband, and my greatest cheerleader.  I think he rocked this!

Outdoor Adventure Photography

Featuring 2011 Race Across the West Four Man Team Winner

Cycling vertical 2.jpg
Backpacking Vertical 1.jpg

Following the White Blazes

How the Appalachian Trail Guides my Business

A year ago, My husband, Jeff, and I were dropped off by friends at the lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park in the mountains of northern Georgia.  We watched the tail lights of our car disappear from the parking lot and wind out of sight down the mountain and set a southbound course towards Atlanta.  We stood on the sidewalk with two backpacks containing just the very basics of what we would need for a six-month, 2189.2 mile backpacking trip, over mountains, along streams, through tiny towns, and within reach of large cities.  We were setting out to hike a dream that had been in my heart for 26 years, Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.

The mileage is different in the photo, because trail reroutes change the mileage every year.

The mileage is different in the photo, because trail reroutes change the mileage every year.

We woke in the comfort of the lodge the morning we would set our feet upon the trail.  Fog hung in thick wisps between the ridges, and rain ran down the windows in heavy drops.  I stood in one of my two sets of hiking clothes, staring out at the weather, contemplating with apprehension and excitement the fact that the windows, walls, and roof, that made the rain an abstract experience would fall away behind us, and we would transition into a very direct and literal experience with the weather. . . all of the weather.

The view from our room at the lodge on the day we hiked out

The view from our room at the lodge on the day we hiked out

Driving wind, steady rain, and a few fat soggy snowflakes accompanied us along the approach trail to Springer Mountain, where I attempted to scrawl something meaningful into the first register, inhibited by the wet paper, my frozen hands, and the tears rolling from my eyes.  I smiled so hard my face hurt as tears spilled on the earth, mixing with the rain.  I knelt on the slick wet rock, and I kissed that first stripe of white paint, whose identical siblings would guide our steps north to Maine.

The Springer Mountain Trail Register

The Springer Mountain Trail Register

Freezing, but elated on Springer Mountain!

Freezing, but elated on Springer Mountain!

The first white blaze!

The first white blaze!

Welcome to the adventure of a lifetime!

Welcome to the adventure of a lifetime!

Within 24 hours, I was ready to go home.  My feet were so swollen that they didn't fit in boots I'd been backpacking in for 11 years.  I was wet.  I was cold.  I was muddy.  I felt like an idiot for starting something so daunting.

Our third day out, we "took a zero," which is a hiker term for a zero mile day.  We dried our gear in the sun.  I soaked my feet in the icy stream.  We met some great new people.  We decided to press on to Woody Gap, the first major road, and decide from there whether to hitchhike out or dive back into the woods.

That fourth morning, the grey skies had returned, and I felt the clouds of doubt and disappointment closing in around my heart again.  I was sure I couldn't do this.  BUT. . .  I unzipped my side of the tent, and I took a deep breath through my nose.  I looked out at the grey sky, the grey, leafless trees, and the colorful dots of the tents and hammocks.  The air smelled so PERFECT.  I held it in my lungs.  I felt the chill of it on my face.  I tasted it.

Tents at Hawk Mountain Shelter in Georgia

Tents at Hawk Mountain Shelter in Georgia

For some reason, that breath, that smell, that feeling of oneness with the woods, changed my mind.  An image of waking on just such a morning in a cabin with a porch and hot coffee entered my mind, and I admitted that I'd prefer that to waking in a tent with a damp chill all around and the all too harsh knowledge that in all of our preparations, we had failed to add instant coffee to our grocery list.  Still, something magical happened in that breath.

I fashioned "rain covers" for our packs out of some plastic gas station ponchos and duct tape, and we vowed that we were doing this.

From that point forward, there were days when the air was perfect, the sun shined, and the mountains presented their majesty to us at every turn.  There were days when it seemed like it would never stop raining.  We slogged through mud with ice in it, and I forgot what it was like to be dry and warm.  There were days when the sun beat down relentlessly, and the humidity made breathing feel like drowning.  There were days when there was nothing to see but the long green monotonous tunnel, and walking north was dull and difficult.  There were days when the entire adventure was a dream come true, a rolling party of all of the best things I could imagine!

In case you were wondering, it all ended too soon.  Jeff suffered from severe tendonitis that set in sometime after the 500 mile mark, and we made the decision to end the hike on June 10, at mile 662.

Here in the real world though, I often think of the Appalachian Trail.  I think of how much like life it is.  Ups and downs, difficult sections, and smooth easy parts, unexpected events, and wonderful serendipitous surprises. . .  Sometimes though, especially in business, I wish for the easy navigation of the trail.  Whenever I felt lost on the Appalachian Trial, I could look up and find an ever-reliable white blaze on a tree or a rock or on the path itself.

On a particularly frustrating day a couple of weeks ago, I found myself wishing, as I often do, that I could scrap the real world and dive back into the woods again.  I wished that life and business at least had some white blazes, so I could know for sure if I was off on a side trail or if I was actually hiking north towards my goal.

That was a moment like that breath of early morning mountain air that somehow saved my hike in northern Georgia, just 8 miles into the trail.

There's a song by my favorite artist, Chris Pureka, called "Compass Rose," and one of the lyrics is this: "Well, I'm lost today; I won't deny it.  I'm gonna lay down and wait for the compass rose under my skin to start to glow."

White blazes; compass rose.  They exist inside of me in the form of dreams, goals, and ideas.  Just like hiking the Appalachian Trail, I have to look up and find that next white blaze or I could end up down a side trail, miles from where I want to be.  In life and business, I have to decide where I ultimately want to go, and I have to look in and feel that "compass rose under my skin start to glow."  I have to have the courage to follow the signs, even when they lead me up and over a steep, rocky, wet, foggy, hand over hand climb.

So, all of that is to say that I'm tuned in.  I'm looking for the white blazes on the trail to doing commercial advertising photos for outdoor gear manufacturers and retailers.  I'm confident that the white blazes in my heart won't lead me astray.

Follow YOUR white blazes!  Go get your dreams!

Read more about our Appalachian Trail LASH (long ass section hike) here!

Making Memories and Making your Brand Memorable

Hey Look!  I’m blogging again!  Despite my rebellious attitude towards blogging, I had actually committed to writing blogs this year.  I joined a blog commitment group on Facebook for January, and here we are January 27, and I am writing my first blog of the year!  Maybe this will be the launch point of the two blogs a week I committed to?

There’s a reason that I write today though.  I have a dog.  His name is Sam.  He’s a 13-year-old black lab who loves to pull us up mountain trails, through the snow, along the ridges, up into the thin air at the peaks.  He has been my buddy since he was a 12-pound ball of black fur, and he actually fit in my lap!

Sam's first modeling job

©2016 Hound Dog Studios

He had a brother, a true, popped out of the same momma dog on the same day, littermate of a brother.  His name was Dexter.  He was a stubborn, tenacious, rebellious, risk taker, and he constantly challenged my authority.  He exasperated me, and he made me love him more each day.  I imagine it’s a lot like my mom felt parenting me, the human girl version of Dexter.

Dexter passed away suddenly when a mystery illness suddenly bled away his energy.  We were just weeks away from celebrating the dogs’ 12th birthdays.  It broke my heart.  It still breaks my heart.

When Dexter passed, I scoured my hard drives and my photo albums looking for every picture I had of him.  There were snapshots from film cameras, some grainy blurry photos from my original camera phone, and my first digital camera, some from my first DSLR, and some from my professional gear.  It was a march through 12 years of the advancement of technology, and my photographic skill.

What was missing?  Portraits.  I never sat the pups down for real portraits that captured their personalities.

You may wonder what any of this has to do with the headshots and commercial photographs I take, and I will bring you around to that, but first. . .

I didn’t want to make that mistake with Sam.

Last week, I took Sam to Hound Dog Studios, an Arvada, Colorado dog portrait studio.  We met Rayna Mason, a dog lover, photographer, and keeper of many treats!  She took less than an hour to make Sam comfortable in her studio, and managed to capture an amazing series of portraits of my little old man!  Her studio was stocked with treats, toys, multiple backdrops, and adorable props!  She was patient and directed Sam like Cesar Milan with a Nikon.

Looking dapper in hid bow tie!

©2016 Hound Dog Studios

Now, I have my Sammer, preserved in his pink tongued, perked eared glory!

There's the smile!

©2016 Hound Dog Studios

So what do amazing portraits of a geriatric dog have to do with headshots and commercial photography?

Memories.

No, nobody wants to hang an ad above their fireplace, though I did see some strange things like that in homes when I was a police officer.  BUT!  Companies want to be MEMORABLE.  You want to be memorable.

Photography is what makes you, and your business, memorable, but only when it expresses your brand and your personality accurately, and only when it appeals to your ideal clients and customers.

Photography also preserves memories.  We are only on the planet for a limited time, and in the case of a dog, it’s a blink.

Be memorable.  Preserve your memories.