Impromptu trip to Independence Pass

One of the benefits of living in a van is that when plans change you have everything you need with you. Last weekend, we were all set to go to a climbing area near Vail, CO, but when we were about halfway there our buddy had to bail. So we pulled off the side of the road and looked at our options. There was an area nearby that could entertain us for a day, then we decided to extend our trip for a few days and go check out Independence Pass. Genevive had never been, it’s one of my favorite areas in Colorado, and it was going to stay much cooler than lower elevations (It was in the upper 90’s in Denver, but it stayed in the 70’s in the Pass).

I call this Rock

Independence Pass is beautiful for a multitude of reasons, but on this trip, I was pulled towards the Grotto Day Use Area, aka the Ice Caves. I hadn’t checked out the cascades before, and I’m glad I did! It’s an incredible series of waterfalls. We got there right after sunset, so the light was fading quickly. I took advantage of the low light to do some long exposures of the moving water.

When I woke up the next morning the light was looking too good to not try to get more photos. I used a 6 stop ND filter to allow me to shoot with slow shutter speeds even in the bright morning light. I love both looks, but I think shooting slow shutter speeds in full daylight makes for really dramatic and interesting photos with the bright highlights that usually don’t exist with long exposure water shots.

On the way out after a few days of exploring several new-to-me climbing crags at Independence Pass, I saw this S-Curve with perfect light hitting it. I turned the van around and waited till a nice vehicle came around the corner.

I always love driving up through Independence Pass. It’s what I always dreamed Colorado would be growing up in Indiana.

A Ford F-150 Raptor in the Tetons

I started a road trip before all of Covid-19 craziness began in this country, planning on ice climbing in Cody, WY; skiing in Jackson Hole; skiing Snowbird & Alta; skiing in Tahoe; then making my way to Los Angeles for portfolio reviews with NYCFotoworks-LA. I was hoping to setup some shoots along the way, focusing on automotive lifestyle, but by the time I got to Jackson Wyoming, things had started to get weird. 

In a last ditch effort to try and make something happen, I saw a shiny white Ford F-150 Raptor at a trailhead and approached the owner. Ross was psyched to get photos of his truck, so we went searching for a snowy road. 

I had him drive his truck, spinning the wheels in the snow, past me closer than he thought was comfortable, but I kept telling him to get closer. Finally we got the right amount of throw in the perfect framing. 

I wanted to get a bit of a different angle, put on the 70-200 and had Ross do a few more laps. When he threw the backend into the embankment blasting through the snow, I knew we had the perfect shot. 

Camera: Canon EOS R
Lens: Sigma 35mm Art f1.8, Canon 16-35mm f4, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS v3

Utah Landscapes

I’ve been a bit behind on editing my personal work in the last year. So….here’s a post that’s about 15 months late. Utah Landscapes. I took a road trip with my girlfriend last November and December, living out of her Honda Element (Hotelement). We spent a bit in Indian Creek, Red Rocks (Las Vegas), Lime Kiln, St George, then made our way back to Colorado through the deserts of Utah.

Zion was incredibly impressive. I’m glad we got to view it from one of the highest viewpoints in the valley, Cable Mountaun overlooking Observation Point.

And then it snowed on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park. It was astoundingly beautiful!

Bryce Canyon National Park in the snowBryce Canyon National Park in the snow
Genevive sending Go Sparky Go! in Indian Creek, Utah. Bear's Ears National MonumentGenevive sending Go Sparky Go! in Bear’s Ears National Monument (Indian Creek)

Canyonlands National Park The Hotelement (Honda Element) parked in Moab, UtahOur home for two months (Genevive’s home for more than two years!) in my favorite campsite in Moab, Utah.

Living in a tiny space with another human really lets you know your compatibility! After driving around the west for a month we ended up going to Mexico for an additional month (also living out of the Element), and this proved to me that Genevive and I could work long term. This convinced me that we could live full-time in a van. And that’s the story of how the idea of Willard the Red Whale was born.

Lifestyle for Centura Health Hospitals

In March of last year, I got the opportunity to shoot a project for the Colorado and Kansas based hospital group, Centura Health. For the first project, I had to pull together a small team to work fast and light while shooting lifestyle of providers interacting with patients in two hospitals for internal HR materials. Later in the summer, I was to shoot several more lifestyle projects for Centura advertisements in 5 more hospitals. These projects included shooting in a T-10 trauma room during a simulation and getting taken up in a Flight for Life helicopter in Durango, CO. I loved working with the whole team. Looking forward to more!

I always like to give my clients added value and when we had downtime on the shoots, I tried to find textures and architectural elements that they could use for text backgrounds.

Wake Forest Innovation Quarter Architecture and Lifestyle

Two years ago I was asked to shoot Architecture (Click Here to see it!) for Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, which is a redevelopment project in Winstom-Salem, NC. Last time, the marketing manager asked me to focus on the exterior architecture of the campus, and I was given free rein to “make things look pretty!” There were several scheduled lifestyle shoots in specific areas of the Quarter, but most of the time my assistant and I wandered around with the camera glued to my eye, finding new and interesting angles to view the buildings. I had a blast: it was one of my favorite shoots of the year!

This year Wake Forest IQ gave me the same task but asked me to focus more on interiors, details, and textures. I always enjoy clients that believe in my ability to create beautiful images and really let me explore the “product” or space.

I love traveling to North Carolina for several reasons…but the food…the food makes the trip incredible!

I was also tasked with capturing life around the vibrant campus.

The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is constantly growing. I can’t wait to go back and see how much it’s changed in the next couple of years!

Willard the Red Whale – A Ram Promaster Vanlife Conversion

I bought a 2014 Ram Promaster 159″ 3500 Diesel and moved into it with my girlfriend. This was my first time really building anything, and I’m psyched with how it came out!

Introducing Willard the Red Whale!

I was driving down a dark road in Kentucky last fall thinking about my living situation and what I wanted to change. I calculated that I was spending $10,200 each year on rent alone and wished I could buy a house in Colorado to stop the flow of cash into the great void, but buying in Colorado is quite cost-prohibitive. Half a million dollars is a pretty high barrier to entry. In the climbing area I was in, Red River Gorge, there were more converted vans than I’d seen before. Every crag parking lot was overflowing with white cargo vans. I started calculating how much I could afford to put into a van and live in it.

In January, I started looking at pre-built options – the $120,000 Winnebego Revel and a sixty-some thousand dollar build by VanDoIt, but none of the prebuilt options really satisfied my vision for a van I’d live in. (I seriously don’t understand RV designers’ use of space. There are so many unnecessary things and they waste so much precious space without giving you any storage options. I don’t want to sleep 9 and drive 6, I want to sleep and drive 2 people and have the most possible storage.)

I was going to be moving into the van with my girlfriend, Genevive, and she didn’t like the feel of either, they were too industrial – they didn’t feel like home. She pushed me to do the build ourselves. I was hesitant since I’d never built anything before, but after checking on financing and realizing that pre-built wasn’t even an option, we started looking at vans we could build out.

I had a deposit down on a 2019 Ram Promaster 159″ 2500 gas, but the dealership screwed up my financing application. They initially told me that no one would finance me for less than 13% interest. So I started looking at used Promasters and found a rare diesel down in Colorado Springs that was bright red! I’d heard some really terrible things about the gas Promasters reliability, but reading the forums about the diesels, the owners seemed to love them. This was enough to convince me to spend $13,000 less.

We bought the van March 15th and unofficially finished the build June 28th or so. In that process, I learned a hell of a lot. Firstly, you can learn to do almost anything on Youtube. Second, take your time and measure the hell out of everything. Also, having a pretty good idea of where you want everything to go before you start is quite helpful.

We made one major mistake, we insulated the entire thing before knowing how we were going to install the walls…and we had to tear out a ton of insulation to put framing in to attach the walls and ceiling to. Definitely frame out the walls before you do almost anything else. Also, use star-bit wood screws; Phillips head screws strip worse than your adopted daughter. Other than that, I’m extremely proud of what Genevive and I built!

Some stats:

  • 2014 Ram Promaster 159″ turbo-diesel 3.0-liter four-cylinder (Fiat Ducato)
  • Cherry Red
  • 560watts of solar (2 x 180w, 1 x 200w)
  • Goal Zero Yeti 3000 (280ah lithium, 1500w inverter)
  • 2″ of Polyiso insulation on walls and ceiling, 1/2″ of XPS on floors. The fiberglass that came with the van was stuffed into the ribs. I would definitely do something different in the future, but this was “free” insulation. We taped off all the holes in the ribs to limit the amount of fiberglass that can travel through the cabin.
  • CRL Awning style bunk window (Highly recommend!)
  • CRL OEM style frameless clamp-style window for sliding door. I would probably go with the glue-in if I were to do it again. It looks much better.
  • 1/4″ Knotty Pine Tongue and Groove 8ft planks for the walls
  • 1″ Pine Tongue & Groove Shiplap 12ft Planks for Ceiling
  • I custom built the upper cabinets and put Ikea doors on them. Highly recommend.
  • Base Cabinets are Ikea Sektion with custom 1×6 bases so it got us to 36″ height with a 1″ (3/4″) stainable pine countertop from Lowes
  • 130L Truckfridge. Highly Recommend!
  • 6gal water tank with Bayite water pump (would not recommend the pump)

Here’s the build process! I’ll add videos later.

Keep scrolling down, images will eventually load