Guest post: Learning photography on the roads less traveled

Earthquake Lake MT

Earthquake Lake, Montana (Nikon D5100)

Horses in Montana

Horses run to the Helmville Rodeo, Montana (Nikon D40)

Playa La Bocana Mexico

Playa La Bocana, Huatulco, Mexico (Nikon Coolpix S3100)

Today's guest post is by Emily Fagan who has been traveling for the past five and a half year with her husband by RV in the summer and by sailboat in the winter and has been documenting their journey with Nikon cameras. You can find more images and stories from Emily and Mark Fagan's travels at (click on images for larger view).


Sunset in Yuma, Arizona (D40)

We never tired of the view, and it changed constantly. web1

Mountain biking the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho (Nikon D40)

Yaquina Lighthouse, Central coast of Oregon.

Yaquina Lighthouse, Central coast of Oregon (Nikon D40)

We have been living an unusual lifestyle of full-time travel over the past five and a half years, and our Nikons have been an important part of our journey. We left our conventional workaday lives in the Spring of 2007 to travel the US and Canada in a trailer. While camped on the waterfront in Jacksonville, Florida, one winter, we got inspired to trying voyaging by sea, and in January, 2010 we moved aboard a sailboat and began splitting our time between summertime road travel in our RV and wintertime ocean travel in our sailboat.

San Juan Mtns Colorado

San Juan Mountains Colorado (Nikon D5100)

Agua Verde Sea of Cortez Mexico

Agua Verde, Sea of Cortez, Mexico (Nikon D40)

Marina Chiapas Mexico

Marina Chiapas, Mexico (Nikon D5100)

While enjoying a wandering lifestyle in these moveable homes, we have been learning how to capture our most precious moments on camera. Our time spent creating images has become the focus of our lives and make up the best hours of each day.

Dallas Divide Colorado

The Dallas Divide, Ridgway, Colorado (Nikon D5100)

Miner Creek, Montana

Mountain views in Big Hole, Montana (Nikon D5100)

Flaming Gorge Utah

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Utah (Nikon D5100)

Before hitting the road, we knew we'd need good cameras. We both loved photography and had been Nikon fans throughout our lives, but we were still rank beginners. The Nikon D40 was perfect for our needs and skill level. We bought one -- our first foray into digital photography -- and we hoped we could keep expenses down by sharing it. Wrong! It was impossible to go anywhere with that camera, because one or the other of us was constantly saying, "Can I have the camera, please!" So we got a second D40 and set of on our travels, each of us equipped with the kit 18-55 lens and sharing a single Nikkor 55-200 lens.

Morning dew in Montana

Morning dew on a flowers in Big Hole, Montana (Nikon D5100)

Cathedral Oaxaca Mexico

Cathedral in the Zócalo, Oaxaca, Mexico (Nikon Coolpix S3100)


Waiting for the laundry to dry (Nikon D5100)

We soon got tired of sharing the long lens too. Because we had so much to learn, we decided Mark would keep the 55-200 lens on his camera all the time while I used my 18-55. This was a great compromise, because it meant we could stand shoulder to shoulder and never get the same shots. Also, the D40's sensor was prone to getting dirty whenever we changed lenses, especially in the salt air, so using just one lens apiece kept our sensors clean.

Big Hole Montana

Miner Creek, Big Hole, Montana (D5100)

I focused my photos on story-telling with the wide angle while Mark focused on capturing the details of each scene with the long lens. Documenting our travels in pictures, telling illustrated stories about our adventures on our blog (, and publishing our photos along with our articles in the many RVing and sailing magazines became one of the great joys of our traveling lives. Five of our photos even made it to the covers of the popular RV magazines!

Flaming Gorge Wyoming

Flaming Gorge, Wyoming side (Nikon D5100)

We soon learned that whenever we went out sightseeing, if we brought the cameras along with us, we saw a whole lot more. You just don't notice as much when you aren't looking for photo opportunities. We also learned that if we accidentally left the cameras behind, invariably we would run into something really exciting -- a parade, a town fair, someone zooming down the street in an exotic contraption. But who wants to carry a big camera every time they go grocery shopping?! We don't have a cell phone, so we purchased a pocket Nikon Coolpix S3100 and made sure it was with us at all times.

Tropical Flower Hagia Sofia

Tropical flower at Hagia Sofia (D5100)

Over these years of exploring the stunning landscapes and charming small rural towns of the western states and Mexico's Pacific coast, our photographs have documented what we saw. But we didn't progress much artistically for a while. We concentrated primarily on composition. We played around with exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed, but it took us four years to start learning how to shoot in manual mode. After all, it seemed the cameras understood the relationships between aperture, shutter speed, white balance and ISO a whole lot better than we did. We relied on D-lighting to fix any problems with shadows and stuck to iPhoto on our Macintosh laptop.

Telluride Colorado

Telluride Colorado (Nikon D5100)

However, once we upgraded to twin D5100's, we knew it was time for us to learn to match wits with these clever cameras. With the D5100's nifty sensor cleaning capability on startup and shutdown, Mark started to switch between his 18-55 and 55-200 lenses frequently. I got jealous and ran out and bought the Nikkor 55-300. Suddenly I could bring all that beauty we were seeing everyday in up close. More important, Mark began reading photography books and websites. He loved learning it all so much that he read most of it aloud to me!

Owl Creek Pass Colorado

Owl Creek Pass near Ridgway, Colorado (Nikon D5100)

We upgraded to Aperture and discovered there is a whole world of post-processing to discover. Suddenly the few minutes of daily downloading and photo sorting we were accustomed to expanded to become a few hours of enjoyable work each night. Our single, shared MacBook laptop demanded we get it a companion so we could each play with our pictures unencumbered. Yikes, this photography thing was taking over our lives!

Light Painting Bisti Badlands NM

Light painting at the Egg Factory in Bisti Badlands, New Mexico (Nikon D5100)

We attended a photography workshop given by PhotographyLife during peak fall foliage season in Ridgway Colorado. Wow! Besides finding ourselves immersed in the vivid gold and orange hues of Colorado's craggy mountains in autumn, we were suddenly surrounded by very skilled and knowledgeable photographers. We had been so proud of owning our D5100's, but on this shoot it seemed most of the cameras we saw were D600's or D800's!

Natural symmetry web1

Bryce Canyon, Utah (Nikon D40)

Our first shot for the workshop was at dawn, and our instructor, Nasim Mansurov, walked all of us students through the manual settings we would need to get the most colorful image in the dim light. What a revelation. The photos turned out beautifully, and not one setting on the cameras was automatic.

White House Ruin

Canyon de Chelly cliff dwellings, Arizona (Nikon D5100)

We are still learning about photography as we travel. We feel very blessed to be able to see so many beautiful places and to spend our days absorbing the culture and scenery that is just beyond our camper door and our sailboat cockpit. Our favorite hours are spent exploring whatever place we happen to be in and then letting our adventures and photos evolve in their own natural way, whether we're watching Mexican girls dancing in the town square, or we're hiking in the mountains or we're strolling along a beach.

Hoodos Bisti Badlands NM

Hoodoos in Bisti Badlands, New Mexico (Nikon D5100)

We read with passion, and love learning about the many very sophisticated techniques that are discussed in its pages. We dream of owning the latest, fanciest gear, but we have found there is a lot to be said for Nikon's "entry level" cameras and even the pocket Coolpix series. Our travels have been immeasurably enhanced by working with those cameras.

Bisti Badlands at Night

Light painting at night in Bisti Badlands, New Mexico (Nikon D5100)


Anchored in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico (Nikon D40)

Glassy Rocks La Bocana

Glass rocks at Playa La Bocana, Huatulco, Mexico (Nikon D5100)

Girls in Oaxaca

Girls get ready for a school recital in the town square of Oaxaca, Mexico (Nikon D5100)

Flower Hagia Sofia

Flower at Hagia Sofia orchard, Huatulco, Mexico (Nikon D5100)

Sunset Tangolunda Bay

Sunset in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico (D5100)

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • peteee363

    one of the cool things about digital, as opposed to film is never needing to find film on the road. as long as you bring your laptop, and keep your batteries charged, you can travel and never worry about film. also, you don’t need to worry about storing the film you shot until you get back home. i am a late comer to digital, but now love it more then film.

  • Amir

    Fantastic,tahnk you so much for this great post.

    • Amir

      I mean,Thank you!

  • What a charming story!

  • Goyablues

    Thank you for sharing your stories and travel photos. Very inspiring!

  • js200022

    Great pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  • Greg

    I have to say that I’m almost as inspired by the strength of your marriage as I am by your fantastic photographs! It takes a lot to share such small spaces for such long periods and to share rather than compete over your art.

    • We are blessed in every way and we enjoy learning from each other. As racing cyclists in another life our favorite thing was to push each other past our limits and then laugh about it later while lying prostrate and exhausted on the floor later… our favorite thing was to try to crush each other in the hills, but because we were so evenly matched and stubborn we each found ourselves up against a mighty foe. Lots of fun, and viciously competitive!! And it was all left behind on the pavement once we got off the bikes…

  • Eric Calabos

    presenting such great photos to a “kit is crap” community needs lots of self confidence that you already have Emily. Congrat

    • Well, I heard once that Bjorn Borg beat an A level tennis player with a whisk broom. And I’m sure Art Wolfe could blow us all away with a Nikon Coolpix… Mark and I are working with what we have and are loving the learning process every day.

  • Aaron

    The photos are lovely…..when I click through and see the larger versions with their sRGB color profile embedded. But the small, initial versions have the color profile stripped out, so they look misleadingly garish on my wide-gamut monitor. Is the profile stripping a problem that can be corrected?

  • Rene

    Thanks Emily you made me great morning with your beautiful pictures. Great!

  • F200

    Wonderful photos and great story!! Made me miss my D40…

  • Raphaël / www.photographydaily

    Very nice and gets me back willing to travel again even more !
    NIce post.
    But the so called “Tropical Flower Hagia Sofia” is a Banana flower. You actually can see the baby bananas growing.

    • I forgot to submit that image with a caption and the administrator did his best creating one from the file name. I meant to say “Tropical flower at Hagia Sofia” (Hagia Sofia is an orchard in Huatulco Mexico). Thanks for pointing out it is a banana flower — i just love how Mark captured the colors and lines…

  • Reilly Diefenbach

    Really nice post. What a great life!

  • That s the money speaking over here. Good Job !

  • vwking

    Very nice.

  • Arterio

    Nicely done. Thanks for sharing.

  • PhotoSME

    Wow, and excellent story and great photography. You demonstrate that you can share with your spouse. Nice retirement gift you gave each other.

  • Wow… what beautiful and thoughtful and kind comments from everyone. You have all made MY day by responding so favorably to our story and images. Thank you for voicing your appreciation so warmly!!

  • Nick

    Wow wish I had the money to travel full time. Nice photos.

    • Thank you. Travelers are a funny bunch – they stow away on ships and trains and hitch hike all over or live in old vans. Many have no money at all and pay their way doing menial work under the table. Not everyone wants to travel so much that they are willing to do it that way, but quite a few are — at least for a few years until they have taken care of that inner wanderlust!

  • Rph1978

    Whenever I read stories like this I get envious. The 6 MP Nikon D40 is a good camera. How long do you plan to keep traveling? Good luck!

    • No need for envy – the opportunity is there for everyone. It’s just a matter of shifting your priorities. We have met people traveling with nothing but a few pesos in their pockets. The D40 is a good camera. So is the Coolpix S3100!! We will travel as long as we are able and as long as it is our number one passion in life…

  • Dreams&Visions

    Again, it’s not the hardware making a good photographer. Beautiful photographs, very well done!

    • Thank you! And yup, it’s not the hardware. Like they say at the drag strip, “run what you brung.”

  • Eric Duminil

    Very insightful post and beautiful pictures. You seem to have a nice life. Keep enjoying it! 😀

    • Thank you, and yes, we are. Mark is playing the guitar right now as the sun sinks into the horizon here in Huatulco, Mexico.

  • bigeater

    Wow, I thought Nikon manufactured every single piece of gear needed for great photos; but it turns out there are two conspicuous gaps in the lineup….RVs and sailboats.

  • This is what it’s all about, getting out there and actually using the camera you got! 🙂 I bet this is a dream for many in here, but we lack the opportunity, or most often guts, so here we are bickering about the newest gear we can’t afford instead 😉
    Wonderful pictures, saving your homepage for later inspiration 🙂

    • You are so right!! All it takes is guts to get out there and see a little more than our own back yards. Dream the dream, visualize it, plan it, and it will happen. Only fear will keep you from running off over the horizon to points unknown…

  • regular

    Hi Emily, thanks for sharing such materials. A few photos worth thousands pages of comments.

    My only advise would be to stay from light-handed on the color saturation/vibrance buttons.

    • Yes, I know, but I just love rich colors. It’s part of being a beginner, I guess!! Or maybe, to sound more sophisticated, it’s part of my artistic esthetic. But I’ll accept being a beginner who’s totally grooving on the fabulous colors these digital cameras can produce!!

  • Matt in MT

    Your photos are truly wonderful! I am glad you enjoyed my home state of MT, and it is awesome you found the hidden gem that is the Big Hole Valley. I have one correction for you however: Your photo captioned as that of Earthquake Lake (Quake Lake to the locals) is actually of Hebgen Reservior. Hebgen’s dam (which is quite near where your photo was taken) is the “Dam that Held” during the Earthquake, while Quake Lake was formed by the landslide just downstream from Hebgen Dam. I hope you were able to see some Bighorn Sheep while you were there!

    • Ahh… thanks for the correction! We were amazed by the story of the dam and the lake — nature was at its most furious during that earthquake! We did see some bighorn sheep, but not in that area. There was a herd at Flaming Gorge in Wyoming/Utah and we got some awesome shots but you can only fit so many images into one blog post!!!

  • I have D5100 too. 18-105 kit + 35mm f1.8
    Great camera. Best entry level right now.
    Wish i had such opportunity to travel like you.
    I only ride my bike or hike daily in my area with my camera.

    • The nice thing is you know your area so well – when the lighting is most dramatic and from what angles, etc. We are always guessing, and too often we leave before we’ve really figured out how to capture a place at its best!!

  • I love seeing shots from the D40 here. I still think fondly of that camera. Great stuff.

    • We loved ours too… got us off to a great start!

  • If you plan to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina.. let me know.. I’ll give you my contact info and show you around town!

  • The presentation was awesome and the details looks worthy on
    Nikon especially attractive by Girls get ready for a school recital in the town square of Oaxaca, Mexico (Nikon D5100)

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