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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