A photographer’s 3-week solo trip through the western United States

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A Colorado travel photographer has spent several weeks traveling solo, living out of his car, and photographing to recharge his batteries and prepare for a career and life change.

Alex Armitage is a Denver-based travel and adventure photographer who recently took the plunge and quit his almost 8-year college job to pursue a full-time career in YouTube and landscape photography.

Having started out as a photographer who was happy to photograph anything and everything, he first began to focus on the live music scene in Florida until he traveled to Yosemite in 2012 and discovered his love. for the “practice of landscape photography”. A few years later, when travel media became more popular on Instagram, Armitage found inspiration seeing other photographers come out and share beautiful images, which gave him another impetus to travel and pursue it. -even.

Armitage has focused intensely on travel photography for the past four years and now, having quit his university job and just returned home after a three week solo filming trip, can “confidently say there is no better feeling than waking up to the sunrise. , stay late for the sunset and lose your sleep while photographing the Milky Way.

Prepare for the trip

The multi-week trip that Armitage took recently wasn’t just to photograph landscapes and create portfolio-worthy content for his work. For Armitage, the trip meant a lot more: it was an opportunity to mentally recover and have time to breathe, after overcoming some personal changes in his life, and it was also an opportunity to combine the trip with the visit of his family.

The photographer was very excited but also nervous about the upcoming trip, he said. He was worried that he might not have everything he needed or that he might forget a specific camera charger. While most things could be salvaged along the way, he didn’t want to be in the middle of the desert without the right Canon charger and miss out on the opportunities offered by the scenery.

The trusted travel companion

As a meticulous person who tends to prepare “a little too much,” which can be both a blessing and a curse, Armitage says he’s spent far too much time figuring out what he might need to do. the trip. He spent time researching tips and suggestions from other ‘van-life’ sources, such as: ‘How do you wash dishes without wasting a bunch of water?’ Turns out the trick is to pack a spray bottle, filled with half water and half vinegar, which did a good job throughout the trip.

Armitage has built a bed platform in his Toyota 4Runner that helps separate and store his gear and belongings and also allows him to sleep on them. Using a YouTube guide from photographer Nick Carver, Armitage followed the tutorial but fully intends to decide on a more permanent solution in the future to allow him to move into his SUV permanently.

Armitage does not use a large kit for his photography – he packed a Canon R5 with Canon EF 16-35mm f / 4L IS USM and Canon EF 70-200mm f / 2.8L IS II Lens for his landscape photography work, in addition to a few accessories, such as the Benro tripod, the Wine Country Camera filter system and a magnetic polarizing filter.

To film his journey and behind-the-scenes content, the photographer used a Fuji XT-4 with the Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f / 2.8-4 lens, a DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone, and one GoPro HERO8. All of its gear fits comfortably in a hiking backpack, including tripods, not to mention the most important chargers, cables and external hard drives.

Driving across the country

Armitage didn’t set a specific destination goal other than heading west from his home in Colorado. All the practicalities aside, the photographer says that “the only goal was to film the content, take the photos and enjoy the experience,” which meant embarking on the journey and seeing the challenges and the experiences he brings.

New Mexico Badlands
New Mexico

The photographer recalls: “I really wanted to leave myself open to just explore where I was or learn where I wanted to go on the trip and luckily I met a lot of people along the way who made suggestions that completely worked out. shaped where I’ve been, ”including some of the places and places he knew but hadn’t necessarily planned to visit until reminded.

Las Vegas

Armitage says he’s stopped at “too many places” in his travels, but a few highlights include the rugged San Juan Mountains in Colorado, the vast and arid Utah badlands, and the southern badlands. New Mexico. Equally memorable were the relentless desert winds during the first week.

San Juan Mountains
Model: Lillian Seibert | Utah Badlands
Utah Badlands

Another unforgettable moment includes the filming of the Milky Way at 4 a.m., when suddenly a line of bright dots began to fill the sky, finally reaching from horizon to horizon. This scared the photographer, but once it was fixed the next day, he confirmed that they were in fact Starlink satellites heading for orbit.

Overall, Colorado and Utah have countless places to photograph and visit, the photographer found. The scenery changes dramatically from place to place, even though it is only 80 km from the previous stop, making it a great trip for photographers who want to experience the variety.

“One minute you’re in snow-covered mountains and the next you’re in the desert,” he said.

San Juan Mountains
Utah Badlands
Utah Badlands
Utah Badlands

Travel and live in a car

Armitage says that when it comes to traveling alone and living out of your car, the first question people ask is, “Where do you take a shower and how do you use the bathroom?” He found it relatively easy to find places to take a shower and did so whenever he could, and the same goes for the bathrooms. The majority of the nights he’s slept on Bureau of Land Management land, which actually doesn’t have a toilet, but finding a toilet isn’t difficult if you plan ahead, he says.

The biggest challenge was actually trying to cook in the wind, which sometimes meant the photographer didn’t cook and ate whatever he could without using heat. The same goes for cell phone reception, which can be difficult to access at times, especially in small towns, and while Armitage likes to live off-grid from time to time, there are times when you need to. from reception to do certain things. .

Overall, traveling solo was not a concern for Armitage, and he admits that his experience can be very different from what others go through because “it’s a privilege to be a white man”, and throughout his journey he encountered people who needed to take extra precautionary measures to ensure their safety “which is a bit unfortunate but also a reality”.

“Being alone for me is one of the best ways to clear my head, and while it can obviously be lonely, the connections aren’t far away if you ever need them,” Armitage says. “I met a new friend along the way and we spent a lot of time together exploring new places while both living in our vehicles. One of the perks of finding random places to sleep and being there is that you can meet like-minded people that you instantly have a connection with. “

To compartmentalize his own experiences, Armitage also dabbled on a brief YouTube series where he intends to explore this journey of traveling and living out of his SUV, not only as a landscape photographer, but also in as a thoughtful person who soaks up this totally immersive experience. , with its ups and downs.

With the first episode released in the series, the photographer hopes viewers find something to take away from his documentary-style content and invites others to join in on the journey from the comfort of their screens, whether it’s watching picturesque and raw landscapes. or behind the scenes of what it’s like to experience “van-life” as a photographer.

Feedback on the experience

The best advice is to prepare for a long trip and then take a short one, not far from home, ”recommends Armitage. Going for the weekend will allow cautious adventurous photographers to learn what might be missing or what to adapt to on a long journey into the future.

Likewise, a good way to learn and adapt is to go for it, he says. By going on adventurous trips like these, photographers can unlock a burning desire to incorporate the trip into their future lives because “you can only get ready and go out, wake up for that first sunrise on your way out of the door.” your vehicle, you might never want to wake up in a bedroom again. “

When it comes to photography, Armitage discovered an even greater fondness for his telephoto lens on this trip, although such a long lens isn’t traditionally the first choice for landscapes. The majority of the photos taken during the trip were with this lens, and Armitage found it to be a great tool for photographing sunrises and sunsets and said that in the future it could become his preferred lens for photography. of landscape.

As for his personal thoughts on the trip, Armitage admits to having gained a lot as a person but it is difficult to put it all into words:

Introspection and reflection are strongly attached to disconnecting from the world and spending time appreciating the beauty around us. As a photographer – no, as a human I always try to grow from my experiences. My life hit a big reset button and this trip helped me find where I wanted to land when the dust settled around the events of my life. The fact that I can combine nature therapy with my passion for photography is not a bad starting point.

More of Armitage’s work can be found on his website or his Instagram page.


Image credits: All images by Alex Armitage and used with permission.





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