Category Archives: Photography

First images and impressions: introducing Camille Olive Tobin

Camille emerging from the womb
Camille emerging from the womb in a screenshot from GoPro video

We welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Camille Olive Tobin, into the world on May 10, less than an hour before the start of Mother’s Day.

The two weeks since have been super-busy as we care for this precious newborn, so I haven’t had time to post anything about the birth or our first days as parents, but so far we’re all doing great.

Labor came on quickly on a Saturday evening as a major snowstorm started to pound Colorado. Things seemed to be moving swiftly toward a routine delivery . . . until the baby’s heartbeat began to falter and the the doctor decided to perform a C-section. It turned out the umbilical cord had been wrapped around Camille’s leg like a Roman sandal.

The urgent C-section was terrifying, beautiful, painful, fascinating, messy, exhilarating, traumatic, awesome. It’s something I’d like to write about more. I recorded the whole thing with my GoPro camera, so I’m also working on a video piece about the beginning of parenthood.

As soon as Ginette went into labor, I started shooting a ton of still photos as well. As expected, Camille’s arrival is impelling me to document this pivotal moment in our lives, in part for her benefit when she’s older, but also to share the experience with family and friends.

Below is a slideshow of hospital photos from a gallery I created on Smugmug (this feature may not work via email browsers, so you can also go here for the images).

Nearly all of the photos I took in the hospital were captured on my iPhone. During the labor and C-section, I wore a GoPro video camera on my head. This turned out to be a great set-up because it freed both of my hands. I was able to shoot photos with the iPhone, caress Ginette’s head during the operation, and push Camille in her crib through the hospital corridors without having to fumble with the video camera.

GoPro mounted on the head is great for filming baby
GoPro mounted on the head is great for filming baby

Filming the birth was important to me, but I didn’t want it to become a distraction or disruption. Psychologically, I found it helpful to have something to do with all the nervous energy in my body. As a seemingly normal delivery became an unplanned C-section, the personal photojournalism became a sort of coping mechanism. It felt as if I was back to being a reporter, charged with adrenaline and with the task of capturing as much detail as possible during a breaking news event. In this case, however, my main job responsibility was to support Ginette without getting in the way of the doctors and nurses.

Decades from now, if Camille is ever giving birth, her partner may be recording the whole thing through eyeglasses or a mini camera embedded in an earlobe. In 2014, the GoPro proved ideal for the assignment. Sans plastic case, it’s small enough to fit in the pocket of your jeans. The wide-angle lens, which is great for filming skiing and mountain biking, was perfect for capturing the close action of the birth and aftermath. Blurring the line between video and photo, I’ve gone through the footage from the GoPro and created still images, such as the one below, about a minute after Camille was pulled from the womb.

Screenshot from GoPro video, about 1 minute after Camille's birth.
Screenshot from GoPro video, about 1 minute after Camille’s birth.

Five or ten years ago, I would have been taking notes about the birth on a reporter’s pad, scribbling indecipherable chicken scratch and thinking way faster than my fingers could move. Words are still important to me. After Camille’s birth, I tapped away on my laptop, trying to capture thoughts, memories, and emotions before they were lost to time. In order for me to process this momentous and somewhat traumatic event, I will need to write about it. But I’m so glad I kept the video rolling and fired off so many photos while we were at the hospital. No matter how much I write, or how well I can recollect the episode and emotions in words, without capturing those still and moving images, the experience would have felt incomplete.

Recording story of Camille's birth for posterity.
Recording the story of Camille’s birth for posterity.

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My favorite photo of the ski season sums up this special moment in my life

I captured thousands of photos this ski season, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the one below, from the top of Baldy Chute at Alta Ski Area, in Utah’s Wasatch Range.

Dropping into Baldy Chute
Dropping into Baldy Chute at Alta

I actually have no idea who this skier is, but I thank him for his service and for aptly illustrating this special moment in my life.

As I write this, we’re five days past our due date, and Ginette is starting to feel contractions, so we could be headed to the hospital any minute. Or it could be a few more days.

I think this photo resonates with me because we’re at an inflection point and on the cusp of a new stage of our lives.

Like the skier in this photo, we’re fully committed, at the point of no return, and on the brink of something wonderful, but the wild ride of parenthood has yet to begin.

Fear and beauty are two words that spring to mind as I view this photo, and ponder the impending childbirth. I’m scared of the major medical event Ginette is about to undergo, and the sudden start of fatherhood. Yet bringing a new life into the world is more awe-inspiring than any scenic vista, and I’d imagine there’s some adrenaline flowing in my bloodstream right now.

Steeps and leaning in

The Baldy Chute run is an example of what some skiers call “steeps.” The main challenge is the extreme angle of the pitch and your sudden acceleration as soon as your skis tip over the cornice. Terrain like this used to terrify me, but over the past couple of years, I’ve become more comfortable “dropping in” on such runs. Now I even seek them out. I’ll confess that I’m sometimes a little scared, but the physiological response to plummeting down a mountain is exhilarating.

One of the places I learned to ski steeps is Copper Bowl. Below is a video I shot of a snowboarder dropping in on a trail that’s known as Bradley’s Plunge.

Dropping into Copper Bowl from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

It can be a leap of faith to start these runs, but unlike base jumping or parachuting, the consequences of a mistake are relatively minor, at least if you’re like me and avoid the really crazy stuff. You might fall a little farther on a steeper slope, but these runs usually aren’t open at ski resorts unless there’s plenty of snow to cushion a crash.

“Taking the plunge” and “leap of faith” seem like fitting descriptors for having a child. Neither of us has any clue about what the baby will look like or how she will behave. Neither of us has ever been a parent, so it’s like we’re on our maiden run down the mountain.

One thing I’ve learned about these steep runs is that you have to fight against your instinct to lean back and sit on your heels. That posture is unstable and makes it much harder to turn and slow down your speed because all your weight is on the rear of your skis.

After wiping out several times, I realized you have to fight instinct and instead tilt forward, toward the bottom of the hill. It’s good advice for all manner of skiing, especially with the newer shaped skis, and why some instructors will tell you to always make sure the front of your shins are pressing against the tongues of your boot. Just as riding slowly through a rock garden on a mountain bike can be harder than zipping through, it’s often easier to ski if you’re pushing your body toward the void before you, despite what your brain is saying.

“Lean in”  has become a hot phrase since Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, penned a 2013 book by that name (subtitle: “Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”).

This bestseller advises women how to pursue career ambitions in balance with other goals and become more assertive in the business world. “Proceed and be bold” is a slogan on the walls at Facebook.

I’m usually not fond of business bromides or buzzwords (“all in” is another appropriate one for parenthood and the photo), but I must admit that this idea of leaning in, tilting forward, embracing adversity, and doubling down when confronted with a challenge has been bouncing around my head as I prepare to become a dad.

We’ll see how I feel after my sleep has been disrupted for weeks and the baby has been crying for hours!

The making of . . .

Some of my best images from this season merely required me to unglove my hand on a ski lift and tap my iPhone screen. My favorite photo demanded a lot more work. To reach the top of 11,068-foot Mount Baldy, you need to hike 30 or 40 minutes uphill in your ski boots with your skis on your shoulder or back.

Hiking up Mount Baldy

Walking in ski boots, even on level ground, isn’t easy. Some of the worst falls I’ve taken during ski season have been in icy parking lots, on my way to or from the chair lift. Hiking up a steep ridge is no picnic, but at least there was a well-trodden path to follow and soft snow to fall in. At the top of the hike, we were rewarded with expansive views of Little Cottonwood Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley.

Top of Mount Baldy, Utah
At the top of Mount Baldy (11.068′) with my best friend Tom.

It meant extra weight, but I’m glad I brought my Canon D50 DSLR camera with me for the hike. At the top of the chute, I was able to stand 20 or 30 feet away from where skiers were starting their runs and use a telephoto lens. I couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop, and capturing the moment when a skier dropped in was relatively easy because many people seemed to freeze at that inflection point.

It would have been cool to take a wide-angle shot from right next to the skiers, but I was with friends and didn’t want to dilly dally. The first moments of my run were the hardest, but as soon as I negotiated the first turn, the snow turned the consistency of mashed potatoes and became forgiving.

Descending Baldy Chute
Descending Baldy Chute at Alta, Utah

Looking up at Baldy from Alta’s base, the chutes seem super-narrow. But it’s something of an optical illusion. I thought there was plenty of room to maneuver.

I’m not expecting my first days, weeks, months, or years of parenting to go as smoothly as this ski run. My photo atop Baldy was shot on a crystal clear day, so it was easy to see the path below.

Being on the verge of parenthood also feels like a different run from this season, when I was at the top of the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area during a blinding snowstorm (photo below is from the ride up).

Chair 9 ascending to the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area
Chair 9 ascending to the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area

At nearly 13,000 feet, my visibility was about three feet and the wind was practically knocking me over. On that run, I didn’t saunter up to the edge of the cornice and make a graceful entry. I just inched forward until terra firma suddenly dropped away and the run had begun.

My parenting career may even start with a May snowstorm. Denver is forecast to get 4 to 9 inches of snow tomorrow, on Mother’s Day.

Source: National Weather Service
Source: National Weather Service

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Favorite photos from the Great Divide

There was no way I was going to bring my big digital SLR camera with me while bikepacking the Great Divide so I relied solely on my iPhone to take photos during the month-long trip. Overall, I’d say the iPhone performed admirably and the experience epitomized the old chestnut about the best camera being the one you have with you.

In another post, I shared some highlights from the time-lapse video I shot with the iPhone. Below are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

I found the main limitation of using the iPhone was the lack of a real zoom. You can only get closer digitally, which makes it tough to shoot wildlife and other faraway objects. The HDR (high dynamic range) option seemed to do pretty well at capturing scenes with challenging exposures and I had some fun shooting panoramas with an app called Autostitch.

There were definitely times when I wished I had my Canon D50 with me, but hauling a big, bulky camera like that was out of the question and the odds of it surviving the trip intact would have been perilously low.

Time-lapse highlights of cloud formation

I had lots of fun on my trip using an iPhone app for time-lapse photography. To make these videos, it definitely helps to have a tripod and holder for the phone so that it can remain motionless, or nearly so, during the recording. Then it’s as simple as opening the app, pointing the phone’s camera in an interesting direction, and starting to film. The TimeLapse app I used, as well as its competitors, allow you to adjust how often the camera takes a picture and a variety of other parameters.

It can be a hit-or-miss exercise, especially when you’re filming something as unpredictable as the sky, but sometimes the results are stunning. Here are some of the highlights of cloud formation from my bikepacking trip along the Great Divide.

Photos from Grand Canyon trip

Just got back from a great trip to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona to learn more about uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. I’m doing an evaluation of the issue for the Packard Foundation. Below are some of the photo highlights. We took an amazing flight with Bruce Gordon of EcoFlight that included the North Rim, Colorado River, Glen Canyon Dam, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

I’ll be putting together a video soon that discusses the campaign to prevent new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, the drinking water supply for more than 25 million people.