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Paper Bag Canyons & Broccoli Forests. See How A Travel Photographer Is Creating Her Own Small World At Home & How You Can Do It Too

Travel photographer Erin Sullivan (@erinoutdoors) is used to going on global adventures with her camera, photographing landscapes and wildlife all over the world. With the orders to stay home in place across the country, Sullivan’s usual photography work outdoors has come to a halt – but she’s not letting that slow her down. The Alpha Collective member is completely embracing this moment by bringing the great outdoors inside with her #ErinsGreatIndoors project, and it's gotten a lot of attention – like in this article for The Washington Post. We connected with her to learn more about how she’s creating and capturing these miniature landscapes, all while staying at home. See how she did it, and participate in her challenge by creating your own and posting it with #OurGreatIndoors.

Paper Bag Canyons & Broccoli Forests. See how Erin Sullivan (@erinoutdoors) of the Alpha Collective is exploring #OurGreatIndoors during social isolation.

“When I was a kid and I couldn’t fall asleep at night, explains Sullivan, “I would go under my covers and imagine my own nature scenes. That has always stuck with me into my adult years. When I was in college I did a photography project creating abstract images using household objects, so I have played with these kinds of subjects before, but not in this exact way. There’s just so much that’s not in my or in our control right now. So I was asking myself, ‘What is in my control? What could I do photographically to keep my body of work going and to remain creative?’”

“I thought of #ErinsGreatIndoors as a play on my 'Erin Outdoors' hustle, but then I wanted to take it a step further to include the community. So I thought of #OurGreatIndoors as a way to encourage people to stay inside and also to remind them that they can still be creative. My original idea was to make landscapes out of stuff around the house. Then I thought it would be cool to add scale, so I started researching these mini-figurines. You can find them by searching online. Since these are made of plastic, my request would be that you use them with intention and give them a life after using them for this. Make these choices with the planet in mind, as well as your creativity.”

A Snowy Paddle Through An Ice Cave

Sullivan was using her Sony α7R III and a combination of the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master and Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G lenses situated on a tripod to shoot the scenes. One of her first indoor creations featured an icy paddle down a river, viewed through an ice cave.

“I pictured it in my head first – using sheets and pillows to create this icy, river scene. I did a little sketch and then once I got the miniature canoers, I popped on the floor by my bed and started setting up pillows and wrinkling fabric to try to create this effect I was going for. I probably spent about an hour just playing around with the scene, moving around the fabric and figurines and playing with the aperture to see what looked the most realistic. I edited the image in Lightroom where I added a little light and some snow because I wanted it to feel cold.”

A Trip To Paper Bag Canyon

“For my second idea I just had in my head that paper bags crumpled up would look very much like a canyon wall. It has that rock-like quality. So I grabbed a wooden cutting board and I crumpled up paper from a paper bag. I taped the paper to the cutting board and then I put a little bit of glue on the feet of the hiker to hold him in the middle of the canyon. Then I was just using the natural light from my bedroom window and rotating the whole cutting board to see what light looked best. Once I had the shot I just did a Lightroom edit. I didn’t add anything or take anything away. I made it a little more reddish-orange to really make it feel like canyon walls, I added some contrast. But that one probably took me an hour from starting to make it, to having the final version created. The execution is usually pretty quick, but it’s the brainstorming part beforehand that takes the most time. Once I have it in my head, it doesn’t take me too long to create it.”

“I found that if I wanted to use natural light and have a reasonably low ISO, I needed to use a tripod because it needed a lot of light. I also found that at 70-90mm, an aperture around 8 was a good balance of a nice depth of field, while also allowing you to see what’s happening in the scene without being too shallow. But with every scene that I’ve done, I’ve shot it at different apertures to see how it looks once I get it on my screen, so then I can make the best decision. In my typical outdoor work I really like to shoot wide open, so that’s kind of my instinct. But it’s been interesting doing this and having to change it up because if I shoot wide open, everything looks blurry.”

A Hike Through The Broccoli Forest

“For my third shot, I was inspired by the Cypress Tunnel in Point Reyes and the way the light comes through those trees,” explains Sullivan. “So I wanted to see if I could get these interesting shadows from broccoli in the same way. So for this one I cut up a bunch of broccoli and I balanced the pieces on a paper plate that was made of bamboo and had a nice texture. I was just moving each piece of broccoli around to get the depth of field that I wanted. For the background I put my chair on my bed with a pillow case draped over it and then a green sweatshirt to look like hills in the background. Then I had a bigger broccoli crown in the back to give it a little more depth and look like a bigger scene.”

Sullivan hopes the #OurGreatIndoors challenge inspires creators to use their imagination and think outside of the box while staying inside at home and keeping everyone else safe.

“What I really want to do with this is create that same sense of magic and wonder that we find outdoors. I want creators to remember that inspiration and imagination can be found anywhere and right now this is an opportunity to see things in a new way. Creativity can thrive under constraints if you are lucky enough to have your basic necessities and primary needs covered during this time. As creators it’s part of our job to be adaptable, our careers depend on it. I’m a travel photographer, I get to go to amazing places. And these images I’ve posted during quarantine performed better than any others I’ve ever posted on my social media ever. If that isn’t the best motivation that you don’t have to go anywhere to create.”

You can keep up with #ErinsGreatIndoors on her Instagram @erinoutdoors and learn more about her in the highlights from her #CreatorConversations AMA. Take your own and post it with #OurGreatIndoors


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