Let's Talk: Why I Ditched Digital To Embrace Film Photography

Lifestyle + Travel Photographer - Natalie Allen
Lifestyle + Travel Photographer - Natalie Allen
Lifestyle + Travel Photographer - Natalie Allen

"Gear Is An Excuse"

The human brain's "wants" and "desires" are transient by nature. Our love for tangible commodities are short-lived, often being replaced by the warped necessity to upgrade. During the early ages of my business, when I photographed friends for a quick $20 in high school, I longed for the biggest and baddest Canon camera on the market. Once I saved enough money from my serving gigs to upgrade from a cropped sensor to a full-frame (substantial difference in overall quality) my work only improved by small technical specs—the same Natalie Allen was still shooting the same over-exposed, slighting off composed photographs. It wasn't until years of practice and substantial experience in the industry that I finally started to build a personality in this craft.

Then there came an exciting turning point in my career last year. As I strutted around beautiful landscapes with thousands of dollars strapped around my neck, I felt strangely uneasy. I would often look inside the dusty scopes of vintage National Geographic magazines and couldn't help but want my work to echo the same nostalgic, homey feeling. Iconic photography from the 70's is, obviously, all shot by either 35mm or 120mm film. I then noticed a pattern with all of my favorite photographers—Ansel Adams, Kevin Russ, Sally Mann, Molly Steele, Magdalena Wosinska—they all emulated analog documentation. I used to craft mood boards with magazine tear outs and Mod Podge glue in my journals of random film photographs also found on Tumblr or Pinterest, thirsty to replicate this undoubted inspiration.

Check out the full original article published on The Field Mag.

Let's Talk: Yoga

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Why Becoming a Yoga Teacher Was the Best Thing I Have Ever Done for Myself

And Other Tales of Vulnerability

Through my years of desperate despair, I found the comfort in yoga. It was what truly gave me a sense of belonging in the ever confusing world of pressured young-adulthood. Gah, being in your late teens and early 20’s kind of sucks, right? I mean, they’re simultaneously a wonderful cap for adolescence as they are gross coercion.

It was the end of 2014. It was beginning of 2015.

There was a rough 6-month patch of heartbreaking blues that rung over me like a grim reaper from a horror flick. It was a sickening rock-hard feeling that would first foster in the pit of my stomach and creep up to the back of my throat. I would choke the sounds of my tears in the bathroom by turning the sink faucet on to its fullest capacity in hopes of drowning out any unwarranted sounds; I lived with my father at the time and didn’t want him to notice. My eyes looked bloodshot every morning after an attempted 5-hour sleep. Swollen lymph nodes, cracked cuticles, and a complete lack of motivation to get anything done.

What felt particularly awful about this entire situation was that I never could quite pinpoint the exact cause of such depression. A melting pot of broken relationships, career existentialism, college blues, and mental exhaustion might have triggered certain emotions I’m sure. A maze with no escape. A circle of insanity. This only perturbed my frustration and left me feeling helpless and confused. I believe my self-deprecating loneliness seemed only to encourage my blindness…

I did stupid things, said awful things, and overall… felt down about myself and the way I handled my emotions. Many of these “things” aren’t worth repeating; such memories should remain in the past. Chronic anxiety and anger management issues don’t mix well together, let’s just say.

And I was, at that time, conspicuously vulnerable to ambush.

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One afternoon in 2014, while perusing my computer with the windows covered by a dusty curtain, my lungs jumped out of my chest. I just so happened to push an annoying ad the size of a fist on my internet’s sidebar. But — with slight reluctance — I began reading the words: “Yoga Teacher Training Certification”.

My eyes glazed at the sight of fruition. I began reminiscing about all of those silly afternoons spent in middle school on the yoga mat at lunch. I went to a private school from kindergarten to the 8th grade and my teacher(s) felt it was necessary to incorporate zen philosophies into everyday teachings. My principal would guide us little youngins through a Vinyasa flow and calm our hearts in svasana nearly every week. My mother first bought me a mat in the 7th grade, and I’ve kept it ever since… my sweet little purple best friend.

Feeling utterly defeated by all of life’s faults and mishaps, I envisioned myself teaching yoga in some remote tropical paradise sipping on salt-rimmed margaritas and laughing up a storm with local strangers. These simple, yet overly pretentious and highly jaded dream-like thoughts warmed my heart nonetheless. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could revive my at-the-time broken soul by doing something for me.

And only for me.

Yoga, personally, has always been about self-love. A warming sense of peace washes over me each time I set out my mat. It’s like I was made to be there at that exact moment of time and nowhere else. Self-love is so fucking important, you guys. I encourage all of my brothers and sisters to be selfish once in a while and focus on nourishing your heart, body, and mind. I’m not talking in poetic prose in fake profound Rupi Kaur vignettes (oops, I went there), this is me begging my readers to allow openness in your hearts and find that one thing that is for you — something that no one else could take away.

For me, that one thing was yoga. No one was able to yell at me for not getting my life together, no one denied me touching my toes, and not a single soul bashed me for my anger management issues as I laid there on the mat in the complete silence of mediation. I allowed myself to only be the best version of who I already was, the version I so desperately longed to meet again.

The day grew a little a brighter that afternoon. I shut my computer, rolled out the mat I so rudely stashed in the back of my closet, and boldly stretched my tight-as-hell hamstrings. I felt… effortless. My body sang and sunk in stillness as I nourished each muscle with a little bit of love with each push and pull I took. God, I love being on my mat. And it was in this exact moment — this beautiful, heart-wrenching moment — I knew I needed to get that certification.

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The next morning over scones and coffee with my father at one of my favorite restaurants in the PHX valley, Liberty Market, I discussed options with him.

“I’m not feeling very well mentally, and I need to change,” I embarrassingly muffled under my breath.

“I know,” he said as if he were trying to tell me this for the past year.

Feeling slightly reluctant to tell my father that I wanted to do the yoga teacher training, for fear that he might think I was acting being dumb or naive, he reacted with the exact opposite notion. His arms opened wide as we embraced a tight hug.

“That’s cool as hell. Let’s make it happen”.

I don’t think I could ever adequately thank my dad for the lifetime amount of love he’s given me. I am very, very lucky to hold such a widely inspirational man as my father figure. For those who have yet to read a more in-depth personal essay on our relationship, go read it here. He’s a fantastic human being, and I love him more than words can amount.

It wasn’t more than a week until I signed up for the teacher training. It was a 9-month course for 6 hours every single week; 6pm-9pm every Tuesday and Thursday. I knew how much of a commitment this would ask for, especially as a full-time college student, but I didn’t care in the slightest. I knew that this was what needed to happen. I put down every single broke ass penny I had in my savings at the time to pay for the training in full.

Showtime!

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To say the next nine months of my life were life-chasing would be a total understatement. Not only did the love I had for yoga grow exponentially, but I finally stopped hating myself and fully embraced every single part of who I was (and am). The individuals who were apart of the same training group I was couldn’t have been a more perfectly imperfect group of loving people — the people, I think, is what made the experience so worthwhile. I still can feel the warm embrace of my fellow yogis who were also going through their trials. Good god, it feels so good to talk to someone who listens. They all heard. And without even the slightest utterance of words, they all understood.

While I now feel like an expert in the mechanical art of downward dog… the teacher training was never really about the yoga. Those short, yet highly significant six hours every week became therapy. A safe, communal space of love and support from people of all different genders, sexuality, race, ethnicity, socio-political background, etc. It wasn’t about how well you could touch your toes or how flexible your low back became — not at all. Everyone’s emotional health felt stable in the presence of one another. I couldn’t have been more grateful for such a supportive experience. And to those in the program that are reading this — y’all fucking rock! I love you.

I began to treasure the simplest of pleasures again. Most afternoons were spent outside under the sun with a side of tart grapefruit topped with brown sugar. I’d make myself a glass of hot tea with fresh lemon every night and found company in the characters of the books I loved. My heart grew tender to films again and the mornings of swollen eyes became few and far between. I felt like myself still, like a little 6-year old riding their bike for the first time.

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class you might have heard your teacher quote from Pantajali’s Yoga Sutra; a guidebook of classical, or raja (royal), yoga. Written at least 1,700 years ago, it’s made up of 195 aphorisms of wisdom. It is — in its very essence — the end-all authoritative text on yoga. Us little yogis throughout training read this book as if our life depended on it, so desperately breathing in each word for revitalization and hope. While diligently taking notes as I sifted through each page, I then fully understood the notion of yoga being more than just a physical exercise.

Yoga is a philosophy. A lifestyle. A path to growth and love and acceptance.

This fruitful practice helped me because loneliness and unintentional anger were just a manifestation of my desire for happiness and, as I became more happy and contented, I realized that I didn’t need to wreck my emotional health with these emotions anymore.

I no longer felt the need to force happiness — I merely already was.

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It takes time to work on not being alone. You have to call a friend. You have to take a shower and eat breakfast with your mom. You have to put in the effort to feel loved and be loved by the people around you. Passiveness leads to loneliness. Be active and spread your sadness to the people you trust your feelings with. Be understood. And be okay.
— Juansen Dizon, It Takes Time

Let's Talk: GET TO KNOW ME!

25 Things:

1.) List 5 abnormal facts about yourself:

-I use to be a drummer in the 8th grade

-If I had to choose between movies or music, I’d choose movies.

-I failed my driver’s test twice.

-By the end of 2017,  I would have been to 15 different countries and 22 U.S states. 

-Leonardo DiCaprio is my long-time favorite actor. I have seen every single movie of his AND read every single book that his movies were adapted from. The Revenant being my favorite, I think.

2.) Biggest pet peeve?

Pretentious assholes or people who take themselves WAY too seriously. Like, lighten up and shut up.

3.) If you were an animal, what would you be and why?

A wolf. By far my favorite animal. She’s an independently, irrevocably strong, uniquely beautiful, and wild being. Everything I aim to be. If you have the opportunity, I suggest you read “Women Running With The Wolves” by Dr. Pinkola Estes; a tribute of it is in my Instagram bio for god’s sake. 

4.) Favorite Book?

Glass Castle or Wild. Both almost hit too close to home.

5.) Skincare Routine?

Hot water (or steam!) with epson salt, Glossier Galaxy Face Mask, Burt’s Bee’s Face Moisturizer, a spritz of rose water, and sunscreen. ALWAYS PUT SUNSCREEN ON YOUR FACE!

6.) Your strengths:

Organized as hell, clean, would take a bullet for my friends, and ambitious. I’ve also got a madly strong gut which makes traveling to different countries a breeze!

6.) Your weakness:

I’m your typical textbook Cancer — overly emotional and sensitive to anything and everything.

7.) What is your love language?

Early mornings blessed with coffee and buttery waffles.

8.) Dream Job?

Full-time photographer or photo journalist. Part-time homesteader with goats and chickens and horses. Part-time yoga teacher. Maybe become a professor? And although I’m virtually doing two out of these four goals, I’m never going to stop learning. I must always be pushing forward and find new ways to stay adaptive.

9.) Best Meal You’ve Ever Had?

After finishing our 5 mile trek through the misty Indian Himalayas to reach our first campsite, we plopped down under the tarp for lunch. Our personal chefs on the trip (yeah, amazing) were Nepali sherpas who graciously cooked ever single on of our meals. That afternoon, however, blessed us hikers with a plate full of spicy vegetable balls and chow mien. Handmade!!! My mouth is savoring just thinking about it and my heart is hurting at the thought of never having a meal as delicious as that one again.

10.) Last Thing You Googled?

My Goodreads account to update my current reading list. Lol.

11.) What would be your Element: Water, Fire, Earth, or Air?

For the longest time, I had always thought I was Water. But after taking a few online quizzes and truly studying my nature — I’m definitely Fire. I value the passionate, the exciting, and the intense.  I love the juice of life—the experience of it—more than you value accomplishments or possessions. Plus, I’ve got a mean temper and live in the desert… so, it’s fitting.

12.) Favorite Ice-Cream?

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut as a general taste. But, the Talenti gelato containers have the most delicious dark chocolate raspberry flavor…

13.) What am I Most Grateful For Right Now?

All of the relationships I have with my family, friends, and boyfriend. I’m thoroughly convinced that I have the best people in my life. It’s a bit overwhelming actually.

14.) What am I afraid of?

Not reaching my goals… and infertility.

15.) Favorite Movie?

Amelie, Wild, A Clockwork Orange, Donnie Darko, Call me By Your Name, and Moonrise Kingdom.

16.) Favorite Season?

Spring or Autumn. I love pumpkins and red leaves just as much as fresh lavender and chicken eggs, man.

17.) Wine or Beer?

Wine everyday, all day. 

18.) Favorite Clothing Brand?

Christy Dawn and Outdoor Voices.

19.) Favorite Color?

Copper.

20.) Last Thing I Ate?:

Coffee and peach oatmeal. A morning favorite!

21.) Best Friend?

Maggie Bertrandt and Valerie Foien. Say their names. They are my #1’s forever and always. If you’re reading this, girls —  LOVE YOU!

22.) Dogs or cats?

Dogs. Dogs. DOGS!

23.) Favorite Song?

Baba O’Riley by The Who, Get Together by the Youngbloods, or El Condor Pasa by Simon and Garfunkel

24.) What am I most ashamed of?

My internalized hot temper.

25.) Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you invite to dinner?

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Let's Talk: Inspiration

Who Inspires me? How Do I Stay Inspired?

I've received a variety of different emails and messages over Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram about how I stay inspired. Well, this is a fantastic question. In fact -- the more I get asked this, the deeper I understand just how important this topic truly is. I'm always very eager to discuss this subject matter because it's super fun to share the people / places / things that make my heart swollen with passion. 

Let's face it. We have to feel inspired in order to thrive in our creative flow. It's vitally important that we actually feel the need to create art and it takes even greater courage to create good, respectable art. But how the hell do we do this without indirectly exhausting ourselves?

I always see other creative individuals post on their social media channels about their "lack of inspiration" because they find themselves in a "creative rut". And -- I must admit. I don't really consider myself to be the type of person to find myself in a deep hole where I necessarily feel that way. To cohesively collect my thoughts on this matter of contention, I’ll give you two huge tips that slaps me into place whenever I feel down about me or my work:

I. ) ONLY create work that you’re passionate about.

I’m serious. Don’t waste your time photographing subject matter that you’re semi-interested in.

I hold the very beautiful and unique opportunity to take pictures get paid good money for it. However, freelance jobs vary immensely. Some shoots make a lot of money, some shoots make no money at all. But the money is only part of my outlook when it comes to being commissioned…

When I receive inquires or emails about particular jobs, I take a GOOD look who’s contacting me and what is it that they want from me.  If it’s a clothing company, I want to assure that they not only produce their clothes ethically and responsibly, but that they cater to an audience that matches mine. If someone who inquires a wedding or portrait session, I make sure to tell them EXACTLY what sort of look or vibe I am aiming for. Same goes for anyone, anything, or any one entity that contacts me to hire or collaborate with me. I do not beat around the bush for what it is that I aim to photograph because I don’t want to waste my time with anything I’m no keen on doing. It sounds simple but — it took a while for me to figure out. I’m completely over working for big names like Brandy Melville or doing “Skinny Tummy Tea” sponsorships because they’re all bullshit (oops — yeah, I went there). I want to keep my work honest and reflective of who I am as a person.

Taking action on this mindset, however, was hard at first. I began to turn down A LOT of jobs from people or brands that I wasn’t interested in. My schedule became more open because I wasn’t working on a butt load of projects at the same time like I was used to doing. It was gut-wrenching, nerve wracking, stomach twisting, and mind numbing. 

But guess what? It was the best thing that I could have ever done for myself. Why? Because I was literally ONLY doing jobs that I was passionate about doing. Better yet — I was attracting better, high quality clients to focus on bigger and better jobs. Jobs that were for ME. Not the other way around. My professionalism increased, my motivation levels advanced greatly, my editing got better, my audience increased, and my passion for photography GREW SKY HIGH, BABY! 

Seriously. Don’t work on things that you’re only semi-interested in. The minute you stop creating for yourself is the minute you need to stop and take a damn break.

II. ) Find inspiration from the OUTSIDE.

First and foremost, it's important to note that not just one thing inspires me to create art. There is a magnitude of collective entities that inspire me to pick up my camera. My brain is firing electric happiness just thinking about it! 

Yes, I'm a photographer. It's not only a hobby, but it's my primary job. But just because I'm a photographer doesn't mean that I only look to other photographers as my main source of inspiration. In fact, I would argue the opposite. 

It’s critical to look outwards for inspiration in order to digest creativity more easily. It thrives as a human’s spring broad for imagination, as well as a facilitator for progress towards a certain goal. The vital importance of searching for inspiration comes in many, many different forms. Quit looking at your Instagram feeds or Tumblr pages and search beyond the ordinary: pick a wildflower and press it in your journal, listen to your favorite song at 2:00 in the morning, cook your mother a nice meal, spend a morning outside without your phone, nap in the sunshine, read a book at a coffee shop, visit that place you’ve always wanted to go to, make love on the kitchen counter top, and take your time in museums.

Among all of these beautiful heart-filled facets, however, I would argue that the one thing that inspires me the most stems from my experiences...

Experiences; my travels, my relationships, my joys, my hardships, and my little moments sprinkled in everyday life.

For those of you who have seen "Stuck In Love” on Netflix (so good, by the way!) might have recognized this statement from a scene within the film. A father, who’s simultaneously a famous writer, sneakily looks through his son’s journal and becomes increasingly disappointed by his dull writing. He then explains to his son that his work is “boring”, “unimaginative”, and “too simplistic” because he has yet to gain any experiences to pull his creativity from. “Go gain some experiences. Go in a fight or something, man!” the father screams at his son. Lovingly, of course.

This scene got me thinking. Photography is a real-life depiction of a particular moment captured within a distilled frame. Photographers’ work that reach out to my the most are the ones that travel the world, capture controversial issues, and stay relevant to modern times. They get out and make shit happen. I want to be like this, too. So yes, father in “Stunk In Love” whose name I cannot remember, I applaud your advice given. 

So -- go out and grab those stomach twisting memories you've been waiting for. But for fuck's sake, make them real. Don't just take a picture to say you've done something "cool". Stay in the present moment and feel. Be.

For those interested in a condensed list of who inspires me to be the photographer / person I aim to be, here ya’ go. Notice there are more than just photographers, yeah?:

 I.) Photographers:

  • Molly Steele
  • Sally Mann
  • Ansel Adams
  • Theron Humphrey (@thiswildidea)
  • Foster Huntington
  • Benjamin Heath
  • Joe Greer
  • Kevin Russ
  • David Alan Harvey
  • Steve McCurry
  • Parker Fitzgerald
  • Colin McCarthy
  • Rick Smolan

II.) Videographers / Filmmakers:

  • Ian Durkin
  • Caleb + Ariana Babcock
  • Wes Anderson
  • Quentin Tarentino
  • Casey Neistat
  • Andrew Kearns
  • Werner Herzog

III.) Artists:

  • Beth Kirby (@localmilk)
  • Stella Baer
  • Rebecca Green
  • Sam Larson
  • Maddie Gordon
  • Bekah Stewart (@awelltraveledwoman)
  • Hannah Henderson

IV.) Adventure Seekers:

  • Alex Strohl 
  • Renan Ozturk
  • Robin Lee Grahm
  • Jimmy Chin
  • James Barkman
  • Robyn Davidson

V.) Intellects:

  • Jane Goodall
  • Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • Neil Degrasse Tyson
  • Carl Sagan
  • Rupi Kaur
  • Taylor Freesolo

VI.) Magazines / Podcasts / Organizations: 

  • National Geographic
  • Kinfolk
  • Collevtive Quartlery
  • Dirtbag Diaries
  • LiveFast Magazine

That's all folks. Go out there and gain some damn experiences.

Document them. 

Let's Talk: Fair Trade Certified

"Let's Talk" Series:

My Love for Patagonia's CEO + Fair Trade Clothing Products

I wrote a pretty passionate Instagram post the other day detailng a topic that's been on my heart for quite some time. It went a little something like this:

My 2017 resolution? To be a conscious consumer. I'm severely disappointed by cheap, low-quality fast fashion trends and plastic goods. I can't even go into a department store anymore without feeling gross. The world of business can be opaque and supply chains are murky, so it is difficult to confidently make an informed choice. This has been on my heart for the past year, but I have never made a true effort because it was "too hard". But that's bull crap. I need to be better than that. We all need to be better than that. Less is more. Quality over quantity, damn it.

There you have it.

I'm not entirely too sure what brought on this immediate despair against cheap fashion trends, but all signs are telling me it was this year's Christmas shopping. Every time I walked into a local department store or mall to grab a few items for my friends, I felt so dirty and cheap. The t-shirts were made with shit cloth, plastic containers were made to look "luxurious" by having it wrapped in fake twine, etc. So disappointing. 

However, the other morning while driving up North to my boyfriend's cabin, Reyce and I listened to a fantastic podcast on NPR called "How I Built This". This podcast series encompasses a wide range of interviews with inspiring individuals who've build their own empire from the ground up. But the one that struck us most with the most peculiarity was Sanders' interview with Yvon Chouinard -- the CEO of Patagonia. 

I'm sure everyone knows of Patagonia and how incredibly durable their products are -- especially my fellow outdoorsmen. Not only do their rain jackets actually last a trek through the Himalayas, but I'll be wearing that same jacket for decades on end. However, Patagonia's high-quality merchandise isn't the only reason I love them. Their entire mission statement is to build he best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and make business an inspiration to implement solutions regarding the environmental crisis. Yvon is an iconoclastic entrepreneur that brings good in the heart of his business by living a more simplified and intentional life. 

Please, do yourself a favor and listen to the podcast below. And for those of you interested in educating yourself on the topic of fair trade clothing and where to find them, watch the video linked below. I think you guys will really, really enjoy them.

'Till next time, folks. Consume well. Look at your tags. Do research on the brands.

It's important.