Photography Guide A1: Introduction

When I was in 11th grade, I was determined to buy a fancy-schmancy camera, but my parents weren’t going to pay the big bucks for it.

I tried convincing my parents: I want to become a photographer. Unless I buy this type of camera, I can’t.

I accumulated enough money through my $10/hr camp summer job and bought that fancy camera. A $750 Sony A57-SLT. It was Sony’s starter version of the DSLR. I was already spending more money for a specific brand. I could have afforded a cheaper but equivalent starter “fancy camera” for half that price.

My first fancy camera: a Sony A57-SLT.

For three years I used that camera occasionally. I didn’t bother to learn any technical skills that came from using a DSLR digital camera. I just used the Auto-Intelligence” mode.

What a waste! It was like buying an $1000 snowboard having no prior experience and using it to embarrass yourself by tumbling down the bunny slope.

Tip #A1.1: Buying an expensive camera does NOT produce better photographs.

A former Sunday School student of mine sums it up beautifully:

The camera is only a good as the person behind it. That can’t be more true. Looking back, I can shamefully admit that deep down, I did get a kick out of being a kid with a fancy camera. I felt cool.

I made an effort to look like this:

Picture taken by my buddy Yoyo

…while my photos came out like this:

Mike on that hike! (-) overexposed, (-) out of focus, (+) surprisingly, following the rule of thirds

I was using this expensive piece of hardware no different than I would use my iPhone before. Snap Snap Snap. I don’t want to miss anything.  I took lots of photos, but I had little to no understanding of the role of balancing light and exposure in a photograph.

It wasn’t until sophomore year of college (fall of 2014) that I really delved into learning more about photography and the technical skills. During a hiking trip, I was unable to capture certain scenes where the sun was very bright and affected my camera’s automatic sensors Stupid “Auto-Intelligence” mode. My friend Ariel then gave me a quick tip and showed me how to change my shutter speed. I was able to capture the scene more in a more desirable way and there was a sense of victory that came with it.

After that, I became fascinated with how a camera could capture certain images. I would see a beautiful photograph-like a starry sky or a silky waterfall-and wonder: how in the world do they do that?

Tip #A1.2: Knowing what you want to photograph before whipping out your camera goes a long way.

I would see something beautiful and embrace the challenge of capturing it. The process of completing the challenge required learning the technical skill behind using a digital camera and practicing it with lots of trials and errors.

A few months later in the summer of 2015, I was able to capture the starry sky, as well as the silky waterfall. It just took time.

…my Instagram game was weak back then.

Even after these two small victories, I still had much to learn to reach the point I am now. My interest in photography has led me to some great photographic experiences while at home and on vacation. I’ve been able to take pictures for a family-friend’s sweet 16 and be an assistant for a friend’s wedding. Now at school, I’ve had a chance to be a photographer for the career services department at my school. Without challenging myself to learn more, I would certainly not have had these opportunities. And I’m definitely still learning! With that in mind, I’ve decided to write a few blog posts with my photography journey filled with the tips and lessons that I learned along the way.

Challenge: Next time you see a beautiful image, challenge yourself to capture a photograph in a similar way.

Thanks for reading! Please comment with any questions and suggestions.

Always remember your Right to Bear Arts!

by the Creative Coalition



1#: DSLR
– stands for digital single-lens reflex camera. It means one of those fancy larger cameras toted by photographers.
-The term DSLR is sometimes used to mean a camera that has specific manual settings (for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO). A camera with manual settings doesn’t have any official nomenclature- it’s simply “a camera with manual settings. There are smartphones and point and shoot cameras that have the capability of having manual settings.
-The term DSLR is also sometimes used to mean a camera that can use different lenses. That is also incorrect- the correct term for that would be “interchangeable lens camera.” 

#2: Exposure – the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor.

#3. Shutter Speed – the amount of time a camera opens it’s shutter to expose the camera’s sensor to light.
-The longer the shutter speed, the brighter the exposure.
-Shutter speed is usually measured by seconds and second-fractions (e.g. 1/100 s, 1/30 s, 10 s).
-A fast shutter speed would be required to freeze a moving object.


A couple of good friends and I have road tripped from NJ down to NC for a end-of-summer vacation.

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We first spent some time at Cape Hatteras, before going to our Air BNB vacation home. We didn’t spend too much time at the beach, we’ll be coming back in day two- kits were flown and candid portraits were shot!

Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Beach Portraits

Milky Way and Meteor Puddlegram
When we got to our vacation lake home, I was excited for the sun to set, and for the sky to darken. When time finally came to look at the stars, I was in awe. The photo below is a lot brighter than what the eye sees, but I was able to see the accents of the Milky Way through the naked eye here in the Outer Banks. Captured a meter/shooting star as well! 🙂


Alaska Day 6: Puffins are too cute + Back to Anchorage.

Day 6 begins in Seward for the morning, and ends at Anchorage, our last stop, for the evening.

My brother and I visited the Alaska Sealife Center, which is an the aquarium and aviary. Much like the Wildlife Conservation Center we visited on Day 3,

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“The Alaska SeaLife Center is the only facility in Alaska that combines a public aquarium with marine research, education, and wildlife response. 

While primarily dedicated to marine research and education, the Center is the only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation facility in the state.”

-From the Alaska SeaLife Center Website (

I really appreciate centers like this, because they provide normal people to see animals and wildlife up close, study them scientifically to further our research knowledge about animals. However, the reason why I these centers the most is because many of the animals we see inside the SeaLife center are rescued injured or orphaned wildlife that receive rehabilitation at the center.

Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK

The following photos were taken by me at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK.

Sleeping little bird! Aww 🙂
Horned Puffin
Tufted Puffin
I really like horned puffins.
They’re too cute!
I mean look at them!!!!!!


Napping seal.
Seal swimming upside down.
Large Sea Lion.
Flounder flapping around.


After some gift-shopping and lunch with the family, it was time to say goodbye to the pretty little town of Seward.



And on to our last stop (where we began): Anchorage.

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Google maps: Seward to Anchorage.

Anchorage is a very pretty city to photography because even though there are a lot of buildings that make for good “cityscapes,” There is often a view of a mountain in the distance.

Sleeping little bird! Aww 🙂

My brother’s freshman college roommate happens to live in Alaska, and was in Anchorage, so we had dinner with him and my brother was able to catch up with an old friend. It was also a plus because he knew the city well.

My brother and his old college roommate.

By this time, I was pretty burnt out from all the traveling. However, I did for sure enjoy seeing the puffins, and Anchorage is a very pretty city. Decently quiet as well! Just one more day left!

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip
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Day 1: Denali National Park
Day 2: Rain in Talkeetna
Day 3: Talkeetna to Seward, and Views Along the Way
Day 4: Cruise Through the Gulf of Alaska
Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK

Alaska Day 5: Exit[ing] Glacier.

Day 5, our second day in Seward, we went to see glaciers again, the day before on water, but this time on land! We visited Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. It’s a shorter and accessible trail, so pretty much anyone could walk the path and see it 🙂

Puddlegram! Exit Glacier reflected in a puddle.
My family enjoying the view of the glacier!

The sad thing is, Exit Glacier is, well, exiting! The picture below is the one of the closest vantage points the park’s trail takes us to view the glacier. In 2010, the glacier was much larger. I would have been able to touch the glacier from where I took this photo only 6 years ago. 100 years ago, the glacier, the mile trail we walked was essentially all glacier.I essence, the glaciers in Alaska have all been slowly shrinking since the end of the earth’s ice age, but in just the last decade, it’s been shrinking faster and faster, and Exit Glacier here is an up close and personal example of one of them.

This picture shows how far the glacier had been just back in 2010.

If that picture doesn’t scare you, how about this one? I took it from farther back where the glacier reached back in 2005, just eleven years ago (I was only ten years old, and I just turned 21 recently). I also added an indicator below to show where I was standing for the photo I took above of the 2010 sign.

The glacier’s size back in 205. In 11 years, the glacier has shrunk from 2005 sign to the one you see in the photo now. The “2010” arrow points to were I took the photo above this one- how large the glacier was in 2010.

What were you doing in 2005? 2010? Comment below 🙂

In the infographic below, Kenai Fjords National Park scientists also say that the glacier used to be much larger, and has been shrinking and melting more and more every year.

Information and graphic in this photo belong to Kenai Fjords National Park.
A mini-water fall within a crevice of the glacier.

My brother made an extra climb up closer to the glacier, and he got to touch it! Check out his Instagram post below, and follow him @timclau 🙂

A few non-glacier pictures taken along the trail. Cool to think that all the trees, rivers, flowers, and earth used to be frozen less than a century ago!

(Long Exposure) – river we had to cross to see the glacier.
(Macro) small flower that was along the trail to see Exit Glacier

We ended the day by going back to Seward and taking a stroll around Seward. Turns our there is large RV park by the bay, and lots of families either camping out or living in their RVs. It’s a beautiful place to be in the summer.

RVs and/or Campers around a fire.
The Seward Beach.

I hope you enjoyed these photos of Exit Glacier and the Seward Bay. However, I want to challenge you to educate yourself on the warming of Alaska. I know there is lots of controversy about the politics of global warming and climate change. However, I’m not asking you to look into politics, but to check out and see if beautiful natural wonders of Alaska-its glaciers for example-may soon cease to exist. Also, with glaciers gone, cute little tourist towns like Seward may lose its large amount of tourism, which is important for the town’s economic well-being (when no tourists come in the coldest months of winter, many Seward residents and workers actually leave for a break because there is no work for them).

The Natural Resources Defense Council, or the NRDC, a non-profit that aims to protect the earth’s natural ecosystem and the animals, plants, and humans within it. They have fought for clean water in Flint, Michigan and have campaigned against the antibiotics found in Kentucky Fried Chicken’s poultry. These are just two of the many projects they’re working on- and they reported the day I arrived back in Jersey that Alaska is having the hottest year ever recorded. Check out their tweet below:

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been tracking the impact climate change has had on Alaska as well. They say that there have been an increase in wildfires in the state, and its lakes and ponds are getting smaller due to warmer weather resulting in increased evaporation.

You can take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m not trying to convince you to believe everything I say, but I do hope that you would at least educate yourselves about the climate change in Alaska if you have not already. The unfortunate conclusion is that in just a couple of years, kids will never be able to see glaciers in Alaska anymore.

Soon there might not a be a glacier for us to see anymore 😦

But two truths are clear:
1. Alaska is having the hottest year that’s ever been recorded.
2 This glacier, Exit Glacier, has been shrinking faster and faster by the decade, and so are the other glaciers in Alaska.

For me, that’s enough reason to start demanding climate action when I can, and having a different perspective on how I treat my earth’s ecosystem- even back home in the suburbs of New Jersey.

What do you think of this “warming of Alaska”? I’d like to hear your opinion if you would like to share; comment below!

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check my past photo blog posts about Alaska by clicking on the images below 🙂

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip
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Day 1: Denali National Park
Day 2: Rain in Talkeetna
Day 3: Talkeetna to Seward, and Views Along the Way
Day 4: Cruise Through the Gulf of Alaska

Alaska Day 4: Cruise through the Gulf of Alaska

Our first day in Seward, we embarked on a day cruise ship named the “Orca Voyager” with the wonderful Kenai Fjords Tours and sailed in to the Gulf of Alaska to see glaciers and wildlife. We saw orcas, sea lions, otters, puffins and other birds, and the humpback whale).


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Just to give an idea where Seward is in Alaska.



Our cruise took this yellow trail. We left at 10 AM, and got back past 6 PM. Picture from


The Seward harbor and our cruise ship, the Orca Voyager.

Just to give an idea where Seward is in Alaska.
Our ship, the Orca Voyager


Otter – before docking the ship in the morning, we found an otter chewing away on a fish right next to the harbor boardwalk. Pretty adorable 🙂


Orcas (Killer Whales) – I wasn’t able to get many good photos of the orcas, but they’re one of my favorite animals! This photo came out alright.


Humpback Whale – another aspect of our trip (like the weather during our Denali tour and the weather during the cruise), we found a humpback whale (probably a young one according to the ship captain) that jumped almost 30-40 times, and waved to us, sort of showing off. But it was a beautiful sight. My dream is to see more dolphins ❤ in my home state, in Atlantic City.

Humpback whale posing with a glacier. Probably my favorite photo of the day, perhaps the week!


Stitched a couple of continuous shutter photos together!


The was real close to the ship for this picture. I wish i didn’t cut off a little of the nose though, haha!




Alakik Glacier – this glacier could be gone in a couple years!


Alakik Glacier


Birds – there were lots of seagulls, puffins, and other birds, but most of them were very small to see. Puffins especially. Without binoculars or anything, it was hard to see the cute faces of the puffins. But there were so many. The captain liked to point out large puffins to us; she said that there are puffins who have eaten so much that they can’t fly, and when they try they end up failing. That’s sort of adorable :). At the Wildlife Center in Seward that my brother and I visited on Day 6, so look out for some adorable puffin pictures on my post for that day!

Soooo many birds.

Sea Lions – these water had a couple sea lions that are called “Stellar Sea Lions.” They are branded with a letter/number combination, for studies. I found a link online to a spreadsheet that tracks where they’ve been seen.


Sea Lion posing with seagulls.


Sea Lions napping. The darker sea lion climbing up is a “Stellar Sea Lion.” He is branded with letters to track him for studies inside these waters.


First thought this could be mother and child. However, my dad said he read that female sea lions are much smaller than male sea lions. So this could be a romantic photo ❤

We stopped by Fox Island, where they had a cafeteria that served us salmon, prime rib, and if you wanted, king crab for an extra fee, as part of the overall tour package. Then we returned home, finally, after an 8 hour trip.

Extra Tidbit: The Van Gilder Hotel (Alaska’s Oldest Hotel) – for two of our three nights at Seward, we staid at the historical place called The Van Gilder Hotel. It’s very historic and has been placed by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a part of the National Register of Historical Places. Essentially the hotel has kept his architecture very much the same and using their old fashion beds and antique furniture. There are obviously renovations , such as added TVs and bathrooms. There were still bathrooms and even a shower room in the hall of the floor I stayed on.

After we left, my brother said that there is a myth about a ghost inside the Hotel, called “The Ghost of Fanny Guthry-Baehm” (there’s even a book about it). I’m glad he told me after we left, or I may have been freaked out. The synopsis of the book linked above says “Fannie Guthrie-Baehm was murdered in room 201 in 1947, and her ghost has been witnessed by many over the years.” Oh my. Chills. Would I recommend the hotel? I’m not sure. I liked the historical vibe, but it wasn’t as comfortable as a normal hotel. Also, now that I’ve read up on the myth, it’s spooky. But the owner was nice and helpful!


The TV was put really high up (top left corner, mostly cut off in photo). Antique lamp and phone on the right side of the photo.


Day 5 coming up soon :). Thanks for reading!

Read about my previous days clicking on the labeled photos below:

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip
denali  mount-1
Day 1: Denali National Park
Day 2: Rain in Talkeetna
Day 3: Talkeetna to Seward, and Views









Alaska Day 3: Talkeetna to Seward, and Views Along The Way

Alaska Day 3: our day will finish down south in Seward. It’s 200+ miles south of Talkeetna, with Anchorage (where the airport is) in between. You should know that Alaska has two legs right? Well, there’s a little peninsula between the two legs- that’s where Seward is- on the south coast.

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We stopped by three places before reaching Seward:
1. Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk – a boardwalk where there is a lot of grassland water. The water apparently was created by man, by accident. We saw a moose, eagle, and lots of other birds at the Marsh.
2. Beluga Point – a lookout point by the water viewing the Ocean between the peninsula and the West Alaska. There are apparenty Beluga whales that come by the coast, but we didn’t see any.
3. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center – this isn’t exactly a zoo. This conservation center’s animals (beats, bison, deer, elk, etc.) are mostly hurt and/or orphaned, and the center takes very good care of them. Just last year, they released a large group of wood bison back into the wild. There are three bears- two were  orphaned cubs when their mother was shot. Another was found injured by a porcupine by some people snowmobiling in Alaska. I’m really glad that this conservation center is seeking to help animals, not just show them off for attention or money. 🙂


1. Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk

Views of the water and grasslands at the Potter Marsh:Alaska-day-4-1Alaska-day-4-2Alaska-day-4-3

Some wildlife:

The moose we saw, wth the potter marsh in the background.


The moose we saw, wth the potter marsh in the background.



2. Beluga Point

View of southwest Alaska at Beluga Point.



3. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Deer 🙂
Aw, bear, I’m tired too.
This bison on the right is peeing!
Mom & Dad ❤

After the Conservation Center, we drove another 2 hour or so and made it to small town Seward. It was around 9 PM Alaska time, and most restaurants were closed, but we were able to find dinner 🙂 We would be staying in Seward for 3 nights. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading! Check out some of my past posts by clicking on the images below, and keep a lookout for Day 4!

Also, you can see more pictures on Instagram:

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip
denali  mount-1
Day 1: Denali National Park
Day 2: Rain in Talkeetna


Alaska Day 2: Rain in Talkeetna

Our second day in Alaska was rain-filled. However, we had a whole day in Denali National Park in the sun, and got to see the great Denali mountain, so we could only count our blessings! Our morning was pretty relaxed because of the rain, and then we drove from Healy, AK (our motel near Denali) back down south to our next stop, Talkeetna, AK.

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Healy to Talkeetna
Healy to Talkeetna

Without much to do outside because of the weather, we arrived at our lodging spot in Talkeetna around 4:00 PM Alaska time, or 8:00 PM EST. It’s a very lowly-populated little town, with on around 876 residents inside a square milage of 42.9 square miles. Talkeetna is a great place to find airplane tours to see areas around it (including Denali), and is also a prime spot to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Unfortunately, it’s too bright at night (it never really gets dark here) to see the Aurora during the month of June 😦

Our cabin in Talkeetna.

Because of the rain, we had a lot of free time. We were able to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals entirely 🙂 Congratulations LeBron! Usually, on vacations like this, it’s very easy to want to use every hour of every day, but during our vacation, we’ve had a lot of time to relax and rest just as much as exploring the amazing state of Alaska. I’ve really enjoyed that and a lot of that goes to my brother Tim’s specific but flexible itinerary! Thanks bro!

Healy to Talkeetna

After the game, we decided to visit Talkeetna’s downtown. To walk there, we walked a path through the woods that required us to cross some train tracks. Train tracks tend to look nice in photos….. hahah!


Healy to Talkeetna

We reached downtown Talkeetna rather quickly, it wasn’t very far away. It consists of many little houses, mostly restaurants, bars, gift shops, and travel offices. It was cute, but it was pretty quiet and empty.

Healy to Talkeetna

We had dinner at the Wilderness Cafe, which had phenomenal seafood. As well as salmon, halibut is very popular here in Alaska. There’s Halibut at almost every restaurant, and it’s actually more expensive than salmon.

The Wilderness Cafe had cool dishes like seafood curry (with halibut, crab, salmon, shrimp, scallops, etc. all in one dish), a deep-fried salmon burger that my brother loved, and many other dishes.On our way in, a couple walking out said: “when we came in, the people leaving our table said it was worth the wait.” After eating there, my family agreed.  If anyone visits Talkeetna, I highly recommend eating here!

Wilderness Cafe, where we had dinner.
Healy to Talkeetna

After walking home a different route, we essentially rested for the night, getting ready for another long drive all the way down south to Seward, AK, where we would be staying three nights.

Healy to Talkeetna
Healy to Talkeetna

Talkeetna was a small town and it was rainy all day, so we didn’t get to do too much there. However, my family and I got to stroll through it’s quaint little downtown, have a great seafood dinner, rest up, and also watch the NBA finals 🙂

Thanks for reading! Click the photos below to read the last couple days in Alaska 🙂

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip
denali  mount-1
Day 1: Denali National Park

Alaska Day 1: Denali National Park

Day 1 after 30 hours of travel and a good early night’s rest (also adjusting to the 24 daylight called “Midnight’s Sun” here in Alaska), we were up early and were off by 7:15 AM to Denali National Park, home to Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley), the highest peak in the US.

The only way to get into the park past a certain point is to use the park’s bus tours (the main road extends to 84-89 miles long, but private cars are only allowed to drive past mile 15 now). The bus we signed up for went from the parking lot to the 84th mile – Wonder Lake. The bus made about 8 stops give or take, and the bus also often stopped if there was any wildlife near the roads. The buses would be rotating very often, so if we wanted to stay at any certain spot and enjoy the view longer, hike a trail or two, or even camp, we could, and other buses could take us a long later. However we stuck with the same bus all day, and the trip went on from 7:30 AM till around 6:30 PM (almost 11 hours!). 168 miles on not the best terrain, with stops along the way.

Bus tours are the best way for us to see Denali National Park. (Sony !7)

Everywhere we went, there was just so much distance to see for miles and miles, and beautiful mountains surrounding us.





Denali (Mount McKinley) and the reflection pool.

We saw a good amount of wildlife.

A moose about 100-200 yards from our bus.
Bear and Cubs
Bear and Cubs
Male Moose

Our bus ride might have been great, and the car ride could be boring, but our driver might have been the highlight of the trip. A school bus driver during the year, she gets to work in Denali National Park, interacting with people, telling stories,  or make lots of jokes. Thanks, Wendy, for being a compassionate and loving driver and tour gjide.

Our cheerful and incredibly bus driver and tour guide, Wendy.
Family Photo with Denali. #30percentclub
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My favorite picture of the day for sure!

On our bus, we met an older couple who owned an RV and have been driving for a long time. The lady told us we must get food at the “Salmon Bake” and that it’s worth it. It was! Salmon and Halibut are Alaska’s favorites. Also, Happy BIrthday Mom!

Dinner (delicious salmon and halibut).

Long day. Stay tuned for Day 2 🙂

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip.

Alaska Day 0: 30 Hour Trip

Our family’s vacation spot for the summer this year is Alaska! None of us have been to Alaska before.

Day 0: 30 Hour Trip (Thursday)

Our travel from home to Alaska was long and tiring. It consisted of:

  • Franklin, New Jersey –> New York, New York – 1.5 drive.
  • New York, New York –> Portland, Oregon – 6 hour flight.
  • Portland, Oregon –> Minneapolis, Minnesota – 3.5 hour flight.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota  –> Anchorage, Alaska – 6 hour flight.
  • Anchorage, Alaska –> Healy, Alaska – 5 hour drive.

Originally, we only planned to go to Portland, then straight to Anchorage. However, our flight from NYC to Portland was delayed too long, and so by the time we arrived in Portland, the flight to Anchorage, AK that night had already left, and the next available flight to Alaska wasn’t till the next night. It was important to get to Alaska on Friday early enough to drive up to Healy by Friday night, 5 hours north of the airport because we had reserved 7:15 AM tour bus tickets for Saturday morning.

After some searching and work with the Delta Airlines workers, we found a solution. We could get to Anchorage the next morning by flying a 12:30 AM flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then go to Anchorage from there. As compensation, we were given food vouchers for use in the airports. Free food! 🙂

My father using our free food vouchers after arriving in Anchorage, AK! – Taken with iPhone 5s

We left our house at around 2:00 PM EST Thursday afternoon. We arrived at our motel in Healy, Alaska at approx. 5:30 PM Alaska time (9:30 PM EST) Friday evening. Just about 30 hours.

As we approached Anchorage, AK on our third flight of the trip, the plane was at a low enough altitude to see the snowy mountains in the sea. We were able to see some nice views from the furthest back seat of the plane!

View from our plane, approaching Anchorage, AK. – Taken with iPhone 5s
My mother taking photos out the window. – Taken with iPhone 5S.

When we arrived, all I had to do was to look out the windows of the airport, and I could get a feel of what the views would be like in Alaska. Not a lot of buildings, and just miles of open space and mountains far away. Beautiful.

View of Alaska from the Airport window right after exiting the plane. – Taken with Sony A7.

We received our rental car, and drove 5 hours north from Anchorage to Healy.

Finally made it. Nice little diner next to our Motel in Healy. Got my milkshake 🙂 – Taken with Sony A7.

Finally, we arrived. We had an early morning coming up the next morning, a 7:15 AM bus ride at Denali National Park, not too far from our motel. There weren’t too many photos taken during travel, but it was a long one. Stay tuned! 🙂

A Tribute to Christina Grimmie: “Till he returns or calls me home, here in the pow’r of Christ I stand.”

I was going to write a blog post (for the first time in months) about my Flag Day and my birthday and a cute flashback story about the cancelled Flag Day party my brother was planning at 6 years old, but I decided to write about Christina Grimmie. I was shocked when I read about her murder. A few days later, her death still brings me to tears (as well as the 50+ lives taken at Pulse Orlando).

I first heard Christina Grimmie’s powerful voice in a cover of Nelly’s “Just A Dream” with YouTube stars Sam Tsui and Kurt Hugo Schneider, and quickly became a fan (Sam Tsui has already covered the song again as tribute to her). She’s pretty much my age, and she was a fellow Zelda fan!

However, you may not even know this, but Christina Grimmie was a woman of faith, and I may not have really kept up with her music recently, but I truly look up to her.

“She holds her faith so closely to her… I think it’s not about religion and it’s not about good deeds, it’s just that she had faith,” said superstar Selena Gomez, when she paid a tribute Christina Grimmie. They were old friends, and Selena’s father was also Christina’s first agent.

As part of the tribute, Selena sang “Transfiguration” by Hillsong Live:
“Lead my longing heart to the high ground, to the clear view
And in awe I’ll be there beholding You
The only song my soul can find to sing is:
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, my King”

Justin Bieber paid tribute to Christina as well, holding back tears as he sang “Grimmie, can you hear me?” during the performance his single, “Purpose”.

“Thinking my journey’s come to an end
Sending out a farewell to my friends, forever peace
Ask you to forgive me for my sins, oh would you please?
I’m more than grateful for the time we spent, my spirit’s at ease…
…And you’ve given me the best gift that I’ve ever known
You give me purpose everyday and in every way.”

Christina Grimmie found a way to re-connect Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber (if only for a little bit)… and the entire music industry. In the past few days, artists everywhere were paying tribute to Christina.

Charlie Puth sang See You Again for her. Drake Bell  (love that she’s a huge Drake & Josh fan). Fifth Harmony. Meghan Trainor. Pretty much everyone else.

Christina had a phenomenal voice. It took less than 15 seconds for Usher and Shakira to choose her in The Voice, and later Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, all legends in their own musical genre. Levine said about her not the show: “you turn around, and you see how engaging and passionate.. you’re more comfortable than I am when you’re up there.”

But what makes her so special is that she always had a chipper attitude and valued the people and the things that she loved the most. After her audition on The Voice, Adam Levine asked her after her audition, “…what do you love, who inspires you the most?” Christina responded, “my mom, she’s had breast cancer three times… I love my mom and I’m happy I get to do this for her.” She chased her dream. She was young (only a year older than myself) and her road into the music industry wasn’t necessarily easy (always putting up YouTube covers, participating in The Voice, opening for Selena Gomez, etc.) Through all that, she kept her identity Christina was often vocal of her faith, which is definitely not the most popular thing to do in the music industry. Also, she always boasted that she was a huge geek, a huge fan of Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” (her YouTube name was “zeldaxlove” and she never changed it), which isn’t exactly something most female pop stars brag about. She was so certain of her identity, and it’s almost evident that it comes from her faith.

But Christina herself provides hope in what seems to be a devastating, hopeless, and terrible last couple of days in the U.S. (I have barely even mentioned the 50+ people who’s lives were taken this past weekend in Orlando… all wonderful, everyday people who were loved by their families. #QueerLivesMatter) All you have to do is listen to her rendition of “In Christ Alone” which she says is: “one of my favorite songs.. like ever.”

Right around 0:56 in the video is more than adorable. The way she hesitates and messed up her keyboard chords is a sign that she really means what she is singing.

The lyrics say it all:
“No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ of in me
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand
Till he returns, or calls me home, here in the pow’r of Christ I stand
-“In Christ Alone” by Keith & Kristyn Getty

As she ends her video, Christina cheerfully says: “see you guys another time… bye!”

Indeed. See you another time, Christina. Rest in peace, and may your story always inspire others to love those who matter around you, to be themselves regardless of what the world says, and through it all to have faith- to confidently sing regardless of how desperately confused and hurt regarding the disaster happening around us: “till he returns or calls me home, here in the pow’r of Christ I stand.”

grimmietribute(photo taken by me! I still incorporated some photography into this blog post @narcol_optic_photography)