Prior to stepping behind the camera full time I had been a career designer spending the better part of a decade working for some really great agencies on creative projects for fortune 500 companies, small startups and pretty much everything in-between. I have created illustrations, 3d renderings, and more for companies like Volkswagen, Harley-Davidson, Snapple along with countless startups over the years and love how creative graphic design allowed me to be on a day to day basis. I still freelance for clients and love taking ideas from the cocktail napkin to the big screen. I offer affordable flat rate design services on any kind of graphic design service you may need from logos to websites. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
From the moment I got my first 35mm film camera handed down from my father as a little kid I was hooked and haven’t left home without my camera much since.
Exploring the planet we all call home and immersing myself in different cultures has contributed to my character and career in extremely positive ways. In recent years I have spent time traveling through Central America, Africa, Turkey and South East Asia and have had some amazing photo opportunities along the way. I always try to travel with purpose and partner with non profits as often as I can to donate my time and skillset to better their organizations and the people / creatures they protect.
When I am not traveling I am shooting weddings (www.shootwithpete.com) and love working with brands to shoot products.
This wasn’t on the itinerary. Kellie and I were sitting in a beat up shuttle van, bags packed and in the back ready to head in a totally different direction. At this point we are both frustrated, its noon and extremely hot in Siem Reap, our van doesn’t have ac and 45 minutes in our driver has already made 3 personal stops and had disappeared into a house leaving us sitting in the van without explanation or air conditioning. Sometimes when you travel you have those moments where you know something amazing is down the path you are headed on, this was not one of those moments and Kellie and I both knew it. We looked at each other and with hardly any discussion were grabbing our bags from the back and changing our course. We found wifi, put our packs down and had some lunch while we decided where to go and during that time Kellie found what was soon to be the highlights of our time in Asia and my life.
We hadn’t planned on going far from Siem Reap so 7 hours on a night bus was definitely a change of plans but after getting an idea of where we were going it could have been longer and we still would have jumped at the opportunity. Our night bus dropped us off in Mondulkiri at 2am. We stepped off of the bus and everything was silent and dark and as it pulled away and the diesel engine faded into the distance I think we both felt a little strange. The walk to our lodging was not an easy one, it was 2am and everything was pitch black, there are no real road signs or directions to follow so this was not a google maps situation. The other very disturbing element to this little midnight voyage was that we are in rural Cambodia, and if you live in rural Cambodia you have a dog or dogs to protect your property. These dogs as you can imagine aren’t the friendliest to two tourists with giant backpacks crunching down the rocky road in front of their homes, and they let us know it. The symphony of snarling, snapping and barking dogs echoed behind and ahead of us as we walked. Not knowing when or where the next dog would lunge or bark from is extremely nerve-racking and we were both relieved when we finally saw the sign we were looking for. We got our key from under the mat and promptly passed out after a long and stressful journey to Mondulkiri.
After a few hours rest it was sunrise and we were in the back of a truck bouncing down a rutted, muddy road leading into dense jungle. Our destination was the Mondulkiri Project – a sanctuary for retired and rescued local Asian elephants. What made this place so special to us and worth going out of the way was the way they treat their elephants. Unlike the hundreds of elephant attractions all over Columbia and Thailand the elephants here cannot be ridden, they are no longer poked or hooked and are never restrained or chained. Elephants have hollow spines that are easily and severely damaged when they are ridden by humans, something most tourists don’t know and many elephants owners don’t care about. I am very passionate and adamant about while traveling is ethical tourism especially when it comes to animals and interacting with them so these were the only conditions that I wanted to see an elephant during our trip and I couldn’t wait to see them. Our truck came to a stop at the bottom of a hill in lush forest where all that stood were 2 large a frame roof structures with wood floors that were open to the jungle. We met the founder of the Mondulkiri Project Mr. Tree who gave us the history of his project and a little bit more information about what they do. Mr. Tree saw opportunity and solutions for elephants in the area that most wouldn’t have, and built an award winning sanctuary on some pretty simple ideas and a lot of hard work. The Mondulkiri project rescues elephants that are being abused by buying or leasing them away from their owners – whose typical sole motivation with them is to make money to support their families and villages. Not to take away from the providing role the animals play in these local families lives but also wanting to save the Elephants from the harm that comes with it the elegant and simple solution that Mr. Tree came up with was to lease or buy them away from these owners. The owners sign a contract and release the elephants to the sanctuary where they are able to roam free and the owners continue to support their families through the lease effectively removing animal cruelty from the equation and giving many of these amazing elephants their first steps without a chain or being prodded with a bull hook.
After a short hike further into the jungle we came to a clearing near a small river that split the forest in two, here were were told to wait, the elephants would be coming soon. I think one of the most impressive things about these elephants is their ability to move through a dense forest of bamboo almost completely undetected. As we are waiting my eyes and ears are darting around waiting to hear what I think will be the distinct snapping of branches as they move through the trees but there was nothing. As if it appeared out of thin air all of the sudden there is a big female Asian elephant not 20 feet in front of us coming through the bending bamboo as if they were curtains on a stage. I had never been so close to something so big on land, the Asian elephant is small by elephant standards but still huge by mine. The sanctuary houses 6 elephants, 5 of which are female and 1 male. We spent time with all of the females who were curious and gentle giants, I found it hard not to get lost staring into their eyes, something about pupils and the sorrounding skin makes them appear almost human, something that I think is reflected in some of the photos I captured. Some of the elephants had scars from their past, one with a hole in her ear where she was hooked one too many times, another with a visibly bent spine from being ridden by tourists. I wondered if they could tell the difference between us and them, the good ones and the bad, the owners that abused them and the visitors today who mean no harm. After the elephants curiosity was peaked and there were no more bananas to keep them interested my favorite part of the entire experience happened; the elephants walked away from us and disappeared into the jungle – a choice they got to make on their own.
We spent the night sleeping in hammocks under the open air palm thatched a-frame zipped up in our mosquito nets listening to the sound of cicadas blaring their mating calls throughout the jungle. The next morning we would start our 10 mile hike through the jungle to the neighboring village where our elephant adventure would come to an end and our next adventure would begin.
Resources: //www.mondulkiriproject.org/ //edbyellen.com/collections/elephant-charity
One day while working on a project outside on a farm in rural Costa Rica I had noticed a bunch of birds acting strangely, they were congregating and calling out loudly and filling the branches of the same tree above a dry riverbed so I set my project aside and went over to take a look. My armchair animal behavioral knowledge told me that this could be due to a predator being in the area and I was so happy to be right about that! Upon closer inspection I found an animal I have always wanted to photograph in the wild, a red tailed boa constrictor. The large snake was tightly wound around an unlucky iguana and its successful lunch hunt must have alerted the local birds. After seeing what it was creating all the commotion I ran to my tent to get my camera bag. When I had returned things had gotten a bit quieter with the birds. The snake was extremely docile and even curious at times extending its head and body out to my camera as seen in this shot. After a few photos I left the snake to its hard won lunch and after returning to the site 30 minutes later could find no sign of snake or iguana. It was an unforgettable encounter with a beautiful predator.
I had first learned about volcano Fuego while I was in Costa Rica and the images the story painted in my head made it hard to ignore so I made a dot on my map, created another deviation on my plotted course north to Mexico and a few weeks later I was in Antigua Guatemala getting ready to hike a volcano – something that I never thought I would do, especially so spontaneously. Antigua is an amazing city, its old architecture, cobblestone streets, town square, and colorful local culture makes it impossible to forget the first time you experience it. I arrived in Antigua through Honduras and El Salvador and spent the first night on the roof of our hostel (where the kitchen was located) enjoying the night air and cooking pasta with some new friends when all of the sudden bang! Fuego erupts.
I had completely forgotten it had existed, the sun had gone down and without the large volcano visible in the background it disappeared from sight and mind and it wasn’t until the neon red lava pouring down the side of the volcano did it all really set in. It erupted and in doing so became a real life volcano to me. I enjoyed the view for a few moments before running down to my room to grab my camera bag and setup. Just when I thought I couldn’t be any luckier, as I sat with my camera shutter open in the middle of an exposure Fuego exploded in a way that it hadn’t before sending a beautiful fountain of red magma hundreds of feet in the air. I anxiously waited for the exposure to finish and after what seemed like an eternity the shutter finally clicked shut and I went straight to check the resulting photo like a kid at Christmas. We had been in Antigua 8 hours and I had just gotten the most amazing volcano photo from our hostel roof while cooking dinner and I didn’t even have to put my boots on. Guatemala was treating me well and I was left wondering if the volcano would be as active the following day for my attempt at hiking to it.
The next morning I would be picked up by a shuttle at 8am for a 10am start up the volcano. I was instructed when signing up for the 2 day hike to bring a jacket, hat, gloves, and warm pants. What I had was a pair of canvas boots, pretty ripped up jeans, and a denim button down shirt so in the final shopping hours of the day the night before the hike I frantically ran around Antigua looking for something that would be warm. I didn’t have much luck in the adventure outerwear department – I settled for a snazzy knockoff womens Dolce & Gabbana vest that I found in the back of a grocery store and decided to layer as much as possible, luckily locals were very entrepreneurial and had grown accustomed to ill prepared hikers like myself so it was pretty easy to get a pair of gloves.
At 10am the group of a dozen or so of us started up the Acentenagno, a dormant volcano that almost mirrors its active neighbor Fuego. The one extremely valuable piece of advice I got from a hiker who I had met in Nicaragua that already made it up was to stick as close to the guide as possible, with the way the breaks were fit into the hike you would get the longest stretch staying glued to the front guide, we would only wait a few minutes after the last hiker in the group made it to the break site before leaving again so I made it my mission to stick to my guides heels and max my breaks out. You would think that after spending 24 hours with someone, 8 of which were spent walking within 10 feet of each other I would be able to tell you my guide’s name, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. Its not really surprising, we didn’t talk much, he was a lot like me in that he seemed to really enjoy the peace and quiet that being somewhere remote brings. I really value silence in grand places, listening to the wind swirl around us, feeling the intermittent rain showers from the clouds we were climbing through, it was a beautiful accent to basecamp at 13,000ft that was about 8 hours of hard hiking. We would spend the night at camp and in the early morning finish the last hour to the top
My night spent sleeping next to the volcano Fuego was unforgettable. I do not have the words to accurately describe the sound a volcano makes from inside itself. The sound was industrial at times and often sounded like giant metal gears slowly grinding and turning in a rhythm that sounded like water reaching its boiling point only to cool off moments before and repeat itself. I was too excited to sleep and spent most of the night poking my head out of the tent to try and catch a glimpse of whatever the volcano was doing, even though I couldn’t see it through the heavy clouds that had set in. After an attempt at sleep I eventually gave up entirely and left the tent to go sit around the fire with the guides and sherpas who were chatting amongst themselves and poking at the fire until the sun finally came up, the clouds broke and volcano Fuego finally showed itself after a night of angry sound.
My clothes were still damp when we set out for the summit of Acentenagno, directly across from the summit of Fuego. The hardest part of the hike for me was undoubtably this final push to the top, above the trees and clouds the mountain side we were trekking vertically up was made of loose volcanic soil that felt like walking on sand with made every step up feel like 3 but eventually I found myself at the top.
The summit of Acentenagno was a massive black cap of tiny lava rocks with a small sunken crater in the middle. The wind was extreme and made every loose piece of clothing snap loudly as I stared over to the neighboring peak of Fuego which just a night before had been violently exploding with lava but now seemed as calm as it had ever been. We only had about ten minutes at the top before we had to start the hike back down but even in that small window of time my luck had not run out. In the early morning hours as the dark blue sky slowly turned light volcano Fuego once again erupted, almost as if to say goodbye.
One of my favorite parts of my trip to Africa was actually the layovers getting there. Turkey has seen a steady decline in tourism over the years due partially to terror attacks. One such attack, one of Istanbuls most deadly happened just weeks before we had arrived and left the city and most of the historical attractions completely void of tourists, a dark silver lining to the tragic new years eve attack. I loved everything about Istanbul – the colors, smells, sights and sounds. It is really a city for all of the senses. The colors? Beautiful Turkish lamps of all colors and sizes hang in every other shop window in the city, at night the wet cobblestone streets are lit up by the displays that gives the city a warm feeling. The smells? Places like the Spice Market where you can get scoop-fulls of exotic flavors from all over the world, you can almost follow your nose to get to it and on a cold January day the market is a slice of sensory heaven. The sights? Ancient mosques whose spires pierce the Istanbul skyline in great numbers. The sounds? My favorite part of the city – the call to prayer. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced waking up in the hostel at the first call to prayer at 5 something in the morning. I immediately got out of bed and opened my window allowing the sound to fill the room as it echoed down all of the roads and alleys in the neighborhood. The call is recorded or live depending on the mosque playing it and they all seemed to want to out-do each other when it came to the delivery and enthusiasm over the mic. During the trip there was a moment where I was caught on the Bosphorus bridge during the call and hearing it echo over the river from both sides was incredible and the highlight of my time there.
Classic cars and bright pastel colors, Cuba proved to be the photography paradise I had imagined it would be and didn’t disappoint. Enjoy the gallery
Walking with Elephants at a sanctuary, getting traditional tap tattoos, and visiting a memorial to a horrible chapter in human history were just a few highlights of our amazing trip backpacking through South East Asia.
Floating Doctors – Panama. Kellie and I spent a few days visiting the nonprofit that she spent over a year working with on a remote island in Panama during our last trip out of the country. Rain or shine a team of medical professionals, students and volunteers travel by boat to provide a wide range of medical services, from dental procedures to ultrasounds to Panamas indigenous people in local and rural areas that are only accessible by boat. It was an absolute pleasure meeting everyone at FD and getting to witness all the wonderful outreach they provide. You can learn more about the Floating Doctors mission and apply to volunteer by visiting them at www.floatingdoctors.com