Explore the Elements - a photographic journey of the elements - earth, water, fire, and air. #travel #photography #outdoors

This year, I’ve really been focused on trying to improve my photography. One thing I’m quickly learning is that the best way to take better pictures is to just get out there and experiment with your camera in manual mode. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Sometimes it’s fun, and other times it’s totally frustrating and I wonder why I’m even lugging my camera around. But then, once in a blue moon, you capture the exact shot you are looking for, and every time you look at that photograph it transports you right back to that moment. And that’s why I like photography.

Last week, I was excited to hear that my friend Kiersten Rich, The Blonde Abroad, nominated me for the Thomas Cook Explore The Elements Photo Contest. In this contest, they are asking travel bloggers to showcase the power of nature in four photographs that represent the different elements: earth, water, fire, and air.

After doing some serious digging, these are the photos I decided to submit for the Explore the Elements contest based on the category descriptions provided by the judges. I hope you enjoy!


Category Description: Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness, physicality and gravity.

Explore the Elements - a photographic journey of the elements - earth, water, fire, and air. This photo is from the summit of Mt. Whitney. #travel #photography #outdoors

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” -Ansel Adams

It was September 18th, 2014 and our last day on the John Muir Trail. At 2am, my friend Brad and I packed up camp and began our 3,000 foot ascent of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. We had spent the last 22 days and 220 miles laughing, sweating, and supporting each other, as we trudged down the trail with our 40 pound packs.

We reached the summit at dawn just in time for sunrise. I wandered around taking pictures until my fingers were nearly frozen, and then we snuggled up on frost-covered rock slab waiting for the sun to peek out over the horizon. Sitting at 14,505 feet, it was a sobering and overwhelming moment. In a few hours, we’d be back at the car, saying our goodbyes, and heading our separate ways back into civilization. It was a tough reality to swallow, and I didn’t want to think about it. So as we watched the sun rise above the earth and light up that velvety blue sky, I thought about all of the incredible landscapes we got to see and experience together over the past three weeks. Swimming in all those lakes, watching the stars, sharing all those delicious backpacker meals. Reliving it all, a wave of satisfaction rushed over me.

The Explore the Elements Earth category will be judged by Dave Bouskill


Category Description: Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Explore the Elements - a photographic journey of the elements - earth, water, fire, and air. This photo is from a stunning swimming hole in Yosemite's Tuolumne River. #travel #photography #outdoors

“Take me to the river / Drop me in the Water”  -The Talking Heads

The features of the Tuolumne watershed in Yosemite National Park were formed during the ice age as glaciers scoured the landscape. Today, the Tuolumne River slowly meanders through the resulting valley forming one inviting swimming hole after the next. And on my John Muir Trail thru-hike this was on my favorites due its colors and clarity.

On this 22 day adventure, we quickly learned when we came to a spot like this, taking the time to take dip was always worth it.  Rule #1 – go with the flow. Even if it meant getting to camp late. Letting that cool water rinse away that dirt and grime was a cure-all – whether it be achy muscle, dry skin, or a bad attitude. No matter what mindset we were in when we stripped down, we always came out with clean bodies and refreshed spirits, feeling electrified and ready to tackle the next hill.

The Explore the Elements Water category will be judged by Ken Kaminesky


Category Description: Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.

Explore the Elements - a photographic journey of the elements - earth, water, fire, and air. This photo is from sunrise at #Brobudur, the world's largest Buddhist monument in #Indonesia. #travel #photography #outdoors

 “I feel like goin’ back, back where there’s nowhere to stay / When fire filled the sky, I’ll still remember that day” -Neil Young

A while back I spent two months backpacking around Indonesia and completely fell in love with the country. Towards the end of my trip, I decided to visit Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist monument, located on the island of Java. When I arrived in town the night before, I picked a guesthouse right down the road from the site. I wanted to get to the entrance super early to beat the crowds, so I could get some uninterrupted sunrise shots. So at 5am when the roosters started crowing, I bounced out of bed and headed over.

When the temple opened at dawn, I was the first person through the gate. I quickly ran up to the top of the temple and found these two circular stupas that perfectly framed the erupting Volanco Merapi in the distance. As the fiery colors exploded in the hazy sky, the sun rose up behind this Buddha sculpture forming a perfect glowing silhouette. At this moment, Indonesia burned an impression on my heart, and I knew one day I would have to return.

The Explore the Elements Fire category will be judged by Elia Locardi.


Category Description: Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.

Explore the Elements - a photographic journey of the elements - earth, water, fire, and air. This photo is from sunrise on the top of Volcan Acatenango in #Guatemala. #travel #photography #outdoors

“May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift, may you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift / May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung, may you stay forever young” -Bob Dylan

In January, I went down to Central America and one of the highlights was camping on top of Volcan Acatenango in Guatemala. In a previous blog post, I talk about how challenging this hike was. We gained 6,000 feet of elevation over 4 miles, and it was clear that the people I was hiking with were more physically prepared for the altitude and climb than I was. On the hike up, I kept beating myself up, telling myself “this shouldn’t be so hard.” But despite feeling like I was holding up the group, my friends, most of whom I had just met, were super encouraging and never left me in the dust.

When we finally made it to the top, it was already dark, and we were well above the clouds. Every so often we could see the faint lights of Antigua and Guatemala City breaking through, but the rest of the skyline was dark. I would have to wait until the morning to see the incredible view that everyone had talked about.

At the first light of dawn, I crawled out from my sleeping bag and got all bundled up. As soon as I emerged from my tent, my mouth dropped. I was on standing on top of the third tallest volcano in Guatemala at 13,045 feet, and I was surrounded by a blanket of pillowy clouds and a dozen or so volcanoes popping through. I felt free and on top of the world. I went over and sat by one of my new friends who was all set up to watch and photograph the sunrise above Volcan Agua. As the sun came up, I snapped this shot.

The hike to get there was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve done, but the views, the camaraderie, and the feeling of accomplishment as we sat there in that thin air made it all worth it.

The Explore the Elements Air category will be judged by Nicole Young.


You don’t have to be nominated…Any blogger can enter.

Step 1. Publish an Explore the Elements post on your blog with images for all 4 elements. If you don’t have photos for all 4 elements, post images for the elements that you do have images for. Those who don’t have photos for all 4 elements will still be in with a chance of winning the category prizes, but won’t be in the running for the main £5,000 travel fund prize.

Step 2. Nominate and notify 5 other bloggers to take part in Explore the Elements at the end of your post to spread the word about the contest!

Step 3. Notify Thomas Cook of your entry before the closing date of the 16th March 2015 by either:

  • Tweeting @thomascookuk including #exploretheelements and a link to your blog post in your tweet or;
  • Emailing exploretheelements@thomascookonline.com, including a link to your post, your name and your email address.

Step 4. Thomas Cook and the four competition judges will share and retweet their favorite Explore the Elements posts throughout the contest’s 8 week duration so be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter and monitor the hashtag #exploretheelements closely!

Step 5. Every Explore the Elements blog entry will be judged by the 4 judges with each judge selecting an element category winner to receive either a Fujifilm camera, an Apple MacBook Air, or an Apple iPhone 6 with Bose noise canceling headphones depending on their choice. The judges will then work together to select the overall winner of the £5,000 travel fund.

For further information about the judging and the prizes please refer to the Terms and Conditions page.


Ok, now it’s time to nominate some of my favorite travel bloggers to participate in the competition:

Share in the comments…

What elements in nature do you like to photograph?