Last week, I was one of the luckiest people in the photography industry when I was invited to the first annual Sony Kando Trip held in the secluded El Capitan Canyon, just north of Santa Barbara, California. While Sony did let everyone on site use the impressive new A9 while they announced two pretty cool new wide angle lenses, that was not Sony’s main reason to put together this unique event.
Sony Alpha created a unique outdoor retreat meant to bring creatives from all genres together in the remote central California coast to share ideas, learn, and immerse themselves in an inspiring setting meant to ignite their passion for the visual arts and get to know their fellow creative community. Not only were the Sony Artisans invited, but so were members of the newly formed Alpha Collective.
The trip exceeded my already lofty expectations, and I think it is safe to say that most of us were going through Kando withdrawals in the days following. But not able to get the trip out of my head, I decided to talk about my favorite parts of the trip while using photos from both Sony Artisans, Collective Members, and press who uploaded to Instagram using the hashtag #SonyKandoTrip. Check em out. They are pretty cool.
El Capitan Canyon is a privately owned getaway that sits on 300 acres in a picturesque canyon just 20 miles north of Santa Barbara. Each attendee was placed in a cool wooden cabin set along a creek, surrounded by oak and sycamore trees. The setting was ‘glamping’ at it’s finest. This was my home for the three nights, and it made for some great photos.
It was hard to believe that just a 5-minute bicycle ride took you from the secluded pocket of shade to the sunny shores of the Pacific Ocean. The bikes were available to use for free, or you could walk to the entrance of El Capitan State Beach in about 15 minutes. The beach scene, at least where I went, was mostly fisherman as there is little sand and mainly rocks, which made it pretty hard to sunbathe. But for a group of 100 plus photographers, we weren’t complaining about the foreground elements.
Yes, you read that right. There was indeed wolves on site for the entire three day period. Project Wildsong focuses on protecting the value of both wilderness and wildlife as an active partner in assisting with the rescue of native wildlife. And two of those animals happen to be wolves. And boy, were they pretty cool. And didn’t mind being photographed. And photograph them is what the Artisans, Collective and anyone else who happened to walk by did. One of them was very friendly, and you could easily pet him, but the second was a little more protective of his handlers.
The team from Project Wildsong also led a mellow, hour and a half program called ‘Sound Bath with Wolves’, which is a meditation experience while the wolves walk around you, or sleep in front of you as most often was the case. I did not partake in this as I arrived a couple minutes late, but everyone who did said it was incredible. Needless to say, the Wolves were a big hit during the week.
The Half Pipe
Yes, a half pipe. Since Sony was anxious to have its most valued creators test out the insanely fast 20 fps burst mode of the Sony A9, they needed something that included speed and action. So, the logical solution was to build a half pipe and bring in professional BMX riders and skateboarders, right? Coupled with the newly announced wide angle lenses, the half pipe was a super fun way to play with the gear while overlooking the ocean from atop a hill above the camp. As much as I wanted to show up the BMX guys with my insane skills, I decided to sit on the sidelines and let them do all the hard work.
Well, like any good retreat by the ocean should have, Sony got a bunch of cool looking surfer dudes with cool looking surfboards and cool looking surfer trucks so we could test out the A9 with some awesome cool looking surf. Hell, even B&H brought underwater housing! There was only one problem. The swell was non-existent, leading to no one being able to really capture those cool looking surfer dudes in the cool looking surf. But as a bunch of really talented photographers will do, they took tons of awesome shots anyway. Because the act of finding surf is just as interesting as the actual act of surfing.
The Models…And Their Awesome Vintage Set
As if there weren’t enough attractive people in attendance (come on, have you seen us?!), Sony had the brilliant idea to bring in professional models so the lifestyle photographers could have something more up their alley. Well, in addition to the easy on the eyes models, Sony brought in a pretty rad set complete with an old trailer filled with vintage TVs, couches, phones…the works. Outside the trailer were some old cool cars and some James Dean looking dudes. Oh, and as expected, the wolves found their way into the trailer. This was indeed a pretty cool idea and well executed (albeit, always crowded). Oh, and I don’t know where the zebra came from…but like most things that happened on the Sony Kando Trip, you don’t ask where it came from…you just enjoy it.
The Night Sky
I love astrophotography, and I was blown away by the incredible amount of stars that I was able to see in El Capitan Canyon on night one after the sun went down. Having little surrounding light pollution and a moon that didn’t rise till early morning gave us perfect conditions for awesome astrophotography, as long as the clouds stayed away. And stay away they did. I don’t remember seeing one cloud the whole trip, which is strange for me, as I spent 21 years on the Northern California coast, which is almost always cloudy or foggy. Being that we were in the canyon, the most popular night photography location was on top of the mountain by the half pipe. There we were able to see the Milky Way, use the half pipe as a foreground, and chat with each other about the day, tips for shooting stars, or just get to know each other in complete darkness (keep those headlamps off please!)
Old Friends, New Friends…And Inspiration
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from the Kando trip. How can you possibly put so many creatives into one place for three days and not get a bunch of repetitive photos? Wouldn’t having a bunch of photographers jockeying for placement for a photo have the opposite effect of the original mission, to build community? Well, I was shocked at how opposite it was. Sony hit a home run with their efforts to help build a community with the help of Artisans and Collective members. I can’t count how many times I would overhear two creatives introduce themselves, only to look over and see them still engaged in a conversation an hour later. I myself not only got to rekindle old friendships, but I also met people who I had only talked to online before, and most importantly, I got to meet and engage with creatives whom I have never heard of before. And those conversations inspired me. I would check out their Instagram and be blown away by the quality of work that they were producing. I had not only made new friends, but I had found inspiration in their fresh-eyed take on the world. Sure, the location was amazing. The food delicious. The drinks cold. The shiny new camera and lenses were impressive. But what made this trip so special was the amazing and inspirational group of people who stranded themselves in a canyon along the California coastline with an open mind and excitement for the future of their creative dreams.