Editor’s note: Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” I’m not sure if he meant it in a literal sense, but being in nature certainly does bring about the understanding that we’re a part of something much greater than ourselves.

1

When my friends and I have the chance, we try to spend our nights camping in the desert. I've found that no matter where you are in the world, gazing at the stars is an opportunity for contemplation. With friends, it's a way to connect without everyday distractions.

2

My girlfriend Diana gazes out over a lake just outside of Breckenridge on a chilly summer morning. Rising at early dawn can be one of the most rewarding parts of the day. Time seemed to move slowly here as the morning alpenglow gracefully transitioned over the mountains.

3

The Empty Quarter desert, or Rub' Al Khali, is the largest sand desert in the world and stretches over parts of the UAE, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. It has been a source of inspiration for many books, films, and even video games. It was also recently used as a film set for the new Star Wars Episode 7, The Force Awakens. Seeing the sun rise here in some way awakens a force in me; the emptiness and calmness builds mental clarity that's difficult to tap into during everyday city life.

4

There wasn't any proper light for days while I was traveling along the south coast of Sri Lanka. I was rising early every morning hoping to catch some good light at sunrise. On our last day before we headed inland, I was fortunate enough to wake up to a beautiful morning with the sun rising over the Indian Ocean.

5

This image was taken shortly after sunrise near the summit of the highest peak in Oman, the Jebel Shams. Summiting a mountain is always a very rewarding and special moment for me, especially when you are alone to take in the epic scenery! I had to carry all my supplies and around six liters of water with me to complete this hike in two half-day sections. To the east lies the Al Hajar mountains, beyond that Muscat and the Indian Ocean.

6

The immense scale and complexity of our galaxy starts to sink in when you’re out camping in the wild. The image above is part of a time-lapse sequence and was taken during a five-day trek on Yosemite’s northern rim. We are gazing towards the center along the galactic plane, and the light behind the dark webs of intergalactic gas and dust traveled around 25,000 years to be captured on my camera's sensor. Not only are we seeing our neighborhood in the universe, we are looking at a point in time further back than our recorded history.

7

The Grand Canyon was the first stop during my first ever American road trip last summer. I only had one crack at a sunrise shot while I was there and managed to arrive at Mather Point just when the sun peered over the canyon walls. The canyon itself is in some way a photograph, a geological story filled with successive layers of sedimentary rock -- ranging in age from 200 million to almost 2 billion years ago -- telling us about the progression of life and conditions throughout Earth’s long history.

8

This photograph was taken at Park Avenue in Arches National Park. I really loved my time there, the red sandstone seems like it had been there untouched forever. However, change is the reason we are able to witness its beauty today. Visiting national parks is not only about the photos for me, but it's also a chance to understand ecological and geological change.

9

This image was taken at Crater Lake in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado. I used a tighter focal length to show the soothing lines and reflections on this beautiful morning. John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” I was looking for a beautiful photograph, but I received much more. Being alone in nature allows me to meditate, to resonate with nature and really appreciate the complexities that are visible the natural world.

10


During a recent trip to my home country of South Africa, I was fortunate enough to swing by the Blyde River Canyon -- one of the great natural wonders of the African continent. I have always been blown away by images of this place. It's is one of the largest canyons on Earth, and it's probably the largest green canyon because of its lush subtropical plant life, especially during the rainy summer months.
Blyde means "happy" in Dutch. When the voortrekkers (Early Dutch pioneers, and also my ancestors) explored this area, they named it "happy river" in 1844 on one of their expeditions.
When I arrived at the canyon, the conditions were not too good -- it was raining and there was no light whatsoever. However, I stuck around and observed that the system was moving west and that the sun would break through soon. When it finally did I could not believe my eyes. Not only did I get the light I was waiting for, but a mind-blowingly beautiful rainbow as well. The Blyde "happy" canyon really lived up to its name, and the adrenaline and dopamine were rushing through my veins. I used an ultra-wide focal length (16mm) in portrait format and stitched around seven images to include the entire rainbow.