I Have Been Doing It All Wrong

How dark are our night skies


So wrong have I been, what an eye opening experience it was for me the other night. My very own perception of things were wrong. What I saw the other night totally changed my perspective and processing techniques.


What am I talking about? This

nature photography with the Milky Way

and this


What is wrong with these?

Almost everything about the skies. They are totally black. Isn’t that what the night sky should look like? Yes and No. To our eyes looking up with no reference our eyes and brain translates a black sky, but using a reference against the sky, we see a whole new perspective of our night sky, it is literally glowing throughout the sky. Try this experiment, and this requires an extremely dark sky with no light pollution. Sorry everyone who lives in a city, you will have to travel a good long distance, and sorry to those living on the east coast of the US or most of Europe, you are going to have to travel for a couple days by car or hours by plane to get skies dark enough. To truly experience this effect you will need to travel to a location that has skies rated at a Bortle Class 2 at minimum. For  more information on the Bortle Classification of sky darkness go here http://www.bigskyastroclub.org/lp_bortle.html. For a link to a listing of the darkest skies go here http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html, this site allows you to zoom in really close. Notice how bad Europe and the East Coast of the US is? Now back to the easy provided you are in a dark location experiment, hold your hand up to the sky, notice a very dark void against a brightly glowing sky? That is air glow, the light of all those millions of stars filling the whole sky, your hand literally looks like a black hole against brilliant light (the glow of light pollution does not count, don’t try to be sneaky). Just that experience has changed my whole processing of the night sky, I always attempted to build a contrast resulting in a black sky. NO MORE from me, It is far more impressive to include as best as I can the amazing star glow I am witnessing every time I go out.


The above shot is a simple silhouette of the foreground. The sky really does glow enough to create a clearly defined silhouette when viewed against it. If you notice to the right of the center of our Milky Way are the planets of Mars and Saturn as the two brightest “stars”.

The other night I was at Vega State Park which is at the foot of Grand Mesa far from the slightest light pollution, the air glow was able to illuminate the ground enough for me to walk without needing a light. The kicker is that we are so accustomed to artificial light, either through light pollution of the cities, house lights, electronic equipment or dash/headlights from our cars it takes a couple of hours for eyes to adjust to that level of darkness, it is best to be at these dark locations from evening and allow our eyes to gradually adjust to the darkening skies naturally to enjoy the benefit of seeing the night like we were intended. I am by no means recommending going on a hike at night or a stroll through the woods at night without the proper illumination, so don’t even think of doing such, but the next time you have an opportunity to spend a night in a truly dark location do it, put up your tent and pull out your camp chair and sit back watching the stars move across the sky, your eyes will clearly make out the dust lanes in our view of the Milky Way



to view all of these photos at their uploaded size just right click on your mouse and click on “view image”. All above photos were taken about 15 miles north of the tiny town of DeBeque in western Colorado, you still get a slight glow of the city of Grand Junction in each of these images, but the overall sky is rated a Bortle Class 2. Vega State Park, images will be posted in an upcoming blog post, is about 40 miles south of that same tiny town of DeBeque. Again with each photo above Mars and Saturn are also visible to the right of the core of our Milky Way.

So how many of you live in a region that gives you an opportunity to see truly dark skies? How many of you are on the US east coast or Europe? Wanting to experience these amazing dark skies? I am considering doing photo tours and perhaps some workshops coming up in the future if anyone is interested.

Rifle Falls

return to Rifle Falls

Rifle Falls is a very popular waterfalls in western Colorado, a State Park about 14 miles north of the town of Rifle. It is comprised of 3 waterfalls each about 80 feet tall and is as close to a tropical feel as you can get in a largely semi arid Colorado. It was my first time at the falls for a shoot in several years, and is the first time I had used my Rokinon 14mm for something other than astrophotography. I timed my visit to the falls during a very rainy afternoon, in fact we had a strong thunderstorm that produced a gust of wind that toppled my camera with the 24-105 L lens over, luckily the camera and lens survived unscathed though my heart almost gave out when it happened.


This first one below was still taken with the required standard landscape lens. the Canon 24-105 F4L, all of these images are blended from two or 3 exposure, one for the foreground, one for the sky and if needed a 3rd with a really long shutterspeed to create the silky smooth water. The day was still bright enough that any accurate exposure at even F22 didn’t produce a long enough shutter speed, and though I do not have a ND filter, I learned how to produce the effect in layers in PS CC


The following were taken with the Rokinon 14mm, I have up to this point exclusively used it for astrophotography. It has proven to be quite efficient as an ultra wide angle lens for landscape though a little soft on the edges even in apertures not in the extreme wide. It will still be used mainly for astrophotography, but I now know I can get away with some grand scenics with it.



The falls has some really nice Lilac bushes to the right of them, but as of the shooting of these the leaves have barely started, seemingly a couple of weeks behind.

Back to McClure Pass

I was happily able to return to the McClure Pass region, this time during our recent massive spring storm that dumped several feet of snow in some mountain areas. Luckily it didn’t drop that much in the McClure Pass region, but it definitely had a wonderfully wintry feel. Two aspects of spring storms in the west that makes it an exciting time to get out is the wetter snow, it clings to trees better than the dry powdery snow of winter, and the fact that it is warmer so snow will not accumulate on roads as much. The drier Winter snows may be better for skiing, Colorado and Utah are known for this and is what brings millions of skiers and billions of dollars to the states economies, and the spring storms have a tendency of dropping significantly greater amounts of much heavier snow which can still create major travel issues. So it may not be all unicorns and puppies. For this photographer these spring storms are the opportunities to get out to capture some of the missed winter scenes that the slight colder winter temps kept me inside next to a heater.

I ended up with almost 500 photos that day and could have gotten more. Here is a hint, try not to forget where you put your extra memory cards, or better yet, don’t forget about those memory card pouches on the main camera compartment flap on your camera bag. It sure could save you some headaches, especially when those slots are staring right back at you.

Below are a few examples of that day. It’s been a long process of going through these and fine tuning the photos to fit exactly my experiences of the day. Each one of my photos is given it’s own personal touch as each photo was taken with a new and unique experience, even if it is taken from the exact same spot. It’s a long process to go through all 500 photos and with many more to be discovered in addition to the ones posted here, the post processing journey is as exciting as the trip itself.

The above two were taken at a small unnamed lake just west of Marble, it was a constant change of lighting almost the entire day with periods of snow and periods of sunlight with periods of snow with sunlight. A common experience in this dry western climate

A couple of scenes along the Crystal River further down from McClure Pass and much lower in elevation taken during sunrise, the opposite time of day from the above two photos

The dramatic weather and scenery along highway 133 between Carbondale and the town of Marble which is situated at the foot of McClure Pass.

The last two above are the exact same spots of the same mountain peaks. One minute the sun is shining and the next I am getting snowed on. The top photo shows the falling snow



Galactic Core Returns

Once again the center of our Milky Way has risen above the horizon for us in the Northern Hemisphere and will remain so until the end of October. At this point it sits low enough in the sky to make some dramatic panoramics.

nature photography with the Milky Way



The above image is a 12 image stitched panoramic from just west of my town in western Colorado. You can see the glow of the lights of the town and the much larger town of Rifle further east in the center of this image. to the far right  is the faint edge of Grand Junction’s light pollution and to the far left is Mt. Logan of the Roan Plateau.

At this point I will not be able to photograph this for another couple of weeks, these last few days it has been cloudy and rainy and will be that way for a couple more days, once it clears out I will have to contend with moonlight as we approach the full moon. Once the moon is no longer a factor the Milky Way core should be even higher above the horizon. Perhaps high enough to photograph it in the mountain areas


This current storm system is giving me an opportunity to get out and take some landscape photos of western Colorado desert regions with rare dramatic storm light. Plus some heavy snowfalls in the nearby Elk Mountains including McClure Pass.


Above Photo: Haystack Mountain above a meadow with farming communities not too far outside of town in western Colorado. Most of this region is desert but there are obvious pockets of greener soil


Above is a 3 photo stitched image of Chair Mountain from the Marble Valley, it is at the foot of McClure Pass, the road is visible below Chair Mountain as a dark straight line through the trees. This area has received several inches of fresh snow during this powerful spring storm, a huge opportunity for me tomorrow to head up here for some new photos.

Just Finished

New Canvas Wrap completed

I just got this 48X32 Canvas wrap finished and sent off to it’s new home. I want to see this happen more often.

Many more choices are available from my website. International Shipping is available.



New lens

Sigma 70-200 F2.8

despite all the craziness going on in my life as a photographer, I still get the good things goings ons. Obviously many people seem to talk about the negative things in their life including yours truly, but the positive should get as much attention

One of the positives is the purchasing of a new lens. I recently am in possession of a Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM. I have heard a barrage of statements that you should own at least one 70-200 regardless of make, well this is my second. The other is the still currently owned Canon L but only at F4, so now I have added the faster F2.8


quite the hefty little lens (little compared to a 400 or 600mm lens). I have taken it for a spin recently though I have not had the opportunity to really test it out yet, when I get time I will definitely take it out more.

Above are two photos taken with it, both testing at different focal lengths at the widest aperture of F2.8. Of course shooting anything at F2.8 let alone a telephoto lens leaves little room for error on the focus, and these photos show the extremely narrow DOF, but there is no doubt of the potential that this lens has. Just an FYI  my shooting with fast lenses is almost exclusively during my astrophotography, that being, my go to Rokinon 14mm f2.8 is used a good 90% of the time. This 70-200 has other plans in it’s future.


Who else has shot this lens? This is my first experience with a Sigma, and my first non Canon L series zoom lens with my current camera.

Have you ever been so discouraged

Why people can be so negative.

Just a strong warning from me. This post is going to be somewhat of a harsh rant and if you do not want to read anything like that from me please continue on. Plus if you disagree with me on the following please do the same. I am not willing to get into a debate here. It is something I have to get this out to anyone willing to listen.

I recently blogged about a photo stolen by a French website. and after numerous attempts to contact them and the web host and IP owner. I have as of this point not heard a single response. That is frustrating enough as is, knowing that I will probably have to make a legal case about it. The last thing I desired.

To top it off, I recently posted the photo on Facebook reminding everyone following it (which is a brand new page with only 11 followers at this point by the way) that photos that is found on the internet are always copyrighted and should be treated as such unless it explicitly states otherwise. Well to put icing on the cake I received a message that did not specifically refer to the post but did state  that I did not “CREATE the beauty”. So not only do I have an image that has been stolen but having other people tell me that I did not create it in the first place.

The question I have to ask is to those who have been doing this for a long time, I assume you have had to deal with this before, I am wanting to know how you deal with people like this? How do you stay polite to such ignorance and rudeness? The other question should be, why do I need to stay polite to these individuals?

It’s really a disgrace to the human intellect, that people, despite easy access to information continually remain ignorant. Is it laziness? Or is it a willful disregard to think beyond one’s own narrow view of how they think things should be?


I am sure any artist (which includes photographers for those not inclined to think as such) would agree that it is extremely difficult if not nearly out right impossible to get any kind of name recognition. I am talking about enough of a name recognition to at least have the opportunity to make a living off of it, not to have the name recognition that Ansel Adams has. I am sure any artist (again including photographers here for those not inclined to view fine art photography as an art form) agrees that you can not just pick up a paint brush or camera for the very first time and create a masterpiece, it takes years of hard work and dedication to develop ones own artistic vision and skills of which is a lifetime journey. I myself still see that I have much to learn both in the skills of composition and post processing, of course so did Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Galen Rowell, Louis Vuitton, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann, Sal Cincotta and so many others too numerous to mention over the years of just photography history alone. No one has truly mastered the arts, but that is art too, it is a creative endeavor that is never stagnant, many artistic concepts remain fairly relevant over the years such as photography’s rule of thirds, but styles and movements and techniques change constantly.

One compositional element I am going to try to incorporate more often is the Golden Ration, something that the rule of thirds may have evolved from, but requires a whole different level of vision

A man I have much respect for once said that only a fool is totally content, we humans have a desire to push boundaries of human ingenuity, vision technology and skills. So why do people think that all you need to do is pick up a phone and take a family vacation snapshot and think that it is on the same level as Louis Vuitton?


Above image is actually 3 exposures merged together manually in Photoshop. it is 3 exposures but not an HDR but blended manually using luminosity masks. Contrasting, dodging and burning, removal of a few distracting elements such as brown clumps of grass and cow manure that was unavoidable, plus contrast on specific colors in the RGB channels using curves while other areas were desaturated. Just a list of many things going into the creation of this image that started off as a real scene photographed


Artists as well, inherently view the world differently than the rest of the population. Is that why most artists are, and I am admittedly so, considered eccentric? That is why we took the arts as opposed to being lawyers or doctors or mathematicians? So why do people insist on expecting that someone who has no artistic inclination both in desire or personality think that they can do what other artists can do? Like create? Just because it might be an image of something that is already there in reality, don’t you think that perhaps the original scene is merely the inspiration and the image itself wasn’t hours in the making to create it how the artist interpreted the scene or perhaps the proper word would be Intended. Again laziness? Or again just a willful denial to think beyond your narrow view of what the world should be?

I know many photographers are what would be considered “purists”, any post processing is wrong. Wouldn’t that just be a documentary style photography? which is in it’s own right fine, but is in reality silly to say that all photography has to be this way. Perhaps this also contributes to this attitude that people have who do not value photography as an art form. Also lest you forget, that alot of creativity and planning as an individual still come into play, the developing of compositional knowledge and the understanding of how certain light effects a scene that in most cases would be rather ugly. Even a simple photograph is in reality heavily planned and honed before the shutter of the camera is even pushed, why did you choose to shoot from that angle? Why did you choose to use that focal length on your lens?  Why did you choose to incorporate certain elements but not others

Also please don’t get into the idea that only because of God does these things exist. The idea that without a God nothing is possible that he even drives our hearts is faith, it’s saying that we humans can not come up with ideas on our own, that we humans have no inherent skills or creativity and ingenuity. I don’t want to get into  a debate about it, but you do realize not everyone believes in a God? Nor a Universal Conscience, nor Gaia? Many of us believe from the remains of a supernova through gravity to the ever increasing complexity through natural selection (sounds like art, it evolves over time). Those of us who believe this also believe that we are in charge of our own destiny and creative endeavor, and yes we do own our own creations. I understand there are many artists who are people of faith and I do understand that without that or through the laws of physics and natural selection we would not even exist, but it does not take away the fact that you created that painting or photograph, that you are in full control of what inspires you and how you interpret what you see, also how you chose to express what you saw in that art piece.


Just a little glimpse from my personal life. I have struggled with PTSD which includes bouts of severe depression including suicidality. This medium of art is the only true effective therapy I have found to date. you bet I want to make a living off of it, and such a large number of people who have such a negative view of artists and photographers due to either laziness or willful ignorance does have a huge impact on me. I already struggle with trust, their attitudes just reaffirms that distrust.


Above photo: Why did I chose to brighten the foreground using dodge and burning and curves layers with masks? Perhaps it’s used as an anchoring point to first attract the eye,  also the very subtle s-curve of lighting using the same processing technique to take the viewer through the rest of the scene. Sometimes extremely subtle works best, other times large contrasts between what is light and what is dark works. In this case nothing was removed from the scene, the lighting was natural but I felt that the camera just could not capture how I personally experienced the scene.  it’s a simple scene, very few elements, little color, it’s the drama of an approaching storm. Sure I could have made it Black and White for this, but I wanted to keep the warm lit foreground against the gloomy clouds as a contrast. I deliberately warmed the foreground by adding yellows and faint reds. while cooling the sky and adding a very slight hint of magenta.