American Bison In Snow Covered Prairie Grass in Colorado

The end of the year is always a slow time for photography and even slower time for Internet traffic.

Normally Colorado has seen a bit of snow by the end of December but this year has been fairly dry and cold.

Interestingly, as I write this article on New Year’s Eve, we are actually getting a little snow. The day is still early, so maybe there will be a little accumulation for the last day of the year. We can really use it.

I wish I had some wonderful new stuff to show you, but for now I’ll just reflect on 2018 a bit and think of the adventures I should be having in 2019.

I put a lot of effort into updating my stock portfolio in 2018. It has paid off too. My sales have picked up nicely compared to the year before. My goal was to have 2,000 images in the portfolio by year’s end. I’ve exceeded that number and now have over 2,500 photos in the catalog. The target for 2019 will be to increase that number to 3,000 images. I see no problem reaching that goal. I look at stock as a retirement pension.

Since I retired from doing workshops in 2018, I’ll be focusing more on getting out with friends and members of my Facebook photography group, North American Nature, Wildlife & Landscape Photographers Association in 2019. With over 1,100 members, many of whom are located in Colorado, I foresee a greater effort on my part to grow this group.

I have added a new dimension to my photography kit. Wide field astro-photography. I’ve been spending the last week of the year getting to know and understand my new motorized equatorial drive and I hope to have enough practice in to get a nice sequence of the upcoming total lunar eclipse that is occurring on the evening of January 20th. I have an experienced friend, Carl,  who is planning to join me, so maybe I will actually learn something. That should be a fun evening with an old pal. I do like to socialize with other photographers from time to time, usually for a mutual trip or event or local outing. Hope to experience more of that in 2019, now that I won’t be heaping on a normal workload of workshops and such. I like the slower pace to life 2018 brought me.

Writing is a passion so I’ll have lots more to say here on this blog and on my other online venues. I have a half dozen articles that I’ve started but the holiday period slows things down as I’m more lazy and tend to stick to enjoying the family life as Winter settles in.

Health wise, 2018 was pretty good for me. Like most other folks, I’ve been dealing with the typical health issues that start cropping up with getting older. Everything is under control that needs to be under control. I have a few things that continually make their presence felt, the worst of which is having to deal with Psoriatic Arthritis.  It’s not a severe situation, yet, but modifications to my lifestyle have resulted. One must accept that I’m on the decline side of life and with that comes the inevitable health problems. I won’t let it stop me from what I want to do though. Enough whining about that.

Next up on my travel schedule should be Sandhill Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado around mid-March. I made the trip in March of 2018 but it was cut short due to a problem with my vehicle. I managed a few hours of shooting though, but this year I hope to make up for the lost opportunities of 2018.

I may be able to salvage some of the local opportunities, if we do see some snow here locally. The deer and bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal are there, but I tend to ignore the location if there is no snow on the ground. The deer will be active through February, after which the bucks will begin losing their antlers. C’mon Mother Nature, bring on some snow.

I’ve been giving some thought to heading over to Sandwash Basin to photograph the wild horses in April. I’ll stew on that thought a while longer.

Summer will be active, as I have two group sessions of moose photography scheduled with my Facebook group in late July/early August. I will of course spend the better part of June through September in Northern Colorado as usual. I only get about 4 months out of the year to work up there so I tend to get in chin deep during those months, the remaining 8 months is spent waiting.

I’ll take another Autumn Photography trip in late September or early October, but I’ve made no plans regarding that yet. My friend Jonathan Steele has been joining me for the past few years, and I’m guessing we’ll try to get together again this year.

Life here at home has been good though. Trudy and I have found our retirement groove. We’ve got the house and property in pretty good repair, so I hope to keep the major expenses under control in 2019. Something will come up, that’s what always happens. I just hope it isn’t something that requires tens of thousands of dollars to deal with.

That about sums up where I stand on New Years Eve, 2018.

I’d like to thank all my readers and all of my friends for their support over the past year. I’m hoping to make new friends in 2019.

Keep on keeping on and have a very happy and healthy 2019.


Milky Way Galaxy as Seen From Chambers Lake in Northern Colorado

I’ve always had a fascination with night photography.

Most of the photographs I’ve taken of the night skies over the years have been fairly simple. A wide angle, fast aperture lens mounted to a camera, supported by a sturdy tripod. Great for landscape photos, star trails, Milky Way galaxy. But this is a fairly limiting approach.

I broke out my telescopes this winter and was looking at ways to mount a DSLR to them. I quickly discovered that the optical quality and construction of my telescopes, while quite suitable for viewing, did not really equate to high quality photographs.

The basic formula for photographing celestial objects is called the rule of 500, sometimes referred to as the rule of 600.  The rule is a mathematics rule that tells you what the maximum exposure time one can use to photograph stars or the moon or other fixed night sky subjects without a visual blur to the stars due to the earth’s rotation. I’ve found the rule of 600 works fairly good with wide angle lenses, and when using a super-telephoto lens I revert to the rule of 500. Simply stated, divide 600 or 500 by the focal length of the lens, and you get the maximum exposure time you should use to prevent the blur.  This simple rule works fairly well on a full frame sensor and crop sensor. With the crop sensor camera, you must calculate the effective focal length of the lens by multiplying the crop sensor crop factor by the focal length.

For example. If you wish to photograph the moon with a 500mm lens on a full frame sensor I would use the rule of 500. 500/500 = 1 second exposure time max.  The same photograph taken at a 250 mm focal length on a full frame sensor would be 500/250 = 2 second exposure time max.

For a crop sensor camera, lets say a Nikon D7200 (it’s what I have), you multiply the focal length of the lens by the crop factor. In my case with the D7200, the math is 500mm x 1.5 (crop factor), so the effective focal length is now 750 mm, Using the rule of 500, you divide 500/750 = .66 seconds maximum exposure time. The crop factor increases the effective focal length of the lens and consequently reduces the amount of time you can expose without apparent movement of the night sky objects. Simple stuff.

For wide angle photography, one gets a little more exposure time by virtue of the wider focal angle. For example, if I wish to use a 20 mm prime lens on my D7200, I multiply 20 x 1.5 and get an effective focal length of 30mm. Using the rule of 600 (my wide angle rule) I calculate the maximum exposure as 600/30 = 20 seconds. The wider focal angle reduces the relative movement of the stars over time, so you can expose for a longer period of time and/or reduce the ISO, thus making for less noise in the image. There are trade-offs and tricks you lean once you understand the basics of night photography but these are the foundations we start with.

The moon is a sunlit object, so a 1 or 2 second exposure time is more than adequate to get a good exposure at just about any ISO setting.  For stars, there is less light so longer exposure times are preferred to capturing more light at the sensor and getting more stars in the photo. This is all beginners stuff and something easily learned.

Milky Way photos are fairly easy if you are in a dark sky area but again, you’re stuck with the calculated time limits if you want sharp images.

But, stars and the moon aren’t the only objects out there in space. There are galaxies, nebula, and other things. Most of which can’t be seen with the naked eye, so a telescope is really required to view them.

The very best telescopes have what are called equatorial drives attached to them. The equatorial drive is essentially a motor driven device that will move the telescope in synchronization with the objects rotating around the earth.  If you want to photograph something like the Orion Nebula, or a distant galaxy, which are very dim objects, one must find a way to increase the exposure times on photographs. The equatorial drive provides a stationary view of a moving object, thus the exposure times can be increased dramatically.  Light is additive, so longer exposure times means more light gathered and better noise free photographs.  Using special software these longer exposure images can be filtered and stacked together using computer software to get really nice results. So I’ve heard.

I’ve never attempted this before, but I do have a few friends who have thrown their efforts at this and I’m convinced that I too can do it if I have the proper equipment.

I’ve heard tales of photographers dropping tens of thousands of dollars into astro-photography equipment. A good quality telescope with equatorial drive can run several thousand dollars all by itself. Start throwing in the different gizmos and doodads and like any expensive hobby, it can become a money pit.

My telescopes don’t have equatorial drives and their optics aren’t very good for quality so what to do?

Well, I have high quality optics in my camera lenses and the best approach for me at the moment would be to take advantage of the gear I do have.  I can cover any focal length between 20mm and 750mm, so all I really need is an equatorial drive to wade into the money pit.

My wife was kind enough to give me an equatorial drive as a Christmas gift this year. A gizmo made by a company called iOptron. The gizmo is called the SkyGuide Pro camera mount. Essentially, it’s a single axis equatorial drive that attaches to my photography tripod and camera and once properly aligned to my photographic latitude and true north will provide me with a way to actually track and photograph a space object that moves with the earth’s rotation.

iOptron SkyGuide Pro With Nikon D7200 & 70-200mm f/4 Lens

The idea is that it will allow me to increase exposure times and that gives me more light to see things with the camera for longer periods of time.

Couple the equatorial drive with a good selection of high quality lenses on a high quality camera, the sky is the limit so to speak. No, it’s not the Hubble Telescope, but from the images I’ve seen on the internet using the SkyGuide Pro and similar camera equipment to mine, I should be able to get something nice out of it.

Night sky photography is tough in cities and areas with high light pollution.  Those city lights and smog and other things in the atmosphere degrade the visibility from the suburbs. Lucky me though, I have a cabin in the mountains of Northern Colorado and the night sky at my cabin is DARK. A perfect place to see stars and such and a perfect excuse for me to spend more time at my cabin.

This coming year is the year I learn astro-photography. Stay tuned in, I’ll report back with my results and experiences as I improve my knowledge and skills.

I suppose this is what old photographers do when they get bored.



Bison in Field Near Denver, Colorado Bison At Rocky Mountain Arsenal

I’ve noticed over the years, the tendency of landscape photographers, including myself, to lament the presence of power lines in their composition.

Power lines are just about everywhere one goes. They are a byproduct of human civilization.

As a photographer, sooner or later, you’ll have to make a decision on what to do with them in your scene.

The first choice I see many photographers make is to simply edit them out in post processing.  Don’t want no stink’n power lines in my photo. It ruins the essence of nature I’m trying to capture. I’ll change reality and make it look more natural with a little help from Photoshop.

The second choice I often see is changing position to obtain a different field of view, one that doesn’t include the power lines in the scene. This works too, most particularly when a different position provides a better photographic viewpoint.

A more amateurish approach would be to be completely oblivious to the power lines and just take the photo. This is a rather hit and miss approach and often results in a strange combination of composition elements that don’t really capture the true essence of the scene in a pleasing manner. I call these “snapshots”

One of my early photography teachers enlightened me on how to handle them, photographically speaking.

I’ll share the knowledge.

Don’t look at power lines as being a negative.  Always start with the assumption that the power lines are part of the scene and try to find the composition that uses them rather than take the approach that they should be removed or avoided. Removing the power lines in post processing or compromising the composition by moving to a less desirable position should always be plan B or C.

The first decision you must make is rather or not the presence of power lines maintains the continuity of the scene.  By continuity, I’m talking about the reality of the situation. Why the power lines are there, where they appear, where they go. Are they really creating a distraction or is it some mental hangup you are experiencing that causes you to think they are really a problem.

Make the power lines work for you. Find the continuity of the power lines and the environment that complement the reality of what you are trying to capture.  The first choice should be to use them, not lose them.

The Bison photo explains this concept perfectly.

This shot was taken at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver and the backdrop of the Denver skylines defines how to approach this scene. Anybody who has been to RMA National Wildlife Refuge knows about these massive structures and it can sometimes be quite distracting to find a nice buffalo or deer standing under a great steal structure. It just doesn’t feel natural, so it’s a common practice to ignore the shots that include the power lines.

In the case of this photo though, the power lines aren’t out of place. The photograph conveys the juxtaposition of the natural world with the hand of man. The presence of a majestic bison in a field of tall grass with the Denver skyline in the background. Of course this isn’t what this scene would have looked like 200 years ago. Denver didn’t exist. But this photograph wasn’t taken 200 years ago. The power lines explain the environment and the composition uses them to frame the scene.  The power lines also amplify that juxtaposition of man vs nature. The bison is oblivious to the power lines, it’s only the human eye that knows what they are and why they are there.

Use good composition skills and learn to use the environmental elements to your advantage.

Tell the story.

Photography doesn’t have to be a deception. We don’t have to pretend that the human presence in nature is obscene or distracting. The truth is often more interesting than fiction. Reality trumps thought. Embrace the realities of the scene and use it to your advantage.

It’s possible that someday, these power lines will be gone or that civilization creeps into the environment to a greater degree. This photo documents reality as it existed when the photo was taken. Somebody viewing this image fifty years from now may have a different take on what it looked like “then” and what it looks like “now.”  It’s a historical representation of the truth. Those real life historical contexts can make this photo far more interesting for a much longer period of time.

We often try to separate humans from nature in photography, but the simple undeniable fact of life on earth is that humans are part of nature and so are the things we build. Give some thought to explaining nature as it exists now.

Learn to love your power lines and you’ll find their presence less bothersome.