Night Skies – Before and After…

In my last post, I shared pictures from my recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, for a Night Skies Photography Workshop.  When one drives over 700 miles (one way) for something like this, one often plans little side trips to make the trip more worthwhile.  This post is about the drive down and back.  I hope you enjoy my trip as much as I did!

I left home on a nice Sunday morning and drove to Boulder City, Nevada.  My goal was to get past Las Vegas and avoid the traffic on Monday morning.  I got up early on Monday and drove south on US 95 to an ‘oasis in the desert’ named Nelson, Nevada.  Situated about 21 miles from Boulder City (10 miles on US 95 and another 11 miles on SR 165) in the Eldorado Canyon, Nelson ( is the home of the notorious Techatticup Mine, where millions of dollars in gold, silver, copper and lead were mined from about 1858 until 1945.  The town is now host to cactus, snakes, tourists, and photographers wanting to see life in those times.


A couple of the buildings and vehicles.


The water tower…not sure if it’s still functional.


This water truck under the water tower is definitely not functional, but the controlled decay makes for a fun picture.


Another of the wonderful photographic subjects around the town.


Colors and textures abound…with some very fun antiques.


This is not a very impressive subject – I would never try to sell this image. The process for making the image is worth discussing, however. Getting a single exposure that shows the shaded subjects inside the structure while viewing the sunlit mountains through the window is impossible. This image becomes possible by using a tripod to hold the camera in position and then making multiple images at different exposures, then combining the images in a high dynamic range (HDR) software. I recently saw a new technique that does not require HDR software. Using the underexposed image (for the mountains in the window), I made a copy of the mountains in the window and overlaid it onto the normal exposed image (covering the overexposed mountains) to create this image. Well, I did a little creative editing after the merge.  A fun technique and worth the time to explore!

After spending some time taking pictures in Nelson, I continued south on US 95 to Laughlin, Nevada, where I made a quick stop at the Big Bend of the Colorado River State Park and stamped my Nevada State Parks Passport.  Big Bend is at the southern tip of Nevada and I don’t expect to get back there anytime soon.  From there, I headed for Grand Canyon National Park.  I drove on I-40 to Williams, Arizona, and headed north on AZ Highway 64 to Mather Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.


A Grand Canyon panorama…


Another Grand Canyon panorama…note the tourists on the lookout on the left…


This is not a panorama, it is a single image cropped to near panorama proportions. I’ve talked about the ongoing ‘to pano or not to pano’ question before. Still a pretty shot!


I couldn’t resist including my ‘selfie’ from the Grand Canyon. It’s my new profile picture on Facebook, so many of you have seen it before. One of my friends told me it’s not a real selfie, but I disagree.

As I headed south from the Grand Canyon, I saw a band of Pronghorn Antelope hanging out by the side of the road.  I pulled over and snapped a few pictures.


I processed this image in warm tones just for fun!


I’m very familiar with Pronghorn, as they are very prolific in my home state of Wyoming. I was excited that these animals were so unconcerned about my presence. The Pronghorn back home don’t tolerate people and most of my images from home are Pronghorn butt as they run away.

I arrived in Sedona in the dark of late evening, so I didn’t see the landscape until the next morning.


I grabbed this picture with my cell phone on my way to breakfast. As you saw in my last blog, this doesn’t do Sedona justice in any way!

Since the Night Skies Workshop didn’t start until Tuesday afternoon, I made a quick trip to Clarkdale, Arizona, to visit the Tuzigoot National Monument.  Tuzigoot is an Anasazi ruin, and was definitely worth the trip.


From the ruins near the top, I made this panorama. I wish I had increased the height of the tripod to minimize the wall in the foreground.


I liked how the ruins in the foreground followed the lines of the mountains in the background. This image was taken in the morning with the wall in shadow. I might have had better light in the afternoon, but then I would have lost the helpful impact from the shadows.


This is the Visitor’s Center. It’s a beautiful structure and fits the environment well.


This is the view from the very top of the ruins, looking to the southeast and down the mountain. Can you imagine living in this community, climbing ladders to reach your living space?

When the workshop was over mid-morning on Wednesday, I began my trip home.  I had been fighting a cold or some type of crud from the time I left home, so my goal of getting to Las Vegas was fairly modest – only 250 miles or so.  When I crossed the Tillman-O’Callahan Bridge into Nevada, I was feeling a little better and decided to drive up the west side of Lake Mead.  I stopped in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area Visitor Center, stamped my National Parks Passport, and headed north towards Overton, Nevada.  I made a couple stops on the way to take some pictures, but the water level in Lake Mead is so low that I didn’t get near the water.


You can see the ‘bathtub ring’ in this panorama of Lake Mead. I saw a few wild horses in the desert, but did not see any Desert Bighorns (darn it all).

When I exited Lake Mead’s north entrance, I came on the Valley of Fire State Park East Entrance.  The sun was going down, but I paid my entry fee, stamped my State Parks Passport, and ventured into the Park.  The light was fading and my sinuses were regretting my decision to make this side trip, but I found some pretty rocks and stopped for a couple sets of pictures.


The setting sun was behind me as I shot this panorama. I love the sky behind these rocks.


I cranked the tripod head 180 degrees and shot into the sunset. Yes, it’s a very over-processed image, and I won’t get into the details of what I did. Pretty sunset, and not a bad foreground.

I got a good night’s rest that night, and made it home safe and sound.  The trip was fast (5 days) and I put about 1,800 miles on my Expedition.  I picked up 3 stamps in my National Parks Passport, 2 stamps in my State Parks Passport and, of course, lots of images of Nevada and Arizona.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been in the field a couple times checking out the local Raptor scene.  The Bald Eagles are starting to return to the area.  I leave you with this image from Diamond Valley, south of the Carson Valley just over the California line, from a couple days ago.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Merry Christmas!



The Wonder of Night Skies…

In the many photography magazines and websites that I read, I see all manner of advertisements for photography tours around the United States and the world.  The tours range from a few hours for a seminar to a few weeks shooting with big names in the photography world, and can cost thousands of dollars.  The more expensive tours include all lodging, meals, and transportation around the chosen venue.  A couple months ago, I saw an ad for a night skies photography workshop with a couple locations within driving distance and at a very affordable price.  The tours were offered by National Park Trips Media (visit their website at teamed up with Tamron USA (  I selected the tour in Sedona, Arizona.

Sedona is a community of around 11,000 people located in north central Arizona, about an hour’s drive south of Flagstaff.  (Visit to learn more about Sedona.)  I arrived in the darkness of early evening and my Garmin took me on quite a tour before finding the hotel, the Andante Inn of Sedona (

The workshop started at 2 p.m., with a couple hours in the classroom.  Tamron’s award-winning photographers – Ken Hubbard, Andre Costantini, and Marc Morris – provided a review (for me, anyway) of the photography triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) and shooting in low light conditions.  After, we loaded up the equipment truck and the van and headed to the Crescent Moon Ranch to photograph Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek in the foreground.


Cathedral Rock reflected in Oak Creek

Our group joined a pair of photographers who were after the same view on a small patch of dirt along the creek.  The pair of photographers were a bit overwhelmed by 16 people invading their shoot with tripods and cameras, but they offered their spot to the highest bidder when they were done shooting!  I got my shots and looked around the Crescent Moon Ranch for a different view and other subjects.


Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon Ranch

As the sun went down and the light faded, we loaded back up and headed to Bell Rock Park off SR 179.  This is where the shoot got very interesting.  I’m used to shooting in ambient light and being able to look through the viewfinder on my camera or use Live View to set the exposure and compose the shot.  In the light of the half moon, we were literally shooting in the dark.  I set my ISO at 3200, a relatively high setting, my aperture wide open, and shutter speed at 30 seconds.  Hoping for the best, I manually set the focus at infinity and pushed the shutter release.  When the shutter closed, I was able to see the image for the first time and it wasn’t bad.  I made a few adjustments in the camera position and resumed shooting.  Over the next several hours, I made around 130 images.


This is a rock formation in Bell Rock Park.


Bell Rock is on the left. The bright light at the bottom of the saddle is from Sedona.

The Tamron guys helped us experiment with a technique called ‘light painting.’  During long exposures, we used flashlights to illuminate trees to bring out some of the detail and add a new element to the image.  Light painting is definitely an art, as controlling the light on the subject is critical.  It’s very easy to put too much light on the subject and ruin the shot.  The image below took several tries – still not perfect but acceptable.


Light painted tree in the foreground.

Long time followers of my blog know that I love a good panorama, and I had to try for a panorama in the dark.  From the position of the light on the rock formations, you can see that this panorama is actually about a quarter of a circle – not just flat.


The instructors used the star apps on their smartphones to get us in position to shoot Orion over the rock formation on the right side of this image. If only someone had a star app for my Windows phone (big sigh).

One of the members of the tour got separated in the dark and ended up a mile away from the group.  After an hour of searching, we got word that he had called 911 and local law enforcement had picked him up.  We got back to the hotel around 1 a.m. and got a few hours sleep before heading out the to local airport for an early morning shoot.

The morning was overcast, but we waited for a couple hours and finally got rewarded by good light.  Here’s a couple panoramas from the early morning shoot!


The sky was overcast, but not very sexy.


A little different position and shot.

After the morning shoot, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and some instruction on Lightroom software to process the night’s work.  The workshop was a fast 20 hours of exploration into a new photography technique.  I learned a lot and look forward to continued exploration into night photography.  I see that National Park Trips Media has a night skies workshop in Yosemite next August.  Hmmmm – might have to register for that one!

Thanks for being a part of my journey.  Until next time – enjoy!


Behind the Scenes look at ‘A View From the Office’…

I don’t know when I started the ‘view from the office’ series on Facebook, but I do remember why!  I was trying to poke a little fun at my many friends who are still working, sitting at a desk or on a job site or somewhere every day.  More bluntly, I was rubbing their noses in it!!  I hope no one takes offense at this revelation – it’s all in good-natured fun and I love sharing my passion for photography with you.

One of my rules for the ‘view’ is that all the pictures and videos are taken with my mobile phone camera.  They are frequently taken from the same vantage point as pictures with my DSLR cameras, but not always.  I post them on Facebook at the earliest opportunity, since I am often in places with limited or no signal.

I must confess that I took a long time before embracing the multi-media device we all carry to do anything but transmit and receive voice communication.  I thought a mobile phone was for making phone calls and nothing else.  I started looking at mobile phones differently when I carried a PDA (don’t ask me what it stands for, something like personal assistant) in one of my last professional positions many, many years ago.  When I finally bought a smart phone and I worked my way through apps and having my email at my fingertips, I still resisted using the camera.  Then I began using the camera, but I avoided video.  Last February, I finally touched the little movie icon on the camera screen and recorded the snow falling in my back yard through my breakfast nook window.  Since then, I’ve been making lots of short videos with my mobile phone.  The next step is to engage the video function on my ‘big boy’ camera, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s get back to mobile phones.

The December 2016 issue of Shutterbug magazine has several articles on photokina 2016, the biannual event showcasing the future of imaging technology.  The future is apparently perplexing -Editor Dan Havlik says as much in the issue’s Editor’s Notes.  In addition to interesting developments by major photo equipment companies, Havlik laments that there were “…tons of – too many, actually – new Virtual Reality (VR) products at photokina…”  A friend of mine received a VR device for his birthday recently, and he tells me his mobile phone provides the operating system to bring the VR media to the device.  That’s a long way from making phone calls.

An article by Seth Shostak tells us what a camera of the future might look like, and how we might use and view the images it will make.

Joe Farace writes articles for Shutterbug’s ‘Geared Up’ column, which provides a discussion of new photo equipment.  In an article titled ‘9 Trends That Will Change Photography Next Year,’ Joe gives his take on photokina and the future.  Joe writes that cellphone photography is adversely impacting the point-and-shoot camera market, and that “…thanks to the smartphone boom the worldwide population of photographers has grown by a factor of eight over the past 10 years.”  He continues, “…while smartphones represent the primary camera for a growing number of people…the opportunity for users to step up to a digital camera grows with every new photographer this trend produces.”

I hope I haven’t lost any of you by now – I have a point – really!  I began taking pictures as a boy using the point-and-shoot technology of the time, my trusty Kodak 110 camera.  I graduated up to a single lens reflex (SLR) camera just before our first son was born and carried that camera for decades.  Almost 8 years ago, I bought an entry level digital SLR (DSLR) and have upgraded twice.  The mobile phone is a much more advanced version of the point-and-shoot film cameras that my generation grew up with (it makes phone calls and connects to the internet, too).

For now, we have to be content with the tools we have and put them to their best use.  For me, my mobile phone allows me to have the advantages of point-and-shoot technology.  Further, it allows me to quickly and easily share with my friends and rub my retirement fun in their noses!  Mostly, it allows me to quickly and easily share – that’s my story!  Whatever your equipment or skill set, I encourage you to take pictures and share them, but mostly have fun.

Here’s a few examples of a view from the office compared with the image from the big camera.


I posted this image from Mormon Station State Park on November 29, 2016. I put my mobile phone on top of my DSLR camera for this picture.


This is the same shot from the DSLR and enhanced on the computer.


The Carson River on November 1, 2016.


From the big camera – love the sky much better!


Remember this image from October 27, 2016. The south shore of Lake Tahoe on a stormy day.


From the big boy camera and enhanced on the computer. Much better composition and drama.


There are some images that are fun to make, but are not deserving of getting out the big camera. This is the Welcome sign in Vernal UT. Mobile phone all the way.


Rocky Mountain National Park with the mobile phone, August 16, 2016.


Same view with the big camera. I shot multiple images and stitched this panorama.


Eden Vale Pond, October 3, 2016. One of the fun things about shooting with the mobile phone is that I can include the big camera in the image.


Same pond, big camera.

While this was not a ‘view from the office’ post, I include it because of the comparison between my mobile phone camera and my DSLR.


I haven’t mastered the art of the mobile phone selfie, hence I make very few and show even fewer.


I vastly prefer the DSLR selfie – I can make a good one that I’m willing to share. Thanks to my lovely bride for being seen with me in public!

That’s the behind the scenes look at ‘A View from the Office.’  I hope you’ve enjoyed the view on Facebook and now see the difference between the view and the final image.