2.5 Million Years Ago

A few months ago, while I was photographing the full moon rising over Bell Rock in Sedona, I noticed a lone tree growing on its summit. I love to photograph solitary living objects, like trees and flowers, because they resonate with me as being survivors. They thrive despite the heavy odds and the challenges of their isolation, alone in facing the elements. So when I spotted the tree, I immediately envisioned an image with some astronomical object behind it, to show the survivor in the context of our vast unforgiving universe. My first thought was capturing the full moon behind the tree, but the moon at that time was not in a good location in the sky for the right composition, so I figured I’d tackle this idea later in the year.

After that experience at Bell Rock, I had been experimenting with various night time compositions in northern Arizona. This is such a fantastic place to explore night photography, thanks to the relative lack of light pollution.  Recently, my wife Susie prompted me to attempt to photograph the Andromeda galaxy, which was getting higher in the sky after sunset. I’ve always been intrigued by Andromeda, because it is the most distant night sky object you can see with your eyes—the light from the galaxy is literally 2.5 million years old!  It is also the closest galaxy to our own Milky Way, and thus it gives us a glimpse at what our own galaxy might look like from distant space.

After a few test shots with a wide angle lens, to help me quickly locate Andromeda in the sky, I managed to successfully photograph the galaxy with a telephoto lens.  I was surprised at how much detail my Sony mirrorless camera could capture, without a telescope! That is what gave me the idea to use Andromeda, and not the moon, as a background object in my tree composition at Bell Rock. Andromeda was much more intriguing and original to me than the moon.

I studied the sky charts on an app for a bit, and then waited for a clear night to head to Bell Rock. On my first attempt, the trail I took did not give me a good angle on the tree and ridge top, so I returned a couple days later to try a trail that brought me closer to the base of Bell Rock. I used a 200mm telephoto lens and once it got dark enough, I took a few test shots to get. Good feel of where Andromeda was in relation to the tree. I waited an hour or so before moving a bit farther up the trail so that I could get the optimal angle on the tree and galaxy. I had to anticipate when Andromeda would emerge from behind the rock, since at his point it was blocked bu the top of the rock face. When I saw the glow from the galaxy begins to mingle with the silhouette of the tree, I prepared my camera settings and then took a quick series of photos as Andromeda rose above Bell Rock. I only had one opportunity, because within minutes Andromeda was high above the tree and the composition was no longer as interesting.

I was pleased at the performance of my camera in capturing the detail of Andromeda with its spiral arms and twin satellite galaxies above and below the spiral. The final photograph represents to me the beauty and resilience of life surviving in an endless see of stars, the fractal design of nature boldly proclaiming its eternity.

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Be original, Be wise

NEOWISE reflecting in the wetlands south of Flagstaff.

 

In my artist’s statement on my website, I state that my principal goal as a photographer is to:

“capture brief moments of time, and freeze them for an eternity, so that we can experience that special moment and realize the great joy that life brings to us.

That goal has never been more apparent to me the past few weeks, as comet NEOWISE circles our solar system, reaching its closest approach to earth just a couple days from this essay (Jul 22) at a distance of 65 million miles from earth, or about 3/4 the distance from the earth to our sun. 

NEOWISE is a rather average sized comet about 3 miles in diameter, a big dirty snowball made of dust, rock, and ice. It was named after the space telescope project that discovered it earlier this year.  It came from the outer fringes of our solar system, and with its highly elliptical orbit, it wont pass by the earth again for another 6,800 years. So, it truly is a once in a lifetime experience.

The last comet that was readily visible to the naked eye was Hale-Bopp in 1997. I was not much of a photographer at the time and lived in the light-polluted suburbs of New York, so my memories of Hale-Bopp are unfortunately dominated by news of the bizarre cult (Heaven’s Gate) that orchestrated a mass suicide soon after the comet appeared. I photographed comet Pan-STARRS in 2013 over the Great Sand Dunes, but I could not really see it without binoculars. That was the last time I was strongly motivated to hunt for a comet with my camera.

Earlier this year, both comets SWAN and ATLAS fizzled after some predicted that they would become naked-eye objects. A couple months ago, comet NEOWISE became the latest comet that was predicted to be visible this summer. This time, the comet exceeded expectations and became the brightest comet to be visible in the US since Hale-Bopp. So, naturally I was excited and quickly planned a few shoots to capture the comet along with the landscape of the Southwest.

As seen in this telephoto shot I took of NEOWISE in the dark skies southeast of Flagstaff, one of the many cool things about NEOWISE is the range of subtle colors it has displayed since its approach to our sun. The head has a subtle green glow that other comets have also displayed.

 

Telephoto shot of NEOWISE from the Flagstaff area.

 

And since it flipped over from being an early morning object (my photos from Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon) to an evening object (shots from Flagstaff and Sedona) two distinct tails became visible; a broad hazy white tail that has hints of gold, and a narrower bluish tail that shoots off at another angle. The white tail is made of small pieces of the comet itself, dust particles of various sizes and masses that spread out behind the comet, while the bluish tail is made of ionized particles, molecular-sized particles or even free electrons. Fascinating!

In my first shoot of the comet, my wife convinced me to head out on little sleep to the south rim of the Grand Canyon—because what could be more majestic than to see an interstellar visitor grace the skies above one of the seven natural wonders of our planet?

I drove up highway 64 to reach the south rim, and had to dodge small groups of deer and elk the whole way up. I have a vague memory of a set of huge antlers facing me in the middle of the highway. By the time I was nearing the south rim, my speed had decreased from the speed limit of 65 down to about 45.  Seeing the comet had to take second seat to my (and the elk) survival.

When I reached the south rim, I could immediately see the comet on the horizon—it was the brightest object in the sky besides the moon and Venus! I watched it descend to the horizon as sunrise approached, and it was an incredible morning!

 

“New, Wise, and Grand” NEOWISE setting behind the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

 

When I came home and showed my wife the photos, she convinced me to head back north with her to her favorite place, Bryce Canyon National Park. We went for a hike during the day, then got up real early for a trip to the canyon rim to photograph the comet over the grand amphitheater of hoodoos. Another magnificent morning!

 

“Sunset, Sunrise, and NEOWISE” The comet from Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park.

 

Then, as the comet switched over from being a morning object visible to the Northeast to an evening object visible to the northwest, I stayed closer to home, first photographing the comet reflected in the wetlands just a short distance from home. (top image)

Finally, given that my gallery is in Sedona, of course I had to think of the ultimate shot of NEOWISE appearing in the red rock landscape that defines Sedona. Since Bell Rock is generally considered to be a spiritual and energetic epicenter of Sedona (and some believe it is an actual spaceship!) It was a no-brainer to plan a photograph of the comet alongside the iconic rocky monument of Bell Rock. I light painted the trees in front with a headlamp to emphasize the complimentary colors, and when I had finished shooting the scene I put my camera away and just stayed a while to watch the comet in the sky, descending behind the great earthly monoliths standing guard in the darkness. It was another of those spiritual, uplifting experiences that keep me enthralled with the natural beauty of Sedona. And I won’t get another chance to witness this amazing event again…at least not for another 6,800 years.

 

“6,800 Years” NEOWISE setting behind Bell Rock in Sedona.

 

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Warming up to the Kofas

sunrise in the Koa Mountains
Morning in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve been dreaming about visiting the Kofa Mountains of southern Arizona for about a decade now. I believe I saw my first photo of this iconic location in a shot by landscape photographer Marc Adamus. I’ve seen numerous other photos from the same location by a slew of well-known professional nature photographers, it’s a not-so-well kept secret location that obviously captures the imagination of the aesthetically inclined.

Since moving to Northern Arizona, the Kofas have been high on my list, but it took me about a year to finally plan a quick trip to this remote area in southwest Arizona. I wanted some good sky conditions for a good sunset and/or sunrise, and every time I had some time to spare it seemed the weather would not cooperate. So, when I eyed this opportunity this week to catch some good sky conditions, I could not pass it up, despite the fact that the forecast was calling for record high temperatures in the desert. But I figured, “it’s still April, how bad could it be?”

Well, according to my car thermometer it was 120 degrees bad as I started driving up the dirt road that leads into the refuge. And based on my other temperature readings it was likely in the 105-106 degree range when I got there. Overnight, as I slept not-so-comfortably in my Hotel Subaru, parked alongside the rocky road, it just barely dropped below 80 degrees by morning. So…it was bad enough. Moral of the story: Don’t visit this place outside of November-March!

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge sunset
Sunset in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

The plus side of the blistering heat is that I’m pretty sure I was the only person in this part of the refuge; I only saw a couple other campers driving in, and no one drove by the night and morning I was camped there. So I got to soak up the sense of isolation and feeling of solitude. True wilderness. If it were not for the amazingly good cell signal, I would surely have felt alone!

Sunset in the Koa National  Wildlife Refuge.
A variety of blooming desert plants greet the end of April in the Kofas.

And what an amazingly beautiful place this is! The photos I had seen do not do it justice. Were it not for the swarms of flies, Cholla cactus spines, and blistering heat, I would have thought I was in heaven. It was all so incredibly remote, rugged, raw, and radiant. Sublime beauty in the desert. I hope to go back this year…but in the winter. 🙂

Sunrise in the Koa Mountains
Pre-dawn colors in the Kofa Mountain desert.
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Tree of Life

With weeks of free time away from my temporarily closed gallery, but no real opportunity to travel, I decided to spend some of my time hunting for the perfect photo of Sedona. Sedona has been my main focus for landscape photography over the past  year, so I wanted to capture something fairly unique that really would speak to me about what makes Sedona a magical place. Over a year ago, I had been scouring the images of Sedona online, looking for something that would really captivate me. I found a photo of this tree in a cave, that a local photographer took eight years ago. It immediately grabbed me, and I knew I had to find this location. I tracked down the photographer (who had since moved away) and explained to him how his photo had inspired me. I told him I was not asking for directions (since it is poor etiquette to hound another photographer for location info) but that I would figure it out eventually!  He responded and thanked me, and reiterated that he did not give out locations information so as to not encourage off-trail hiking.

So, I spent a few hours studying all of his photos from this time and general place, and determined from Google Earth and my own personal hikes approximately where he had  taken the photo. I set out a couple months ago and bushwhacked through thorn bushes, scrambled up cliffs, looking for this cave. I didn’t find it…but I knew I was close…real close!

After I returned from my hike, I sent this photographer a couple photos I took on my hike to prove I had been close to this cave. I politely asked him if he might offer me a clue where to find it, so that I would not unnecessarily fall off a cliff trying to find it.  He obviously appreciated my effort, since he quickly responded with detailed directions to the cave!

Even with his tips, it still took a lot of route finding and pulling cactus thorns out of my arms and legs before I finally found the cave. When I first saw it, chills ran through my spine–it was just as I had imagined from the photo I had seen! But it was getting late in the day and there was no sunlight, so I vowed to return for better light. I just wasn’t sure when that would be.

Third trip, I figured mid-day might be best, so I left late morning and arrived at the cave before noon. There was some good light but it left quickly. I spent a couple hours studying the terrain and placing rocks on the ground and cliff walls, to see how the sunlight was moving around in the cave. I then determined that early morning would be best, since that is when I expected sunlight to bounce off the front wall of the cave and cause it to fill with glowing light.

In the interim between trips, another photographer friend of mine pointed out to me that another  landscape photographer had photographed this tree in 2014, so it obviously was in his words a “semi-known” location.   But it clearly was not a well traveled spot!  This other English photographer mentioned in his description of his shot that he had spent 4 trips to the cave, and determined that the best light would be at 11 am. But that was late summer, and I still felt early morning was best for mid April….

Fourth time’s a charm! I returned before sunrise and hiked in the dark through the thorn bushes and cactus and up to the cave.  The cave was glowing orange at sunrise, but there was still no direct light on the tree. I waited another hour before light slowly advanced at the top of the tree. And that was when it was at its most sublime. I took several sets of images to ensure I had everything in proper focus and with the best light. The resulting final image of this Emory oak is 240 MP, and I intend to offer it as a limited edition at its full size of either 40X60 or 48X72 inches vertical. It will be an amazing reminder of an amazing place, a sacred, special place, at a special time.  The quintessential image of Sedona!

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The Infinite

The Milky Way rising over the Munds Mountain Wilderness in Sedona.

I have had this particular shot in mind for much of this past year. I wanted to get a shot of the full arc of the Milky Way over the iconic eastern horizon in Sedona. From this vantage point above Highway 179, you can see several of the most prominent rock formations in Sedona, including (from right to left) Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Rabbit Ears, Munds Mountain and the Mermaid, and the Nuns and Chapel of the Holy Cross.

I envisioned the landscape lit up by the moon, with enough darkness to let the Mily Way be visible as well. This required very specific conditions–clear skies, a setting moon to the west, a Milky Way not too high in the sky, and enough darkness to see the stars! I studied the night skies with the Stellarium app and determined only one or possibly two days this month would give me the requisite astronomic conditions. And the second morning looked cloudy, so I targeted the morning of March 7th. Moonset was set for 5:38 am, and astronomic twilight–which would quickly render the eastern horizon too bright to make out the Mily Way–was set at 5:23 am. So, I only had about a 15 minute window of opportunity when the moon would be high enough to illuminate the landscape, and low enough to provide enough darkness to the night sky, and before the morning twilight interfered. I left Flagstaff at 4 am and after a short hike got to my vantage point at 5. High clouds were appearing and disappearing and a fast rate overhead; I was a bit concerned that skies would be too overcast during my short “window.” Fortunately, skies cleared as twilight approached, and I had just enough time to fire off a couple sets of multiple exposures of the horizon, which I later stacked in Photoshop to help with noise reduction.

My finished panorama will comfortably print to up to five feet wide, and I look forward to it hanging in my Sedona gallery. It is the quintessential view of Sedona at night, the night sky community in all its glory early in the Milky Way season. A humbling look at our minuscule existence in the face of the universe, The Infinite.

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Morning on Bear Mountain.

Bear Mountain Sunrise.
Sunrise from near the summit of Bear Mountain.

Since the opening of my gallery in Sedona eight months ago, I have been scheming and dreaming of getting that iconic shot of Sedona. I figured it should be a sweeping view of the red rock country, either at sunrise or sunset. Sunrise seemed the more appropriate time, since Sedona is known as a place of renewal and new beginnings. 

My favorite hike so far in Sedona has been the climb up Bear Mountain, which rewards with a high overlook of Sedona. It’s a challenging hike that gains a couple thousand feet of elevation in only a couple miles. Originally I planned on trying to hike up after a clearing winter storm, but after slipping on some ice-covered red rocks, I decided this option was a bit too dangerous. So I changed my vision to a glorious sunrise, without the storm.

I did a couple dry runs up Bear in daylight, to be confident with the climb in the dark.

GPS is always there to save the day, but it feels a bit like cheating to me; I prefer to use some good ol’ fashioned route-finding skills to make my way to the summits.

Then, I waited. I needed optimum sky conditions, with just enough high clouds for a pretty sunrise, but not too many or the sun would be obscured. Finally, I eyed my opportunity when it appeared likely that high clouds would spread over northern Arizona from the west, while the eastern horizon remained clear of the obstructing clouds. It looked like a good recipe for a great sunrise.

I planned on getting up at 4 am; of course my biological clock woke me at 3:45. I was shaking with anticipation and excitement when I looked at an infrared satellite loop and saw high clouds spilling over northern Arizona, dissipating to the east as vertical motions descended.  I drove the hour to the trailhead in total silence; ordinarily I would be playing music but absorbing myself in silence allowed me to practice the shot in my mind.

About half way up Bear, the horizon started to glow in intense red fire, and I knew the sunrise would be impressive. I reached my destination with about 15 ignites to spare, and started searching for a good composition. The spot I had previously scouted was not ideal since it appeared that the sun would rise outside the field of view. So I scrambled a bit and found a new location.

Finally, the clouds lit up and a magnificent scene unfolded in front of me. I kept taking a series of 16 exposures, using the multi-pixel shift function of my new Sony A7r4. A series of huge files

That I could print eight feet wide without losing any of the clarity of the scene.

By the time I reached my car, I was ready for a big breakfast of burrito and beer!

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Playing Chicken With the Night

I see many photographs of the Milky Way. Most of them feature our galaxy as the principle subject of the photo, and usually accompanied by clear skies. This photography has grown a bit cliche for me, although I never tire of seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.

Thanks to the recent dry conditions in Arizona, as the Arizona Monsoon apparently has taken a vacation, I had been planning some night sky photography without the fear of having clouds spoiling my shoot. I did some online research and decided that the view from Chicken Point, a popular spot for hikers and jeep tours at the end of the Broken Arrow and Little Horse Trails in Sedona, would make a great spot for some views of the Milky Way, due to its open views to the south.

I had just a few days to work with. My first attempt was a bit of a letdown, as two jeep loads full of about a dozen young adults unloaded and began drinking alcohol and blaring loud mariachi music. The night sky was obliterated by the light pollution from their headlights. I had some polite suggestions for the partiers as I exited back down the trail in the dark.

On the way out, I discovered once again that Sedona trails are a bit challenging to follow in the dark. Much of the trail crosses bare rock, and the rocks off of the trail are not any different than the trail surface itself. So, I found myself backtracking a few times to rediscover the trail, by looking for footprints in small pockets of sand in between the rock slabs.

With two days left to work with, I had to decide whether to go out on a night with no clouds, or chance it on a night with plenty of high clouds. I had as hunch the cloudy night might make for an interesting combination with the Milky Way–assuming the stars were able to shine through the thin veil of clouds.

So once again, I headed the two miles down the trail, arriving at Chicken Point just after sunset. The clouds were brilliant pink at sunset, and I thought I might have a brief window of opportunity to catch the Milky Way rising while the clouds were still pink from sunset. Sure enough, about a half an hour past sunset the Milky Way began to make an appearance as the sky darkened. Just 15 minutes later and the clouds were no longer as colorful, although the Milky Way was more visible. For just that brief window in time, our galaxy played with the residual colors of the sunset, and it was one of the more remarkable displays of night sky that I have had the pleasure to observe.

And I had the trail to myself this time, no jeeps and no night travelers. It was a surreal spot with the red rocks towering above me like a scene from some rugged canyon on Mars. It was a special moment in a special place, and I feel blessed to have been able to experience it and share it with others.

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The Burrito Test

“Burrito and Red Rocks” (Exclusive edition: 48X72 signed at $10,000,000)

Each day, those of us who spend any time on the internet are inundated with images. I would guess that I see anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of photos on social media each day. Popular images rack up hundreds if not thousands of ‘likes’ and shares, and more than a few photographers judge their success by the number of followers or views that their photographs garner.

This is an example of how imagery, and especially artistic photography, has been devalued by the internet, thanks to sheer volume and availability. Before the internet, most images we saw were in magazines, books, and in (gasp) physical galleries.

Ansel Adams once famously stated that “twelve significant images in one year is a good crop”
Yet, today’s crop of internet photographers would have you believe that at least two significant images a day is easily attainable—because, apparently, two posts a day is optimal for social media engagement. 🙂

To explain why it is socially acceptable to not canonize every photo we see online, I came up with a simple test: The Burrito Test.

The ‘Burrito Test’ is easy to apply. Given any photograph, would you rather have a free ready-to-hang 8X10 print of the photo, or would you rather have a burrito?

If you’d rather have the photo, then it is significant. If you’d rather eat the burrito (which, personally, for me would be about 99.9% of the time…) then, while the photo might be superficially pleasing to the eye, its value to society or to you personally is minimal.

Imagine a world where only significant photos, those that pass the burrito test, would be commented on or shared. In such a world, the number of self-proclaimed professional photographers would be in the hundreds or thousands rather than the millions. You would not need a machete to make your way through Antelope Canyon. There would be fewer photography workshops than there are photographers.

Imagine all these people…living life in peace 😉
Now I am hungry for a burrito…

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The Processing Debate: Is Digital Art Photography?

No, it is not.

I have seen this issue debated many times over the 15-plus year span of my photography career. The discussion becomes more heated and more important as cameras and photo processing software become more powerful and more available to the public. A recent podcast hosted by fellow landscape photographer and friend Matt Payne is an excellent summary of the two opposing viewpoints, and after listening to it I felt it was time to again add my voice to the discussion. My own philosophy has evolved over the years but I have not strayed from the basic belief that there should be a distinction between landscape photography and digital art. Just as painting could not be called photography and vice versa, I think there is a clear distinction between digital art and photography, one that has been blurred my many artists to the detriment of all.

To illustrate the distinction, I have posted three versions of one photograph that I took outside of Sedona in July, a shot of the Milky Way and crescent moon over a desert landscape. The top version is straight out of the camera, a ‘RAW’ file as it appears when imported into Adobe Lightroom, with no processing or profile applied. As with most ‘RAW’ images, it appears rather dull and lifeless. The second version appears directly below it, and represents my final processed version of the shot. It represents my attempt to capture the scene as I observed and experienced it. I purposely chose an image that is on the extreme side of what techniques I regularly use to process the RAW files. For this version, I brought out the shadows in the foreground, increased the contrast, and bumped up the saturation a bit. I probably spent an hour or so just tweaking the colors and contrast in Photoshop. Finally, in order to compensate for the extreme dynamic range in the scene, I used a second faster exposure (1/20s compared to the original 20s exposure) to replace the blown out area where the moon was in the original with a ‘properly’ exposed version of the moon, so the crescent is visible in my final version. Does my processed version look exactly like the scene as I observed it in person, on site? No, it does not. The foreground in my processed shot is much brighter with more detail than I could observe with my naked eye, although with the moonlight and city light pollution I could make out some amount of detail in the landscape. Also, while I could see the Milky Way and galactic core quite clearly in the dark sky, the Milky Way as captured by my Sony A7rii shows considerably more detail than I could make out with my eyes. On the other hand, in person I could clearly see the waxing crescent shape of the moon, whereas the 20 second exposure obviously wiped out all that detail. The final version is clearly a compromise–my attempt to capture the scene as closely as I experienced it, while conceding that the camera never takes a photo that looks “just as you see it.”

The final version on the bottom represents an extreme version of post-processing. It looks ghastly to me, but I routinely see similar ghastly images rack up thousands of views, likes, and shares on social media, so perhaps my disgust is misguided. For this version, I bumped up the exposure and saturation considerably, by processing the foreground and background separately and then combining the two versions. Then, I completely replaced the moon with a full moon version from an entirely different scene, to create a ‘fantasy’ scene. The result is something I saw in my mind’s eye, certainly not with my unassisted eyes. It’s a creation of my imagination rather than a representation of an experience in nature. I would not hesitate to differentiate between this creation and the version above it. I am comfortable calling the latter “landscape photography” while the former, in my opinion, can only be called “digital art”

Why is the distinction important? Because, as the podcast reveals, landscape photography is unique in the arts in that it is the only medium that directly captures the light of a scene through mechanical means. It therefore creates an expectation that what one sees in the photograph is something that one could see and experience in person with the right motivation and the right circumstances.

Why are expectations important? To answer that question, let me propose a hypothetical. Suppose I decided my life purpose was to observe and photograph an aurora borealis at the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Since there have been aurora sighted as far south as New Orleans, this is not outside the realm of possibilities. But it is probably a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. So…I patiently wait year after year, targeting solar storms and following the cycles, spend many hours and days scouting the canyon for the perfect location. Then, one lucky night, I get extremely lucky and observe that aurora; I’m prepared and get the perfect exposures, and I’m able to process the shot so it reflects this experience of the lifetime. It’s a ‘holy grail’ shot that every landscape photographer dreams of. Meanwhile, someone who feels that there is no line between digital art and photography decides that they would like to boost their popularity on social media, so they spend a couple hours in Photoshop combining a shot of the Grand Canyon with a second, unrelated, photo of an amazing aurora, taken somewhere in Norway. Since the aurora as seen from the northern latitudes is almost certain to be more impressive than one seen as far south as Arizona, this composite image is quite impressive and quickly goes viral on social media, earning the ‘photographer’ quite a bit of attention and offers of licensing and print purchases from prospective buyers.

Both versions of this “Grand Canyon Aurora” are deserving of the title “art.” So who is the greater artist? Arguably, it is the second person, the one who created the image by combining two unrelated images. His resulting image is more impressive visually, and he can be applauded for coming up with the idea in the first place. As anyone who has worked extensively with Photoshop knows, the mere process of combining the two images at least somewhat convincingly takes a great amount of acquired skill with the software–the average Joe could not pull it off. In contrast, the first photographer simply was very patient and got lucky, and required a minimal amount of skill to process the shot to present this amazing scene of an aurora over the Grand Canyon. However, who is the greater “landscape photographer”? I don’t see how anyone could argue otherwise–it has to be the first photographer. He is the one who put in all the time and effort to capture and amazing–and true–natural experience, one that anyone could truthfully aspire to see in person. The manipulator’s version is just a sham–and if presented as reality it is also a lie. Ethics have a place in any art form, and landscape photography is no excpetion. This is why labels matter.

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Opportunity in Change


Sunset, from the lava fields north of Flagstaff.

2018 has been a year of transition for me. Susie, the woman who challenged and changed my way of looking at the world (as expressed in my August 2017 blog “In love with Photography”) proposed to me in January; we married in June outside of the Great Sand Dunes. Within a few weeks we sold both of our houses in Colorado, while buying a new home in the Ponderosa forest south of Flagstaff, Arizona. Susie and I had debated and discussed the move; we will miss the one-of-a-kind scenery of the Colorado Front Range, and I particularly will miss the proximity to alpine country at 14000 feet. Ultimately we decided the best move for our careers, our family, and our partnership was to make the move to northern Arizona. Flagstaff, at 7000 feet, offers a lot of the same benefits of living in Colorado along with the proximity to world class scenery. With change comes opportunity.


Lightning from a monsoonal storm at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Within a couple weeks of moving, in between unpacking boxes and setting up the new home, we made our first trip to the Grand Canyon, less than two hours drive from home. We were greeted by a magnificent storm moving through the canyon, and followed the deluge to the west until we exited the park and celebrated our good fortune with beer and pizza in Grand Canyon Village. Since then, I have spent many days scouting the canyonlands south along the Mogollon Rim, and especially around the wonderful town of Sedona, which I had never visited before this move.


Mars rises over Cathedral Rock in Sedona on a quiet night in August.

Even the relatively unvisited areas within just a few miles of home have proven to be a fruitful source of new scenery, new visions, and new ideas. The thrill of new discovery calls me to seek out both the hidden and obvious beauty that fills the landscape in the Desert Southwest. Over the coming months I will continue to challenge myself to find and reveal nature’s art, and with new beginings comes a new opportunity to fulfill my goals of bringing the joy of discovery and the lesssons of art in photography to a wider audience. Change is good, when you let it bring you growth and happiness.


Kelly Canyon, in the Ponderosa forest south of Flagstaff (just bring mosquito repellant!)

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