August 07, 2017 • Leave a Comment
Way back in May of 2012 we had a solar eclipse visible in the southern part of the USA. Since successful viewing of an eclipse requires a clear sky, I was not willing to commit to driving any distance in the hopes I would be lucky enough to witness this event. I had at least a 50/50 chance of missing it due to weather.
I went to breakfast that morning near my home in Crested Butte, Colorado and check the weather and the track of totality for my area while I waited for my bacon. As it turned out, the weather would be perfect. The nearest landmark along the path of totality was Shiprock, New Mexico. That's about a 5-hour drive from my home but, since it was May, I had nothing better to do than driving to Shiprock for the evening eclipse.
I had an idea of the photo I was hoping to get but I had never photographed an eclipse before and rarely point my cameras toward the sun, even for sunsets. I had a lot of time to think this thing through but no time to practice my technique.
After arriving at my destination I had a few hours to find a perfect location. Much of the land around Shiprock is Navajo Nation private property and I knew from previous visits that they can get pretty excited about people crossing fences and even driving on their roads. I staked out my place along the highway in the state's right of way just to be safe. I was not alone!
Getting the mountain and the sun in the same shot was my goal but I really didn't know exactly where the sun was going to be when it was eclipsed. I ended up using my 80-200mm, my 300mm, and my 400mm lenses for the photos. My first shot was using the longer lenses just to capture the shadow of the Earth falling across the sun.
I quickly realized that getting an acceptable exposure while looking into the sun was going to make it impossible to see any kind of landform or mountain. If I exposed for a dark sky with a little foreground the sun would be too blown-out to see the shadow of the earth. Bummer! I also came to the realization that if I properly exposed the totality of the earth's shadow within the outline of the sun I was going to get a really boring image.
I could easily create this graphic in Photoshop without having to travel to another state and hope for good weather!
So, as I continued to make images with my long lenses and work through the exposure issues, I realized another problem. When I shot with my 80-200mm zoom I got lots of unwanted lens flare and ghosting of the sun/earth part of the image. I hate lens flare! I know it's really popular in a lot of portrait situations but for a landscape photographer, it's bad news. What to do?
As it turned out, the location I had chosen was about perfect. Except for the power lines and pole. I was able to achieve a good exposure using HDR techniques and an exposure range of about 6 stops to achieve the photo above. I still wasn't thrilled with the power pole and the size of the sun was a little underwhelming. Since I think using HDR for my landscape photos is cheating just a bit, I decided to cheat some more and try a composite image. The photo/illustration below is my final result. I'm pretty happy with it. It involves a 6 stop HDR shot of the mountain with most of the lens-flair and ghosting retouched composited with my favorite frame of the earth eclipsing the sun. It's not perfect. It was a huge amount of work using a lot more post processing than I'm comfortable with but I'm pretty happy with the result.
I hope you all have fun chasing the next eclipse later this month. Happy hunting!
June 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment
With the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival about a week away, it's time to start talking flowers. The Colorado State Legislature named Crested Butte the Wildflower Capital of Colorado a bunch of years ago. There were very good reasons. Anyone spending any length of time around Crested Butte in the summertime knows first-hand about the abundance of local color both human and botanical.
Simply wandering the streets and alleys of this former coal mining town will provide a great introduction to what's available if you venture into the back country.
There are 5 major drainages that converge into the East River valley near Crested Butte. Each of these valleys has its own character and flora. Heading west over Kebler pass is the most heavily traveled route and probably offers the least in terms of wildflowers. Most locals will spend their time in other valleys both to avoid the traffic and to discover better varieties of flora.
The Slate River Valley is the next valley to the north of town. It's a great drive toward Paradise Divide and a good place for dispersed camping as well as some sporadic wildflowers. This drainage is one of the best places to find Pasque flowers which are the first things to bloom once the snow starts to melt. They will be long-gone by Festival time. Lupine, Sunflowers, and Columbine are pretty easy to find along this drive.
Just to the north of the Slate River drainage, you will find Washington Gulch. This route eventually connects with the Slate River Road and either brings you home or takes you up to Paradise Divide. There are huge fields of Lupine, Sunflowers, and mixed varieties along this route. It's one of my favorite places to photograph flowers.
Moving north again, the next area you'll discover is the East River Valley which trends northwest toward the former mining town of Gothic. Gothic is now occupied by the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and the wildflower offerings are best in the 5 miles or so from the town of Mount Crested Butte to the lab at Gothic. The meandering East River offers great photo opportunities all year long but makes a great backdrop to the flowers near the road.
You'll find Lupine, "Skunk Cabbage", Glacier Lilies, Sunflowers, and Columbine along this drive and under the trees along the way.
Be sure to stop by the visitor's center in Gothic for information about the research they do and ice cream. The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab also offers lots of public seminars, hikes, and educational opportunities.
Gothic Road is a great drive any time of the day but plan on taking your time. It gets lots of car and bike traffic and the speed limit is only 20 mph.
To do this drive you'll pass through the town of Mount Crested Butte. There are tons of sunflowers and usually some Lupine near the stables. The rustic fence of the Gold Link subdivision makes a great foreground for distant vistas of Whiterock Mountain.
Moving around toward the east brings us to the Brush Creek area. To find this drainage you will travel south of Crested Butte to the Skyland residential area and golf course. Turn left onto Brush Creek Road but keep to the right at the entrance to the residential areas. You're now on the southeastern flank of Crested Butte Mountain. The hillside along the road gets abundant sunshine and you'll find a huge variety of blooming flowers stretching for a half mile or so. You might have to do a little vertical hiking to find a great composition but it's usually worth the effort. If you're here during the Festival, keep your eyes peeled for Colorado photo legend John Fielder. He loves taking his workshops to this area.
If you continue along Brush Creek Road you will pass the Cold Spring Ranch and in about a mile start to climb into huge, open fields of sunflowers with great views of Mount Whetstone.
If you're in the area and looking for a more personal guide service or photo instruction, I offer classes each morning of the Festival and private photo tours all year long. There's a link at the top of this page for more information on my services.
The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival runs from July 7 - July 16 this year and the headquarters are at the Crested Butte Community School. You can call them at (970) 349-2571 or use the hot link for their website.
I hope to see you here next week. The flowers are raging!
June 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment
After photographing with a wide variety of film cameras over 30 years or so it was time to invest in the growing trend of digital photography. Most of us started testing the waters of digital photography with amateur models from a variety of vendors. My first "professional" digital SLR was the Fujifilm S2 Pro.
The FinePix S2 Pro was based on a Nikon body so all of my lenses would still function. That was probably the most important reason for choosing this camera. Another factor was the fact that Fuji was years ahead of Nikon in their chip and software development at the time. The FinePix cameras actually used hexagon shaped pixels which gave them much smoother color transitions which were a big problem for these low resolution chips. It didn't take long to upgrade to the newer S3 Pro when it came out.
To be honest, I can't remember what significant improvement the S3 offered but a couple of years later it got replaced by the FinePix S5 Pro which offered a dramatic improvement in resolution and image quality.
The S5 was the first DSLR that really offered better images than the film cameras of the time. After this purchase it was rare to find me shooting film unless there was a specific need by the client. This was also the final chapter in the DSLR line for Fuji. I have always wondered why they left this part of the market because they had a lead in the technology and a clearly superior product for portrait and wedding photographers.
One of the downsides to digital cameras is that they don't last as long as film cameras. There's a lot more going on in there and a lot more stuff to fail. Also, we always want more pixels and better dynamic range along with the other bells and whistles. After several years my trusty S5 Pro got replaced by a shiny, new Nikon D700.
The D700 offered some image enhancements for landscape photography and a bit higher resolution over the Fuji. It's build quality was also superior, offering better protection against dust and moisture. I loved the ergonomics of the D700 and was quick to lust after its 36 megapixel replacement the Nikon D800.
After reading a bunch of reviews for the D800 I came to the conclusion that I would need to replace my desktop computer to take advantage (or even load) these much-larger files. Not being able to find the perfect computer for imaging, I decided to build my own. I spent a lot of time doing the research and questioning others who were building dedicated Photoshop computers before I took the plunge. After finally deciding on all the components the order was placed and a few weeks later all the parts arrived. About 6 hours later I had a new whiz-bang computer and could think about ordering the Nikon D800.
The Nikon D800 is my current workhorse. It provides huge files which make large prints and canvases a breeze. The panoramas I create with stitching these images are monsters but more important is the fact that the image quality and sharpness is greater than even my medium format images. I frequently create 30" x 40" family portraits and panoramas extending 100" or so. They look fantastic! The dynamic range is superb enabling me to pull details out of the shadows that other photographers have to use HDR techniques to achieve. I love this camera!
Finally, for kicks and giggles I added a rangefinder Fujifilm X 100s a few years ago. This is a great, small, light camera for street photography and vacations. It's my "point and shoot" of choice. It offers superb image quality and sharpness and has an actual optical viewfinder which kind of brings me full-circle back to the Nikon S2 where I started.
June 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment
In 1984 I was visited by a career change. My photojournalism path and I parted ways and I opened a portrait and wedding studio called "Dusty Demerson's Portraits Plus". The Plus was my way of saying that I would take on just about any photography job that included a check. It did not take me long to figure out that larger format prints were much more profitable than 8 x 10s so I had to choose some new equipment. After much deliberation I ended up choosing the Mamiya M 645 with three lenses.
This camera system was fairly lightweight, reliable, and more affordable than the other options at the time. I did get the metered finder which never worked very well. I did like that it had a rectangular format instead of the square Hasselblad format. Eventually I purchased the motor drive which weighed a ton but provided a very useful handle and platform for a shoe-mount flash. This combination became my wedding rig for many years and resulted in my right bicep becoming about double the size of my left one.
A few years after starting the studio I purchased a photo lab in Crested Butte, Colorado. The combination of lab and studio has been my business model since 1987. New equipment became possible with this much-more-profitable business model. The first move was into a larger format camera.
The Wista 45DX was and still is a fabulous camera. I sold mine a few years ago but I still miss using it. My initial purchase included a Nikkor 150 mm lens which is a slightly wide normal for this format. Over time I added a Rodenstock 210, a Schneider 90, and a Schneider 65mm which is incredibly wide and very difficult to use well.
Shortly after adding the 4 x 5 camera I also upgraded the 120 cameras to the Mamiya RB67.
This system really required using a tripod unless you were a Mr. America contestant but the image size, sharpness, and shear intimidation factor of the camera should not be overstated. Add a few stools and two Quantum Qpak battery powered strobes and you had a complete outdoor portrait studio that would scare off all but the most robust competitor. Being able to create 40 x 60 family portraits with no hint of grain was a wonderful added bonus.
As my photographic challenges grew so did my quiver of cameras. My next investment was the true panorama format, Russian made, Horizon 202.
This was one strange camera. It used a slit shutter that panned over almost two normal frames of film. If you photographed moving objects they either got squished or stretched depending on their orientation to the moving shutter. It was kind of fun to play with that effect but as a landscape camera, it was a fabulous first step into panorama photography. My Horizon paid for itself many times over with unique wide format images. It did have its shortcomings though so I upgraded to the Hassleblad XPan.
The XPan is the most expensive camera I have ever purchased. It was based on 35mm film and I used the standard 45mm lens as well as the 90mm lens. The filter to even out the exposure for the 45mm lens was my second most expensive lens. Pretty scary! This camera taught me that Nikon lenses may not be the sharpest available. The Hassleblad optics are beyond compare and are easily the sharpest I have ever used. My XPan was also the most difficult to let go when I sold all of my film cameras. I still miss it sometimes. While I can capture more pixels by panning my digital cameras I still cannot capture a single frame instantly like I could with the Hassy. This wraps up the film cameras that have kept food on my table. The next installment will be the digital cameras.
June 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment
Most of us that have been making pictures for any length of time have used a wide variety of camera equipment. Especially if we have bridged the gap from film to digital imaging. Here are the cameras that I have used in my 40+ year journey through professional photography.
When I was in High School I discovered my Dad's S2 rangefinder and started playing with it. No meter and a really funky way of loading film made this camera a bit of an adventure but I didn't know any better. I also had no clue how to expose film correctly. It's a miracle I got any images at all.
The first camera I ever purchased was a Topcon RE Super with a 50 mm f1.4 lens. It had a light meter which helped a bunch and was built like a tank which also turned out to be pretty useful. I'm not sure this camera ever had color film in it. Tri X was my life! I used this camera to achieve a degree in photojournalism and to get my first newspaper job. When you only own one lens you always have the right one on the camera!
The first camera I ever purchased new was a Nikon F with the Ftn meter/finder and a wonderful 50mm f1.2 lens. The camera had been a special order for someone in Enid, Oklahoma and I just happened to wander into the camera shop while I was delivering oilfield equipment between photojournalism jobs. This tool was my pride and joy for many years. The meter would need cleaning and adjusting about every year and the flash sync terminal kept coming loose but the Nikon F was built for everyday professional use and never let me down.
My first "back-up" camera was the Nikon FM2. I decided that having only one camera while running the photo department of a daily newspaper was a little dangerous so I added the FM2 to my camera bag. I purchased it with the MD11 motor drive which was probably the most ergonomically designed pair I have ever used. They fit together like a hand in a glove and having the ability to advance film without taking the camera away from my eye helped create a good handful of award-winning images. According to my calculations, my first FM2 shot more than a half million frames before I tripped over the tripod that it was on sending it into the pavement. That was a very sad day!
These were the cameras that transported the film for my early years and my newspaper days. In 1985 I started a new chapter as a portrait and wedding photographer. That meant I needed some new, larger format equipment.
September 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment
Local pro photographers never miss these locations during the fabulous fall color extravaganza around Crested Butte, Colorado. You won’t want to miss these spots either!
March 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Colorful homes and buildings of Crested Butte, Colorado below the towering peaks of Paradise Divide.
Technology makes achieving old-time techniques easy
The earliest forms of color photography involved applying oil paints to traditional black and white images. There are lots of examples of these hand-tinted photographs still around. Most of them were tinted using less-vibrant colors and ended up looking like pastel-colored soft, romantic images. The effect was really popular with portraits but still somewhat acceptable with landscapes and architectural studies.
When I first opened my studio I was constantly searching for ways to set myself apart from the other photographers in town. I tried my hand at hand-tinting photographs that I had created. I could never get the technique down. I guess my hand-eye coordination was a little lacking because I spent more time trying to take the paint off places than I did putting it on. I still liked the effect but I just didn’t have the skill or patience for creating this type of art.
Twenty years and lots of digital technology later, achieving a hand-tinted photo look is amazingly simple to achieve. By using traditional digital printing techniques we only have to “paint” the first copy making the technique a cost-effective way of creating a unique piece of art that we can re-sell over and over again.
Here’s how it’s done. Using Adobe Photoshop open your color photograph and do your usual edit/enhancement work. Use “save as” and save your edited photo as a .psd or .tif file with a different name or just add “bw” to the file name. If you were using layers to achieve your edits (as you should) you should flatten your photo before saving. Don’t close the image.
At this point you want to duplicate your background layer giving you two identical copies of your photo on two layers. Create a layer mask on the top layer. Now, using your favorite method of converting a color image into a black and white image, turn the top layer into a black and white version of your photo. At this point you will have a black and white photo on your monitor with a color version hidden underneath.
Now click on the layer mask you created, highlighting the mask. Using the paintbrush tool with the foreground color set to black, paint the black and white layer allowing the color of the layer below to show through. You can adjust the opacity of your brush as you paint on the mask to allow more or less color to show through as you paint although on the image above I used 100% opacity since I wanted more-vibrant colors. I usually start with a big, soft-edged brush for larger areas, then clean-up the edges with a small, hard-edged brush.
Once you return the color to the parts of your image that you want to be in color, you can adjust the saturation and hue of the colors by making those adjustments to the bottom (color) layer. You can play around with soft and hard-edged brushes of different sizes to get the effect you like best. Now save your layered photograph so you can continue to refine your edited version.
“Playing” is my favorite approach to learning new techniques because it takes all the pressure of “creating a work of art” off of the photographer. With a little practice this technique can be added to your toolbox and can provide an “old-time” look to some of your favorite images. You may even find that this technique can “save” a photo that you like but just isn’t hitting a home run. Have fun!
You can always see more of my photography at www.ImagesColorado.com
The post Using Adobe Photoshop to Achieve a Hand-Tinted Effect appeared first on Dusty Demerson - Crested Butte Photographer.
February 09, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Breaking the Rules to Create Photographs With Feelings
by Dusty Demerson
Way back when I was learning photography in school the concept of a white point and a black point in a finished print could not be expressed strongly enough. It’s a concept that Ansel Adams writes about in his materials and most other photographic educators, myself included, tend to agree with.
The principal states that there should be some area within the image that should fall on pure white and an area that should represent the darkest black within the image. If this approach is followed the print will contain a full range of tones and thus will be a “perfect” print. It will also be visually pleasing since a full tonal range is presented. This concept more-strongly practiced in black and white photography but still holds true in fine color print-making as well. How many landscape images have you seen where the area below the horizon looks great but the clouds are “blown out” and pure white? Where does your eye go when you look at such a print? It goes to the sky. Our eyes tend to fall on the brightest areas of a scene first. If that area has no detail or texture, we have created a weak print that pulls our eyes away from the subject and into the sky. While having both an area of black and area of white represented in the print, we need to be careful how much area within the print represents these tones.
While this approach is not the worst way to teach print-making to new photographers it falls far-short of providing good guidance in making expressive prints. While most great photographs will have a black point or a white point within their edges, not every scene offers a tonal range that broad. The scene above is a great example. I could have stretched the tonal range of the image so there was a black area in the loft of the barn. I could have also made the snow pure white. The photograph would have been technically excellent since a full tonal range would have been represented. The photograph would have also looked garish and unnatural. The finished image would not have created the emotional response of a barn in a snow storm. Creating an emotional response by our viewers is the whole point of professional photography. Ideally, we can evoke the same emotional response we had when we stopped to make the photo. Sometimes our photographs will contain a full tonal range. Sometimes we must be willing to bend the rules to create an emotional photograph.
The next time you sit down at your computer to prepare an image for print, step back for a moment and look at your screen. Does your photograph recreate the feeling that caused you to pick up the camera or have you edited the “life” out of your image? Rules and guidelines are a great place to start learning a craft but at some point we have to be willing to move beyond rules and create images with feeling and emotion.
See more of my photography at www.imagescolorado.com
January 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment
The past several years have been difficult for artists. Many brick-and-mortar galleries have closed and that trend seems to be continuing into 2014. Even very successful galleries in art destinations like Santa Fe, New Mexico are closing their doors and “going private”.
Difficult times for art galleries mean difficult times for artists too. Several galleries that were quite successful selling my work a few years ago have dropped to zero sales in the past year or so. Sales of art through the traditional gallery model have been challenging, to say the least, for the past several years now. It’s not just photography either. Sales of all types of art have been declining since the economy turned south. Only the extremely high-priced collectible and rare works have been able to hold their value.
That being said, 2013 was my best year ever for selling my landscape photography. Since I live in rural Colorado where there are relatively few gallery opportunities and even less potential buyers, I had decided a long time ago that gallery representation would have to be supported by a strong online presence and other opportunities. Art fairs have provided great opportunities to find new collectors in the past few years. Another growing niche for landscape photographs is stock photography. While the stock photography market in general is a challenging place to earn any real income, unique local images can still demand good money from clients wanting a strong geographic presence on their websites and in their brochures and advertising.
As an artist that loves most aspects of his craft, I also enjoy creating lifestyle family portraits and a few portfolios for high school seniors. While the family portrait and wedding photography business used to be my “bread and butter” only the family portrait side of the business provides significant income today. While many photographers are complaining that the iPhone is putting them out of business, I would maintain that if they are competing with iPhone users they aren’t really photographers at all. Real photography clients are still investing in adequately sized and beautifully presented images of landscapes and their families. However, 2013 marked the first time in my history that my landscape photography income eclipsed my portrait and wedding income.
With all the diverse ways to turn photography into income-producing work I have to say that as artists, we have it pretty easy. Painters, sculptors and other artists don’t have nearly the variety of outlets for their artwork as photographers do. Even though photography, in general, doesn’t command the same prices, our costs are generally much lower and our opportunities are greater than any other medium. Art belongs on the walls and in the halls of homes, offices and public spaces but photography, like no other medium, can also be used on web pages, note cards, brochures and anywhere else an image can tell a story or support a concept.
It’s time to get back behind the camera!
January 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment
The Business of Being an Artist
We’ve all heard the term “Starving Artist” and we probably all know friends who fit the description. I’m sure there are many reasons why artists tend not to be prosperous financially. Of course, there are a few great exceptions to this statement but I’ll bet there are more that are struggling than prospering. I’ll use a personal situation as an example.
I’m involved with a local co-op gallery of wonderful artists. We have a good (but not great) location on the main street of my small, tourist – oriented town. Our rent is partially subsidized by another organization that uses the back of our location for their offices. Each artist pays rent of $80 per month and works an 8 hour shift in the gallery each week. Let’s assume that any of the artists could get another job for $8 an hour which is the low-end of the pay scale in my town. If you crunch the math the monthly cost of participating in the gallery is $80 in rent plus 32 hours at $8 each, or $336. Typically we only pay rent for the 4 months of the season so our seasonal cost would be $1344. The gallery keeps a 20% commission for its operating expenses so each artist needs to sell $1,680 in art each season to break even….sort of. Put another way, we each need to sell $420 worth of art each month.
Let’s say I do sell $420 this month. Great! Well, not really. First of all, I’m doing this calculation using a minimum wage formula that would still qualify me for food stamps and other social bail-outs. It’s also an affront to my college education, not to mention grad school. But let’s move on. So I sold $420 worth of my art this month giving me $336 in take-home pay. To achieve those sales I also have had to invest time and materials. Let’s say it took me 5 hours to create the art I sold for $420. Again, at $8 per hour I must subtract $40 as an expense. I also had the work printed, matted and framed for $100 bringing my total expenses to $140. I have invested $140 to create $420 worth of art which now provides me a net income of $196.
Artwork sale $420
Gallery commission -$ 84 $336
Materials cost -$100 $236
Labor cost -$40 $196
I think you can see where this is headed. My 8 hours in the gallery and 5 hours creating my art has made me $196 or roughly $25.50 per hour invested. That sounds great until April 15th. On tax day I will pay self employment tax of about 14% on all of my income. I owe $27.44 on this month’s art sales. But I will also end up in the 15% income tax bracket so I owe $29.40 in federal income tax. Here’s the silver lining! This income level will probably help me avoid any state income taxes and I’ll have $139.16 left over after these expenses to buy food, insurance, gas, my car, tools, etc. I’m essentially working for $10.70 per hour after taxes.
What seems like a decent deal in a co-op gallery really doesn’t count for much at the end of the month unless my art is selling like hotcakes. $420 in gross sales provides a net of $139.16 after taxes for 13 hours of work.
The reason there are so many starving artists is not because they are bad at their craft. It’s because they don’t crunch the numbers. There are a few solutions. Raise prices, cut expenses, shift to being a part-time artist or just enjoy a great hobby and forget trying to make a living at art. What will you do with this information?
By Dusty Demerson
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Recent PostsHow to Photograph a Solar Eclipse Where the Wildflowers Are The Cameras that Got Me to Where I Am Today Part 3 The Cameras that Got Me to Where I Am Today Part 2 The Cameras that Got Me to Where I Am Today Part 1 5 Must-See Places for Crested Butte Fall Color Using Adobe Photoshop to Achieve a Hand-Tinted Effect Creating Emotional Photographs It’s Easier to Earn a Living as a Photographer Why Artists are Starving