Feeling Thankful

Silent City

-Bryce Canyon National Park after sunset, when all the people have gone and the city becomes silent-

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, a holiday where we reflect on what we are thankful in our life and celebrate with friends or family.  I’ve been looking over images from 2015 and this year has been incredible to say the least.  I’ve met many new people, traveled to new places, saw some amazing sights and have learned so much about myself and about photography.  All of my travels have been in 3 states (UT, WY, MT), with any one of those states offering more to see and explore than one year allows.  I’ve now spent 10 years of my life in UT and I haven’t scratched the surface of what this place has to offer the outdoors lover.  WY & MT are the same in this regard…endless.  My traveling is mainly local as you can see, and although I didn’t leave these 3 states, I felt I was rarely home.


Sterling is traveling the US on an Indian motorcycle, for one year.  Awestruck by Yellowstone under the full moon-

2015 has brought me to new places with my camera that I previously viewed as uninteresting.  The West Desert of Utah, Wyoming, Yellowstone (see previous post) and SE Utah come to mind.  I became interested in these places specifically for their misconception of being uninteresting.  I’m continuing a long-term project of showcasing these areas in UT as “Utah Unseen”, to show you don’t need to go to National Parks or popular places to find beauty.  I very well may begin this same project for Wyoming next year.  I strongly believe one can find amazing light, beautiful scenery and have a memorable experience in Utah without ever visiting a National Park.  We have 5 remarkable Parks in UT that attract millions of visitors each year and at times, the Parks can be VERY crowded.  From a photography perspective, these iconic places are photographed to death and taking your own photo at a few iconic landmarks means bumping shoulders and tripods with many other photographers.  Despite the crowds, I am still entertained by how easy it is to get away from the crowds in the Parks and have a completely different experience, one of relative quiet and solitude.

-He’s “doing” all the National Parks, with a zest you dream of and a lemon drop trailer to match-

This year has also introduced me to some amazing people and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  Strangers, in strange towns.  People with genuine care and compassion, people with a zest for life that so many dream of, people who don’t live in the past or future, and people who have pure smiles.  I can easily see myself photographing these people more in 2016 as I explore a new style of photography in addition to what I currently enjoy.  You hear it time and time again, and maybe you’ve experienced it yourself, that traveling isn’t about the sights you see.  Memories of sunsets and sunsets fade, details of foreign cities disappear and time smooths everything out.  But some things you don’t forget and those involve the people you meet and those you travel with.  Photography parallels this thought in a way and so much of today’s images we are bombarded with are merely snapshots of the present and lose appeal a short time after.  Images should be able to last longer than that (physically they do) and not be so quickly forgotten.  I think of this more often now when creating images, if they will be appealing in 6 months, 2 years, 5 years, etc.  I look over older images to see which ones still hold that appeal.  Give it a try sometime with older photographs you have and see which ones stand out.  I bet you already know the answer to this though and it doesn’t involve that pretty sunset you saw one time.

-She volunteers her time to reenact Civil War scenes, High Tea was a ritual forgotten by many-

I’ll be sharing quite a few images over the upcoming month to show more of the experiences I mentioned above.  This year, as much as any other, has been immensely transformative for me and I can’t help but feel so very thankful.  I hope you are also able to reflect on your year and feel thankful in some way, no mater where you are in this world.

Thank you all for reading,


-Jay’s family produces more than watermelons, they create tradition.  With pride-

Goodbye DSLR, Hello… Part II

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera” – Dorothea Lange


New cameras have become incredibly good at capturing all the details your eyes can see and are highly capable of creating photographs that mirror reality.  Digital sensors actually see better in low light than our eyes do! For some people, these cameras are the right tool for capturing scenes as they saw it so they don’t have to say “this picture doesn’t do the place justice” when sharing their photographs.  Because I’m not trying to show what a place looked like, these new cameras aren’t the right tool for me.  In a previous post, I mentioned I was switching cameras.  I recently sold my DSLR and purchased the camera I believe is the best fit for my style and vision.  Before I get to the specifics, I’ll describe a few things I was looking for in a camera:

  1. It needs to be rugged and dependable
  2. It needs to not limit my creativity
  3. It needs to be capable of producing quality images
  4. It needs to have quality lenses available
  5. It needs great battery life
  6. It needs to be easy to use in the dark & cold weather
  7. It needs a mirror lock-up
  8. It needs to be light & small
  9. It needs to be able to perform multiple exposures
  10. It needs to be simple

These necessities eliminated medium and large format cameras, most P&S, and mirrorless cameras.  There are a few smaller DSLR’s capable of producing high-quality images but they fail on the rugged/dependable requirement.  For me, the choice was clear, a Nikon FM.  This camera is extremely simple in appearance with fully mechanical (FM) operation.  Two tiny batteries power the light meter and last for years.  It’s solid, simple, proven and more than a camera, it’s a tool.  The camera is smaller and lighter than my previous DSLR (Canon 7d mII) and the lenses are lighter than the big “L” lenses.  The batteries are not even comparable with one battery weighing as much as a penny while the DSLR batteries were more like rocks.


I could have easily gone with several other Nikon’s, or even Canon/Minolta/Olympus etc. but later models began incorporating more electronics and weight.  For me, this was the right fit.  For many, many others, this camera is not the right tool.  I have no doubt this camera will provide challenges and some setbacks, but I’m OK with this.  I also don’t plan on this being my sole camera because I feel I have other forms of expression (think video).  That will be for another post though:)  For now, a majority of my work will be creative landscape art and a simple camera with slide film is perfect for this.

The drawbacks to this tool/approach are plentiful and I’ll mention a few:

  1. Instant image review – NONE.
  2. Sharing work via social media – Not instant
  3. $$$
  4. High speed action – 1/1000 shutter speed max
  5. Low light/high ISO – ISO 50 film aka SLOW
  6. $$$
  7. Not weather sealed
  8. Not practical for assignment work
  9. No auto-focus
  10. Primitive light meter

Sounds horrible;)  On the bright side of things, this tool has advantages to cameras with a digital sensor, MF/LF cameras or new film cameras.  So, here’s a few advantages to this tool:

  1.  NO DIGITAL NOISE – so long, goodbye, farewell.  Color banding, blotches, brownish blacks, pixel “junk”, dead spots…all gone.
  2. Lighter camera, more miles hiked.  And hiking more miles makes me happy:)
  3. Less photos taken = more selective = better images.  This formula works for me.
  4. Depth.  Sorry digital lovers, film wins this one no contest.
  5. Slows the process.  Same as #3, but from a technique perspective.  Better focus, light, composition, subject are all attained by slowing down.
  6. Anticipation.  Not for getting film back!  Anticipation of moments instead of reacting to moments.  Observing light and preparing build photography skills.
  7. No dead batteries, ever.  If it did happen, the camera works without them.
  8. Simplicity.  The camera becomes an extension of your eyes and mind, and not a roadblock.  There are no menus, settings, switches and lights to distract you.
  9. Creating a physical product.  You can’t hold a RAW file.
  10. Challenge.  This won’t be easy.  I will fail.  I will miss moments.  I won’t be able to share work as much.  I won’t have as many images.  But I like challenges:)


This blog post will be the last time I write about and discuss this camera.  I hesitate even bringing cameras into discussion because EVERYONE has an opinion on them.  That’s fine.  I have mine too.  I strongly believe that cameras don’t matter and they are strictly tools for expressing a vision.  We all have different visions of what we choose to photograph and thus, have different needs for cameras.  Moving on, I hope to share some work in the next month or so from an upcoming trip to Southern Utah.  I look forward to sharing images, good ones and bad ones, to show some of the learning process.  Regardless of the format of photography, the principles are all the same.  Light, form & expression.  It’s that simple.

Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US and thanks for reading along,




“Light Wind”

“Light Wind”

Wind River Mountains, Wyoming

(Click to view large)

Continuing on with images that may be included in my “best of” for 2015, is this image from deep in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.  I chose to spend my final night of this backpacking trip at Vista Pass where there was a small lake and some nearby open spots in the forest.  Despite the name, the view from camp or near the lake wasn’t as incredible as the name “Vista” suggests.  I’d allowed some extra time that evening to photograph so I had to either eat dinner early or not eat until after dark.  Dinner in the dark is fairly common when out shooting but this time I had time to eat before wandering the area above camp.  The sky was grey and featureless so I wasn’t in too much of a rush to finish dinner.  I noticed a small point behind camp that I thought would provide a more unobstructed view so once dinner was finished, I headed up the hill.  Almost immediately, the sky began to break up enough for light to pierce through the clouds and on to the mountains.  I don’t remember much of the next hour:)

Low angle light illuminated the peaks in front of me in various fashion over the next hour.  Individual peaks became orange while others fell into a shadow, then other peaks lit up, then another variation.  This transition of light to shadow played out before my eyes with increasing intensity and variations, and created a visual display that I couldn’t believe was happening.  There were 2 other backpackers that came up to the same spot as the light show began and after a short conversation, I told them I couldn’t talk any more.  I made some clicking noises with my camera and they sat in silence over the hour and we all just watched in awe.

This was definitely an experience I won’t forget but does this translate to a top image?  I mentioned this in my previous post, how time allows one to separate a strong personal experience from an image.  It would be easy for me to include this image as one of the year’s best based on experience but viewers of a photograph didn’t have the experience the photographer had.  After some time has passed, memories fade but nothing in this image has changed.  The same incredible display of light is shown, the same peaks, the same shadows are all as they were when I watched with my eyes.  But what about this image can draw the viewer in?  How can the viewer have an emotional connection to an image when they’ve never seen this in real life?  Can I show this image to someone without explaining a single word?  I ask myself these questions, and many more, to help choose an image I think represents my intentional expression.

There are several elements in this image that distinguish it from the many other photos I took that evening.  Instead of talking about a more technical aspect of photography, I’ll just say there are variations to this scene that create an entirely different image.  Maybe color would be a better choice because we see color with our eyes and not in grey tones.  Maybe there are other variations of light that further illustrate the terrain, showing more depth.  Maybe the image should have light on the peak instead of a peak being black.  Again, more questions I ask myself when choosing an image that represents my expression.

What would you change in this image?

Thanks for reading and here is a shot of the 2 backpackers I sat in silence with until the sky became like cotton candy:)


Yellow & Blue Make Green

The Green River

Wyoming, USA

Is this a “Top 10” for this year?  This summer I spent much time near the Green River that originates in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and flows into Utah, where it joins the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.  This image, is from near the headwaters of the Green River with the Wind River Mountains in the background.  This long valley gets quite cool at night, even in the summer, and creates a foggy environment until the morning sun rises.  Soon after the valley is flooded with light, the wind blows and the air heats up rapidly which eliminate the fog within minutes.

Wyoming is most known for Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, both which are stunning to the eye.  A short distance from either one is this gem that was once considered for National Park status.  Instead, the Bridger Wilderness was created and 428,000 acres are now protected as a wild environment.  Roughly one mile upriver from where this image was made is the end of the road and the beginning of a wonderful trail system that allows the adventurous to experience this place in its wild form.  It resembles Yosemite in many ways as you venture further up the river but you won’t find any tour buses or paved pathways.  These aspects of the place have a strong personal appeal to me and make this image special to me.  This is the difficult aspect of choosing a “best of” image because I’m forced to see beyond my best experiences and look at images more subjectively.  In a way, I have to envision myself in your shoes because you weren’t there with me, although I would’ve made you some coffee if you were:)

Separating personal experience and memory from an image, with the hopes to communicate a vision to the viewer, is something I find extremely difficult as a photographer.  I distinctly remember being in this spot, the cold air, the waiting, the getting up early, even the taste of the coffee!  One way I’m working on seeing past this is to allow more time to pass.  With time, my initial excitement of “look where I was” fades a bit as do the details.  Soon, the month will be forgotten and eventually, the year.  If I can eliminate those variables alone and still be moved by this image, then I’ll have successfully executed a vision I had when creating this.  The other side of this equation is the one that is more challenging.  This involves you.

No matter how much time has passed between me creating this and you seeing it for the first time, it is still new to you.  That elapsed time means nothing to the image for you, the viewer.  I wonder if you’re brought to the banks of the Green River where you can watch the cool blue shadows mix in beautiful fashion with the warm yellow light.  I wonder if you feel the warmth of the first sun of the morning.  I wonder if you want to see what is further up this valley, or what it’s like to be below the giant Squaretop Mountain.  This is the discrepancy that I face and maybe some of you can identify with.  I’m not sure if this will be included in my year’s best images because of this but only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,


Yellow Stone & A Green Fern

“Follow the Light”

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

I had the pleasure to spend some time in Yellowstone National Park this year, with no agenda and camera in hand.  I’ll start with being 100% honest, at one time I had no interest in photographing Yellowstone.  It didn’t appeal to me.  I grew up nearby and have made many trips to the Park, and have vivid memories of seeing the wonderful places there.  You’ve seen photos from YNP, it is truly amazing in every way possible.  I don’t really know why it didn’t interest me as a photographer but something changed, and I’ve been itching to get back to this special corner of the world.

There are many sections of the Park I hadn’t visited previously and waned to explore.  Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone Falls, Tower Falls and many other places had somehow escaped me on previous visits.  I wandered Porcelain Basin on a quiet afternoon and this place, without a doubt, is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.  The colors, the variety, the feeling of Earth being so alive is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  It’s a place I can make images of, but you have to go and be there for the feeling to truly set in.  I made another stop at the Artist Paint Pots and on my way there, a photographer stopped me on the trail to tell me all the light was gone. “OK” I said and kept going.  I made an image that I’m very happy with there and walked back to the car.  Most people had left by then and the air was warm and calm.  I was just walking along and this stopped me in my tracks.

Light, shape, form, shadow, detail, simplicity, depth, visual motion, stillness.  EVERYTHING I look for in an image was in this simple arrangement of ferns at my feet.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I took 4 photos of slightly different arrangements but this was my first one.  You’ll quickly notice the entire image isn’t in focus, only certain parts.  I feel there are times for an image to be sharp throughout and times for selective focal points.  I chose to not have everything sharp in order to create a sense of visual flow.  I also knew I wanted the background to be pure black to isolate the shapes.  The only technical detail I’ll share is that this was at 276mm (35mm equivalent), chosen to further isolate the focal point.

My overall impression of Yellowstone NP is that it is a place full of perfection, secrets, mysteries and a strong sense of wonder.  This simple arrangement of life took me by surprise and helped me realize all these aspects aren’t always in the grand views.  Sometimes, they’re literally at your feet.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy:)



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