Remastering Stock Photos

Courthouse Mountain in the Cimarron Mountains of Colorado.

One of my hunkering down photography projects has been to revisit the edits of some of my stock images.

I have a few photos that I’ve submitted to stock agencies that contained bald blue skies. Every now and again I’ll sell one, but honestly, they aren’t my favorite shots. I’ll often return to a location of a previous blue sky and try to get a newer moe-betta photo with some type of clouds. Good clouds can make or break a photo.

The new Photoshop feature that allows you to replace skies in photos works fairly well, but it isn’t always perfect and on some types of shots it doesn’t really work that well at all.

Today’s photo is a shot I took late in the day in the Autumn of 2019 at a place called Debs’s Meadow, East of Ridgway in the Cimarron Mountains of Colorado. I’ve visited this location many times over the years and I’ve never really got the perfect shot there (by my standards.)

Deb’s Meadow was a shooting location for the 1969 John Wayne movie True Grit. The famous climactic scene where John Wayne and Robert Duvall were having their shootout from horseback was filmed on this spot. If you watch the movie, you can see Courthouse Mountain and that big rock in the field in the film as they lineup on their horses and charge each other with guns blazing.

The original version of my photo here was a clear blue sky at sunset. It looked okay but I never really liked the final editing result, so I replaced the sky with a photo of dramatic clouds I had taken for this very purpose. The end result is a shot that looks much more appealing, at least to my eyes.

As for replacing skies in photos, there are some photographers out there who don’t do it, there are more that do. I’d bet money that a lot of the dramatic landscape scenes you see on the internet are heavily edited and sky replacement is a common post processing technique. Personally, I don’t mind doing it so long as the result looks convincing and I don’t begrudge any photographer who edits their photographs to their own personal taste. Art is art. It’s the end result that matters, not the delusional belief in the nobility of which method was used to get to the final result.

Here’s the original image, with no editing. You be the judge. Which one do you think looks better?

Debs Meadow without editing.

I like the added clouds.

Cackling Away

Cackling Goose in a clear water lake.

Having had the chance to test all my lenses on the new camera, I spent the day on Saturday doing lens micro-adjustments on the new Nikon D850.

The D850, like the D500, has the ability to automatically calculate the lens front/back focusing error and I was able to go through all the lenses with no difficulty.

I think the process went smoother on the D850 than on my D500. The D500 had some trouble with my Sigma Macro lenses, the D850 nailed them on the first try. Happy day.

I also managed a few usable stock photos from my first field test on the D850. Today’s photo of a Cackling Goose is one of them. The Cackling Goose is very similar to the Canada Goose at first glance, but, their necks are shorter and overall body size is a little smaller. Good addition to the stock portfolio.

Next up is to get back up to the mountains with the new camera and calibrated lenses to look for more bighorn sheep. The bighorn rut is full tilt at the moment and will last until late December.

I did notice that Nikon has discontinued their Camera Manual app. For those unaware, and it’s too late now, Nikon had an iPhone/Android app that allowed you to download and view any manual for any of their cameras. I have the app still on my phone and have the manual for my other Nikon bodies, but at the end of August, 2020, they pulled the plug and I wasn’t able to get the iPhone version of the D850 manual. It was a handy tool. I don’t know why they discontinued it. Probably has something to do with saving money.

Sheep Sunday

Bighorn Sheep rut in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

The bighorn sheep rut is underway here in Colorado. Having skipped bighorn photography in 2019, I’m back on task this year.

The rut begins mid-October and usually runs through late December. In a typical year, I’d get several thousand photos over the course of the photography season. I’m not sure where I’ll be this year with actual photo outings but my hope is to make at least 3-4 trips into the high country before the season ends.

I get a bit of a chuckle out of photographing bighorn, as they aren’t all that difficult a subject from a logistical standpoint; but, I’ve been told by folks that they imagine me hiking around in the mountain wilderness packing camera gear and stalking the animals like I was Jeremiah Johnson or something to that effect. The truth is, they aren’t that difficult to photograph. Most of my photography is done from roadsides. It’s just a question of driving around until I find a herd in a photographable position and then watching and waiting for decent shots. I don’t care to pretend I’m some intrepid mountain man, when in truth, most of my time is spent behind the wheel of my vehicle sipping coffee and listening to music while I look for them. I see no reason to be pretentious about it.

My favorite approach is to wait until the day after a snow storm to make a trip. I can normally be on the animals within 45 minutes and seldom spend more than three hours looking for and photographing these wild critters. When it snows, the bighorn will normally come down from the higher elevations to find suitable grass to graze on and they have a propensity to move into areas close to humans along the roadsides. They like southern facing hills with grassy areas at the base where the snow tends to melt off more quickly.

I’ll be watching the weather reports and responding accordingly. Stay tuned, there will be sheep.



Back to the Bighorn

Bighorn Ram doing his rut stuff.

I’ve started my bighorn sheep photography season. I took last year off from photographing the bighorn. Mostly due to congestion and construction in the area where I normally look for the sheep.

Out this past Wednesday with friend Jim Esten and we easily found a cooperative group to photograph in short order. A good morning overall. No ram combat witnessed on the trip but there was plenty of mating activity and we did manage a few good photographs out of the trip.

Most of what I do with bighorn goes to the stock agencies these days. I try to get at least a handful of photos for stock on these outings, and ended up with an even dozen this time out.

Here are a few samples from the Wednesday outing.

Early morning light in cloudless skies makes for harsh contrasts, but you take what you get.


Immature bighorn ram posing in the morning sun.

I’ve found the best time to look for the bighorn is the day after a snow storm, as the sheep come down from the higher elevations to get to good grazing grass. I’ll be keeping my eye on the weather reports and will plan more trips around the snow predictions. Luckily, I can get to them in 45 minutes of driving.

Mature ram mating with a mature ewe.

On a side note, my main camera, the Nikon D810 is getting a little old and the rubber grip on the memory chip access door peeled off.  I’ve got it cleaned up and will glue it back on the camera in the near future.. First time that’s happened to me on a Nikon body. I don’t feel like sending it to Nikon to be fixed, as the camera works fine. I think I can get it glued back on without creating a mess. I’ll report back with the results of that effort.

It always makes for a fun morning.

Filling in the Holes

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO

My primary pursuit for photographs these days are stock photos. Yeah, I’m still interested in the fine-art aspect of the work I do, but the really nice landscape and wildlife photos are not really my focus (no pun intended.) Case in point, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. A good stock photo is one that sells. Not everyone is looking for fine art, some are looking for descriptive photographs of popular landmarks.

Garden of the Gods is a city park located near Pikes Peak and is a really big tourist spot. I’ve been going there for many years, and even photographed a wedding there once many years ago. It’s a beautiful place with very interesting rock formations and beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. My stock photo catalog of images from Garden of the Gods for years has been limited to a handful of photographs, and those photographs sell frequently. The problem has always been that I didn’t have a lot of shots from there.

Earlier this week I decided to address the lack of coverage issue and wanted to add to the selection of images on the stock agencies, so my buddy Jim Esten and I made the drive down in afternoon construction traffic and worked the park for several hours.

The end result is that I added another dozen or so images to the catalog and I fully expect some of them to make a few bucks. Travel websites and other online publications are always looking for specific images of a location, so now they have more to choose from in my catalog. I’ll probably return to Colorado Springs this Winter to get some added photos with snow on the ground.

The idea, find the holes in my catalog and fill them. If filling those holes earns me more than it cost me to get new photographs, it’s a win. By my estimates, I spent about $20 on gas. The dozen new photos will probably earn me more than that within a year.

Nature’s Variations

I had an interesting close encounter with a herd of mule deer at Rocky Mountain Arsenal this past Saturday afternoon.

One thing I look for when out photographing deer are genetic mutations. The two most common deer species here in Colorado are Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer. Both species can be found in abundance at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, often in the same proximity.

First, I’m not a wildlife biologist. I have no special training on ungulates beyond information readily available on the internet. I have done a bit of reading and research on the different types of deer though. I know enough to easily identify the different species I’ve encountered. Sometimes.

Learning to identify which type of deer one is observing isn’t normally very difficult. Mule Deer have a distinct antler growth pattern that is different from a White-tailed Deer. Another indicator of species is the coloring of the fur on the tail of the deer. Mule Deer generally have a black tip at the end of their tail, and White-tailed deer normally have a dark outer fur with a white under coat on their tails. The first thing I look for when identifying the species is the tail. Sometimes I run across a deer that doesn’t follow those norms though.

Case in point.

The herd of Mule Deer I photographed on Saturday afternoon had a nice mix of young adult male and female deer, along with some youngsters and yearlings. One particular buck in the herd, at first glance, appeared to be a typical young Mule Deer buck. It had the black tip tail. The fur coloring was identical to the other deer in the herd; however, there was something a little different. His antlers were not typical of a Mule Deer and looked more like the antlers of a White-tailed deer. The other bucks in the herd all had the typical Mule-deer antlers. I quickly dialed in to the variant and followed him with the camera until I could get a nice photo of his antlers.

Mule Deer buck with different antlers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

Notice the antlers on the deer in the above shot. They extend up and quickly turn to the front of the deer. There’s also no front tine on the antlers, as is typical of a mule deer. These antlers look like White-tailed deer antlers.

The next photo is a typical young Mule Deer buck. Notice how the antlers, while containing some curvature, are growing more in a upward direction and then splitting off to different points. There’s also small tine growth near the base. Typical Mule Deer.

Young Mule Deer Buck with normal antlers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

Now, take a look at a pair of White-tailed bucks in the last photo. Again, found at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. These young bucks are classic White-tails, with the forward curved antlers and growth pattern. Also notice the lack of a black tip on the tail.

Young White-tailed bucks, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

I’ve seen these and other variations at RMA from time to time. I’ve also found these variations in other locations along the front range of Colorado.

It’s known that deer species will interbreed and that interbreeding often results in deer with characteristics of the two different species. In my experience, the cross bred Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer often look more like Mule Deer with hints of the White-tail Deer in its body. The deer I saw on Saturday all accepted this cross bred fellow as one of their herd. He was living with the Mule Deer and probably didn’t know he was a little different, but somewhere up the gene pool, one or more of his relatives was a White-tailed deer there at the Arsenal.

I was fortunate to encounter this group and find this mutant amongst them.

Adding to the experience, while I was photographing this group of deer, an older fellow with Florida license plates on his car drove up to where I was working. As he crept along behind me, he lowered the passenger window of his car and was watching me work. The deer were standing near a fence at the end of Rattle Snake Hill road and he blurted out through the window of the car.

“You aren’t going to get any good photos with that fence in the background.” I paused long enough to turn towards his car and I gave him a raised eyebrow look that beamed my annoyance at him for disrupting the deer I was trying to photograph.

I walked up to the window of his car as he began explaining how bad that fence was going to look in my photo and whispered in the window, “I’m not photographing the fence, I’m photographing that young buck you just spooked.”

He closed his car window and zipped on away from the scene. Fortunately, the deer settled down quickly and I was able to continue working.

It happens all the time. I’ll find a group of animals and sit and watch them, taking my time and being quiet, I’ll get the shots I am looking for, but someone will drive upon the scene, make a lot of noise and offer advice or want to inject themselves into what I am doing and totally foul up the situation with their presence. It’s hard to be polite to people like this. The traveling experts, always there when you don’t need them. He had no clue and would have never noticed the cross-bred animal.

All he saw was a fence.

Happy Train Tuesday

Durango & Silverton NGRR on the Highline.

Most of the heritage trains in Colorado have been on very limited schedules in 2020 due to the pandemic. When things improve, I plan on visiting all of them again.

Today’s photo was taken on a D&SNGRR Winter excursion in the mountains of Colorado to the Cascade station in the San Juan Mountains. I was in the very last car on the train with my buddy Merlin Peck on this memorable snowy ride.

The Waiting Game

Bighorn Ram on a Rocky Hillside

By rough calculations my photography activity this past year has decreased by about 33%. Stock photography sales are also down this year by about the same amount. It’s been a rough year.

With a several scheduled photo outings cancelled since March, that also equates to a drop in my stock photography output as well.

The global pandemic and extreme wildfire in the Colorado mountains have been the main culprit in reducing my production rate.

Canceled trips include Dinosaur National Monument, Shiras Moose, Mountain Goats, and most recently Autumn Foliage. Numerous side trips have also been curtailed. I’ve spent most of my year working solo too. While I don’t mind working solo, I do enjoy the company of friends and quite honestly, it’s been a little lonely.

In 2019 I didn’t make a single trip out for Bighorn Sheep but I think this year I’ll have to return to my old stomping grounds west of Denver to bolster my catalogs. To be honest, I was getting a little bored with Bighorn. In the areas I normally work, there has been a lot of road construction, disrupting the sheep activity and it put a dent in what I had been finding. I think the construction is complete now. Couple that with the fact that I’m getting really bored hanging around the house staying low during the pandemic, and it’s time for me to get back to work and out of the house.

Today’s photo is the last bighorn photo I took, dating back to November 30th of 2018.

Things are about to change. I’m tired of playing the waiting game.