The Sky Is The Limit

I was sitting on my back porch yesterday, thinking about possible photography projects. My mind was blank. Most anything I could think of doing involved travel, eating at restaurants and staying in hotels. I’ve eliminated the idea of eating at restaurants and staying in hotels due to the massive increase of COVID-19 restrictions, which I’m assuming will continue for the next six months or so at the very least. That essentially limits my photography projects to simple travel. That means day trips or local outings.

This time of year, most of the available photography subjects in my world are bighorn sheep, bison, deer, and birds, with some oddball wildlife or landscapes added to the mix in the process. I need a change of pace. The hunkering down is seriously limiting my photographic activity and I need to find something new to get me through what is sure to be a long, cold and boring Winter.

As I sat on my porch, I noticed that the clear blue sky above me had turned into white puffy clouds. White puffy clouds that I couldn’t really take photos of in my back yard due to the fact that I had a number of obstructions around the horizon from trees and houses. I thought, perhaps, I should jump in the car and drive out to a more open area near the house and see if I could maybe get a few sky photos from a better location. I didn’t do anything as I was still in my sweats and wasn’t prepared to gather my camera gear, get dressed and jump in the car. Too damn lazy in other words.

To pass the time during the pandemic, I’ve browsed all my photo catalogs for sky photos to use as replacement skies in Photoshop. I’ve managed to gather about 50 usable sky photos by sifting through my archives from the past 15 years or so, but many of those photographs are fairly old and taken with lower resolution cameras. Seeing how my current cameras are all at least 24 megapixel bodies or higher, I can’t really make good use of the older and lower resolution images. Add to it the constraint of not reusing sky photos, it’s becoming obvious that I need more and the only way to get more is to get out there and photograph the sky when the opportunity presents itself.

We’re lucky here in Colorado. From a statistical standpoint, Colorado has over 300 sunny days a year. Interesting sunrises and sunsets and puffy skies and dramatic skies are almost always available. All I have to do is change my mindset and be prepared to hop in a car and drive a couple of miles to get them. It meets all my requirements for working during the pandemic. All I have to do is prepare myself and my gear to drop what I’m doing and drive a couple of miles for an hour or two. The sky is always there. It’s just a question of what it is and how quickly I can respond.

But it hit me. Here’s my project for the Winter. Sky photos.

Sky shots are a great project I concluded. Not exciting or exotic, but quite useful. So there it was, laying on the table so to speak. A perfect project to get me through the Winter. Sky photography. All I have to do is be prepared to jump in the car and drive a few miles on short notice. It’s not like I’ll be doing much else.

I can’t stop thinking there though. What else do I need to consider? Firstly, I’ll use my Nikon D850. 45 megapixel sky photos have more than enough resolution to be used in any image. I’ll shoot from a tripod at ISO 100 to keep the camera noise below perceptible levels. I’ll use two different lenses. The 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/4. Both lenses are sharp and versatile. I’ll concentrate on getting photos at all the available focal lengths from 24-200mm. This will give me a good variety of sky images that will fit the most common landscape photography focal lengths I use. I’m figuring I’ll need a lot of sky shots too. Since I don’t want to reuse a sky shot if I can avoid it, it’s more or less the same thing as photographing other scenes. I don’t normally take more than a few shots of any given scene, so I’ll treat my sky images the same way as I would treat any other landscape photo. Each one will be unique. I’ll set a goal of accumulating a couple hundred images for the project. That should be enough to last me a while. And, there will always be targets of opportunity, after all, the sky is always there.

The sky is the limit.

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.

Dreaming of Moab

Since the COVID pandemic began, I like many others have dramatically altered my travel schedule. As I reflect back on this past year, I realize that I’ve done very little landscape photography since the fall of 2019.

I’ll have to take trips in my head for the time being.

Here’s a collection of photographs I’ve taken near Moab, Utah over the past 10 years or so. I’ve been there many times with different photographers and these trips have always been fun and memorable. One of these days, I’ll take another trip to Moab. These shots were generally taken in Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park or somewhere in the area around Moab.

Some of a very large portfolio of images I’ve made from Moab.  Enjoy

LaSalle Mountains at Sunrise in Arches National Park Near Moab, Utah.


Travel and Tourism scenes from the Western United States. Red Rock Formations And Dramatic Landscapes Arches National Park Utah


Dramatic Red Rock Formations at sunrise in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.


Skyline Arch. Arches National Park Utah.


The green river cuts a path through Canyonlands National Park. The Island In The Sky


Red Rock Formations And Dramatic Landscapes Near Moab Utah. Arches National Park with the LaSalle Mountains at Sunset


The area around Moab, Utah is filled with natural beauty.


Sunrise creates a dramatic sky against the red rock formations in Arches National Park, Utah.