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Just North Of Middle-Earth

So last week I shared a few before and after images to help new photographers understand the power of the digital darkroom. The images I shared were what I would call classic photography. I did some basic contrast and color enhancements. In today’s image, I went ‘HOG WILD’ and had some serious fun. I used all sorts of tricks from the onOneSoftware bag including lots of textures. I was after that ‘Hobbit Vibe’. Here’s the before image. I know it’s not for everyone, but I dug it. As an artists, I guess that’s what ultimately counts. If you dig it, remember you can always click on the image to get the larger version (make sure to click the X3 size) to use as your daily desktop.

Here’s the image straight out of the camera…..

Quick Question, I would love to hear your thoughts! What are your feelings about the digital darkroom? Do you see it as an place to experiment and try different things or do you prefer a more classic approach to image processing. There’s no right answer, I’m just curious what everyone’s aesthetic preference is?

The American Cowboy – Part IV

When we finally mounted up and started to ride up valley, I told Doug that is an unbelievable day. I think I might have actually said something like…”Holy $#!+ Doug, this is so F-ing Awesome!“. Doug laughed and said to me, “Yep, this is a good day to be a cowboy”. I have no doubt that I’ll never forget this experience. Hopefully they’ll have us back next year so we can make it a yearly installment. Well, until then, I hope you enjoyed the series and learned a bit about Doug, a true American Cowboy. I leave you with the images I made that day when it was a ‘good day to be a cowboy’.

Parting Thoughts

I learned quite a bit from Doug and his family in the short time I got to spend with them. Heck, we even chased a herd of yaks out of his pasture. One thing I didn’t do was lane a bunch quitter. A story better told over a beer. The real lesson I learned was that when you see a group of folks like this, standing on the side of the road, and they invite you over to have a beer….You do it! Thanks to Jan, Doug, Lee, Andy, Manny, Ramon, Miguel, and Smiley for having me along and letting me share their story.

The complete series

The American Cowboy – Part II

My day with Doug started early, earlier than I normally do anything. Doug and Jan asked me to show up at the ranch by 6:45 which meant I need to be up at 5, load the camera gear, and grab a cup of coffee at the General Store. No kidding, I had breakfast at the General Store before a cattle drive. The plan was to ride into the hills and move a large herd of cattle to a staging area where they would be pushed to their winter pasture the next day. Before I go into the details about driving cattle and lane-ing bunch quitters, I thought it would be interesting to share with you how a typical day starts for Doug.

While we prepared for the day, I tried to stay out of the way, make a few images, and observe what was going on. At first I was taken back by how different the start of Doug’s day is from most people I know. However, what I really thought was interesting is how excited Doug is about getting his day started. The guy is happy to go to work. I mean really happy! Who wouldn’t be? It starts with a quick call to coordinate, as Doug says, a pile of Cowboys, followed by the horse selection and preparation. Once the team is assembled, it’s off to the trailhead where we would begin our ride into the high country. I will have much more on that later in the series. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the team.

The complete series

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy

The American Cowboy – Part I


Meet Doug! When Doug fills out his taxes, he puts ‘Cowboy’ down as his occupation. Over the next week I hope to tell his story and share a bit about what it means to be an American Cowboy. However, before I begin to tell his story, I thought I would share with you what I did to prepare for this assignment. You just don’t show up to one of the most storied ranches in Colorado with a couple of cameras and hope to learn as you go.


I decided I needed to take a riding lesson. As I looked around for an instructor someone suggested Cliff to me. After Cliff told me he was bucked off a horse, broke his leg in 4 places, and bruised his heart I was pretty sure he was a true Cowboy. When he told me he was 75 when it happened, I knew he was the right guy for the job. We spent an hour riding with Cliff and he did his best to teach us everything we needed to know.

What I Learned From Cliff

  • When you feed a horse a treat, feed it with an open hand. If you try to pinch the food between your index finger and thumb, you might lose your fingers when the horse takes their first bite.
  • If your horse gets away from you, turn it in a circle to quiet it down.
  • Wear leather soled cowboy boots. If you are ever bucked from your horse, you want your foot to slide out of the stirrup. Otherwise, there is a good chance you will get dragged by the horse.
  • A tall horse is a horse that is over 15 & 2 hands high. The horse I rode, Smiley, was a tall horse. There are taller horses.
  • My wife Shauna is a much better rider than myself. Cliff reminded me of this quite a bit.

Cliff’s horse Mack, pictured here, is close to 17 years old and getting ready for retirement. When I asked what retirement had in store for Mack, Cliff said…”I’m going to turn Mack loose on 3000 acres of free range and tell him that he earned it buddy!”. Now that’s a guy who loves his horse.

Gear Decisions

After hearing Cliff’s story, the first thing I did was get a pair of leather soled riding boots. When I showed up at Sheplers in flip-flops and told them I was looking for a pair of boots I could drive a 1000 head of cattle with, they didn’t know what to make of me. I’m pretty sure they thought I was making another ‘City Slickers’. Next I had to make a decision on the most appropriate gear for the story. I knew I was going to be riding a tall horse named Smiley which meant I wasn’t going to be getting on and off that often. A day of mounting/dismounting a horse with all that gear can really hurt their backs. I also knew I was going to be high in the Rocky Mountains, on uneven terrain, pushing cattle for up to 8 hours. All that while making images and trying not to get in the way of the real cowboys. As a photographer I read that as, take a very light and versatile kit. I test rode a few configurations during my riding lesson and came to the conclusion I would carry my Nikon D700 and 28-300 for the single handed versatility (you have to be able to shoot with 1 hand from the top or a horse) and a D5000 with 50mm 1.4 AFS lens for nearby portrait work. I left the 70-200 and 24-70 behind. The cropped sensor with the 50mm 1.4 gave me a nice light weight 75mm portrait lens. I did throw in a 17-35mm that I could use if need be. Oh yeah, no flash! I didn’t want to spook the horses.

After deciding on the gear I was going to be carrying, I decided to use my cycling photography system. Riding on the back of a horse is somewhat like riding on the back of a motorcycle right? The system I use for that is a few Think Thank Skin Components, Think Tank 40 Digital Holster, and Think Tank Belly Dancer Harness. I use the Belly Dancer Harness because you can hike it way up. That way it keeps all your gear in front of you, but you can still sit on a motorcycle, or Smiley in this case. The Digital Holster can easily hold a Pro size DSLR with a long lens. I used the Skin System Double Wide in front to keep a wide angle lens and snacks. The Skin System Chip cage on my left held my D5000 and 50mm 1.4. Also, the thing I like about the Belly Dancer harness is that it lets me comfortably wear a CamelBak hydration system full or 100oz or water, rain gear, and extra food. All in all, it worked perfectly!

That’s Smiley on my left. I hope to see you back here tomorrow as we take a look at what it means to be a Cowboy!

The complete series


If you are an email subscriber, you might need to click here to view the movie.

It has been a long time in the making, but I finally finished the project I began working on in April. These movies aren’t easy to make. Not only do you have to be focused and patient on location, you have to keep the muse going when you get back home. That being said, it is totally worth it! I’m more than happy with how it turned out. I really hope you like it too. If you have any questions about it, feel free to leave a comment. You can also find several of the locations from the movie in my ‘Behind The Scenes’ gallery on facebook.

About The Music: Sixteen Horsepower, the band featured in the Southwestern, is a band with its roots here in Colorado. Growing up they were more myth than reality. Before I was old enough to see them at a bar, I would sit outside the clubs hoping to catch a listen.They are a storied band, with a long history, and these songs will never do them justice. You will at least get a taste of the Denver music scene, but to truly understand the genius of Sixteen Horsepower, you need to see them live. I intended the playlist to be 16 songs long, however iTunes only accepted 9 of my suggestions.

Click Here to load the playlist into iTunes.

Movie Stats:
1 – (AND LAST) Ascent of Angel’s Landing in Zion, NP. (These videos are not for the weak of heart)
1 – Camera: Nikon D5000
1 – Lens Nikon: 16-85 VR
100 – Seconds of time lapse footage
3,000 – Images used to produce the time lapse footage
3.3 – Hours of realtime shooting
5 – National Parks
7 – Days
1 – Once in a lifetime moonrise over the Grand Canyon (too bad my battery ran out)
1500 – Miles