Happy Eclipse Day! Oh, wait…

I made this meme a long time ago out of frustration during an potential Northern Lights photography opportunity. It still applies! I’m getting plenty of mileage out of this one simple meme, proving that it was spot-on.

I had originally planned to take my family to the National Museum of the Air Force for this event, since it’ll pass right overhead, giving us a two-fer. I had to cancel those plans due to Bidenomics, but we did visit the Strategic Air Command museum this weekend instead. The weather at Wright-Patterson was a roll of the dice anyway, and everywhere along the path of totality is going to be packed with people, so we really aren’t too bummed about missing out.

I am old enough to have caught the total solar eclipse in 1979, when I was a young lad growing up in western Montana. We didn’t do anything special with protective gogs or anything like that, but we watched it get dark. Pretty cool.

There’s always 2044! I told my kids they may have to dig me out of the nursing home or the dirt for us to catch the next one, but I’m going to do my best to be able to ride motorcycle there. Or maybe even longboard…

Bucket list: Cave Hills Church at sunset

There’s a photo I’ve wanted to get for years. My subject is the Cave Hills Church, situated at the base of an incredible ridge of rocks, at just the right time and from just the right place.

I’d been here before, and found myself totally enamored of it, but I’d never really caught the photo of it I wanted. I discovered this church after seeing someone else’s photo of it and painstakingly dialing in its location. Once I visited the first time – and it’s a long trip to get back there – I knew what I wanted. But how to get it?

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Go with the grain

I took this shot one evening when I was in kind of a hurry, and I didn’t check my camera settings. After I’d done a few shots I noticed that the ISO had been cranked up to 12,800, so I reshot a bunch of stuff, but I didn’t get this angle. Well, high ISO puts a ton of grain into the image, but I wanted the shot…so I decided to tone it for a vintage look, which plays right into the grainy look. After all, old film stock was awfully grainy anyway.

So, with the grain problem addressed, I was able to enjoy this photo…and now I get to share it. The ones I shot properly will appear in color at a later date.

My top 18 of ’18

I suppose it’s time to pause and reflect on “last year”, so let’s look at some of my favorite photos from 2018. I haven’t been able to get out with my cameras lately, and it’s driven me absolutely nuts, but I did actually produce hundreds of photos I like during the year. I posted 148 of them on my blog, the rest being part of projects I’m still working on. Here we go:

My beautiful bride actually took this one with her cell phone. We love lighting up them windows on the capitol tower, and the Bison gave us a grand reason to do so!

I took this photo (and a 360 panorama of it, if you check my Facebook page) down by Hazelton. It’s gone now…razed later in the spring.

We had a brief period where there was a ton of frost each morning, so I was able to work the Bismarck-Mandan area pretty hard and grab a variety of frost photos. This is among my favorites.

Every now and then I even nab a pretty decent shot on my lunch break! This was one more from the frost collection.

This is one of Mandan’s best kept secrets. I’ve lived in the Bismarck-Mandan area on and off for forty years and didn’t know it was hiding right here!

Then there are these ice chunks, left behind by ice fishermen, on Harmon Lake. Combined with just the right North Dakota sky, of course…

I did manage to do a fair bit of flying this year, which is the best way to get shots of barns like this one. That’s quite a lean. I’ll need to revisit it and see how it looks a year later. Hopefully it still stands.

The old Berlin Baptist Church northeast of Ashley was purchased by a private party and was in the process of being dismantled when I stopped by. I don’t know if the work was completed over the summer. Too bad…this looks like it was a breathtaking building before. Right on the lake, too.

I got soaked walking out to this shot, but at least I came back without a single tick crawling on me, despite it being the peak of the season.

Hootie the owl
I had big plans for a relationship with Hootie, the young owl who took up residency in my friends’ tree. Sadly, I never saw him again after the day this was taken. They sold the house and moved away, and Hootie moved on as well.

If you’ve followed this blog at all in the past, you know that I have had a thing for windmills. Not as much in 2018, but I did get this shot. I had my oldest boy with me along with the camera I bought for him to help me on these trips.

I spotted this while flying around northeast of town. You’d never know it was there if looking from the ground. And the sun and clouds decided to play along.

I’m not sure if this church is still holding regular services, but it is being maintained. And I loved the colors in the steeple – they were a wonderful suprise.

Another product of flight. I’m not sure, but I think I was slightly closer to Montana than I was to Canada…but I was in the extreme northwestern part of our great state when I discovered this guy. I have some other wild photos from this area that I’ll post as part of another project someday.

Featured recently from a different angle, this is one of my favorite barns of 2018. I spotted it in east-central North Dakota while working my way from Harvey to Fargo using “the creative route”. I love to roam, after all.

I missed my chance to shoot this windmill west of Harmon Lake in the way I’d always wanted; neighborhoods have sprung up on all sides, and the farmstead it sits upon has been dismantled. But I did get this westward angle just after sunset, and that’ll have to do. So many of these opportunities are disappearing.

This little house – I know it looks like a barn, but it’s not – sits near Danzig Dam. I didn’t have much time to investigate, just enough to dash out there, fly around a little bit, and get home in time for some family stuff. I’m glad I found it.

This house sits northeast of town quite a ways, and was something I’d been hunting for quite a while after seeing a historical photo of it. I have many angles of it, and most feature its most distinctive feature: the overhand above the remains of the porch. This isn’t necessarily my favorite, but it demonstrates what made this house catch my eye. I’ll be going back here…I ran out of sunlight when I arrived this fall, and the sunset began shortly after I pulled up.

So that’s it: if I had to pick eighteen of my favorites, I think this is how I’d roll. I have so many more that I’d love to shoehorn in, including different angles of the ones already featured above, but I’ll try to trickle those out as future blog posts in the future. Here’s to 2019, may it be even more productive from a photography standpoint than last year! If I can wrangle more gas money, I think we’ll be set. I have big plans…

Road of rediscovery

I’ve been going back through my photos and keyword tagging the ones I’ve missed or neglected over the past few…well, for a long time.  I’m finding a lot of gems that I’ve never posted, good intentions and all that notwithstanding.  This is one of them.

The sad part is that I’ll never be able to get this photo again.  Developers have begun to carve up this landscape north of Bismarck, so those golden fields are now beginning to show homes and sheds.

I’ve run into this situation quite a bit lately, where a photo subject or setting I’ve treasured in the past has disappeared.  Sometimes it’s like this, where development has encroached upon the spot and cluttered it up.  Other times it’s an old farmstead or windmill that’s collapsed into history.

I could get all wistful and bemoan the fact that these subjects or spots are lost forever, but I choose to focus on the fact that the photos I did get are that much more precious.

I normally see things black & white, just not through my camera

When I sent a photographer friend of mine a color copy of this photo, he mentioned that it would look really cool as a black and white. I hadn’t thought about that, not only because the blue of the sky that day was unbelievably vivid, but also because I don’t normally go for black and white photography. I took his advice, and it really made the clouds stand out.

With that in the back of my mind I came across a couple of photos from last summer that I thought might lend themselves to black and white nicely. I’ve included them here. First is this abandoned church, which I believe is in Kief. It’s incredibly overgrown, and the black and white helps lessen its camouflage. My great uncle George, the ultimate outdoorsman, used his color blindness in similar fashion to spot deer when we were hunting in the mountains.


In the case of this abandoned school, it helps make things ominous on an otherwise sunny summer day.  Too bad this land was posted; it would have been cool to get past the gate.

Maybe down the road I’ll revisit a few of my shots and try to re-envision them as black and whites, and see if the technique reveals anything the full-color photos do not.

Keep on truckin’

Do I belie my 1970s upbringing with that post title?  Too bad.  My kids and I set out for this old Dodge with the intention of working the entire sunset with it as our subject.  It was a wonderful trip.  The kids are finally old enough to appreciate not only the photography aspect, but the beauty of hiking out in the middle of nowhere and exploring.


I have way more shots from this area than I’ve got the energy to post for now, but let it suffice to say that there was a different sunset in every direction. The first shot in this post shows the long, linear clouds that eventually blazed over Bismarck-Mandan at sunset.  This shot shows the brilliant pinks and purples that greeted us from the north; and my kiddos took plenty of shot featuring a blazing orange and gold sunset to the west (behind the camera in this shot).

Not only was this photo jaunt a success, but I have turned the corner with my kids as far as convincing them of the joys of rural photography.  Next time I head out roaming, I expect to have a couple of enthusiastic companions!  Maybe each with a camera of their own…

When the clouds are on your side

This barn sits south of Mandan, beckoning to me every time I’m near St. Anthony.  Of course, the correct pronunciation is more like “Snatnee” – sometimes even with some h’s in there for good Cherman measure – but I won’t get mired in the details.


Some mornings I like a blazing sunset, washing the landscape with brilliant color.  But overcast mornings have their way of bringing out color, too.  First off, there are none of the hard shadows of that piercing sunrise light.  Second, the muted tones lend themselves very well to the color already present.

I’m glad I had the clouds on my side when these photos were taken.  Much of the detail of a beautiful barn like this one would be lost in shadows, and I wouldn’t have been able to photograph both sides of it in one sitting!

Pause for effect

arena_car_DJI_0334-8_hdrI love HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography when done judiciously.  It’s the kind of thing that can bring out all kinds of delicious detail in both the highlights and shadows of a photo, and that’s what I like to go for.  That hyper-realistic look really pleases my eye.  Unfortunately, HDR processing techniques are often done in such a heavy-handed fashion that they end up looking like grainy, over-saturated paintings.  Those I do not like one bit.

I opted to go a little further toward the artistic side with this particular photo, just because I liked the effect in this particular case.  It’s pushed a little past hyper-realistic detail into a more stylized realm, but in this case I think that works.  Not too keen on some of the blooming where dark areas meet light, but much of that is actually because of the way the sky was that day.

How about you?  Do you like extra realism, or surreal style?

IT LIVES. I present to you: Frankenrig

arena_truck_37216-8_HDRI’ve alluded recently on social media that I was working on a little rig to help me with the type of photography I do.  Case in point: the photo above.  The sun was setting to the right of this photo, leaving the rest of the car in the dark.  I wanted to fill with light rather than try to Photoshop it later, but that takes a lot of light.  After trudging back to the van twice for more lights and stands, I figured there had to be a better way to get multiple flash units in one place.  That was the inspiration for Frankenrig.


frankenrig_40696I’ll admit: it doesn’t look like much.  It’s more an assembly of parts bought online with only one piece of my own handiwork.  I messed with different lengths of 1/4″ thick aluminum until I found the right one, cut it, drilled it, tapped threads into it, and attached the various things I needed in order to hang three flashes from one lightweight portable stand.  Once I found the right length, it was off to the powder coater to get a durable finish applied.


frankenrig_40700To each of those pegs I attached a pivoting light bracket.  Each bracket can swivel on its post, while each bracket can articulate back and forth.  Why use such tall pegs, you ask?  Because I want to be able to operate the knurled knobs on the bottom of the pivoting brackets, even with winter gloves on, so I need the clearance.


frankenrig_40711In each pivoting bracket I attached a cold shoe so I could easily slide a Speedlite on and off.  I have spare pegs in case I want to use a studio strobe, but that’s not why I built Frankenrig.


frankenrig_40703Here are the three radio controlled Speedlites attached.  I tried different lengths of aluminum because I wanted Frankenrig to be as compact as possible, yet allow enough room between brackets to allow manipulation with winter gloves on.


frankenrig_40704It’s a very flexible rig.  The posts allow a number of things to be hung on this bracket in a variety of ways.  Each flash, in addition to its own pivoting head, can pivot by rotating the cold shoe’s peg in its bracket.  The bracket can pivot using its hinge, and it can swivel on its peg.  The 1/4″ x 1″ aluminum isn’t going to bend and everything is clinging together with 3/8″ threads and Loctite, so it’ll handle anything I opt to hang on it.


So here I have a compact little rig which attaches to any universal light stand, including the lightweight ones I use for my type of photo trips.  It’s a simple device, but allows me to bring a lot of light to a location with very little work.  It’s a pretty specific tool, though; it’s most suitable for my type of photo trip.  I want something lightweight and portable, not studio strobes.  I need to be able to set up in uneven terrain, so the stands I have do that.  I need to be able to adjust it, even in the cold with thick gloves on.  And I want it to be overbuilt in the strength department, because that’s how my dad taught me.


I look forward to taking Frankenrig into the field and throwing a lot of light at something!  Then I can sing its praises when I have cool, well-lit photos to share here.