I Found a New Barn!

That’s right I found a new barn! Okay it’s not earth shattering news but for me it’s kind of exciting, for a couple of reasons. First off I love photographing barns. Each one tells a different story and they are an iconic symbol of the west. They symbolize settling down in a new area and making the most of the land. That’s why I love composing with as much open area around each barn as I can. Second this is a barn I could work, which is important because many I can’t.


Now this barn, while it has character, had a couple of challenges. The biggest being that it was on the corner of a busy intersection. Great place to be standing and shooting right? I got a lot of looks that afternoon. It was worth it. But it did make for some challenging compositions because there was so much town that I really didn’t want in the background. One shot simply wasn’t enough to get the real background that was needed.

Click on Image to see it bigger.

The answer was a two image Pano. Now you might be asking why not just go wider? Well for two reason. First this was shot at 24mm and with that road behind me, I couldn’t back up. Second, if I did go wider that would bring in more sky which was boring at that point. All of these little details I was thinking about when I was making those clicks and it’s what you need to do too. Now I mentioned the sky not being great, which means I’m not super thrilled with this image. It could be better. But now I know where the barn is so I can go back, which is another important lesson.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Barns in Fall Color

If you were at Photoshop World this past August and came to my class, then you probably heard me talk about writing down places you’ve traveled to previously so that you can go back later. There are a lot of barns in Montana and I love photographing them because they make great subjects. I keep a list of barns and there locations so that way when the season change or there is good light or dramatic skies I have a subject to go work with. This particular one I found a few years back hidden away in one of the local canyons. Now it’s more of a shack then a barn but it’s still rustic enough to count in my book. What’s important is the background and in this case it’s that great grove of Cottonwood trees. Now I’ve photographed this particular barn in every season and I have to say that fall definitely looks the best.


Working at Night

This past weekend was truly beautiful. It felt like Spring even though it still isn’t yet. The mid fifty temperatures just begs to get outdoors but I couldn’t think of anywhere really wanting to go out shooting so I thought why not do some late night shooting. After all the time I have spent shooting here in Montana I have actually done very little star trails or light painting photography at night. Don’t know why but it is something I plan on changing.


Shooting at night is a lot of fun but sometimes it can be very boring. It just so happens that the night I choose had an overcast sky and true brilliant planning an almost full moon. When that happens the best plan is to wait it out till it gets darker. Thankfully the sky broke and the moon, well didn’t change much. It was still really bright out. I went over to the Gafke ranch which is where I practice different techniques quite often. With the great landscape and barns it’s an easy choice.


With the bright moon it was obvious that great star trails wasn’t going to be as strong as other nights, but the light painting was going to be fine either way. Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8 on a tripod I started with the red barn. Now a quick tip for shooting at night, the D4 has a setting in the shooting menu called Long Exposure NR. This setting helps make a cleaner image by reducing noise in the camera. After that it’s just a matter of finding the desired shutter speed. The longer the shutter is open the more light will come in including moon light and stars. When it comes to light painting it means that the light from the flashlight is going to be the brightest so less if often more. Also the light source closest to the camera is going to be the brightest. This is why if you are going to go out shooting and play with this technique to practice a lot.

Barns Barns Barns

Every photographer has different opportunities present to them everyday of their lives as each are immersed in the environment that he or she lives in. If I were to be living by the ocean, I would be photographing shore birds and the waves all the time. If I was in a city it would be the buildings, the people and the street life. In Montana, it’s the sights and sounds that are left from the old west. Big critters and gorgeous mountains are the sights. The one thing that I have been constantly working on over the years is finding and photographing barns across the state. I literally have a file of places with great barns. Why? Because they are one of the symbols of the west.


Thankfully barns are still common in todays world and many continue on with the traditional look and feel. Several in fact are made out of recycled lumber that has been salvaged from old buildings that were structurally unstable. Over at the Gafke’s ranch, the traditional red barn is used today with the old family homestead barn remains in the back. Both have made great subjects in the past.


On my list of barns was this particular beauty. I found it last year driving around and wanted really badly to photograph it then. Unfortunately it’s location made it a very difficult subject to work. Because the barn is situated at the base of the hillside the light was either behind it or not there at all. This shot was made with the D4 and 70-200 VRII as there was no need to go wide with the limited landscape available. While this one shot is a step up from previous renditions I’ve taken, it’s still not the shot I’m looking for, which means I’ll have to go back again.

The Importance of Shooting Everyday

While I Was out cruising this past weekend I went by a previous shooting spot and was aghast to what I saw. On the northern edge of town, where once was a great old barn, there remains now just a pile of dirt. I couldn’t believe it. While it was in a commercial spot of town, the fact that it is gone really sucks!


Last year I got out and photographed this barn once. Sadly it is the only really good photograph of it in my files which bothers me. Everyday when we are not behind the camera something happens. That is the reality and nothing we can do will change that. We can’t be everywhere at once. But if you don’t get out and at least try then the moments will be lost. I started thinking about all the images that I have in my files of places, things and people that are no longer around. While it saddens me, there is relief in knowing that there is at least an image capturing them. We as photographers have an obligation to constantly be shooting and to constantly be sharing. Photography is not just about making beautiful images, but also about preserving history.

Going too Far

One thing that I have come to notice when it comes to photography blogs, and to be fair this does get asked a lot, is that photographers tend not to show their mistakes or at least what they believe are mistakes. To some degree it makes sense, this is a business and if you use your blog to help market yourself then you would want to show only the best. The problem with this theory is that we all learn from our mistakes, maybe not at first but generally we do learn. Well one of the most important lessons that we all should learn is when to stop.


The top image is before, the bottom is after.


Up here is one example. Lately I have been talking a lot about how to bring out more in your landscapes with ACR. Well this was a test I did and found some interesting results. Usually I am quite happy with bringing out more information but on this particular old building and the foreground in front of it, to me it seemed not only unnecessary but almost degrading to the great light I had that evening. What I ended up discovering was that even though I could bring out more, it wasn’t necessary too.

A first Look at ACR Light Painting

Yesterday I announced that I was going to be speaking at the Adobe booth at Photoshop World this September. The topic I’m going to be speaking about is what I like to call Light painting in ACR. Here is a more in depth look at what that is. We all know that working with the raw image is one of the best ways to make the most happen without doing any harm. Camera Raw allows us to to be non destructive with our images. The other major benefit about working with the Raw images is it’s ability to make major changes without increasing file size. I shoot mostly with the D4 these days and those files are big! After finishing they get even bigger, so the less steps I have to take in Photoshop the better. That was one of the major draws to processing this way.


Like most photographers I have a series of steps I take for the different areas I photograph. The standard for my wildlife work had always been to never use post processing on any of my images. My landscape work has always been to capture the beauty of the world while trying to evoke an emotional response with the viewer. My aviation work is a combination of the both; documenting the history of the aircraft while making that connection with the viewers. With that all in mind this barn sits on a ranch that has belonged to a family here in Bozeman for decades. We had a great thunderstorm come through so naturally I wanted to capture the beauty in the clouds while showing the age and texture in the barn. Well if you have ever used ACR then you know that there are many great sliders that allow you to target certain areas. The Shadow, Highlight and Whites sliders are great tools to affect globally. The issue is if you are working with clouds with bright spots, you can easily create hot spots if you move those sliders too much. This is where the Adjustment Brush comes in handy.


By using the natural light that’s in every photograph combined with the variances in light and dark colors in the image, you can create a more visually impactful image by bringing out certain areas. Using just the adjustment brush bringing up and down the exposure or shadows can bring out those areas that are important to the story. In this case the story is this old barn and the sky overhead. Well it was sunset, sunset brings golden light when it pops through the clouds. By moving the temperature slider up you can get a golden light feel in the areas your painting in. By doing this in key areas you can start to create that story. Then by placing a gradient on top with the exposure brought down makes it look like a more ominous sky. All the elements were already in place before doing any of this, the trick is seeing those elements and then bringing them out.

Good old Barns

If I’ve said it once I’ll say it again, I love old barns. Every time I find one I mark it down on the map. They just have such great character to them and the possibilities photographically are practically limitless. Of course having a dramatic sky helps to, which I found humorous as I was thinking earlier how all the good storms from the Spring are done with and now we are stuck with bald skies. I was wrong.


As much as I was watching the light as it went down the side of the barn I was also wondering if an owl would come. It’s a great hiding place for them, no luck though. These both are rather simple shots with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S. This is one of my favorite combos especially for walking around. Since I was on a big ranch there were lots of opportunities and moving fast with the falling light was important albeit I did stroll around a bit. Needless to say that this was not the only opportunity to come along.

I love Finding Barns

The great thing about living in Montana is that it’s not hard to find a good old barn to photograph. It’s basically one of the iconic foregrounds to have in any sunrise or sunset photograph to symbolize the old west. I constantly search for more great barns to photograph because everyone tells a different story. This particular one was right by the side of of I-90, not exactly the most picturesque of places but there was nice clouds so worth a click.

I had a challenge with this one. You can see which side of the barn had better light on it but there was also a metal fence which sucks! In order to get the best skies for the background I had to get up higher. Amazing what a difference a three foot difference up can make.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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