The Big Picture

There are certain elements that exist within the areas you live that symbolize where you live. The connotation with Montana is of course the old west, cowboys, open space, etc. Well one element that I don’t incorporate as often are cows. Cattle is a big part of what makes Montana but in landscape shots they aren’t the easiest to incorporate. A big part of this is because they are big black animals that without light they look like black dots. The good thing is everyone knows what a cow is and they are easy to recognize.

Driving around one afternoon we had some immaculate light over the valley thanks to a recently departed thunderstorm. While there was numerous ways to showcase that evening I went wide with the 24-70 AF-S captured as much as I could. Even the cows are in there because they are a part of the story.

In the Absence of Light, Structure is King

Even when the light has finally disappeared, it’s not time to put the camera away yet. Without light all that is left is structure and structure can make for some great images. Spring thunderstorms are great examples as the clouds often form these great masses of drama. The key is to take that image and then in post bring up the structure or the clarity slider to bring out more of the character in the clouds. One of the key elements when composing an image like this is to have very little foreground in the frame. By looking up more and essentially ignoring the rule of the thirds, the focus turns to the clouds and that also helps to make the structure more pronounced.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 f/2.8 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Little Bit of Light in The Evening Thunderstorm

It’s gotten to be that time of the year where we start getting great thunderstorms rolling through in the afternoons in the Gallatin Valley. While this forecast does call for some snow this week, odds are it will turn to rain in the lower elevations and anything that accumulates will be gone in a day. Well over the next couple of months the weather will be some of my favorite to shoot in as the skies are always filled with drama.


Yesterday was lining up to be one of those evenings where the skies were great but not a lot of light popping through the clouds. That’s alright there doesn’t always needs to be lots of light to make a great shot. In the absence of light comes drama and that’s what the skies did. With the D4 and 24-70 this was one click while underexposing -2.0 stops. When you don’t have a great foreground or great light, just focus on the clouds.

Is it Possible To Always Get the Shot?

I spent Saturday by an Otter den waiting for them to come out. They didn’t. Wanting to still shoot but ready to call it on the Otters I then headed over to known Yellow Bellied Marmot spot to see if they would be more cooperative. They didn’t. Finally on Sunday I went down to the river to see if the birds would be cooperative. They weren’t. That is truly a skunked weekend. What do you do in that scenario?


If you have ever been in that scenario where there is no good alternatives left then you probably did what I did. You forced an image. After spending so much time out in the field with nothing to show for it, except that it felt good to go out, then odds are you ready to make any image happen no matter what. In that last instance I grabbed the D4 and 18-35 f/3.5 and walked over to the entrance road of where I had parked. I’ve often incorporated roads in my landscapes if they are interesting enough. They are a good lead in and can be an easy way for the eye to move through an image. As you can see sunset was boring but I had to make that click. This is what happens. Can you always get that shot? No, I don’t think anyone can get THE shot every time but everyone can get A shot every time. Even if it’s forced.

If you See Fog, Stop!

One of the natural occurring features in Montana is the geothermal rivers. We have a lot of heat keeping the rivers often unfrozen in the winter time. The closer to Yellowstone you get the better the water is and thus the greater the steam is coming up off the water. Lately what’s been happening is we get these great cold snaps that are followed the next day by a warm spell, and I’m talking about going from 10 degrees up to 25 degrees and then if it’s nice it might hit 30 degrees, but these snaps are creating some great fog banks. This winter I’ve seen a lot of these fog layers, one time it was so thick that it was white out and it lasted all day. Well these layers are great for photography especially at sunrise and sunset when the light really starts to bounce around.


This was taken last weekend when it went from 16 degrees one day to 30 degrees the next and at sunset the light was just gorgeous on this ground fog. This was up towards Canyon Ferry Lake on the Missouri River and was a quick click with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S. I really encourage people to go out and drive around with a camera on their lap because that’s all this shot is. It wasn’t a lot of prep work, just knowing the weather patterns and exploring can produce some pretty amazing results.

One Image isn’t Enough

One of the true benefits of living in a beautiful place is being able to look out your window and see something truly beautiful. As is common this time of year, one storm rolls into the next. We had a small break this past weekend but the next is on it’s way and with it brought new clouds. Now I didn’t think much was going to happen as the sky was pretty dark all day but thankfully I was proven wrong. Right after lunch the light started showing through on the other side of the clouds over the Gallatin Mountains. I hadn’t seen this formation before so it seemed prudent to grab the D4 and 70-200 VRII and take a few shots.

Click on Image for Larger View

The light was pretty cool and one image just couldn’t quite sum up what I was seeing so the only answer was a pano. Ever since Adobe put the merge to pano feature into Adobe Camera Raw, I have really enjoyed making panos. While they don’t serve a lot of purposes and are hard to do something with besides showing off on the blog, panos allow you to capture so much more then if you were to just take a single image. In this particular case these panos are so narrow because the foreground absolutely sucked but the light stretched across so far that it took multiple images to capture all the details. The top pano is made of ten images and the bottom is made of eight. That’s how many it took to bring the story to life.

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