The Perfect Rig

Photography Rig by the Pristine Waters of the South Platte River

I’ve been working for some time now to assemble the perfect rig for gaining access to the back country for landscape and wildlife photography. I don’t know whether it’s really the perfect rig or not, but it suits me perfectly and I was dying to try it all out together! I wanted the Tamrac Anvil 23 for it’s size and rugged construction, big and deep enough for all my gear and including a camera with battery grip and long lens. It also has straps on the center back strong enough to carry a heavy duty tripod comfortably. Then of course a carbon fiber tripod with a good video head, I decided upon the Manfrotto 502A for it’s rugged build plus it’s capability to operate effectively in the harsh Colorado winter. And of course the bike, which luckily I was able to find pre-owned and in like new condition, a Nishika Colorado 21 speed mountain bike with shock absorbers on the front forks 🙂

My idea was that Waterton Canyon was going to be considerably warmer and the best

Pristine Waters of the South Platte River in the Colorado Rocky Mountain Winter

place to try it all out! However the weatherman was forecasting a cold gloomy morning and I was pretty sure that the sheep were not going to come down 😦 I felt kind of guilty driving 100 miles just to go on a bike ride so I was going to back out, but I called my favorite camera store Englewood Camera, and they just happened to have a good deal on a 4 stop ND filter that I’ve been wanting so I thought what the heck… I’ll stop in at the camera store and maybe I’ll even be able to try it out on my favorite part of the river. Years ago back in the film days I had captured a great image of the river and I’ve tried repeatedly through the years without success to duplicate it with the awesome new technology at our disposal these days so that I could have it for sale on my stock portfolio!

It was still cold and gloomy in the canyon by the time I got there at about 10:00 a.m. so I bundled up and hoped for the best. Indeed I did not see a single bighorn sheep in my entire ride to the top of the dirt road. Modifications I

Pristine Waters of the South Platte River in the Colorado Rocky Mountain Winter

had recently made to my bike, including seat, hand grips and pedals proved worth the investment as I rode hard all the way to the turnaround without having to dismount a single time 🙂 On the way up I identified the very spot that I captured my favorite image so many years ago and on the way back down I stopped there for pictures and video. The other time was autumn so I knew I would not have the beautiful colors, but I have always wanted to try the image in winter as well. I spent a good amount of time there using wide angle and long lenses, the polarizer and a plain skylight filter. The water wasn’t flowing sufficiently to need the new ND, but I’ll try that out over at Eleven Mile pretty soon.

All in all I think I am satisfied with my winter images and I got a great workout on my mountain bike in the fresh mountain air of the Pike National Forest. As always these images and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas, and traditional matting and framing! Also I have no sponsorship or compensation of any kind from any of these products. I have purchased them with my own funds because I found them most suitable to my needs.

Sheer Joy

I got my first camera over 30 years ago… it was a Minolta X-700 35mm camera, well before the advent of personal computers, camera phones, Photoshop… and even before auto focus. It was state of the art gear at the time though, with auto exposure, aperture priority and shutter priority modes and a sync socket for professional flash units. I didn’t buy the camera to make money, only to finally have a camera that didn’t disappoint me every time I got my film back from the lab. I wanted to have clear pictures of my kids and pets for me to look at and enjoy. I got the camera to experience the sheer joy of photography.

Red Fox Napping

Red Fox Napping

It never occurred to me that I could make money with a camera until I was going through a divorce… a guy at work admonished me to be sure to keep the camera, that I could make money with it! I didn’t really think too much about it at the time but I knew that I wanted the camera anyway, so it was the one thing that didn’t go out the door with the ex along with everything else I owned 😦 But… as it turns out, child support is expensive and so was photography at the time. Buying film was pretty low on the things to do list and the camera remained unused in the bag for years, except on special occasions like trips to visit the kids and my rare trip to Phoenix with my buddies for the first annual Phoenix Marathon.

In he early 90’s, the computer business was changing rapidly and I could see the writing on the wall… there wasn’t going to be much use for mainframe operating systems analysts much longer. I wondered what I was going to do for a living if my computer career went completely south. People kept telling me that the pictures I took were better than the ones they hired someone to shoot and I recalled the words of my friend about making money with my camera. So I thought what the heck… a little research about how to go into business and I put out my shingle. A decade of senior portraits and wedding photography later I purchased my first digital camera, the Canon EOS-1D. It was awesome and without the cost of film and processing to consider I could finally consider my dream of becoming a stock photographer. Those were great times, not many photographers had made the transition to digital, prices for images were good and the internet was exploding along with the need for quality imagery. The future looked bright!

But then the price of the cameras came down, image quality at all levels improved by leaps and bounds and it wasn’t long before everyone was getting in on the action. Not long after I started submitting images I had a large enough portfolio that I could count on receiving a check every week and I was making plans for a new career. But it wasn’t long before the industry was awash in imagery, prices were crashing as big players cashed in trying to corner the market with profits on volume and razor thin margins.

Now I’m lucky to get one minuscule check in an entire month. Photographers are treated like dirt by the agencies who profit from their work, some taking as much as 85% for themselves and their stock holders while often paying the photographer just pennies for an image. Stock photography has become barely worth the effort, in fact it has become little more than an insult to the artists.

So today I almost left my camera behind, what was the point in bringing it along? But as I strode along through the woods I was glad I had it with me. I love the feel of the cold steel in my hands, the sound of the lens jumping to attention in it’s effort to quickly focus and the clack of the mirror scrambling to get out of the way in less than a thousandth of a second to make way for the light to come pouring in through the lens and onto the sensor. Today I didn’t see much, the mountains were the same, the trees the same, the lighting the same… but I was still happy to be carrying the camera. Then I spotted the distant fox sunning himself in the prairie grass. The animal was way too far away to get a salable shot but I stopped to shoot anyway, I couldn’t resist. As I shot the images I thought back to the days of my clunky manual Minolta X-700 and the joy that it brought me to just create for the sake of creation. Not that long ago I would have passed the fox by knowing that he was not going to make me any money… but now I realize, I still love photography and I still love creating for the sake of creating.

Once again, it may be time for a change in philosophy, from a mind focused on business to simply a camera focused on the sheer joy of making pictures. Mr. Fox here could be the turning point, the first sign of a new life focused on joy instead of profit.

A Better Start


Didn’t set the alarm this morning but was still hoping for an early enough morning to be able to get in on the nice lighting. Didn’t quite hit the perfect moment, but definitely better than yesterday! I awoke at 7:20 a.m. and took Big Dog out for his morning business just in time to notice that 7:20 was the perfect moment to have been down the trail a couple of miles to catch the early morning pinkness still available over the Arkansas Valley and on the distant Sangre de Cristo Range.

Hazy Sangre de Cristo Mountains

By the time I got going it was still the perfect time for some wildlife photography, so I was hoping to see some deer or elk, maybe a coyote or fox still out hunting or maybe even my favorite resident, the Rough Legged Hawk. Other than a few encouraging tracks in the sand, no luck at all in that department. But the mountains were still pretty, minus the pink morning light that I was hoping for. There was however still a hint of early morning color over the valley and on the snow capped peaks and I could not resist snapping a few.

Despite being another major disappointment, the day was not entirely lost… I obtained some good information that I can put to use tomorrow. I know when to set the alarm, 6:30 a.m. should be the perfect time to wake up, giving me plenty of time to be out the door by 7:00 and down the trail a couple of miles to my favorite vista. I need to get this done before the sun starts coming up even earlier later in the spring and summer. Also need to get those shots before the fires start and I can’t see the Sangre at all. It has been a very dry year and the specter of a summer of mountain wildfires is looming large 😦

Today’s picture is of course a very hazy view of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Range over the Arkansas Valley with the layers of foothills leading up to the rugged range and the continental divide separating east from west. Always hoping my readers will take the time to view my website where pictures are for sale as wall art and royalty free stock.

Spring Returns

Couldn’t think of a catchy title so I just went with the obvious. Last weekend began with a hike in -13 degree weather so this morning felt like spring again. Today wasn’t exactly balmy at 16 but it felt a heck of a lot better than last week! I was hoping for a much earlier start, well at least a darker start this morning with the time change, but I didn’t set an alarm and consequently I slept way past the golden hour for interesting photography. I should probably never set my hopes too high on the first day off following a week of arising at 4:45 😦

Rough Legged HawkWell anyway, the sun was well up, all the nice color gone from the sky and way too much haze already formed by the time I was able to get moving this morning. On the upside, I did manage to get dressed and get out the door Not too far into my hike with the big dog I noticed the Rough Legged Hawk eyeing us from atop one of our new light posts that now grace the streets on my end of town. I prepared my camera settings for a majestic flight that I knew would ensue as soon as we approached the big bird… but it didn’t happen. After a bit he did fly, but only to the next light post so this was going to require a new tactic… I hooked dog to one of the nearby fence posts and approached the hawk slowly and quietly hoping for a closeup of him on the light post.

The big bird of prey payed almost no attention to me at all and I was able to just walk right up and shoot away, with him sort of eyeing me sideways just in case. I’m not too impressed with my shots, not a fan of birds just sitting on a perch. But it is what it is and soon we were on our way to my favorite nearby mountain view. The haze was way too heavy for a decent shot of the Sangre, but of course I had to shoot a couple anyway… if for no other reason than to be able to claim that I was there!

Hazy Sangre de Cristo

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range of Colorado in heavy haze on a beautiful spring morning

After the Storm

The latest cold front has passed through along with the tremendous winds that accompanied it. The Sangre de Cristo Range was beautiful this morning and the bitter cold was not quite as biting as yesterday. Windchill of -7 instead of -13 for some reason felt much better! Big Dog was ready to go for a jaunt so I decided today would be a good day to try out the polarizer.

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

I haven’t really used it much for a long time since previous efforts have resulted in disappointment. Somewhere I read that professional travel photographers always use these things and that there is no Photoshop substitute for replicating it’s effect. Previous attempts have resulted in unacceptable and irreparable digital noise so I just quit using it, but advancements in newer sensors have done a lot to reduce the noise that plagued early digital imaging technology. So the hope is that with my much newer camera the polarizer is a piece of equipment I can now put to good use. My polarizer is a top of the line B&W brand circular polarizer so there should be no worry of glass quality adversely affecting the image.

Armed with the necessary equipment and enough winter gear to fend off the cold, off we went. A couple of miles into the woods we were confronted with an excellent view of the magnificent snow capped mountains so I stopped to get the shots. White balance on daylight instead of auto so as not to negate the effects of the dark blue polarizer and +1/3 exposure compensation to make up for the slight loss of light from the dark glass. While looking through the viewfinder I turned the glass until I could see the most effect and I have to say it looked amazing!

But now in front of the computer the results are once again disappointing. There is an unacceptable softness in the images due to what appears to be loss of contrast, perhaps from light dispersion. I should have paid more attention to the aperture when I was shooting, but I don’t think a wide lens opening can be blamed for this much softness. Hoping for a quick answer, I went outside to photograph the gas company sign across the street using f11 as an f stop. In looking at those images with and without the polarizer, it does appear that there is some softness that I find unacceptable for my main purpose, which is the marketing of images as stock.

I do appreciate the beautiful saturated effect of the filter so I don’t think I’ll give up on it just yet, but next time I’ll definitely have to conduct a much more controlled series of pictures. Tripod, f11 and side by side images of the same scene with and without the filter. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the picture, the mountains are beautiful and the effect on a small version of the picture create a wonderful scene 🙂

Fly Like an EagleThis mystery raptor is as of yet unidentified. I have looked though every hawk, falcon, eagle and osprey picture on the internet that I can find and I can’t find a match. So, please, if anyone knows what this magnificent fellow is I’d be happy to hear from you!

New images are being added to my website all the time as wall art, gift items and royalty free stock! Please visit and check out new images and the best of my old images as well!

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Wolves in Rocky Mountain National Park

OK, so I know this is a picture of a coyote… But perhaps the reason for that is because wolves in Colorado were hunted  to extinction a long time ago and Yellowstone is a long way from Cripple Creek Colorado 😦

Coyote

Coyote in the Colorado winter landscape

But I just want to throw this out there, if wolves can thrive in Yellowstone, why could they not thrive just as well in Rocky Mountain National Park? Both are huge tracts of rugged land mostly inaccessible to people, both good habitat for wolves. Every year I have to hear the state wildlife people whine that there are too many elk in Rocky, basically they have no competition. The elk there just lay around all the time, sometimes causing traffic jams on the highways and sometimes just wandering into town to hang out with the tourists.

I have read accounts of how wolves have entirely renovated the landscape in Yellowstone once they began to thrive in significant numbers. The elk and deer herds became stronger as the animals were forced to move around and the wolves culled the weaker members. Aspen trees are healthier, forest grasses taller, and because coyotes and fox have to move around more there are more rodents for the eagles and hawks. The entire ecosystem is healed in a process called Trophic Cascade. Coyote-&-Magpie

Tourists and photographers come from all over the world to view the animals in Yellowstone, immensely benefiting local economies. It seems that Rocky Mountain National Park would benefit from the presence of wolves as well. Just throwing this out in hopes that like minded people will join and bring the miracle of wolves to my state. Sure, we might get some argument from the surrounding ranchers but it is my contention that the world does not need those ranchers or their cattle, many of which are living on and spoiling the federal public land experience for others who would also enjoy that land. Perhaps they could learn non lethal wildlife management or just sell some land to create buffer zones between the park and their ranches.

And once again, since the Obama administration caved to the hunting and ranching lobby in Washington, wolves have been unjustly removed from the Endangered Species List. Please go online and donate money, sign petitions, call congressmen, and do whatever it takes to get our beloved wolves (and grizzlies) back on the endangered list. If you don’t know where to find those lists and petitions, please visit my Facebook page dedicated to the preservation of our precious wildlife.

Some Days There’s Only One

Not such a successful couple of days shooting, if you want to count keepers. Yesterday there was a beautiful sunrise lighting the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and I was able to get a few shots of it before the light changed… Unfortunately none of them turned out. It was a difficult situation with the a nearby landscape in front of the more distant mountains. I assumed that the horizon was far enough away for the lens to focus on infinity, making both the foreground and the mountains both sharply in focus, but I was wrong. Usually that works, but in this case there was just too much distance between the two landscapes and the foreground details were simply too close. The foreground would have disappeared nicely into silhouette and the distant mountains would have been sharp, if I had chosen more accurately. I should have tried both, but apparently I thought I had nailed it. Oh well, live and learn, with emphasis on learning!

Sangre Mountain Sunrise

Sunrise and Fog on the Sangre

On the other hand maybe any photo batch that has one keeper could be considered a success. I was luckier this morning, I made the same mistake but in this case the distant mountains were shrouded in clouds and fog and the lack of sharpness there didn’t adversely affect the image 🙂 So, lesson learned and one keeper to show for it.

The day has devolved into a cloudy windy snowy day, perfect for staying inside snuggled up on the couch buried in puppies. As always, this image and more are available for purchase from my image gallery both as wall art and commercial stock. Hope you will stop in and have a look! New images include beautiful lighting on the south face of Pikes Peak, some mountain landscapes of the Sangre and some shots of elk and deer to round it out!

The Mountains Decide

One of the rules of landscape photography is that you shoot right before sunrise or right after sunset or don’t even bother, the lighting won’t be interesting enough to make a decent image. However that rule, along with many others does not apply in the mountains. The mountains alone decide when they want to be photographed, climbed or just plain left alone.

Stormy Sangre De Cristo

Storm clouds on the Sangre De Cristo

Today was just such a day as sunrise was met with several inches of fresh snow and a layer of dense fog covering the entire area. I was thinking of an early hike with the camera but decided otherwise when I saw the conditions. Some biscuits and gravy at Bronco Billy’s seemed like a much better idea 🙂 However when I came out from breakfast everything was changed… The sun was trying to come out and I could make out some interesting cloud formations in the direction of the Sangre De Cristos so me and Big Dog headed for the trailhead.

The view from the trail summit was amazing, the clearest view I have seen of the mountains yet this winter! And to add to the scene, the storm clouds from the night before were still lingering, floating lazily just below the tops of the magnificent mountain range.

Sangre De Cristo Snow

Fresh snow on the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range of Colorado

So for about an hour I had a window of opportunity to get some of the coolest shots of the season… not at sunrise or sunset, but on mountain timing. On my way home I noticed that the window was closing fast, the Arkansas Valley was rapidly filling with clouds and the mountain range was becoming invisible once again. By the time I got home it was snowing in earnest and the mountains were but a fond memory.  I thank the Almighty for the window of opportunity and for making me available to witness it in full glory.

On Comebacks

Big step today in my return to civilized life… It wasn’t easy up in this little mountain town but I finally found an internet provider that could hook me up with 10mbps. This is a huge step in restoring my ability to conduct my photography and writing enterprises! I still remember sitting in my camper after the wife had passed from cancer, life completely decimated… no home, no family, no job, no savings left, camera broken and laptop on it’s last leg. Wondering, how does one come back from this?

Steve & Dad Leadville (wordpress)Today I received and notice in the email that it is once again time to register for the Leadville 100 “Race Across the Sky” and I am reminded of my most memorable comeback, my first Leadville 100 finish. I was relatively inexperienced at running that distance and by the time I had reached the Halfmoon aid station on the return trip about 70 miles into the race, I was physically and mentally trashed. If you want to drop out, you can ask  the aid  station and they will remove your medical stats wrist band, effectively eliminating you from the race. I was the first person I had encountered who looked so bad that the aid station people were asking me for my medical band. But for some reason I said no and managed to down some food and eventually stumble out of the aid station and continue the race.

I was moving so slowly though that race personnel were continuing to drive by and ask me for my medical band. But I continued to put one foot in front of the other while my mind argued with my body… With more than a marathon in distance to go there is no earthly reason to believe that it is possible to finish. In preparation for a marathon distance run most people get some extra rest, do some carbo loading and take steps to prepare their minds and body for such a distance. No one starts a marathon completely exhausted, sleep deprived and sick from not being able to eat a proper meal, cold and wet and in the dark of night in the mountains with an 11,200 foot pass to climb.

But even then, in complete denial of reality, I continued to put one foot in front of the other… why? Because I could. Because it is what I expected of myself, because it is what my crew who had worked so hard all summer with me expected of me. Because you can’t just drop out for being tired and sick, because you knew when you signed up for such insanity that you were going to be cold and tired and sick for over 24 hours. Cold and tired and sick is not a valid excuse for giving up, it is part of the race. Such as it is in real life, even in your darkest hour you continue on because that is what everyone does, because that is what is expected of you by your friends and family and people who are counting on you, because giving up is unthinkable.

Well as it turns out by the time I arrived at the Fish Hatchery aid station I was feeling a bit better and was able to down some more food. By the time I got to Hagerman Pass the food was kicking in and I could smell the finish line. There was still nearly 20 miles to go but some strength had returned and my body had warmed somewhat. I knew I was pushing the limit on cutoff times and I dug deep and hit the afterburner. Later my pacer told me if I had gone any faster over the pass he would not have been able to keep up with me. By the time I had gotten around Turquoise Lake I had made up considerable time against the cutoff limits and a finish was guaranteed if I could just continue to put one foot in front of the other.  I could no longer hold down any food or ERG but I just kept walking up the long four mile hill to the finish line. Finally, after 29 hours the old west mining town of Leadville was once again in sight. And at 29:15 my feet crossed the finish line and I received the coveted hug and finisher’s medallion from Merilee.

I have been involved with sports my entire life and am definitely a fan of great comebacks. I believe that sports can train people for success in life and this experience was no different. I was able to draw on the hardship and perseverance involved in finishing a 100 mile race in the mountains against impossible odds to carry on with life even after the terrible circumstances surrounding such a devastating illness and death in the family. I know others are at this time facing their darkest hour and I hope these words can in some small way encourage them to make their comeback in life.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

Sangre De Cristo Winter Sunset.

The smoke and haze this winter has pretty much ruined the chance for getting suitable mountain panoramas but luckily the same problem has been making for some great sunsets. I don’t like shooting sunsets all the time because they can quickly get cliché and boring but there is definitely a time and place for them. I was thinking, there is only one time of year when the sun is setting at this angle, right over the best part of the Sangre and I don’t want to miss it and have to think about it for an entire year!

 ome promising looking clouds and some free time the other night worked together to provide the opportunity so I headed out towards Victor to my favorite Sangre De Cristo viewing spot. Well before the sun began approaching the horizon I could detect some promising color in the sky and I knew it was going to be a good night. When the sun finally began to set the color didn't disappoint. As the sun went down and the colors changed I moved around along the viewing area to get some different angles and some different exposures. When the sun was far enough gone to make sure I didn't burn out my sensor, I tried some shots directly into the light, rendering some interesting lens flare, which won't be useful as stock but might make an artistic print for someone who likes that effect.
Now in Photoshop working on the images I remember one reason why I don't like shooting sunsets! Even using all my tricks, sometimes there remains some unsightly Chromatic Aberration which requires a good amount of tedious hand painting to correct. Thought I would use my best one so far and also one with lens flare in it for this article. As always these images are for sale on my website, which you can view by pressing the links in the menu. In addition to the sunset images, there were a couple of abandoned mines in that looked kind of interesting in the light and I was hoping to have them on my site as well, but a plethora of power lines that were not visible in the evening light have invaded the pictures beyond repair. Oh well, maybe I will have to just go in search of a less public mine for those shots.