Dead Ox Ranch Perseids

Each year come August I start to look forward to the Perseid Meteor Shower. The Perseids are an annual event that comes each year as the Earth passes through the orbital path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The debris from the comet’s path causes little pieces of the comet to fall through the Earth’s atmosphere at over 100,000 miles per hour causing an amazing amount of falling stars, sometimes from 100-200 per hour. The Perseid Meteor Shower of 2018 was helped by its occurrence during the dark skies of a New Moon.

Another occasion that’s becoming an annual August event is my Dead Ox Ranch Photographer’s Campout. Last year we dedicated the event to capturing photos of the Solar Eclipse. This year we were there to capture photos of the Perseid Meteor Shower.

The Dead Ox Ranch isn’t as morbid of a place as it sounds. The name was given to the ranch by the chance occurrence of there being a dead cow on the property when it changed hands in a sale in its past. The ranch is over 100 years old and is located east of Baker City near Virtue Flats and ruts from the old Oregon Trail. It’s just an hour drive from Hell’s Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains. It’s also the location for some of the darkest skies in the state.

Disregarding all of the above, the ranch itself is like going back in time to an era of outdoor group socials, picnics and sitting around in the yard in the summertime heat visiting and talking to friends and family with an ice-cold beverage. Once everyone arrives and we are all set up in our camps we mix and mingle and discuss our common purpose for being there, photography.

The only chance that we take is being there in the Summer during the peak wildfire season, and this years has been a bad one. The state was covered with smoke from fires originating not only in Oregon but from fires in both California and British Columbia. It’s been terrible indeed, but we somehow lucked out with clear skies with only traces of smoke that came and went for the whole three-day event. If we would have had smoky skies we would have somehow made the best of it anyway but that wasn’t the case.

Our mission for the workshop was to create what is called a composite image. One that is made from several photos to create one single image. Our goal was to make an image that included a group of meteors gathered over a three hour period of time. To do that we wanted to create the photo using a base layer taken at twilight so we can have focus and definition and yet still have dim and cool light like night time. Then a photo of the sky later at night when the Milky Way was filling the sky. After that we set up our cameras to take 30 second exposures one after the other for three hours to gather photos of as many meteors as possible. Once we gathered all of these photos we then went into our digital darkroom to blend them all together.

To composite the photos we made our basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and then opened all of the files into Adobe Photoshop as layers. Once we had them in Photoshop it was a matter of creating masks and selecting a blend mode to allow each layer to show through in its place and order. After some final adjustments the whole stack of layers was merged together into a single image. Although this is a general description I felt compelled to explain the process to those who aren’t aware of how these images are made. In today’s world of digital photography certain lines can be blurred between art and photography.

The whole group of photographers had a great time. I’m convinced that when we were out playing at sunset and into the dark we reverted back to kids again. And when we gathered to process our photos, we were all amazed at the results. I included the image that I created as an example of the composite image that the class came to create for themselves.

Even if you don’t create a complex composite image in Photoshop, a beautiful single image of a meteor is reward enough for a night under the stars. Keep this in mind next August when the stars start falling during the Perseid Meteor Shower. Perhaps you can join us at the Dead Ox Ranch for a workshop.

Motivation, Purpose, and Reason – 2017 Solar Eclipse

The Dead Ox Solar Eclipse Crew

2017 Solar Eclipse

Motivation, purpose, and reason. Why do we do what we do, especially when it’s doing something that we love? To me photography is more than taking photos. It took me a while to understand this as it applies to my own work and how it affects my life but the realization was life changing.

I just returned from an event in Eastern Oregon where 25 photographers gathered at a ranch just east of Baker City to photograph the total solar eclipse. I organized and conducted a solar eclipse workshop and campout. During the organization phase of the event I had no idea how it would all turn out. There’s always so much to worry about it seems. Will the clouds show up and blot out the eclipse? Will there be enough water? Will there be enough porta-potties? Will there be something that I’ve forgotten? Will everyone be happy? When it comes to worry I seem to be a pro.

The day of the event comes and the photographers start arriving. There were young, old, men, women, children, varied races, nationalities and ethnicities. People who, if they were in their own element, may not even meet let alone sit and share a campfire, food, drink, dance and conversation. Our lives were diverse. Our common catalyst is photography. Our reason for gathering is the eclipse. A perfect formula.

The event could have formed into smaller social groups defined by our differences but instead everyone came together into a hive of gracious sharing. We created our own village there of people who concentrated on their one common goal, in this case something as simple and as innocuous as getting a photograph, albeit a very special photograph. Everyone helped those who were less skilled or prepared. We all shared our experience, expertise, equipment, food and drink, anything freely and selflessly. Even the children ran and played completely disconnected from their electronic devices as if it was 1965. I saw no conflict that the children weren’t able to resolve themselves. It was an amazing convergence of love, happiness and cooperation.

I describe this event only to make a simple point that has taken me some time to realize. The secret to happiness and mutual cooperation, I think, is not finding our differences but, rather, to find our common interests. It doesn’t have to be photography. It can be a myriad of other things but if we stop for a moment and realize how much we help ourselves when we help others the world would be a better place.

I don’t mean to preach, nor do I mean to act as if I’ve discovered the secret to world peace, but I would like to express how much I have realized that photography for me is the tool that opens doors to the things that make me happy. It’s the tool that allows me to affect others in a positive way and the more that I receive the recognition and gratitude of others the more that I realize it’s more than the photography or vanity that could come with notoriety. It’s about affecting people's lives in a positive way with what I love to do.

I have a lot of people ask me what is the most important element or method of my photography that allows it to stand out so that they too can learn how to do it themselves. I’m convinced that what will make anyone’s photography stand out can’t be taught but must be discovered through a journey of practice, mistakes, realization and discovery. It’s a process that allows you to be able to see the world through your heart and soul and not your eyes and practical mind. A realization that will bring a feeling of relief and relaxation that will allow you to do what you do in a much more creative way.

My personal realization of these principles has completely changed my approach to everything that I do that involves how I approach my work. It has brought me happiness where there once was frustration. It has brought a new inner peace that translates through my photos. It has even brought a certain amount of success that i wouldn’t have had otherwise. I feel that it all comes from sharing what I love.

I may not have discovered the secret to world peace, but what I’ve discovered is helping me with my own.

 

Solar Eclipse Composite
Solar Eclipse Composite
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