Zion Sunrise

In the past I have wanted to take photographs that toyed with having the sun in the frame producing sun burst and lens flare effects.  You can add these in photoshop but they never look very natural so I have wanted to shoot them in-camera.

However, it’s a monumentally bad idea to look into the sun through a camera viewfinder.  You can seriously damage your vision.

Fortunately most current DSLRs have live-view.  You can compose the photograph by looking at the LCD display on the back of the camera rather than looking through the viewfinder.  Live-view has it’s drawbacks but it does make it possible to compose an image with the sun directly in it.  Viewing the sun on an LCD screen can’t hurt your eyes.

So, lately I have been experimenting more and more with that type of composition and this image as a great example.

This was shot as the sun climbed over the canyon wall at Zion National Park during our last visit.  I ended up with a nearly perfect sun-burst effect. I really like the way the back-lit leaves make a border around much of the photo while the parts of the forest that are not lit up provide contrast and depth.

Colors of Zion

In the Southwest we are accustomed to seeing bright colors in our landscapes that are far beyond what most people experience.  The layers of stone that define the Southwest have every shade of red, pink, white, buff, etc.  Zion National Park has all of these, of course.

What surprised me was seeing other, more rare colors in the stone at Zion. A number of shades of blue, cyan purple and even green make appearances in the park’s landscape — provided you know where to look.  Here’s an image of a slot canyon shot from above that I think illustrates my point.

First Zion National Park Photo

Here’s the first photo I processed from the trip to Zion National Park last month.  It was my first visit and although we spent only 3 days there, they were fully packed days.  Photographically speaking this trip was mostly a scouting trip.  I didn’t expect to take many great photos in the park.  Mostly I was just looking to familiarize myself with the park, it’s locations and how the light worked so that future trips I could plan carefully.  Even so, I believe I managed to get a few photos from the trip that are worthy of the permanent portfolio.

The park is so photogenic you can get nice images even when you aren’t trying very hard.

Based on what I saw, I really believe you could spend an entire lifetime photographing Zion.  At the entrance to the park are several small photo galleries who’s owners have done just that. Their work is extraordinary.  I envy them the opportunity.

Anyway, please enjoy this first image from the trip…


Know When to Fold ‘Em

It’s easy to look at a setting sun and say well, there’s no clouds or haze. Nothing to make this a good sunset. Guess I’ll just pack up.

That’s what I could have done when I was shooting this photo in Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco), Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. The conditions all looked like I was in store for a decidedly meh kind of a sunset.

But I kept my eye on the horizon, noticing the changing tone and the tour boat slowly making its way into the frame. Suddenly I realized the color tones in the sky were rapidly warming up. Things happen very fast during this part of a sunset. I lifted my camera up and took an exposure.

Good but not great. Then just as the colors of the sunset peaked, the tour boat moved into almost a perfect part of the frame to balance the setting sun and it’s reflection on the sea. Another shot and I had what I wanted.

Not a minute before I was thinking about packing my camera in the bag and leaving but I thought just maybe…

In photography you have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.


If you’d like to have a print of this image for your very own and genuine paper (or one of several other suitable substrates) you can find it here.

The Proposal

One of the nice things about being a photographer is that sometimes you get to be present to record nice moments in people’s lives.
Recently a friend asked me if I would be there to take photographs when he surprised his girlfriend with a proposal. I don’t do this sort of thing (or weddings or stuff like that) as a business but sometimes I’ll do it for a close friend and in this case I was honored.
So here is a selection of photos that illustrate the story of the proposal. I hope you’ll join me in wishing all the best to the happy couple.

Life in Scottsdale

I fell in love with the idea of living in Scottsdale way back in about 1983.  I was working in Northern Arizona and had come down to “the Valley” (as Arizonans call the metro Phoenix area). I found myself in Scottsdale during the annual city-sponsored Culinary Arts festival.  It was March so it was still cold in the northern desert (and back home in Castle Dale as well) but it was warm in Scottsdale.  There was green grass, music, friendly people and amazing food everywhere.

That’s when I decided I would come back someday and see if living in Scottsdale was as great as it seemed it would be.  After finishing a University education, obtaining a wife and fathering a first child the opportunity came to move to Scottsdale.  I’ve never regretted it.

If you have to live in a large city (and I do because of my profession) I can’t imagine a better one.  This photograph of Marguerite Lake is from last summer’s Monsoon season.  As you can see from the photo, we live in an urban environment but it’s a beautiful one.  The skies during the Monsoon season can take your breath away – particularly at sunset.  Hope you enjoy the photo.

My Biggest Selling Stock Photos 2015

Here are the three best selling stock photos I uploaded this year:


This year’s best seller:  Gaffer, a cute Blue Texas Heeler puppy photographed in my studio in March.



This year’s second best seller:  Three Bears Falls in Maui Hawaii from my Anniversary trip with my wife last January.


This year’s third best seller:  Sunset over the Phoenix Valley photographed from Silly Mountain park in March.


Minimalist Design

In my primary occupation as an Engineer, I admire machines that are designed for a specific task with the simplest possible implementation.
Some machines, when they are well designed are beautiful. Nature seems to reward good design with beauty. Bad designs not only don’t work well but they are also often not pleasing to the senses. Good designs are not only functional but often rise to the level of art.

This image represents this concept. This Ford deuce coupe is a classic design for the simple reason that its design is driven almost completely by its purpose.

My treatment of the photograph is intended to reflect this simplicity of design.

For example, the image was shot at a busy car show in Scottsdale, Arizona. This meant that the surroundings of the car were going to be chaotic and crowded. A simple documentary photograph of the car would have been junky. The car would have been lost in the jumble of the background.

So I took the photograph with in-camera settings to cause the background to fall out of focus while the car is maintained in tack-sharp focus. This draws the eye to the car and away from the distracting background.

I enhanced this effect when I processed the photograph by selectively desaturating the colors in the background and surroundings of the car. Again, the eye is drawn to the car and away from the background because the eye is drawn to color.

These techniques turn a documentary-style photograph into an art piece by adhering close to the purpose of the photograph just like the car’s design adheres close to it’s purpose.

If you’d like to hang this photograph in your home or office you can order a print by clicking here.

New Workshop Announcements – Great Christmas Gift

I’ve announced upcoming January dates for my two most popular events:

  • Taking Better Portraits with Any Camera
  •  Night Photography

These workshops also make great Christmas presents if you know someone who wants to learn more about photography or for someone getting a new camera for Christmas.  Check them out and subscribe on my workshops page:


Where’s The Subject? I Don’t Care.

Landscape photographs are supposed to have a clear and obvious subject. In addition, they should have a strongly identifiable foreground, middle ground and background. These are rules I always think about that when I compose a landscape photograph.
However, I wasn’t thinking about any of that when this image was taken.

I had spent hours shooting the ancient ruins at Wupatki National Monument. Now the sun was going down and I felt done for the day. I wanted to sit quietly and soak up that peace that comes over the Southwest just as the sun dips below the horizon and the evening breeze picks up.

There’s nothing like that moment – it’s as if the desert has been holding its breath all day and now it takes its long delayed and relaxing exhale.

While I was sitting there, with my wife Marla by my side, as that feeling of deep relaxation enfolded us and the breath of a breeze stirred on our skin, the colors in the sky and in the foliage around me suddenly seemed to pop into a level vibrancy that hadn’t been there an instant before. My camera was sitting next to me on its tripod and I simply reached over and clicked the shutter button. This image is the result.

If you critique this photograph as a photographer you’ll likely ask, “where’s the subject.” I understand what you mean. In reply I might try to make an argument that the clouds in the sky are the subject or perhaps the San Francisco Peaks far off in the distance. But really these are middle ground and background interest rather than a strong subject.

Then I guess you’d say it’s not a great landscape photograph from the perspective of the traditional rules of composition. For me, the image captures perfectly what it was like to be in that moment. Exhaling with the desert. Connecting with the desert. Feeling my love seated next to me joining in. For me that’s want counts. If you want to say it’s not a great photograph go ahead—you’re not wrong — but I don’t care

If you don’t care either and see something in this photograph as I do, imagine how it would look printed large and hanging in your family room.  Go here if you’d like to order it.

New Workshop Annoucement: Photographing Your Artwork

Artists often find themselves needing photographs of their work. Maybe it’s for a portfolio, a catalog, on-line advertising, print reproduction, documentation, copyright registration, etc. Hiring a professional photographer can prove an expensive proposition. Hiring an amateur who happens to have a nice camera can be even worse because shooting artwork is a specialty that is very different from other kinds of photography. However, with a little training, you can learn to produce professional quality images of your art objects for yourself.

For more information visit my workshop announcement page.

Great Scout!

Over the years I have learned that scouting locations is an important part of landscape photography. It’s seldom that you arrive at some landmark or great location when the conditions (light, clouds, crowds, etc.) are just right.

However, over time you can train yourself to imagine in your mind what the conditions at a given location will be at another time (sunset, for instance).

In those cases it helps to know exactly where the sun is going to be in the sky at a given time. I use an App on my smartphone (Sun Surveyor) for that. With the App I know exactly where the sun will be (how high in the sky and on what compass point) at a given time of any day for that location.

This means I can picture how the lighting will be in the scene at any time or date in the future.

By scouting out these locations you can plan your day or your trip so that you are at the location when conditions are likely to be optimal.
That’s exactly what I did for this image. I scouted the location in the morning, used my App to figure out when the sun would go down and to spot where it would be on the horizon.

I also knew what the atmospheric conditions would be at that time from a Weather App. Using my imagination to compose the picture in my mind with the expected atmospheric conditions, I decided what time I would return to the location to shoot the photograph.

My companion and I returned to town, had a nice early dinner and returned to the site just a little early to allow time to find the exact spot I wanted to shoot from and set up the camera

I hope you enjoy this image of Wukoki Ruin in the Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona. Why not order a print of your very own by clicking here.

Chaos Theory

The human mind is a pattern recognizing machine.

It sees patterns in everything, even when they are not there. An evolutionary legacy, science tell us, of a time when spotting a pattern in the grass meant the difference between being some carnivore’s dinner and surviving for another day. There was no penalty for seeing patterns that weren’t there – you still survived to pass those traits on to your children – but missing a pattern that was there made the passing on of your genes highly unlikely.

Photographers learn how to use the human mind’s pattern recognition tools to great effect when composing images. Even so, it’s difficult to make a photograph of a chaotic scene that is satisfactory to both the viewer and the photographer.

I have been enamored lately of taking photographs of stormy skies (it’s been a very good monsoon season here in Arizona so there have been a lot of opportunities).  Such images are, by definition, photographs of chaos.

It’s been surprisingly challenging to get photographs of storm clouds that have enough structure in them to please the pattern recognition functions of my mind and still convey that sense of natural chaos inherent in the subject.

Here’s a photo that I think succeeds in striking that balance between structure and chaos.

BTW: This photo would look great printed large and hung in your office. If you’d like to do that, click here to find it in my on-line store. Actually, there’s a few there if you’d like to see some variations. They’d make a great grouping if you ordered three or four.

New Workshop Announcement: Better Portraits with Any Camera

I’m offering my popular “Better Portraits with Any Camera” workshop on October 8th at 4:00 PM in Scottsdale.  It’s only $35 for two hours with plenty of hands-on practice and instruction.  To sign up go to my workshop page here:  http://www.chriscurtisphotography.com/?page_id=445

Hondu Arch

I once heard that you could picture the landscape in Utah by imagining that someone had turned Dr. Seuss loose with a backhoe. That remark has stayed with me because it is so apt.

I left the family farm in Emery County, Utah about 35 years ago and it’s funny but I still get homesick.  In spite of occasional visits and in spite of the fact that Arizona has also certainly become a home for me, I still miss the deserts of that part of Utah.  Something about the place gets under your skin.  You can never really leave it (or perhaps it will never really leave you).

Here is one of my landscape photographs from the last visit in July.  In this photo I set out to capture the place in a way that represents how I relate to it.  That’s why it’s a Panoramic – wide format is the only way to express the sheer scope of the place.

One of most striking things about that part of Utah is the diversity of color in the landscape.  I don’t know of any place with so many colors.  This location is especially blessed because it’s dominated by layers of rock with the names like Curtis Sandstone, Kayenta Sandstone, Morrison Formation, Chinle Formation, Ferron Formation Cedar Mountain Formation and more.  Each layer is a completely different color: buff, white, deep red, pink, purple grey, blue.  The photograph was taken so as to show off the colors as they appear under a bright mid-day sun when they are especially saturated.

The location is Hondu Arch and McKay Flat in the San Rafael Swell.  It’s at the end of a long, rough jeep trail somewhere to the south of Interstate 70.  It’s more or less equidistant from the towns of Emery, Green River and Hanksville, Utah.

Imagine how this colorful photograph would look hanging on your wall.  It’s a panorama and it can be printed in huge sizes.  Click here to go to my store.