Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

What did you see? A chance meeting during a training hike.

I have a backpacking trip scheduled in early October. It’s not an especially long hike and it’s just for a weekend, however I just haven’t done a whole lot of this since I was a kid so I think it’s a pretty good idea to get some practice trips in. My last trip was a good one but the weather was pretty predictable for the Santa Cruz Mountains in April. This next one is Yosemite to Ostrander Lake in the fall season and you never really know once you get up there. In any case I’m looking forward to it and I’m getting the kinks worked out. Part of this exercise today was to simulate the hike with all of the same gear and to experiment with a new idea on camera placement. I hope I can lug around my tripod this time.

DSLR selfie using that old Rebel XT.

Well of course this is a photography trip. Duh.

Last time I brought my Panasonic Lumix for the actual hiking. It was barely adequate. This time I brought my old Canon Rebel XT and my 7d mk II. For the 2 miles I kept the Rebel on my left shoulder strip with a Peak Design Capture Pro. It wasn’t great there because it tended to put pressure on my shoulder. I moved it to my left hip. That worked great and I think I have a winner.

An photo exercise. Move, identify a good scene, shoot, move…

At 3.1 miles, the turnaround point, I changed cameras. I made a few photographs on the way to really exercise it. The placement was very important, but I also need to be able to shoot with it if I find something interesting even if it’s for future reference. This is where I was surprised. My 7d is a lot heavier than the Rebel. Heck, I think my favorite Sigma lens is heavier than the Rebel body and kit lens combined.

If it looks good shoot it. If it looks better, shoot it again.

The Peak Design Capture Pro uses the tripod mounting plate to seat into its platform — a great idea. The problem was that at my hip the camera sways a little, just enough to work a bit loose. This caused the mounting plate to jam a couple of times. This happened to me once before a couple of years ago and I didn’t understand why. Now I know. So I think the right answer is to keep the Rebel out during the hike for snapshots and to keep the 7d in the pack for my objective.

That’s not the point of this post. Thanks for staying awake. I guess all the earlier stuff was for my own reference.

… so I shot it again.

On my way out I met a sweet young lady, a tourist from Spain. She was setting up a photo with her Nikon on the trail. I asked her what her subject was and she said it was nothing really. Well in my mind I knew it wasn’t nothing. Something caught her eye and she decided to stop. I still had a couple of miles to go so I wished her a good day and kept going. I met her again on my way back. She had gotten just a little turned around and wasn’t positive which trail would lead back to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park entrance. I was absolutely delighted to show the way. Now I had some company and I could ask more about what intrigued her about her subject.

We spent the next mile or so talking and taking photos. I asked her again when she stopped “What do you see? What tells you that you should make a photograph of this? Something did. What was it?” We went through the exercise a bit.

  • The bigger scene.
  • The sheer size of the trees.
  • Age.
  • Time.
  • There was a fire and that tree still lives.

She said there was a problem too. It’s too big. The scale doesn’t come across at all. It doesn’t convey what she feels.

An exercise in depth and leading lines. We discussed this scene at some length.

This conversation was wonderful! We talked about that and shared some ideas. I suggested that she was right and maybe ignore the enormity of the subject. For example, capturing something the scope of The Grand Canyon is nearly impossible. Why not try going for details? Imagine 3 shots each one exploring details, then producing those 3 as a set? I also suggested patterns, relationships, anything that conveyed depth. We walked around a set of trees and shared ideas about compositions that might work and why.

Photographer thoughtfully composing her shot.

I would have loved to keep that conversation going but I really did need to get home just a few miles from there.

The whole time I was deeply aware of “mansplaining”. I’ve known enough know-it-all’s and I get rid of them as soon as I can. Ugh. My goal here wasn’t to “mansplain”. I wanted to engage, ask questions, maybe encourage. I also wanted to keep those wheels of my own turning — I need to ask myself those questions all the time.

What is it about this scene? What’s my subject? What’s the nature of the light? Is it a photograph or is it a snapshot? Why?

In a more practical sense I also wanted to hone my approach for asking this question when I teach the occasional workshop. I think it’s a great exercise that tends to push beyond the gearhead technical photography and into a more creative frame of mind.

Quiet time in a Scotts Valley bar

I don’t drink much. Today I found myself at a bar in Scotts Valley waiting for some work to be finished on my wife’s car.

I started reading a book on virtualized IT architecture written by a friend. I had my camera, I had a good beer, then another good beer. The guy next to me asked how I was going to keep my picture from being blurry since it was so dark and my shutter speed was bound to be low.


iso at 3200, focal length at 50mm, but with the crop sensor shutter speed at 1/60th at f/1.8 oughta do it.

I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. He asked a specific question and I had a specific answer. I wonder if he was ready to hear that.

I had 2 of my favorite lenses with me. Partly because, hey they’re my favorites, and also because they present a challenge. They’re primes so I need to think more and compose well. The’re hand held so I need come to peace with the noise that comes with high ISO.



I was thinking about things like texture, flavor, light, noise… my country. A lot was on my mind. I wasn’t killing time, I was making use of the relative quiet time.

We’re just human beings sharing the universe. Deep thoughts after some astrophotography

I’ve been working on a series of photos including the Milky Way. These are not my specialty and I don’t believe that there is any one right way to do them. Each one is different — they would be since the light is changing with every passing second. And this was essentially the last chance to do it for the season. I’ll go into all that in a bit.

SMC_5653-Oh there it is 2, Sean McLean Photography, Davenport, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
A favorite that was shot just for fun. But this image serves a bigger purpose for me right now. Here’s our galaxy. We are in it. We can’t leave. Share.

I was editing this one as I heard the news coming from Paris and a thought struck me. I’m sharing this picture of the galaxy… our galaxy. It wasn’t a big jump to realize the Big Obvious. We are sharing this galaxy — we don’t have a choice. We couldn’t leave it if we wanted to and we have to share it. Now zoom in. You are here. This one tiny little pale blue dot. We are sharing this tiny pale blue dot we call Earth. Our kind has never gone beyond our tiny little moon. It was an incredible feat for any period of time let alone 1969. But we have never gone beyond that. Why? Because it is really, really, really hard. So here we are on our tiny pale blue dot. Everyone we’ve ever known lived here. Everyone we’ll ever know lived here. We have to share it. There simply isn’t another choice.

SMC_5588, Sean McLean Photography, Davenport, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
Milky Way to the right, fishing boats to the left

Carl Sagan nailed it. Here’s my favorite quote

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

SMC_5631, Sean McLean Photography, Davenport, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
The occasional meteor would cruise by overhead
SMC_5495-The Milky Way over McWay Falls Nov 11 2015 2, Sean McLean Photography, McWay Falls, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
McWay Falls, Big Sur, CA. I’ll keep working on this one. There are some things I like and a lot of things that I don’t. There are two meteors overhead which I love. There is some serious color funk below that I don’t. And the branches. Shoot. I didn’t mind them earlier but now they drive me nuts.

Ok enough philosophy for one day. I don’t want to beat you over the head with it. Our hearts are heavy as it is. I’m still figuring out how to develop (process, whatever) these photo of the Milky Way. I’ve seen so many amazing ones and I’ve read so many articles etc on how to do it. Many have the same general ideas — bring up the whites, bring down the blacks, contrast contrast contrast. A lot of folks push this set of Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions or whatever. Those are probably pretty good, but I really think that these are all different. Nobody’s canned presets are going to magically give me what I’ve got in mind.