Kirk Bergman Photography: Blog en-us (C) Kirk Bergman Photography [email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Tue, 15 Sep 2020 16:01:00 GMT Tue, 15 Sep 2020 16:01:00 GMT Kirk Bergman Photography: Blog 80 120 Reflecting on the Past Reflecting on the Past | Lake Powell, UtahReflecting on the Past | Lake Powell, Utah

The first weekend in May I made a trip to Lake Powell with another photographer friend for the express purpose of capturing the Milky Way as it spans across this gorgeous canyon.  I planned the trip around a new moon and hopefully clear skies to capture the splendor of the galaxy spanning the canyon.  To get here you have to hike 9 miles across the open Southern Utah desert; no shade and no water.  This normally isn't such a big deal, but the addition of heavy camera gear like lenses, tripods, and the camera itself, along with packing in all the water you need for 2 days, increased the difficulty.  7 miles up and down the foothills of a nearby cliff, and 2 miles across ankle bending, knee straining, blister causing, open slickrock.

I arrived tired and somewhat dehydrated but in good shape.  Pictures don't accurately show how massive this canyon is or the rock formations in it, which have to be at least 200 feet tall.  After setting up camp and getting some much needed rest and food, I began scouting for a good viewpoint to capture the unique maze of water snaking around these sandstone sentinels.  The water level is pretty low this year, so we got to see the spine of rock going from one cliff slope to one of the center rock towers.  This is not photographed very often and it was nice to get a little more unique of a photo.  Upon finding a good composition, I snapped a few photos a little after dusk during what's called the "blue hour."  This is the very last bit of light to reach the landscape as the sun plummets further and further below the horizon.  This cool, calm glow allows for crisp, detailed photos of the foreground while maintaining a nighttime feel.  Now it was time for bed.

At 2:31am my phone's alarm chimed, alerting me to the imminent rise of the Milky Way to the perfect position in the sky.  I got up, got dressed, and grabbed my camera and tripod.  For this shot, I also brought my star tracker, a (heavy) device that counteracts the rotation of the Earth, allowing for very long exposures of the nighttime sky.  I have to align the North Star in a circular grid based on latitude, time of day, and time of year.  There is lots of complicated math necessary for this.  So it's fortunate that I have an app on my phone that does all that for me and just tells me where to put the North Star in the illuminated grid in the  star tracker's viewfinder.  But man, that little star has to be lined up just so and the adjustment screws on the tracker are so finicky...

Now with the star tracker lined up and slowing spinning in the opposite direction of the Earth, I can take very long exposures of the Milky Way, several minutes or longer, without getting star trails.  The primary benefit to this is increasing the "signal-to-noise ratio" which is the amount of light collected by the camera versus the amount of random pixels generated by heat from the camera sensor or imperfections in the way the data is processed.  Basically, the more signal (light) I can collect, the better the image will be able to give me clean, crisp, details.  Another benefit is the ability to zoom into the Milky Way to gather a clearer picture of the tiny cracks, eddys, and nebulae in the massive cloud of stars.  A common misconception for landscape photography is to zoom out as wide as you can go (often 14mm) and shoot the whole scene.  This is a problem when it comes to getting fine detail in things like rocks, trees, and water.  This focal length tends be a little "softer" as far as crisp details of far away things.  This is not a focusing problem, but rather a physics problem of how the light bends through the aperture and diffracts through all the pieces of glass in the lens.  Zooming in helps to achieve more detail in the intricate pieces of stuff in the photo (being able to see the individual branches on trees far away versus a green and brown blob) because it's better to make a large image smaller instead of making a small image larger.  What intricate pieces of stuff am I worried about when photographing at night?  Stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies!

I forgot to bring my remote shutter release which allows me to trigger the camera's shutter to take the picture without having to touch the camera.  Touching the camera introduces slight tremors which jiggle the sensor and lens which then cause the image to wobble around and not be as crisp.  So I had to hold down the shutter button for 2 minutes while I timed each exposure on my phone.  I locked down my camera tight to it's mount and hoped and prayed I would get usable images.  After each exposure I zoomed in to see if I introduced any shake during the exposure.  Some shots were very shaky, others were ok, and several had no apparent shake at all.  I got several panoramas that I could choose from in editing.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.  I woke up the next morning, skipped sunrise because it wasn't terribly interesting (and because I was very tired), ate some cereal for breakfast, packed up, and hiked the 9 miles out.  It took me a couple days to find the time to edit the photos but I was very excited when I finally brought my images into the computer.  I had a beautiful blue hour shot of the canyon and the lake, and very clear and bright photos of the Milky Way with very little noise.  The next challenge was getting both shots to match in color temperature, tint, and exposure.  It took a couple hours of making teeny tiny adjustments and checking the colors against a neutral gray overlay to finally land on something I was happy with.  I enjoy editing as much as the shoot itself and I can sit down at the computer for hours at a time and be completely lost in artistic discovery.  Each photo has something to say and it's always going to be different from any other photo.  Spending time figuring that out is what makes editing so much fun for me.  I wanted to maintain a nighttime feel while providing enough detail in the foreground so you weren't just looking at a photo of the Milky Way hovering above a near-black landscape with a few lighter gray spots here and there.  I wanted to give a sense of a landscape lit by the light of a 100 billion stars, glowing 50,000 years away.  When we gaze into the Milky Way we are literally looking tens of thousands of years into the past.

Reflecting on the past in order to see our future.

[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) desert hike lake powell milky way reflection canyon southern utah Wed, 15 May 2019 18:08:33 GMT
Photography Year in Review This was an exciting year for me.  I saw and photographed many beautiful landscapes and met new and amazing photographers.  I received several awards this year which thrilled me to no end.  Now that we are approaching the last few days of the year I want to share the stories of my journey this far.

To start the year, the very first day of the year in fact, I met up with a good friend of mine, Nathan St. Andre, to drive out and see if there was anything good to photograph at The Great Salt Lake.  We were hoping for a good sunset shot of some interesting ice/snow/salt formations.  The clouds were in the wrong part of the sky and we didn't see any amazing landscapes in the first area we were scouting.  Close to the end of the evening during the last few rays of sunlight, we were at evaporating pools for the Morton Salt Company and we had a mirror reflection of Stansbury Island.  We ran over to the edge of the water and snapped a panorama of the island as the final bit of warm light splashed over it.  A pretty decent photo turned out in the last few minutes of the day; this happens more often that you might think.

Stansbury Island | Great Salt LakeStansbury Island | Great Salt Lake


The next trip I took was to photograph the lunar eclipse in late January.  I wanted to capture the transition of the Blood Moon over a fantastic landscape scene and thought Horseshoe Bend might be a good place to do this.  Part of the reason I wanted to head down south was because the forecast called for overcast skies all throughout northern Utah and only partly cloudy skies in southern Utah.  My friend Nathan, who lived in Hurricane at the time, had posted on Facebook that he wanted to shoot the eclipse at Zion National Park but had no way to get there and was looking to bum a ride.  I found an alternative location at Lake Powell that might prove to be interesting.  I messaged him on Facebook and asked if he was married to the idea of shooting at Zion.  He said he was up for another location and asked what I had in mind.  I sent him a link to Alstrom Point and he said we should absolutely do it.  The weather during the eclipse (which took place at like 3am) was mostly cloudy.  We got about 15 seconds of empty skies to shoot the moon in full totality before the clouds came in and blocked our view.  We then moved over to the cliff edge to shoot what would end up being a fantastic panoramic image of Lake Powell at Gunsight Bay.  Nathan had correctly predicted an amazing sunrise with the forecasted cloud cover and we saw the most amazing sky-on-fire light up a peaceful other-worldly landscape.  Once we left, I dropped Nathan off at home and thought I could make the drive back to Salt Lake but ended up stopping at a rest stop about halfway and took a nap for a couple hours.  I had only about 2 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours.

Fire in the Sky | Lake Powell, Utah | Winner People's Choice Award 2019 Utah State FairFire in the Sky | Lake Powell, Utah | Winner People's Choice Award 2019 Utah State Fair


I wanted to expand my winter portfolio and get a beautiful winter scene with perfect snow and fabulous colors.  I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon and found a great area that is frequented by snowshoers and kids with sleds.  This area has a small stream which wasn't quite frozen over.  There is a large dead pine tree that towers over everything else in this open meadow and that made for the perfect subject for this image.  I planned a day to come back after we received some new snow.  A couple weeks later the forecast called for 6 inches of new snow in the mountains so I planned to go back up in the early morning.  That morning, as my alarm went off at 4:30, I thought to myself, "I should just stay in bed.  I bet the sunrise isn't going to be great anyway..."  But I knew I would be upset if I missed this opportunity so I packed up my gear and put on my snow pants and 2 coats and drove up.  I was awarded with the most amazing sunrise that seemed to splash over the hillside in the background like water from a dam.  I was very happy I didn't miss it.

Frozen Sunrise | Cottonwood Canyon, UtahFrozen Sunrise | Cottonwood Canyon, Utah


The next event was a photography contest I entered at the invitation of a woman I worked with.  I had been setting up prints of my photos along a cubicle wall for the past few months and I had amassed a pretty decent photo gallery.  Lucky for me, I had a prime location that was right in front of the stairwell and the break room.  Many people would stop by and comment on my photos and I was able to talk to them about the images and the stories and methods behind them.  So this woman was part of the arts council for Cottonwood Heights and they have a photography contest every year.  She invited me to submit some work because she thinks my images are beautiful.  I accepted her offer and submitted three prints.  I didn't win first, second, or third place in my category (advanced/professional) but my image of Lake Powell received the highly coveted "Mayor's Choice" award.  He said he visits Lake Powell often and absolutely loves the photograph I made.

My next photography adventure began back in January/February when my cousin asked me to take a photo of the Bountiful Temple for her.  So much planning, scouting, prepping, executing, and editing went into this image.  The Bountiful Temple overlooks the city of Bountiful and there is an amazing opportunity to include this view and be anchored by this resplendent House of the Lord.  Several trips to scout the location for the perfect composition, several trips to check on the blossoms of the Spring trees, and one super lucky evening with post-rain storm clouds in the sky and an empty parking lot all came together for the most perfect, most amazing photo of the temple.  I printed this photo on metal at 24x48" and personally delivered it to my cousin.  It hangs on the prominent spot on their living room wall.

House on a Hill | Bountiful Utah TempleHouse on a Hill | Bountiful Utah Temple


My next photo was something of an experiment that came from pre-visualizing a scene and figuring out how to make it work.  I wanted to capture the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in South Jordan, Utah positioned in front of the grand Wasatch Mountains.  I also wanted to make this a vertical panorama because I had never done one before and I thought it would be a fun experiment to try.  There is no way to accomplish what I sought out so I had to plan for a composite image.  I rented a 400mm lens to photograph the Wasatch Mountains from across the valley and get some wonderfully crisp detail in the rocks and mountain peaks.  Next, I photographed the temple as it would look facing the mountains.  I brought these images into Photoshop and carefully aligned them with an image of a starry night sky and placed a photo of the moon from my lunar eclipse trip just to make it all that much more fantastic.  I had to learn several new blending techniques to get the image to look realistic.  For being my first attempt, I am very happy with how it turned out.

Celestial Rise | Oquirrh Mountain TempleCelestial Rise | Oquirrh Mountain Temple


The next events are somewhat bittersweet in my development as a photographer.  For the past 2 years I have tried to establish myself as a real estate photographer and start a business with the hopes of turning it into my full time job.  Many late hours and early mornings, missed dinners, and shoots for home owners and real estate agents happened in these two years.  I learned so much about marketing, website design, emotional conversion in the buying process, and of course, photography and editing.  Sadly, my efforts to market my business, justify my prices, and the stress of balancing a full time job, a full time family, and a side gig never got me to what I thought was my dream.  One of the many, many lessons I learned was that you will ultimately be more successful if you are running toward a dream instead of running away from a nightmare.  For me, I was running away from a job I hated more than I was running toward starting my own business.  I found a new job at a great company and decided that I was going to be done marketing myself as a real estate photographer.  I let my website settle (I had even reached the front page of Google through careful SEO practices) and after 2 months of not getting any calls for shooting houses, I sold most of my gear and just kept what was necessary for continuing to take landscape and architecture photos.  I killed my Facebook business page and my YouTube account.  It was a sad day when I shut down my website to see all the time and effort I put into my marketing blog (a couple dozen posts with great info and insight), the website design, and my portfolio of amazing real estate images.  However, the most important lesson I learned, I believe, was that I do not want to own my own business.  The stress of dealing with clients, trying to impress those that can't be impressed, and bending over backward to maintain a business relationship was exhausting and frustrating.  It also didn't help that I was charging more than my competition (quality is expensive) so if a client got upset with me for any reason, they had an easy reason to "fire" me (being too expensive).  I'm glad I tried it and gave it my all.  I'm not sad it didn't work out, I'm sad that I didn't see an equal result when compared to the effort I put in.  But I am very happy I realized I didn't love it before I got in too deep, such as quitting my job.

Now on to something more exciting!  With a new job on the horizon, I planned a trip to Southern Utah to get some photos of places I had never visited before.  I saw a photo of the Utah Badlands and thought it was amazing and wanted to visit it myself.  I planned a 3 day trip to include the Badlands, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell.  While visiting Monument Valley, I hoped to get a Milky Way panorama over the 3 prestigious monuments but the forecast called for thunderstorms (it was monsoon season, apparently).  I stuck around for sunset and got a spectacular image of low purple thunder clouds sitting just barely above the red rock formations.  I visited Antelope Canyon through one of the two tour companies and was able to get a last minute slot in a photography tour.  Usually they don't allow tripods in Antelope Canyon because it is so crowded but for the photography tour (which you pay extra for) they allow you to take tripods (they require it, actually) and they will pause the flow of traffic so you can get photos without people in them.  Some people (photography snobs purists) say this amounts to cheating and that the canyon doesn't really look or feel like this and it cheapens the whole experience.  I think the photos turned out great and I'm really happy I was able to take the trip.  I was going to backpack into Reflection Canyon (a 20 mile hike across the open desert with no water) but figured in the middle of July with temps in the triple digits it probably wasn't a great idea.  I had a really uneasy feeling about it so I postponed the trip until a later date (maybe April of 2019).  

Mars Training Day 1 | Badlands, UtahMars Training Day 1 | Badlands, Utah

Monumental Storm |  Winner Best in Show and People's Choice at the 2018 Utah State FairMonumental Storm | Winner Best in Show and People's Choice at the 2018 Utah State Fair Navajo Sun Vapors | Antelop CanyonNavajo Sun Vapors | Antelop Canyon


In August, submission are due for the Utah State Fair.  I've entered the photography competition several times in the past and have won first place and honorable mention ribbons before.  For the first time, I decided my images were good enough to submit to the 'Fine Art' category.  I printed my Monument Valley photos on 20x40 metal for this category.  I also submitted 3 other images into the 'Professional' tier of landscape photography.  The State Fair doesn't alert you when you win a ribbon, you just have to show up and see if you got anything.  The opening weekend of the Fair came and my wife and I made a bee line to the photography exhibit.  I looked all over the Fine Art section for my print and didn't see it anywhere.  Puzzled to where it could be and thinking I must have missed it, I made a second loop around.  My wife grabbed me and said, "I found it!"  At the front of the exhibit they have a special wall to showcase the "Best in Show" winners and my Monument Valley print was hanging up, big and bold and beautiful for everyone to see.  I had won the Best in Show for Fine Art.  You can't imagine how THRILLED I was!  I gandered at my achievement for a good while before moving on to see the excellent artwork of the first, second, and third place winners.  The next day the Fair judges had an open Q/A session where photographers could talk to them about their judging of the photos and why the photographer did or didn't get a ribbon.  This is a great way to learn what you're doing well and what you can work on for the future.  I spoke to a judge who said they were just blown away by my photo.  They loved everything about it and couldn't find anything to be nit picky about.  "Believe me," he said, "we get REALLY nit picky with the Fine Art submissions.  This is actually the hardest category to judge and to win because of how meticulous we are."  I was absolutely beaming.  About a week later, my sister was at the Fair and sent me a text saying, "Were you aware you got another award?"  I had no idea!  "You got the People's Choice Award too!" she said.  You can vote for your favorite image and after 10 or so days they will tally up the votes.  I couldn't believe it!

I've had an itch to get some Autumn colors added to my portfolio (in addition to my wife telling me "Will you take a picture of a tree every once in a while??") so we planned a trip to Colorado at the end of September.  I was tracking all the "color forecasts" and they said the last week of September and first week of October were going to be the best weeks to see grand colors this year.  I chose a little town called Ouray because it was a central point in several places that I wanted to see.  The first grand overlook had only about 10% of the leaves changed!  Most of them were still very green like the middle of summer!  Totally bummed, I thought the trip was going to be a "scouting" trip.  Some very nice ladies at a pizza joint told us to keep driving south a few miles out of town to see the colors on fire.  Sure enough, we made our way south and we saw a total explosion of color!  The aspen trees mixed with the evergreens was so amazing.  I scouted a location along a small lake for another vertical panorama.  I lined up with a reflection in the lake and a rising hillside of evergreens peppered with golden aspens.  The image turned out phenomenal and I am very pleased we saw some great color while we were there.  I still have a few spots bookmarked for next year to try again.

Ouray Reflections | Ouray, ColoradoOuray Reflections | Ouray, Colorado


After this trip I was tagged by my aunt in a Facebook post that a local credit union made.  They were running a photo contest for their annual calendar.  I usually don't participate in contests like this because the terms USUALLY state that by entering your photos into the contest, you grant the contest owner licensing in perpetuity (no expiration date) to your submitted images AND that they can use your images however they see fit and don't need to notify or credit you when they use them.  So, basically these contests are a way for a company to get a couple hundred high quality images for the cost of a couple gift cards (versus buying stock images from Getty Images for $750 each).  So after reading the terms of this contest, it appears the credit union is only licensed to use the images for the printing of the calendar and future contest-related marketing.  That's was pretty agreeable to me, in addition to the zero cost of entry (some contests require a $20 or $30 per image submission fee...a somewhat sleezy way to "make" money).  The winning prize was a $1000 gift card to a local camera shop.  I figured I'd throw my Monument Valley image into the ring and see what happened.  A few weeks later I got an email saying I was chosen as one of the 11 finalists and my photo would be featured in the calendar.  The prize for this was $100.  Great!  A hundred bucks is a hundred bucks.  I can use that money to rent a couple lenses.  About a week after that I get another email saying the original grand prize winner was disqualified because his photo was outside of the geographic boundaries they set for the contest and that I was the new grand prize winner!  Holy smokes!  About a week after that I got a letter in the mail with a $1000 gift card!  I was so thrilled!  This one image is getting me a lot of attention.


To finish off the year, I snapped a photo of the Draper Temple for my brother's step-son's wedding.  The Draper Temple is just up the street from where I work so I stopped by a couple times each week to check on the progress of the Autumn leaves.  Once they had reached the perfect color, I came back with my camera to get a great golden sunset.  I printed this on aluminum and presented it to the happy couple at their reception.  They both loved it.

The End of a Season | Draper Utah TempleThe End of a Season | Draper Utah Temple


It has been a wonderful year and I'm really happy at the progress I've made and the return I'm seeing in the form of recognition by my peers and community.  I've been so richly blessed to see great things come from what used to be a casual hobby.  I hope next year will have further opportunities for growth, learning, and building relationships with other people that love photography.  Did you have a great adventure this year?  Send me a message because I'd love to hear about it!

Happy new year to all the artists and art lovers out there.

[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) art fine landscape photography utah utah photographers Wed, 26 Dec 2018 18:58:06 GMT
The 3 Levels of a Photographer If you are like me, you've made some kind of progress in your photography hobby since you first picked up a camera.  I have taken my hobby from a beginner with a 35mm point and shoot, to a hobbyist with a Canon Rebel, to a professional with a real estate photography business, to a part-time professional with gallery quality photos and a few print sales every year.  Over the course of these past few years I've realized there are 3 tiers or echelons of a photographer.  Not just a landscape photographer, but anyone taking pictures of anything; people, cars, puppies, or mountains.

These levels aren't necessarily like steps on a ladder.  You don't have to master one before you can start working on another.  Rather, they are more like the 6 attributes used in D&D (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma).  You can raise the score in each of these "attributes" by gaining experience through actions and activities.  If you take time to learn about editing, you get better at it.  This in turn will affect how you shoot (because you shoot with a specific editing method in mind) and your overall vision for your image.  But for the sake of clarity, I've discussed these skills as ranked from most common to least common (suggesting that the most common skills are the easiest to obtain).

Tier 1: Understanding Camera Functionality

The starting level of any type of photography is figuring out how to point the business end of the camera toward something and which button will take the photo.  This can be an expensive DSLR or a cell phone.  When you take the first picture, BAM, you're a photographer.  This level contains the largest population.  Many people will muddle through this level for months or years before they have a good grasp of it and start to move into the next level.

The things a photographer will learn in this level include the camera basics:

  • Which end do I point at the thing I want to photograph
  • Which end do I look through
  • Which button takes the picture
  • Where does the battery go
  • How to focus and zoom in or out

Moving on to more advanced camera function:

  • How to change the aperture/shutter speed/ISO
  • How to use built in metering like the light meter and focus points
  • How to change white balance
  • How to use different modes: P (for professional!), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual
  • Digital horizon or leveling

And finally, the most advanced camera functions (not just how to use them, but when/why to use them):

  • Exposure/Focus warnings
  • Histogram
  • Bracketing
  • Timers
  • Depth of Field
  • Shutter speed

This first level could also include how to use the various bits of gear in harmony with your camera like a tripod, speedlights/strobes, camera straps, lens hoods, filters, and all the other knick knacks we pick up along the way.  Mastering this first level means you not only know HOW to change your aperture, but also WHY you change it given the situation.  Once you move from the HOW to the WHY, I think, generally, you are ready (consciously or subconsciously) for Tier 2.

Tier 2: Understanding Composition and Editing

Now we get into a much smaller group of photographers.  If Tier 1 contains 100% of photographers, the percentage that have made decent progress at this level would probably be less than 50.  The reason for this is because camera functionality is all mechanical: you push this button or move this thing to get this result.  Application of certain concepts (like Depth of Field) that blend into this second level, now become more abstract.  It's easy to learn that 1 + 1 = 2 but it is harder to learn why this shade of purple looks better than this shade of purple.  Have you ever painted a room in your house and you go through like 5 different color samples before you find one that works?  You don't know why this brighter color works, but it just does.  That's what it's like at this level of photography, except you know what does or doesn't work and WHY.

Frozen Fog | Cottonwood Canyon, UtahFrozen Fog | Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Some beginner examples of things a photographer will learn at this level include:

  • Depth of Field (for a little in focus or a lot in focus)
  • Shutter speed (for motion blur or freezing time)
  • Leading lines
  • Rule of Thirds
  • Exposure and luminosity
  • Vignettes

The more complex elements of composition will be:

  • Golden Ratio (I personally think this is nonsense but a lot photographer's swear by it)
  • Lighting (natural or with a flash)
  • Distance from camera to ground
  • Focal length compression
  • Subject placement
  • Distraction elimination
  • Positive and negative space
  • Weather and season
  • White balance, color temperature, hues
  • Levels and curves
  • Exposure blending
  • Sharpness and clarity
  • Saturation

And finally we move into the most complicated and difficult to understand concepts:

  • Color balance and harmony
  • Subject identification
  • Quality, angle, direction, shape, and color/temperature of light
  • Supporting elements (both in what they are and where they are located)
  • Planning and scouting: where and when a good photograph might happen.

I grouped composition and editing in the same tier for two reasons.  First, I think when someone has really got a handle on how to use their camera they begin to make good traction into the world of post-processing.  Second, I think once they stop worrying about making their camera do what they want, they can dedicate more attention to planning and setting up a shot.  This means they know what settings will give them the best result to capture a given scene and they're putting their attention toward figuring how to lead the eye into the photo.  Also, once they have the photo, they are doing some kind of editing on it to really bring it alive.

Dessicated | Southern UtahDessicated | Southern Utah

I like to say that taking a photo gets you halfway there.  The other half is bringing it to life through editing.  The beginning editor will crank up the saturation, clarity, and sharpness and slap that baby on Instagram.  The more experienced editor will make careful selections that bring out the essence of the photo.  It is something they want to print and hang on their wall to look at every day for the next year.

This brings us to our final tier.

Tier 3: Conveying Emotion with Storytelling

From our percentage breakdown, I'd say that less than 10% of photographers will make it this far and consistently produce work that effectively conveys an emotion or tells a story.

Can you believe that it's possible to make someone feel an emotion and tell them an entire story with just 1 photograph?  I know, it blows my mind too.  People who are really good at this are National Geographic photographers.  Every photo tells a story.  They have so much expertise in capturing the emotions of a scene.  Truly they are some of the best photographer's in the world.

This tier isn't just reserved for war-torn families or poached animals in Africa.  Storytelling and emotion can be achieved through senior portraits, maternity photos, landscape photos, weddings (especially weddings), and even real estate or architectural photography.

In order to move into this echelon of photography you need to understand most/all of the elements we mentioned in the previous 2 tiers (when and how to apply them) and find a way to merge it all together.  Conveying emotion and storytelling with 1 photograph takes a perfect balance of editing, composition, lighting, and camera manipulation.  To achieve this, you'll probably need to have a few years of experience with the following aspects:

  • Pre-visualization
  • Crafting a composition
  • Color harmony
  • Editing


Probably the most important part of telling a story is knowing what that story is, or at least having an outline.  I don't think most of the great stories we've read were 100% planned out before the author wrote them down.  Rather, I think a general concept or outline was visualized and the writing began.  The author lets the story move and breathe as if it was deciding for itself how it wanted to play out.  Visualizing how you want a scene to be composed is the first step to figuring out the story.  Other elements that aide in the emotion are things like location, lighting, season, and editing.

If you want to tell a story of love and loss, you'll need to figure out what kind of scene will tell it in the way you want, how the subject should be posed or framed, and what kind of lighting you need.  Pre-visualization even includes elements such as wardrobe/makeup, facial expressions, body language, atmospheric elements, and props.  Conversely, removing or obscuring any of those elements can add to the story.

Pre-visualizing a landscape image means choosing a subject then discovering how that subject can interact with its surroundings.  Planning for elements like foreground, weather, light, sky, animals, people, seasons (snow, blossoms, or autumn leaves) will help you tell your story.  Alternately, removing or avoiding distractions like people, cars, or weather can help you better tell the story.  Perfection is achieved when nothing else needs to be added or can be removed. House on a Hill | Bountiful Utah TempleHouse on a Hill | Bountiful Utah Temple

Crafting a Composition

Getting the perfect composition is going to be instrumental in telling your story.  Ensuring all the necessary components are added and all the unnecessary components are eliminated or diminished will lead the viewer throughout your story.  Understanding why certain rules (leading lines, the rule of thirds, 1 point compositions, negative space, foreground elements, or subject placement) exist will help you know what to follow and what to break.  It is not merely enough to know they exist.  The expert storyteller knows why you place a subject in the left 3rd of the frame for a certain look and when it is ok to put it smack dab in the middle.

Color Harmony

People perceive a perfect color balance more on the subconscious level.  This is one of those areas where they'd say, "I like this photo but I don't love it.  I'm not sure why."  Understanding what colors work together and why (again with the why) allows you to expand your toolbox when building the perfect image.  Certain color groups look better together.  Opposite color hues only work in certain situations.  Color luminosity and intensity affect the emotional delivery of an image.

There are many different kinds of color harmony such as analogous, complimentary, split complimentary, dyadic, triadic, quadratic, and monochromatic.  For helpful articles on color theory, read these blogs by Ted Gore and Eric Babnik.  Check out the Adobe Color Wheel where you can upload your own photo and analyze different harmonies.


The final touch to any story.  After an author writes a story, she sends it off to her editor to curate her words.  The editor removes distractions, improves clarity, and helps the story flow better.  Every book we've read has gone through some kind of editing.  Why then, would we think that our photos should be treated differently?  

Editing for emotion and storytelling will emphasize specific parts of an image, add or remove light and color, and eliminate distractions.  Editing is what helps bring your photo to life and make it pleasing too look at.  At this level, we are far beyond moving a couple sliders around and punching up the contrast to 100.  Rather, small and deliberate changes are made in order to help the viewer achieve the level of involvement you desire from their viewing experience.  A little brush stroke here, a little dodge and burn there.  Saturate these colors a touch more, shift the hue of these blues just a tiny bit.  Add a splash of warm light right here.  Most of the time, editing a story (photograph) will take many hours, over the course of days or weeks.  As I edit photos, I tend see the image take on a personality of its own as I experiment with exposure, blending, masking, toning, or cropping.  I begin to see what details the story wants to highlight and I help it achieve that.

Monumental Storm |  Winner Best in Show and People's Choice at the 2018 Utah State FairMonumental Storm | Winner Best in Show and People's Choice at the 2018 Utah State Fair

Be careful at this stage so you don't end up banging your head against your keyboard.  Editing will not be sloppy brushstrokes casually applied.  Neither should it be 100 hours of contradictions like making global changes to the highlights, then undoing these changes with the exposure brush, then redoing these changes with dodging/burning, then undoing these changes with a radial brush, then undoing those changes with a vignette.  If you've made it to this level of photography, you should already know when, how, and why to make certain changes.  If you find yourself with an absolute mess of an image with 100 local adjustments or 100 layer copies, you probably don't fully understand effective and deliberate editing.

- - - 

So where do I consider myself in this scale?  I like to think that I've just broken into the 3rd echelon.  2 recent images (that truly developed their own personality) have shown me I'm capable of producing this level of work.  The first image is a photo of the Bountiful Temple I took after being commissioned by my cousin to take the best photo of the temple anyone's ever seen.  The next is a photo of Monument Valley that has won several awards and was the Grand Prize winner in a regional contest.

I feel that I've been able to look at my work over the years with a critical eye and see what works and what doesn't work.  Critiquing the work of other photographer's I admire has helped me to develop my own shooting and editing skills.  I also only publish work (on Facebook or this website) if I think someone would want to buy it.  I'm very selective of the images I take and edit, choosing to only work on those I feel should hang on a wall.  One of the best ways I entered this mindset was to stop publishing entire galleries of the same scene taken from 19 different angles.  Instead, I choose the best ONE and edit that.  This has helped me really narrow down what kind of story I want to tell and what kind of impact I want to make with a photo.  Then I have to make careful editing decisions since this is the only photo I have to work on; I can't make global edits to 9 photos of the same location and call it good.

Where do you find yourself in this scale?  Where do you want to be?  What are you doing to get there?  Send me a message and let me know.  I'd love to talk about your journey.

[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Thu, 13 Dec 2018 21:42:53 GMT
What 5 years of experience does to a photograph Earlier this year I turned 5 years old, or rather, my “professional hobby” of photography turned 5 years old. 5 years ago, I started a serious journey into photography. I created a 500px account, used one of their generic templates to create my own website, registered my own domain name, and started placing a concerted effort into my images. No longer was I just going to show up at a location and snap a photo. I was trying to get the best light, the best weather, and the best compositions.

5 years ago I took this photo of the Bountiful, Utah Temple.

State Faire - Winter Worship-1.jpg

I scouted this location after doing some wandering around on this hillside on a previous trip. I wanted to get a photo of the temple and it was currently winter time so I laced up my boots, pulled on my snowpants, and hiked up the hill. If we analyze this photo, it’s not terrible. The lighting is decent, the purple glow from the sunset on the snow is cool, and the composition isn’t terrible. The sunset isn’t going to stop anyone dead in their tracks and the editing is much too dark to get great detail in the shadows. All in all, this is a “good attempt.” I’ve had very generous family members say, “But I really like this one!” However, none of them have offered to purchase a print and hang it on their wall, which really tells you how much someone likes it.

I was SO PROUD of this photo, I even entered it into the Utah State Fair and knew for a fact that I would walk away with a blue ribbon. The day of the State Fair I made a bee-line to the photography exhibit and rushed through the walls and walls of photos looking for mine, proudly displaying a FIRST PLACE ribbon. But it wasn’t there. The photo was there, along with 2 others I submitted, but neither of them had a blue ribbon. Or a red ribbon, or any ribbon at all. There they sat, lost among the other submissions, completely unremarkable. I’ll be honest with you and say that I was crushed. My first reaction was to find who actually won prized and compare my photos to theirs. “Well, the judges obviously don’t know how to judge photos!” I thought to myself. “Mine are clearly superior. I was robbed!” Such are the words of an inexperienced artist who has offered nothing worth a second look.

Luckily, this crushing experience didn’t stop me from taking out my camera again. I never made the conscious choice to “show those judges what they’re missing” or prove myself to total strangers. I just kept taking photos, kept learning better techniques, and kept going out there.

In the course of my 5 year journey I learned many things:

  • Good weather is 75% of a great photo. You can plan the time of day, the time of year, and get the perfect composition, but if the weather isn’t great, the photo won’t be great. Check weather apps and know the weather by season and month. There have been times I’ve monitored the weather down to the hour in order to nail a shot.

  • Overcoming laziness often leads to great photography. Bodies at rest do not want to get off the couch, get out of bed, get out of a sleeping bag, or get out of a toasty warm car with heated seats. However, some of the best photos I’ve taken have required me to wake up at 4am and go for a hike to meet the sunset, or to drive through the night and get only 3 hours of shut eye before waking up again, or to stomp through the frigid snow (14 degrees in the photo above) to get a half decent composition. I get it, you don’t think that waking up at 4am to drive an hour to hike for a half hour to wait 40 minutes for the sun to rise is really going to be worth it. Maybe you wake up and you think “Ugggh, the sunrise probably won’t be very good today. I’ll just go back to bed.” Maybe you make a half effort to check your weather app and see that it says 80% chance of clouds. Or maybe you wake up all energized and do all the things and you are presented with the most drab looking landscape ever. Maybe this happens twice or three times in a row. You aren’t always guaranteed a payoff if you put in the work. But when you look back after years of discipline, that’s when you see the pay off.

  • It’s easy to get the same shot as everyone else. It’s hard to get a new shot of something that’s been done 10,000 times. Sure you can show up, get out of your car, walk to the same overlook that has 15 other photographers, snap a few photos, and produce something quite unremarkable. If you want to get something outstanding, you have to be out standing where no one else is. This can take a lot of time and exploring. However, I’m convinced that there are photos of popular locations that haven’t been done before. Earlier this year I got a photo of Monument Valley unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The composition was very similar to many I’ve seen, but the weather added a new element that very few people have captured. Going back to my first point, I got lucky with the weather. I certainly didn’t plan for it.

  • Taking the photo is 50% of the work. Editing the photo is the other 50%. Yeah, yeah…so many “purists” will say “Get it right in camera” or “I only minimally edit my photos to reflect the scene in it’s purest form.” That’s great. Sadly though, a camera isn’t capturing exactly what the scene looked like. It is only capturing a digital interpretation based on the programming of like 300 different software engineers. Secondly, editing is as much of an art as taking the picture in the first place. A great picture will be ruined by poor editing and most of the editing I see from beginner photographers (myself included) is not that great. Either too much or not enough contrast, saturation, dynamic range, vignetting, or many other aspects. The great thing about being an artist, is that I get to recreate the scene as I remember it or as I want to remember it. If I wanted to remember it as having a TIE Fighter flying across the sky, I can edit that in. If I want to remember it as having a completely different sunrise, I can edit in a different one. It is my prerogative as the artist to edit to my taste and my preference. I don’t have to conform to the criticism of others and nor do I have to get upset if they don’t like the way I’ve edited a photo. One of the harsh realities that stems from this, that many photographers (including myself) discover along the way, is that their “style” just isn’t that attractive. That’s great that you are shooting something you love and editing it in such a way that makes you happy…but most everyone else won’t care for it. If you are doing this for you (I mean HONESTLY doing this for just you), then keep it up. But if you are doing this for the approval and praise of others (which is why I do it), then you have to learn what needs to be changed so you can produce something other people will like (and buy).

  • Good photos can be taken in a matter of minutes. Great photos can be taken in a matter of days. Amazing photos can be taken in a matter of months or years. Think of it this way. You go to Yellowstone with your family and you’re walking the boardwalk along one of the thermal pools. You think, “Oh that looks cool” and take out your cell phone and snap a photo. There you have a good photo you took in a couple minutes (seconds, really). This photo taken with your cell phone at 11:37am, shoulder to shoulder with 45 international tourists isn’t going to win any awards. But it’s good enough to post to Facebook. Next, you’ve been planning a trip to Zion National Park. You get down there and do some hiking. You see a great view on one of your hikes and think, “Wow, this would be super cool at sunset, with the sun shining on this rock face.” You go back at sunset (either that day or the next), maybe wander around a bit to get a good composition, and snap a photo. You’ve put some planning into taking that picture! A photo taken at sunset is much better than a photo taken at mid-day with the harsh light blasting out all detail and mood. Now you have a great photo. You might get a blue ribbon with this bad boy. Last, you’ve been wanting to get an amazing photo of the Bountiful Temple because your cousin got married there and she asked you to take a picture of it “in the unique way that you do” because the only image she has is a little 8x10 artistic piece standing on a curio cabinet…that’s where my journey has taken me.

I’ve learned that great or amazing photos rarely “just happen” and that so much work goes into the planning, the execution, and the editing. So rare is it to be in the right spot at the right time and take the photo of a lifetime. So much planning has to go into making sure a photo will turn out the way you want it too. In fact, even if you have all the ingredients for an amazing photo, you may need to learn how to mix them together to produce the kind of photo you want. This means you might have to learn new techniques in Photoshop in order to get the best results.

After 5 years, and applying everything I’ve learned about photography (and learning more in the process), here is the photo I took of the same temple:

Bountiful Temple Sunset.jpg

So much better, right? I actually did submit this to the State Fair as well but didn’t win any awards. I submitted it into the Fine Art category along with my previously mentioned Monument Valley photo and the Monument Valley shot won BEST IN SHOW. Since they don’t give more than one award per photographer in any one class, this temple photo got nothing. But in talking to the judges, they really loved it and said it was the last photo to be voted out.

So what did I do differently this time? Let’s compare techniques between the two photos.

In the first photo:

  • Shot on a Canon Rebel t2i with a generic 18-55mm kit lens

  • One exposure/one frame

  • Scouted this location over the course of 1 week

  • Editing took me probably 45 minutes

  • Didn’t plan for weather or time of year; I just showed up when it was convenient for me

In the second photo:

  • Shot on a Nikon D750 with a Sigma 24-105mm ART lens

  • 5 exposure panorama with 3 additional frames for focus stacking the foliage in the bottom left corner

  • Scouted this location over the course of 4 months and 4 hiking/exploring trips that took about 2 hours each; developed a composition in my mind before finding the perfect spot to match what I had already visualized

  • Planned for the perfect season when the trees were full or in bloom (late April)

  • Carefully monitored the weather down to the hour (it was raining all day this day and cleared up 2 hours before this photo)

  • Planned for a Sunday or Monday shoot because the temple is closed these days, which meant no cars in the parking lot

  • Editing took me over 12 hours over the span of 5 days, including learning new techniques for image warping to level the horizon and the architecture

There was so much more that went into the second photo that makes it such a better image. This is the kind of photo that will hang up in my cousins’s house until she’s old and wrinkly, not until she gets bored of it and replaces it with something else. A 5 year journey has taken me from having a serious, but unrefined interest in photography, to being capable of producing a great work of art. This includes knowing what needs to be done and knowing how to do it. For example, shooting panoramas with frames for focus stacking requires strict discipline on-site. If you mess up your shooting order, your entire set of images will be useless. I knew how to do this because I read about it and visualized it in my mind and made verbal notes to myself while I was shooting.

Note: a better camera will not make you a better photographer. Only when your skills as a photographer have surpassed the capabilities of your camera should you consider upgrading. Don’t think you can “cut in line” by buying a $3k Canon 5DIV or a Sony a7RIIIs when you haven’t mastered advanced camera techniques.

This isn’t just a post to brag about how awesome I am. I hope that if you are on a journey to get better at photography, I’ve helped you understand some of the things that need to happen in your journey in order to get to where you want to be. You won’t just wake up in 5 years after doing nothing exciting with your photography and find that you’ve developed the skillset to make amazing images happen. It truly is a journey. There is no end, at least for me there isn’t. I didn’t take this photo and tell myself “Ok, I’m done. I’ve reached the top. I’m hanging up my camera now.” In another 5 years, maybe I’ll look back at this and think “That photo is ok, but it’s nothing compared to THIS.” I hope your journey is as fruitful as mine has been.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Sun, 21 Oct 2018 16:26:00 GMT
The Leviathan Spine | Badlands, Utah The Leviathan Spine | Badlands, UtahThe Leviathan Spine | Badlands, Utah

In the year 2076, an ancient race of Leviathans arrived in orbit around Earth to take our planet away from us. Having used up all the resources of their home planet, they scoured the galaxy looking for another habitable planet. They sent out millions of drones in every direction, searching for the perfect combination of atmospheric gasses, magnetic fields, and metallic ore.

After over 1000 years of searching, one drone reported back information about the 3rd planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star in the backwater region of a relatively uninteresting arm of the Milky Way. They gathered their forces. Mined the last of their minerals. And prepared for their centuries-long journey.

At first they appeared to be just specs of light in the nighttime sky. Stray comets from the Kuiper Belt perhaps? Somehow blown out of their original orbit around the sun? As the months went on, Earth pointed her telescopes at the new celestial objects, which got brighter with each passing day.

They are not comets the New York Times headlines read, along with countless newspapers, blogs, and websites from across the world. We don't know what they are, but they are not comets. Soon, the religious fanatics came out to worship these new heavenly deities. Millions of people from across the globe joined hands to sing praises and dedicate their lives to welcoming our new friends. An equal number of people cast doubt and fear towards these new visitors. "The end is near!" they cried, "Repent now!"

Every government capable of sending signals into deep space tried to communicate with these new...whatever they are...once we noticed they were actually slowing down. Saviors or destroyers? Are we to finally find out that we are not alone in the universe? Is an advanced alien race finally making contact with us?

Then The Leviathan War started. Governments and militaries scrambled to organize their troops and weapons. The United States issued draft orders for millions of young men for the first time in over a hundred years. But our guns, our missiles, our ships, our jets...all useless. This war was not like machine guns vs laser guns. No, it was more like sticks and stones vs nuclear weapons. Like the Wright Flyer vs an F35 Lightning II. Humanity was hilariously outgunned. Earth's best and brightest were recruited to find a way to stop the onslaught. Every nation's borders fell as we united as one to prevent our own extinction. The Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, the British, the Iranians; everyone finally working towards one goal: to not die.

3 months later and nothing we tried could stop the barrage of rail gun darts launched at our planet at relativistic speeds. Entire cities were swallowed up in craters and melted to slag as magma from beneath the Earth's crust filled in the voids. These new aliens had no weakness we could exploit. The physicists at CERN had one long-shot of an idea. "It probably won't work," they said, "but if it does, we don't know what exactly will happen. The math doesn't exist yet." With our only hope lying in a hail mary, the new Earth government gave the green light.

While studying particle physics, the CERN scientists accidentally discovered the creation of ingress and egress apertures of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. In other words, they stumbled across creating wormholes. After decades of what amounted to fooling around with the math, they were able to somewhat control the creation points. With some modicum of accuracy, an entry point could be created at one end of a room with a small margin of error. A matching exit point was also created at the other side of the room, but due to a lot of complicated math that even our smartest nerds didn't understand, the margin of error was much greater.

The terrible idea they proposed was to create a ingress aperture inside the sun's corona and an egress aperture, well, right over our planet. We'd try to point it in a direction that blasted the Earth tangentially instead of directly. We hoped, somewhat naively, that the unmatched power of the sun's atmosphere would kill the Leviathans and that the wormhole would collapse before it killed us all.

We succeeded in killing the Leviathans. More than 3 dozen beasts were instantly incinerated, their dense carapaces buckling under the immense heat and radiation. They started to fall to Earth, being pulled out of their orbits by her mighty gravity. Earth became dotted with the charred and decaying husks of of a once great species.

But no one on Earth was around to celebrate it. They warned us that the math simply didn't exist to predict an outcome. The blast that killed the Leviathans also ignited our atmosphere. Within a few seconds, every living thing was turned to dust as the almost 6000K solar wind blasted against our small blue marble like an 8 year old with a magnifying glass over an ant hill. But there was no pain. One moment there we were. The next, there was nothing.

Earth now lie a desiccated rock, peacefully orbiting a yellow dwarf star in a backwater region of a relatively uninteresting arm of the Milky Way. The only evidence of any life existing on the planet are the 3 dozen or so hulking Leviathan Spines half buried in the sand and dust of a once verdant and thriving planet.  No one is around to tell how they got there or what happened to them. If anyone finds our hundred year old Voyager probes and tracks them back to Earth, they will have quite the mystery on their hands.

But our planet's core is still active so her magnetic field still works. Slowly she'll rebuild her atmosphere and maybe in a couple hundred million years, life will start to grow and thrive once more.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Thu, 19 Jul 2018 16:29:00 GMT
Fortune favors the bold photographer When I first got started in landscape photography, I would flood myself with images from other photographers and all the beautiful places they would see.  By only seeing the final realization of their vision, I thought landscape photography was going to be so easy.  I picked up my camera and fully expected to produce amazing work in no time.

Walking through photography galleries on Park City's historic Main Street, I had grand expectations that I would be opening my own gallery soon.  Little did I realize that some of these photographer's have spent many decades honing their skills under completely different expectations.  Only after  years of success in other realms of photography did they decide to open a gallery to show off and sell their work.

After so many outings and so many failed attempts to capture something amazing, I started to wonder why my photos didn't invoke the same reaction in me that the work of others did.  I posted my work all over 500px and was met with tepid results.  I looked at the pages of other, more popular photographers, and saw their "lower quality" images (I thought my stuff was better, of course) getting way more attention than what I had posted.  I thought to myself, "I bet if this photographer posted this image of mine, it would blow up in 2 hours."  I was probably right.  But the superficial nature of 500px or any social media platform is the wrong place to learn about success and fortune.  I simply cannot post "ok" work online and expect to get a movie deal out of it.  Beginning photographers set themselves up for failure at alarming rates by expecting huge returns on little effort.  When their photo of a sunset taken from their backyard doesn't get 200 likes, they get discouraged, thinking they aren't a good photographer.  Too many people never realize their full potential because they expect greatness from mediocrity.  And the Internet gives them a cold, hard slap in the face.

The good news is that you don't have to wait 20 years before you start taking the best photographs of your life.  All you need to do is get out there and start taking pictures.  Fortune favors the bold photographer.  You won't be taking amazing photos if you are just sitting in front of your keyboard or phone scrolling through an endless conga-line of beautiful images.  You have to actually lace up your boots and get out there.

When I first started in photography, I was thinking with a small mind, like almost all early photographers I see.  By simply going to a small creek near my house or walking along a heavily trafficked hiking trail, I would expect to find the next Ansel Adams best seller.  Pointing my Canon Rebel T2i and 18-55mm kit lens at the water, I'd drag the shutter and smooth the flow.  "This is going to look so amazing," I'd think to myself.

Autumn Creek jpg.jpg

The problem I didn't understand, the same problem the overwhelming majority of new photographers don't understand, is that there isn't anything bold or impressive about a little creek running through a park at 2:00 in the afternoon.  There was no planning.  There was no scouting.  It was just me picking up my camera one afternoon and thinking I was going to get the image that will make my career.

In order to take bold photographs, you have to be a bold photographer.  Do something you've never done before.  Travel someplace you've never traveled before.  The very first time I tried to take a panorama was in Capitol Reef National Park with my wife and 2 kids.  We went for a small walk along an overlook trail and I was looking for a cool place to take a picture.  I found a beautiful backdrop of rocky red buttes and scattered sage brush with a little dirt road.  I couldn't fit the entire thing in one frame so I thought, "Let's try a panorama."  I put everything I knew about panoramas (almost nothing) into practice and snapped away.

Capitol Reef Pano full-1.jpg

What I walked away with that day is one my favorite images ever.  I have it printed and framed on 20x60 metallic paper and it hangs up in my office.  I took it with only a couple years of relevant photography experience.  Did I get lucky with that photo?  Absolutely.   The sky was perfect.  The light was perfect.  The scene was perfect.  All I did was show up.  But I was out doing something, being bold, instead of wallowing in self pity that my photos aren't as good as Joe Photographer on Instagram with his 300,000 followers.

When you decide to wake up early and drive out to catch a beautiful sunrise is when fortune will smile on you.  When you decide to try something new or go someplace new, you'll be surprised at what happens.

Fire in the Sky | Lake Powell, Utah | Winner People's Choice Award 2019 Utah State FairFire in the Sky | Lake Powell, Utah | Winner People's Choice Award 2019 Utah State Fair

I was at Lake Powell to photograph the lunar eclipse in January 2018.  I only thought I would get a lunar eclipse photo but I stayed for the sky-on-fire sunrise in the morning and captured this amazing image.  I was trying something new and I got lucky.  The more you try, the more success you will have.  And from your failures, you'll learn more about planning, preparing, shooting, and editing.  This will make you an even more capable photographer for the next time you go out.


When you are ready to stop taking pictures of that one waterfall or stream by your house that's pretty look at but never turns out as a really good picture, you will start the next phase of your maturity as a photographer.  Find a place you've never been to before, plan the best time to visit it, grab your camera and go there.  Then show me the image you got from it.  I'd love to see it.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Mon, 02 Jul 2018 16:29:00 GMT
Celestial Rise Celestial Rise | Oquirrh Mountain TempleCelestial Rise | Oquirrh Mountain Temple

Since I moved to our new house in Herriman, I've driven on the Mountain View Corridor to get to work every day.  Every afternoon on my way home, I am presented with a magnificent juxtaposition of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple against the grand Wasatch Mountains.  I've heard many people who visit Salt Lake City say that our views of this mountain range are some of the best they've ever seen.  It is one of the reasons I love living in Salt Lake.

For a while now, probably the last 6 months or longer, I've been wanting to get a vertical panorama photograph of the temple in front of these mountains in such a way that showcases how rugged and grand they are.  But I wanted to go a step further and create the impossible.  I wanted to catch some stars appearing in dimming twilight sky.  Living in the metropolis of Salt Lake City does not make this possible.  I think we can see 7 or 8 stars in the night sky, maybe even 10 if there isn't much pollution.  So I would have to take this into my own hands and mix up a little magic.

It started out simply taking a photo of the mountains from in front of the temple, then slapping a previous image of the temple on top of it to see what it could look like.  This gave me a pretty good idea of what I could work with.  I've had this image in my mind and now saw it was possible to make it into reality.  With a couple clicks of the mouse, I was able to see that maybe I was onto something here.  My draft, in no way was it supposed to be an attempt at the real thing, came out looking...not terrible.  I wanted to include a moon in the sky for some added interest, creating a tangentially sci-fi image but still well grounded in reality.  My first attempt included a full moon that looked hilariously out of place.  My astronomer sister suggested a crescent moon instead.

Every year, for maybe a month or so, the Wasatch Mountains turn a lush green with all the rainfall in April and May.  The wild bushes and scrub produce these deep green leaves that make the mountains look almost like they could belong in Ireland.  I had to time my photography in order to get this greenery.  I also needed a somewhat clear sky so I wasn't messing with too many clouds.  But I didn't want a perfectly clear sky because that wouldn't be as interesting as having a few clouds.  So I waited.

And waited.

And waited for the perfect evening.  The month of May gave us many, MANY evenings of rain and overcast skies.  Every night, after we put the kids to bed, I'd look out the window towards the mountains and think, "Nope, not today."  Finally, a warm spring evening created the perfect opportunity.  Partly cloudy, clear air, and a gorgeous sun setting on the distant mountains.  I grabbed my tripod and camera and headed out. I learned from my previous scouting trip that my 24-105mm lens was not going to cut it for the detail and realism I needed so I rented a 150-400mm lens for the evening.  This gave me an incredible reach and really nailed the details on the mountains.

I drove out to the temple and parked in front of it, across the road on the shoulder, and set up my tripod.  I snapped photos of the mountains as the sun light danced and faded until I had perfect light, right at the very last bit of sun still splashed over the horizon.  The color and drama shown on these mountain peaks was a sight to see.  Next, I packed up, drove behind the temple, and affixed my camera to my painter's pole with an attachment for screwing onto the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera.  I hoisted this up in the air about 16 feet and set a timer to take a few photos after a 20 second delay.  I did my best to level the camera, using the digital level and my flip down screen.  *Snap*Snap*Snap*Snap*Snap*  I checked them for clarity and sharpness, did one more run to be safe, and then packed up.

Editing this composite image ended up being the most complicated part of the process.  I had to blend together 5 separate images into seamless composition.  Some of these techniques were beyond me and I walked over to YouTube to watch a few "how to" videos on blending composite images.  Thankfully, there is a library of knowledge out there for free.  Anyone who wants to learn anything about photography or photo editing is just 2 clicks away.

My first draft wasn't great.  I sent it to my sister to critique because even though she isn't a photographer, she is able to articulate what looks good, doesn't look good, and come up with some reasons why.  With my second draft done, I gathered more feedback.  With my third draft done, I gathered even more feedback.  I was slowly carving away at this piece of marble to find the statue inside of it.  I worked on this image over the course of several days, noticing things later that I didn't see at first, and fixing them.

Eventually I finally reached this final image, of which I am very happy.  It gives me a sense of the grandeur of the mountains, the majesty of the Oquirrh Mtn Temple, and the mystery of the fading night sky.  Slightly sci-fi, but still real. The photograph of the mountain and the temple were taken within 20 minutes of each other and the stars and moon are from an eastern view of the sky with the moon being in the correct phase for the time the photo was taken.

I've been wanting to print out this image and hang it up on a large wall of our house.  I think I have the perfect spot for it.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Wed, 13 Jun 2018 16:29:00 GMT
The Bountiful Temple | Bountiful, Utah House on a Hill | Bountiful Utah TempleHouse on a Hill | Bountiful Utah Temple

"I want a unique photo of the temple like the others you've done," she told me.

I've tried several times to catch the perfect photograph of the Bountiful Temple. On December 31, 2014, when I was very first learning how to use a camera and compose a photograph, I tried to get a photo of the temple. It was OK, not terrible. I submitted it to the State Fair fully expecting to walk away with a blue ribbon but I got nothing for it. I didn't give up, though. For about a 6 month period, a couple years later, they were doing major construction on the spire and had scaffolding around it. Another time I showed up too late in the Autumn season and missed all the good leaves. Another time I got there too late and it was dark before I could come up with a good composition. For 4 years the Bountiful Temple has eluded me.

Back in January or February of 2018 I was at my cousin's house for a family get together. She said she wanted a photograph of the Bountiful Temple (where she was married) because the only image of the temple she had was a rather small print displayed on a curio cabinet. "I want a unique photo of the temple like the others you've done," she told me. "Your temple pictures are so original and incredible."

When my cousin commissioned me to produce the best photograph anyone has ever seen of the Bountiful Temple, the pressure was on. I began thinking of what image could be unique, astounding, and immersive. What kind of photograph could I take that would stop someone and cause them to gaze upon it? One day, I had a vision. I saw the temple high on a hill, overlooking the City Bountiful, standing watch; a sentinel. Like something straight out of Tolkien's Middle Earth, I saw a beautiful image of a castle guarding a kingdom.

A unique opportunity is present with the Bountiful Temple. The ability to use the surrounding landscape as a dramatic element that acts as a foundation of the photograph of the temple is hard to achieve. There is a hill across the street from the temple, behind the row of houses, that has some hiking trails. In order to achieve this vision, I would have to find a spot somewhere on that hill that opened up to the view of the landscape. I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my camera, and one day after work in late February I set out to find the spot.

I began hiking near the Bountiful B and headed toward the temple, stopping every here and there and checking the perspective. There were no trails where I needed to be along this hill side. I was bushwhacking over, under, and through thistles, shrubs, and scrubby trees. My arms were being lacerated by thorns and bare branches. I took a few test shots on that trip, purely for an understanding of the composition from various locations. I tagged each spot as GPS coordinates on my phone so I could find them later. I hiked back to my car, losing my jacket (which was looped around my backpack) in the trees somewhere along the way. I really liked that jacket. When I got home I processed the images and nothing stood out as spectacular. I still hadn't found the spot I needed. The search will continue.

About a month later I went back, this time starting from the trailhead across the street from the temple. I hiked up and around the hillside, stopping every now and again to take a few photos. This trip also bore no fruit. A couple weeks later, I tried again for the third time, now accompanied by my wife for date night. We hiked and wandered all over, around, up, and down the hillside. Eventually we found a decent clearing that gave a pretty good view of the temple and the city spilling out below it. From this perspective I could see the Oquirrh Mountains in the background, rising up into the sky and sheltering the valley. We had found the perfect spot. I marked it on my map.

Over the next few weeks (now the beginning of April), we checked out the temple and the view of the city from the foothills. I was waiting for the perfect moment when the trees were in bloom and waking up from their long winter nap. All the trees bloom at different times and not all trees have blossoms (or rather their blossoms aren't that remarkable), so I had to wait for the perfect moment when some trees were blossoming and other trees had leaves. I've learned that taking photos of trees with bare branches isn't that impressive, if the tree isn't the subject of the photo. I wanted this photo to look alive and youthful.

One Sunday afternoon at the end of April, I drove up again (for the third time) to check things out. The row of trees along the fence line of the temple were in FULL BLOOM. I'm talking "We're at 100%, take the photo in the next week or you'll miss this forever" full bloom. These trees had beautiful, deep magenta blossoms. The city was blanketed with rich, full trees with new, bright leaves as well. I got home and told Chelsea, "Now is the time. I have to take this photo in the next week if I'm going to do it."

The temple is closed on Sunday and Monday, which means no cars in the parking lot, which means I don't have to Photoshop out a bunch of cars. Those were the days I needed to hit. I had the next day, Monday, or the next Sunday to take this photo. Not only would I miss the blossoms after that, but I was leaving on a business trip the following week as well. I began my research into the weather to see if it was going to cooperate with me. The next day, Monday, it was supposed to rain all day but clear out by about 5pm.

"Tonight is the night," I told Chelsea the next day. I wolfed down dinner, gathered up all my gear and headed out of the house at 5pm. I retraced my steps to find the same clearing on the hillside that gave me the perfect window from which to see the temple and the city. I wandered around a 15 foot radius to find the perfect spot to set up my tripod. Amazingly, there was a tree growing tall and proud, compared to its friends, rising up just off to the left of my view of the temple. This one would be an anchor for my composition.

Post-rain storm clouds almost always guarantee a beautiful sunset. These clouds are so dramatic and catch the light in a way that you never see at any other time. The rain also clears all the dust and pollution from the air so I had a crystal clear view of the mountains in the farthest reaches of the horizon. As the sun set I snapped my shutter, capturing every unique transition of the last sun rays of the evening. When you photograph a scene lit by a sunset, you aren't quite sure when you have "the perfect" shot. For this reason, it's smart to stay all the way through the sunset; in case something spectacular happens with the light in the last 20 seconds of the sleeping sun. Also, the ragged and randomly arranged clouds can dance the light around in the most interesting ways. Once I was satisfied I had "the shot," I packed up and headed home. I normally can't keep the images on my SD card for very long because I'm too excited to get them on the computer and into Lightroom. But it was late and I was tired so they waited until the next day.

The next evening, once the kids were in bed, I imported the photos into my Lightroom catalog, summoned the spirit of Ansel Adams, and began working. This was THE MOST complicated photo I have ever done. Not only is it a panorama which requires a perfectly level tripod (hard to do on a rocky hillside), but I also had to focus stack the images on the left side because the trees/bushes were so close to me they weren't in focus. I had to take two exposures for each of those images (one focusing on the temple, the other focusing on the trees), focus stack them in Photoshop, then merge them with my other images to create the panorama. This meant I had to maintain a perfect shooting discipline while on that hillside or else the panorama or the focus stacked images wouldn't line up correctly and the entire set would be worthless.

Once that was done, I was now free to ignite the right side of my brain and realize the vision I saw so many months ago. The setting sun bathed everything in this warm splash of light, slowly fading into the night. A blanket of lush verdant trees, flowing over the hillsides and into the valley. The snow capped Oquirrh Mountains catching the very last rays as the sun slipped beneath the horizon. The row of gorgeous blossoms leading the way to the temple, adding a valuable slice of color that cuts across the bottom of the scene, and most importantly of all, the resplendent Bountiful Temple, keeping watch over a 171 year old city, named after an ancient metropolis.

**A quick note about color theory: one of the reasons I love this photo so much is because of a great execution of the "Split Complimentary" color palette. To accomplish this, you take a color wheel and chose your base color, let's say green for the carpet of trees in this photo. Then you draw a "Y" that points to two colors on the opposite side of the color wheel. In this case, purple and orange; purple for the mountains and orange for the sunset. This creates color harmony that is pleasing to look at and creates a sense of calm balance. It is hard to force this to happen, and honestly I got pretty lucky with a bit of planning for a good sunset. Nature provided me with a beautiful palette to work with.**

Over four hours later, now well after midnight and with tired eyes, I was finished with my first draft. I would come back 7 more times over the next week to do clean up work and to make minute changes to the color, luminosity, and saturation. And then I was done. I had brought this vision into the real world to share it with everyone.

Almost a month after taking this photo I finally had a print to surprise my cousin. We went over there yesterday to hang out and let the kids play and I brought a huge 24x48" aluminum print. She absolutely loved it. "The detail in these mountains reminds me of a Boss Ross painting. It feels so peaceful," she said. She had her husband hang it up on their living room wall that evening. When I am commissioned to take a photo, I like to keep it (mostly) a secret until I am able to present it to them. I've done this several other times with other temple photos and the anticipation almost kills me. I'm happy to finally be able to share this photo with everyone. This definitely set a new bar for me to reach.


A couple weeks later, my aunt sent me this email:

Dear Kirk,

Just wanted you to know how thrilled Jordan and Ryan are with the photo of the Bountiful Temple you gave them.  Jordan called me right away after you and Chelsea left and immediately took a picture of the print and texted it to me.   It is absolutely phenomenal and so unique!!   I am amazed reading your account of the process you went through to get that shot.   You really have a tremendous talent and I really hope you get to a place where you can focus on photography full time.     



This was such an amazing note to get.  It made me feel so incredible and put me on a high for days.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Mon, 28 May 2018 16:29:00 GMT
Winter's Sunrise Frozen Sunrise | Cottonwood Canyon, UtahFrozen Sunrise | Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Wednesday morning I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon to try and get a photo that I've had in my mind for a couple months. At the beginner of January, I scouted this location along the Cottonwood River and bookmarked it for the perfect winter scene. I wanted to get fresh snow and no snowshoe tracks since this is area is frequented by snowshoers. I also wanted a gorgeous sunrise, but we can't always plan for those so it took a little bit of luck.

Well, we haven't had much snow in Salt Lake this winter so I kept waiting and waiting. I drove up once in early February but found that snowshoers had hiked all over, ruining the shot I had planned in my mind. I don't blame them for anything though, it's their land to enjoy as well. I just needed to get there first.

I drove up the canyon on Tuesday after work hoping to find some untouched snow after the storm we got last weekend. I was in luck that a clean blanket of snow was ready to be photographed. I woke up at 5am the next morning and packed up my gear and drove up the canyon.

I arrived to a brisk 10-degree landscape and was happy I had layers upon layers including a balaclava to hold back the snotsicles. Geared up with my headphones and my tripod, I ventured out to the area. I didn't have my snowshoes with me and was forced to trudge through 3 feet of snow to get here. I had to cross a small part of the Cottonwood River as well. Thank goodness for Gore-tex boots.

The sunrise was more beautiful than I could have hoped for. Warm light spilled over the frozen landscape and perfect snow. Orange rays were caught by the frosty tips of bare branches and the river reflected the striking colors in the clouds. As the light surged brighter and warmer, it spilled over the tops of trees and onto the other side of the hill in the background like a broken dam holding back a reservoir of light.

I almost didn't get out of bed that morning, having been woken up at 4am by Charlotte who is still getting used to sleeping on her own in her own room. I was this close to rationalizing staying in my nice warm bed. I'm glad I didn't miss this for a couple more hours of sleep.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Thu, 08 Mar 2018 17:29:00 GMT
Lake Powell and the Blood Moon Fire in the Sky | Lake Powell, Utah | Winner People's Choice Award 2019 Utah State FairFire in the Sky | Lake Powell, Utah | Winner People's Choice Award 2019 Utah State Fair


Lunar EclipseLunar Eclipse

There was a lunar eclipse in the early morning hours of January 31 that I wanted to photograph. The forecast for northern Utah was mostly cloudy/overcast so I looked at where else I could go. Down south looked promising so I started looking at opportunities down there. I had never been to Lake Powell but have wanted to get a photo of it for a while. I found a place called Alstrom Point that offer panoramic views of the lake, the many rock formations, and the inlets. I called up a friend who lives in Hurricane and we agreed to pick him up on my way down.

I arrived at his house at about 8:30pm and we packed his gear in the car and left immediately. We still had another 3.5 hours to drive until we got to Alstrom Point. The road to Lake Powell was uneventful until we got to the dirt road that cuts through some badlands, taking us to the overlook. About a month ago I purchased a Subaru Outback and was looking for an opportunity to flex it's muscles. I'm not much of an off-road driver but the road was pretty dicey. AWD or 4x4 and higher clearance is definitely necessary to pass this road. We arrive just before 1am.

We scouted out a few places to shoot from, the full moon giving us enough light to see the landscape. Then we tried to get a couple hour's sleep until the lunar eclipse event began. At 3am our alarms went off and we began setting up our cameras. The lunar eclipse is a much slower event, taking place over the course of almost 4 hours. It started out pretty good, with wispy clouds not being too much of a nuisance. But as the night went on, the clouds got thicker and almost ruined any chance for good photos. We got a break, a 12 second break, during full occlusion that gave us a chance to snap a couple photos.

The clouds were a blessing later in the morning as the sun started to rise. We moved over to our chosen sites to photograph the sunrise colors overlooking Lake Powell. I was completely blown away by how beautiful this landscape is. It really looked like an alien landscape with cobalt blue waters resting at the bottom of red, white, and orange cliffs. The purples in sky caught fire giving us a warm crimson glow.

It was breathtaking. My wife and I are moving into our new house in 3 weeks and she's already picked out the spot on the living room wall for this photo to hang. It is one of the best I've ever taken.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Fri, 02 Feb 2018 17:29:00 GMT
Solar Eclipse Solar Eclipse 2017Solar Eclipse 2017

"It's like looking into the face of God," they said when asked what a total solar eclipse was like.

Like many Americans, I had been looking forward to the total solar eclipse for about a year. I only remember ever seeing a partial solar eclipse when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. We made little shoe box pin hole viewers and I wasn't impressed. However, I was eagerly anticipating this totality event. I've heard that it will change your life.

Note: to skip to the good parts, go to the sections between the --- lines.

My original plans were to travel to Idaho and stay with the family of a friend of mine who is stationed in Germany with the US Army. They were more than welcoming and opened up their home to me. But after hearing more and more anticipation of large crowds and traffic jams, I decided to change my plans to Wyoming instead. A little town of Riverton, population about 10,000 sat directly underneath the path of totality.

Wanting to beat the heavy weekend traffic, I left for Wyoming at about 7pm from Salt Lake City. I laid the rear seats flat and unfolded a camping air mattress and my sleeping bag. My plan was to drive up to Riverton, getting there about midnight or shortly thereafter, and sleeping in the WalMart parking lot. The drive was uneventful with only me and 3 other cars on the road. Mountain Dew kept me awake and a new audio book, The Great American Eclipse, kept me entertained. Many people had the same overnight plans; the parking lot was full of campers, RVs, and cars with sleepy travelers.

I met my parents at the park around 8am and we set up our gear. I forgot to bring a chair but thankfully Hotel WalMart had plenty in stock. To the little town of Riverton, this must have seemed like quite the crowd. Being from the sprawling metropolis of Salt Lake City, it seemed like just another Saturday at the city park to me. While there were plenty of people there with chairs, shade tents, and cameras on tripods, it was by no means crowded.

High clouds threatened our experience. In my audio book, I heard a story about a group of scientists in the mid 1800s that traveled 45 days by train, stage coach, and horseback to end up in a Canadian swamp, attacked by squadrons of mosquitoes, only to be under the cover of a totally overcast sky. They then had to make a 60 day journey home. Thick bands of high clouds moved into our view of the sun. With our last 5 minutes before totality we were nervous that we'd miss the event of the decade. Thankfully, right before the moon fully covered the sun, a small break in the clouds opened up and gave us a 98% clear view.

I was prepared for shooting with my 400mm Sigma lens and my Nikon d750. I purchased a solar filter online that folds into a cap that you place over the business end of your lens. It worked out great and I got several compliments from people walking around the park. The event started around 10:30am with the moon taking little bites from the sun. At 400mm I was able to see several sun spots that slowly disappeared behind the moon.


For those that have never seen a total solar eclipse, it is quite the experience. About 5 minutes before totality, it is getting noticeable darker and cooler. About 2 minutes prior, there is a perceptible increase in contrast and sharpness in your surrounding landscape. The best way I can describe it is like when you are watching a YouTube video and the HD resolution sudden snaps in. Taking a look around, it was like seeing everything and everyone in High Definition. The reason for this is because the light from the sun is now very unidirectional instead of omni-directional.

About 30 seconds before totality you can capture the "diamond ring" which is the sun shining around the moon like a ring with one point of very bright light. It looks like a diamond ring. Several seconds later and you can capture "Baily's beads." Named for scientist and astronomer Francis Baily who provided the science behind this phenomena in 1836. It is when the last light of the sun is shining through the peaks and valley of the craters on the moon. Very impressive we can perceive that here on Earth, 250,000 miles away.

And then it happens. The moon fully occludes the sun; the fullness and glory is beyond my ability to aptly describe. Before you is revealed a pitch black disk, like a black hole, surrounded by the ethereal atmosphere of the sun, evaporating into outer space. For barely more than 2 minutes you are transported to an alien world with a dim, steel blue sky. Stars appear in the firmament and you can clearly see Venus hanging just below and to the left. The silvery strands of the star's corona, burning at almost 6000 degrees Kelvin, shimmer like the hair of God. With carefully timed photographs, solar prominences, or solar flares, can be seen shooting out behind the black disk, each one dwarfing our tiny planet a million times over.

I was so focused on my photography, blasting through 50 different shutter speeds, that I almost forgot to LOOK UP. During totality you don't need solar glasses and can gaze upon the glory with your naked eye. Never before have I seen anything this incredible.

As the moon continues to cross in front of the sun, Baily's beads peak through the other side and you rush to put your glasses back on. Another diamond ring event and a crescent sliver appears on the other side. The moon's shadow is blazing across the United States at 1000 miles per hour.


The next eclipse to come to America is in 2024. In my opinion it should be the event around which your year revolves. Pull your kids out of school. Take time off work. There are very few people in the history of the world who have seen this in its totality. Those who haven't seen it, just don't "get it." When I talk to people at work or friends or family that haven't seen it, I can't understand their inconsequential attitude toward an experience that happens so infrequently. Maybe it is the science nerd in me, maybe it is the photography nerd in me. People probably have the same frustration with me because I don't care about college sports.

But while March Madness happens every year, you might not get a chance to see this twice in your life. You owe it to yourself to witness a total solar eclipse before you die.


[email protected] (Kirk Bergman Photography) Fri, 01 Sep 2017 16:29:00 GMT