Mountainsong Photography: Blog en-us (C) Steve Sears – Mountainsong Photography LLC (Mountainsong Photography) Sun, 25 Jan 2015 05:12:00 GMT Sun, 25 Jan 2015 05:12:00 GMT A Desert Flood I wrote this poem a couple of years ago after witnessing a flash flood in the extremely rugged Kofa Mountains of southwestern Arizona. It boiled up fast, hit hard, and then was gone:


 (Act I)

Plant are torched

The earth is scorched

The sun moves 'cross the sky


The wind blows hot

Relief there's not

Just sage and alkali


The peaks are jagged

Grotesquely ragged

Lined up in row after row


Rock and sand

Ungracious land

A place of dread and woe


Ravines cut deep

Their walls so steep

Like twisted, snaking scars


Sky are clear...

...than clouds appear

You can see them from afar




(Act II)


Full of dread

Storm front rolling in


Flash of light

Terrible sight

Then the deluge begins


Sheets of rain

Cannot drain

Ground as hard as stone


Soon a flood

A wall of mud

The desert seems to moan


Quickly done

It's course is run

The clouds are on the go


And in their place

By God's good grace

Is stretched a colored bow

(Mountainsong Photography) Sun, 25 Jan 2015 04:05:00 GMT
A Reminder...

I cut this out of a newspaper 12 years ago and I've been carrying it in my wallet ever since. Its purpose was to be a reminder for me to love my soon-to-be wife as if every day with her would be my last. And while I've often gotten this wrong, many times these people and these words have helped to bring me back around...and I'm grateful.

(Mountainsong Photography) Tue, 23 Dec 2014 05:45:46 GMT
"We have been running for a long, long time..."

I tear up and go to my knees every time I listen to this amazing poem. It's about a God who pursues us no matter what we've done or who we've been, and it never fails to stretch my understanding of His grace and incredibly deep love for me.

If you don't know Jesus, please, listen twice.


(See more of Hosanna's work at

(Mountainsong Photography) Tue, 23 Dec 2014 05:38:28 GMT
Between You and God... A few years ago I spent some time at a monastery in Southwestern Missouri. While there I found the following words scribbled on a wall:

They may see the good you do
as self serving.
Continue to do good.
They may see your generosity
as grandstanding.
Continue to be generous.
They may see your warm
and caring nature as a weakness.
Continue to be warm and caring.
For you see, in the end,
it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them.


(Mountainsong Photography) Thu, 06 Feb 2014 18:11:00 GMT
I Hate... Not too long ago, on a flight home, I sat behind a couple of 40-something guys who were killing time by discussing the things in their lives that they disliked. Some of these things were universal—traffic, work, gas prices, politicians, assorted vegetables, etc. Others were somewhat harsher and included co-workers, neighbors and extended family members. After some thought I decided that there are also a lot of things in my life that I dislike, and even a few that I hate. Here, in part, is the list that I penciled on that flight:

“I really hate that I’m most passionate about Christ when I want something from him; I hate that both my Lord and my wife nearly always take a back seat to my own desires; I hate that I often ritually—without feeling or sincerity—perform my spiritual "duties" (reading, praying, worship, church & small group attendance, et cetra); I hate that I am often not at all offended by obviously offensive things—that it takes so much for me to blush; I hate that I have crossed paths with people that I’ve had the ability to feed or clothe—and I haven’t; I hate that my own insecurities so often keep me from being vulnerable and sharing the love of Jesus; I hate that, because of my great sense of entitlement, I am rarely as grateful as I ought to be; I hate that I haven’t met most of the people in my neighborhood; I hate that I go into every meeting assuming that I’m going to teach rather then be taught; I hate that I would rather watch TV then spend time with the One who gave it all for my friendship; I hate that my wife can be so intentional about loving me and growing our marriage…and that I am so content to let her; I hate, I hate, I hate that Jesus has promised me a “life that is truly life”, but that I seem to be so content living mine in a state of mediocrity...”

The list goes on and on, but you get the picture…

(Mountainsong Photography) Thu, 06 Feb 2014 18:08:00 GMT
God's Trombones... I've recently been meditating on a book by James Weldon Johnson, titled “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.” There is one sermon, The Crucifixion, which has touched me deeply. I love the way that it transitions from darkness & despair to victory and great joy. To show you what I mean I've pulled a couple of verses from different parts of the sermon:

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden—
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples;
Sorrow is in my soul—
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands;
Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his feet.
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the Roman spear plunged in his side;
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.
Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

And the veil of the temple was split in two,
The midday sun refused to shine,
The thunder rumbled and the lightning wrote
An unknown language in the sky.
What a day! Lord, what a day!
When my blessed Jesus died

(Mountainsong Photography) Thu, 06 Feb 2014 18:06:00 GMT
That Day... I doodled this during a time when I felt so near to Jesus and so wanted to be home with him. A time when I longed to be 'there' and not 'here':

"Lord, I ache for the day when all will be new; when I will be whole. A day when I will look upon your face and never again, not even for an instant, be separated from you. The day when I’ll sit at your feet and be fully filled simply because I’m in your presence. The day when I will sing the first note of a forever song to you.

The day when, perhaps, you’ll take me aside, look me in eyes, and say, “Well done!”

Oh Lord, come quickly with THAT day..."


(Mountainsong Photography) Thu, 16 Jan 2014 18:29:00 GMT
Clanging Cymbals... 1st John is one of my favorite books of the bible. It is simple and tender and I love the way that John so often uses the words “friends” and “children.” He sounds sort of grandfatherly and I look forward to meeting him some day.

I recently read through 1st John, circled the words love, loved or loves, and then went through it again just reading those words in their context. As I did this study a pattern appeared that is as old as mankind.

Here it is:

God is, and always has been, concerned about three very elementary things: our love for him, our love for others, and our efforts at keeping life from getting in the way of the two.

The "life" that is referred to here are the sins/distractions—primarily our own self-centeredness—that prevent us from exercising the true love that occurs only when we put others before ourselves. Jesus called this a genuine love and later in the bible we're told that without that kind of love we’re basically just clanging cymbals. To me this means loud, hollow, and mostly just obnoxious.

So what does this love look like? In a very practical sense it is treating others as you would treat yourself, while putting their needs before your own. It is carrying the physical & emotional burdens of others, listening when you would rather speak, and neither showing favoritism nor marginalizing the people around you. It is reaching out to the person who is not like you, praying for those who you would rather not pray for, and all the while withholding judgment. It is being merciful and patient and full of grace. Love is being Jesus to the people around you.

My own efforts at learning how to love have been convulsive, to say the least, with many more failures then genuine successes. The one thing that I have learned, though, is that the closer that I am to Jesus the easier it is for me to love others. It just comes more naturally, selflessly and, well, often. On the other hand, the longer I go without spending time with him, without thinking about him, without yearning for him, the more I seem to fall back into my own self-centeredness, and the things that I do for others, no matter how I package them, really just end up being done to benefit me…the obnoxious clanging cymbal.

After many years, I have recently began to re-read The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. It’s a deep and slow read, but Manning paints a picture of God’s love for me that is life changing. As I slowly begin to understand this concept, truly understand that God is passionate about me, it causes me to want to draw near to him, and then when I am near to Him I want to be near to others.

I want to love them.

Today, with the strength of God’s love, I intend to keep life at arms length by embracing family, friends and strangers.

Will you join me?

See Also:
Deut 10.12 - John 13.34 - 1 Cor 13.1 - 1 Cor. 4-8a - 1 John

(Mountainsong Photography) Thu, 16 Jan 2014 18:27:00 GMT
About The Photographs... Greeting The Morning The majority of the images in my library were shot with Canon 35mm film camera’s, though a select few were shot in medium format with a Mamiya 645 Pro TL. Typically, I use filters sparingly: A polarizer to remove glare and allow for color saturation, warming filters to remove, for example, the blue cast found in open shade, and graduated neutral density filters to close the gap between extreme ranges of light in a given scene.

I began shooting digitally in the summer of 2011 and have since fallen in love with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography which, in a nutshell, is a process involving shooting a series of photographs of the same composition, but at different exposures, and then merging them using special software. As the name implies, the resulting photograph includes an incredible range of light and tones.

(Mountainsong Photography) Wed, 08 Aug 2012 02:03:38 GMT
If I Was Just Starting Out As A Photographer... If I was just starting out as a landscape photographer—just picked up a camera for the first time—and wanted to learn how to take great nature photographs, this is the process that I would follow:


(1) First, I would take a basic class through the local Community College; they are usually very thorough AND very inexpensive, and offer a lot of flexibility in terms of scheduling. That class would be labeled “Photography 101” or “Introduction to Digital Photography”, or something similar.

(2) Once I had a good grasp of the basics I would look for people who are shooting photos in a style that I want to mimic AND who are teaching classes or workshops. I wouldn’t waste my time and money learning from photographers who are not taking photographs that are AMAZING. I can teach myself how to take mediocre photos, right? I want to be the best that I can be, so I need to learn from the best. I would find these photographers by doing a Google search (“nature photographers”) and looking through the ads in photography magazines.

Lone Pine Peak in Clouds

(3) I would also study independently: I would read books & articles, study composition by looking at photos and paintings, and peruse the internet for sites such as these:

(a) The Luminous Landscape is loaded with great essays, tutorials, etc, and they are always adding new information by great photographers:

(b) My friend, Alain Briot, has several essays, tutorials, books, DVD’s, etc. Sign up for his newsletter and receive 40 essays for free:

 (c) One of my favorite photographers, Patrick Smith, has a bunch of photos on Flickr. Learn how he captured them by first clicking on the individual photos to enlarge them, then putting the cursor on top of the photo to bring out the notes, and finally by scrolling down the page to read the narrative and technical stuff. Here's the website:

(4) Almost every community has a photography club; I would find the nearest one to me and join it so that I could spend time with people who are passionate and knowledgeable...and who are willing to share that knowledge.

(5) I would always have my camera with me and I would shoot a ridiculous number of images of everything that caught my eye. I would have a small notebook with my gear and write down all of the technical info as I photographed (f-stop, ISO, time of day, handheld vs tripod, etc), and then use that information to figure out why certain processes did or did not work. I would also constantly strive to improve the composition.

(6) I would almost always use a tripod!


So, to recap, my advice is to (1) take a basic class, (2) THEN take workshops or classes to learn from photographers that you respect and want to emulate, (3) study independently, (4) join a local photo club, (5) shoot tons of photographs, and (6) slow down and use a tripod!

That’s how I would do it!


I would love to answer any questions that you may have, or hear your thoughts on anything that I might have missed. You can do this by sending me an email through the “Contact” page on this website.


(Mountainsong Photography) Thu, 15 Mar 2012 23:51:44 GMT
A New Take on a Very Old Subject...
Ruin #1.This is one of the baseline images that I shot 
on the afternoon of the first day. There are three ruins in total.


Of all the landscapes that I have been blessed to explore and photograph over the years, the Sycamore Canyon area of northern Arizona rates among my favorites. It is absolutely amazing; it has the Juniper/Pinyon Pine forest and the beautiful red rock formations more commonly associated with nearby Sedona, but its official wilderness designation has kept out motorized vehicles and the tourists that accompany them. This challenge—non-motorized transportation only—has also helped to preserve some wonderful treasures, including countless Sinagua Indian ruins. The Sinagua, who were contemporaries of the better known Anasazi or “Cliff Dwellers” of the Four Corners region, reached their zenith, they say, somewhere around 1450AD, after which, as with the Anasazi, they abruptly abandoned the country leaving only rock art, artifacts, and the ruins of their homes to mark their passing.

As a photographer, and an insatiably curious explorer of wild places, I am always looking for interesting and little-known subjects to capture on film. So, on a recent fall morning, after learning of a new ruin to investigate in the Sycamore Canyon area, and almost simultaneously discovering a new photographic technique with which to capture it, I packed my gear and headed north towards this fantastic place. Along the way I traversed landscapes that ranged from tawny, rolling grasslands to the Cottonwood and grape vine lined banks of the upper Verde River. Finally, after several hours and a final 4-wheel drive push, I arrived at a massive red rock formation that marked the boundary of this stretch of the wilderness.

A night shot of Ruin #1, much like the afternoon shot above. All of the artificial light in these photographs is a result of "painting" the subject with a headlamp.

Pulling into a dense stand of Junipers, I hastily set up a camp—really just a cot and a sleeping bag—, stuffed some gear into a pack and headed out over a faint trail, following it up and over a lava saddle before taking a hard left on the backside and scrambling up a scree slope to a beautiful volcanic amphitheater. This recess was about 60 feet wide, 30 feet deep, 100-feet high and held three 600-year-old-plus Sinagua ruins that were bunched up tight together and so well preserved in some areas that the roof beams were still in place and the handprints of the people who plastered them were still visible.

After familiarizing myself with the ruins I shot a series of baseline images and then expanded my exploration to nearby ledges and overhangs. It was while probing a prehistoric granary secreted under one of these ledges that I first became aware that the sun was setting; the stone itself began to glow a reddish-orange. I immediately went into my “wild-eyed-frantically-attempt-to-shoot-as-much-film-as-you-can-because-your-time is-super-limited” mode, scrambling up and down the slope, dodging tree branches and cactus, jumping from rock to rock, searching for ever more powerful foregrounds, all the while the sky graduating from a light orange to reds, pinks, grays, and finally to a deep royal blue.


In this image the view is from within Ruin #2, looking through the doorway, across a small courtyard and into the doorway of Ruin #1. The vertical object in the courtyard area is a charred wooden post that at one time had probably supported a roof of some kind.

At about this point I came to my senses and, remembering that I had come here for a specific purpose, began to work quickly in the fast fading light. First I set up my camera on one of the compositions that I had pre-visualized when I first walked through the complex—a room framed by the ancient doorway of a second room—and then, from my backpack, removed my headlamp, a stopwatch, and some instructions explaining the technique that I was going to attempt. Next, I carefully cleaned the lens, checked the camera’s settings, and peering through the viewfinder, held the headlamp up high to illuminate the scene. I strained in that low light to see if the image was in focus, and then locked the shutter open with the cable release and began to “paint” the beam of light from the headlamp, sweeping it evenly from side to side over my subject. After about 30 seconds I released the shutter and it was over… I had painted my first image with light and I knew that it was going to look great! Even the scorpion that scampered under my camera bag couldn’t take the joy from me. I had learned a new way to express myself through my art and I was overjoyed.

I spent the balance of the night photographing these amazing ruins and contemplating the stars which, in this clear, crisp air seemed so bright, and so close, that I felt that I could reach out and take them in my hands. I studied them for hours, and then just as I thought I had taken it all in the earth stumbled upon the Orionids meteor shower and I had to start all over. It was fantastic!

I also spent many of those long, dark hours wondering about the people who lived in that small area all those centuries before. They watched the same sky that I did and experienced, in the very early morning, the same stillness. In this now empty place, families were raised; there was play, and laughter, and teasing, and mourning. There would have been shouts of concern at the sight of enemies and excitement at the arrival of relatives. There would have been gatherings around fires—the soot of which still darkens the rock—to tell stories, and to speak of weather, crops and war. All of this ran through my mind in the quietness of that night.

Eventually, though, as with all things, the night came to a close. The horizon began to lighten, slowly at first, almost imperceptibly, before suddenly erupting into an amazing sunrise. As for me, I went into my normal frantic mode to capture it, and then hiked back to my Jeep and headed home… excited to process not just technically successful photographs, but a wonderful adventure and a new form of expression!


Here are a couple of other shots that I took over that fantastic 16 hour period:

This image of Ruin #1 was shot from behind a wall of Ruin #2. Notice that the mortar has eroded from the top of this wall leaving only the stones behind.

This is a 20-minute shot of star trails. I believe that the orange glow on the right side of the horizon has its origin in the small town of Williams, roughly 35 miles to the north. This photo is really unremarkable, but I wanted to include it so that I could show you how it relates in a really cool way to the image below.

After I shot the 20-minute star trail photograph, I re-composed on Ruin #2 and locked the shutter open. This image reveals what happens when the camera is allowed to record the same orange glow as in the previous photograph--but for a 3 ½ hour period!

Warm early morning light on Ruin #2 (below) and Ruin #3

Here, blended with the surrounding stone, is Star House in its entirety. Click on the photo to enlarge it.


(Mountainsong Photography) Sat, 31 Oct 2009 00:51:00 GMT
Cardboard Testimonies... Amazing. Brings tears to my eyes:

Cardboard Testimonies from Granger Community on Vimeo.

(Mountainsong Photography) Tue, 26 May 2009 01:19:00 GMT
To Be Authentic... I need to rid my life of the things that are keeping me from this:

Liquid Church | Without Wax from Liquid Church on Vimeo.

(Mountainsong Photography) Tue, 26 May 2009 00:08:00 GMT
The Leak... True story.

So I had this pickup truck. I bought it brand new, kept it for ten years, and put nearly 350,000 miles on it. I really loved that truck but as it aged it began to do weird stuff. For example, I once pulled up to a stop sign and the radio, dash, and dome light went out, and then after a few days I stopped at another sign and they came back on. Later, on a cold Missouri night, the heater went out and the power window wouldn’t go up and I had to drive home with my head hanging out of the window so my breath wouldn’t freeze on the windshield. I clearly remember that it was 11-degrees outside and that it took 37 minutes for my face to thaw out.

Anyway, I decided that I was tired of the problems and traded the Ford in for a Jeep Cherokee. I really liked the Jeep and felt that I had made a good deal until I noticed that, on occasion, some sort of fluid leaked out of the back of it—near the gas tank—and ran down over the tire.

Concerned, I took it to my mechanic friend who looked it over and couldn’t find anything wrong. It didn’t seem to be leaking from anywhere, he said, and mentioned that if it happened again I should get under the car and mark the exact spot that it was coming from. He also said that I should smell the substance to determine if it was gas or something else.

So, a couple of days later it was back; that same leak coming from around the gas tank and running down the tire. Taking my friend's advice I approached the jeep, got down on my back, slid under it and…nothing. There wasn’t any fluid up there that I could see and I looked everywhere.


Next I slid back out, wiped my hand across the wetness on the tire, brought it up to my nose, and smelled it. It had a familiar scent but I couldn’t quite place it. Perhaps a little more saturation would help, I thought, so I wiped my hand across the tire again, brought it to my nose, and…looked across to see a neighborhood dog lifting his leg on my neighbor's tire.

And from across the street, laughter.

Then the sound of a door closing...

...and it was just me…


...with a handful of dog pee.

(Mountainsong Photography) Mon, 18 May 2009 22:13:00 GMT
A Romantic Date... Lesley and I went to a demolition derby tonight. Lots of noise, exhaust & cigarette smoke, as well as riding-lawnmower, mobility scooter and rototiller races. It was seriously sweet, and I got to share it with my favorite person!

Here are some highlights:

Here's the lawnmower race. There was a great wreck a couple of minutes after this photo was taken.

The winning mower. Perhaps helped along by the Lord?

This driver is getting psyched for the mobility scooter race.

Heading out to the track.

The winning 'tiller. Check out the pipes on that thing!

"Lucky" is spewing a little smoke.
The Winner: So clean that you would never even know it was in a derby!.

Again, a great date. I have the most amazing wife ever!

(Mountainsong Photography) Sun, 10 May 2009 00:58:00 GMT
Beauty Of A Different Sort... (Watch the video first. Simply click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser's window.)

Many, many millions of people have watched the above video, and no doubt you have too. It’s of a lady who appeared on a reality TV show in England. A lady who was ridiculed by cynical people who laughed at her, rolled their eyes, made nasty faces, and predicted her failure. It must have been difficult for her to stand up there, so vulnerable and all.

But stand up there she did.

And she kept a good attitude and rolled with the punches.

And then she sang.

And in about four seconds she captured their attention.

And about 18 seconds later they were out of their seats and she had captured their hearts.

And, for a short time, it was about beauty of a different sort.

I think Heaven must be a little like that.

(Mountainsong Photography) Fri, 17 Apr 2009 13:47:00 GMT
Two Takes on Good Friday... Wikipedia:
"Good Friday, also called Holy Friday, Black Friday, or Great Friday, is a religious holiday observed primarily by adherents to Christianity commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Golgotha."

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed."
(Is 53:5 NIV)

See: Psalm 22 & Isaiah 53

(Mountainsong Photography) Fri, 10 Apr 2009 08:29:00 GMT
Recovering... ”I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.” -George MacLeod

(Mountainsong Photography) Mon, 06 Apr 2009 09:08:00 GMT
Business Time! There may be some nuggets of spiritual wisdom in here somewhere. And then again...

[Insert cheesy video here]

(Mountainsong Photography) Fri, 27 Mar 2009 11:21:00 GMT
Eyes of Faith... Several years ago I had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time on the Tallgrass prairies of northeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri. I had a great time hiking into these places, by headlamp or moonlight, to consider the stars, thank my God, fall asleep to the song of the coyote, and awake early enough to capture the sunrise on film. Here is a short excerpt from my journal describing just one of those trips:

"I'm reluctant to go. I've spent the morning atop a grassy knoll on this fantastic prairie, watching a small herd of Bison graze in brilliant morning light. Though unseen, I know that another herd is nearby, secreted somewhere in a fold in the earth. The colors about me are vibrant and saturated; purples and gold's, browns, oranges and reds. The contrast against the brilliantly blue sky is startling. There is a breeze this morning. It is slight, and wintry, and somehow quenching, like a cold glass of water. Below me a coyote hunts along the edge of a creek while all around, invisible in the high grasses, songbirds lift their voices, singing praises to their Creator, I imagine. Far off, to my rear, several bull elk bugle their rut-induced frustrations..."

In his book, "The Ragamuffin Gospel", Brennan Manning writes about the awe and wonder and grace that are found in such wonderful places and experiences. "The lurking presence of God", he writes, "is revealed not only in spirit but in matter--in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest... for the eyes of faith, every created thing manifests the grace and providence of (the Lord)."


(Mountainsong Photography) Wed, 25 Mar 2009 16:32:00 GMT