AI Sky Replacement in Luminar

Lately, I’ve been using the AI Sky Replacement tool inside Skylum’s Luminar 4.

The idea behind it is to make a scene more engaging by enhancing the sky. It cleverly replaces an uninteresting sky for another of your choosing. Anyone whose done this manually in Photoshop knows it’s a tedious chore to get right.

An image of a harbor entrance light before sky replacement.
The same image after using Luminar’s AI Sky Replacement (click for full size)

Luminar provides several dozen sky images with the tool; all you have to do is try one out. If you don’t like it, try another and keep experimenting until you find one you like.  

In some scenarios, if it doesn’t recognize a sky in your image, the tool becomes disabled. For instance, if you take a picture of your foot, AI Sky Replacement is disabled. But if there is the sky in your image, it works more often than not. I’ve tried cases where I thought it wouldn’t work, and it does.

Here’s an example where Luminar correctly identified the sky through an arch. This surprised me as I thought the software would get confused, but the AI proved me wrong. The photo is of an Instagramer at the Abbey of Montserrat in Catalonia.

Also, there are sliders you can use to tweak the results, but it does the job with or without the sliders. As someone who spends a lot of time looking at details in images, it’s pretty good. 

I won’t go into the arguments of what’s real and what’s fake. I create a lot of images, and I always manipulate them one way or another. I consider photographs straight out of the camera raw material. It is with this resource that I apply post-processing techniques to get the look and tell the story I have in my mind. In that vein, I have no compunction about using software (AI or not) to edit photos. 

Over the years, I’ve taken many thousands of digital images that now sit in a Lightroom library. Less than one percent ever qualify for public consumption. Compositionally, most are just plain bad, but in a few cases, it’s because the sky is too flat.

I’ve started looking at some of these “reject” images with new eyes and asking myself, what if? What if it had a different sky and, perhaps, different lighting? Before I go on, let’s pause here because it’s the second part of this question that I find the most interesting. 

Not only does it (as the name suggests) replace the sky, but it intelligently relights the scene to match the light from the new sky.

Here’s a surreal image of a mountain lake in Oregon after adding a long exposure of the Florida sky? The lighting of the scene below the sky is a result of the AI software.

Think about that for a moment. If your scene was taken in midday, but the sky you’ve chosen as a replacement is from sunset, merely replacing one sky for another might create an unbelievable, if not odd, lighting contrast. As humans, we recognize subtle changes in light, even if we are not always aware of it. But combine a sunset sky with a noontime landscape, and we get a feeling that something is not quite right. 

This is where the AI shines through. Skylums’s software agent works at relighting the non-sky elements with subtle tones of the sky that you selected. If Luminar simply replaced the sky, that would be a cool thing indeed, but Skylum is building upon years of AI experience. They’ve created a machine that combines the expertise of masking (sky replacement) with the techniques of expert toning. That is, given a scene, figure out how to achieve a believable lighting scheme. Of course, the idea of “believability” is subjective, and it depends on your individual preferences. All things considered, it does a pretty good job in a fraction of the time that you could do manually. There are infinite combinations of skies and landscapes, and each result is entirely unique. You could make the argument that it’s not perfect, but then, what or who is? The goal of AI is not perfection, rather accomplishment of things that formerly, only humans could do. In that regard, it’s as good or better and way faster than most humans. 

While we’re on the subject of AI, I just finished Stuart Russell’s book, Human Compatible, Artificial Intelligence and the problem of control.

In it, he explains just how far and fast AI is advancing. Stuart draws the curtain back on the future of our civilization once AI is fully realized. And from the sounds of it, we are much closer to that than most of us wish to believe. I recommend picking it up if you are the least bit interested in what the future holds. 

Skylum’s Luminar is a fascinating tool, and it’s a little uncanny how well of a job it does. But as I’ve come to learn from Russell’s book, this is just the tip of the iceberg, everything is moving in this direction, and we’d all better get used to it. Children born today will never know a world without AI. Any doubts you may have are quickly dispelled the next time you look at your smartphone or ask Google a question. 

So back to the photos, I’ve included some examples of both extreme and subtle applications. In the most extreme case here, the lighting of the ENTIRE scene is changed from daylight to night, as determined by my selection of one of Luminar’s out-of-the-box night skies. I added some additional elements like the light in the lighthouse and some extra toning. But the majority of the scene lighting is done by AI. 

This is how the Oregon coastal scene appears straight out of the camera.
Here, the same image is toned automatically to match the starry sky. (Click for full resolution).

By now, I’ve used it in a lot of different scenarios, some extreme like the previous example, but more often, I use it in subtle ways. Examples of this are where I’m just adding a little bit of texture to a picture where the sky is only a minor background component, not necessarily to be noticed. Here are some examples of that. 

An example of the subtle use of sky replacement on a minor background component of an image
Another example of sky replacement as a minor element to an image.

There’s a lot to like with the combination of replacement and toning, but there’s one more thing that seals it, at least for me. Luminar supplies about thirty skies, from sunrise to the Milkyway galaxy, and everything in-between. So they basically give you enough of a selection for most situations. They also provide addition sky packs from accomplished photographers that you can purchase as plug-ins. But to be frank, I would prefer to use my own skies. And the one feature clinches the deal for me is that Luminar allows you to use your own skies. 

As it happens, I take way too many pictures of the sky. Whenever I’m out shooting landscapes, and I see beautiful clouds, I can’t help but take a picture. By itself, an image of the sky is not that interesting; pretty maybe, but as far as being a complete composition, generally not. 

It’s always been in the back of my mind that one day I’d do something with these images, and that time has come. All those skies I’ve collected can now be used in Luminar AI Sky Replacement. 

I’ve started selecting a few and preparing them for use in the tool. I have morning, daylight, sunrises, and sunsets. I don’t have many night skies, so, for the time being, I’m using nights supplied by Luminar, and truth be told, those are the most fun to try out.

Playing with Luminar’s night skies are perhaps the most fun of all. Here is the silhouette of Mt Tibidabo from Barcelona with one of the out-of-the-box skies supplied by Luminar.

But I’m more of a sunrise and sunset person, so that’s most of what I have. Here’s a snapshot of the ones I’ve prepared so far. 

A snapshot of some of the skies I’ve prepared to be used inside Luminar. Most are from Florida where I live and others are from around the globe.

With my old skies now ready, I’m going back over my archives and revisiting images. Luminar’s AI Sky Replacement is breathing new life into my library. Photos that would never make the cut are being reconsidered with some pleasant results. Anyway, if you’re into post-processing, give it a try. As for me, it’s become a permanent part of my kit. And, like it or not, this is a taste of the future, even as it is upon us now. 

Morgan “Moose” Wright

Morgan Write aka The Moose is a regular competitor on the Emmy nominated hit NBC show, American Ninja Warrior.

Daily Image
Morgan Wright after his third stage run in a local Ninja event.

Though not affiliated with NBC, I’ve shot several of the local Ninja competitions here in central Florida. These events are frequented by many of the show’s competitors as a warmup and training for the series. Morgan is a regular at these competitions and is a standout, not only for his physical abilities but for his overwhelming positive energy.

According to his Instagram page, he is a public figure/speaker, American Ninja Warrior, Teacher, Veteran, Husband, and Father. As a PE teacher in his home town of Cape Coral, he has integrated Ninja Warrior training into the program. Here’s are a couple of news clips on that: here and here.

There are also local events for junior ninjas, and Morgan is usually right in the middle; motivating, instructing and cheering on the young competitors (including his own children).

I have tons of pictures, but here are a few of my favorites of Morgan over the last couple of years, all taken from various events at the Live Training Center here in Palmetto Florida.

Follow Morgan on Facebook here and Instagram here.

Following is a video of Morgan’s most recent season from the Miami Qualifiers of American Ninja Warrior.

Abstract Cruise Photos

Over the holidays we jumped on a last-minute cruise of the Carribean. Living in Florida, these kinds of things are easy to do, just find a cheap ticket and drive to the port.

The ship was Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which is one of the worlds largest. We’ve sailed on a couple of her sister ships, so we already had a good feel for the layout.

I took a few photos that are of a more abstract nature than typical holiday snapshots. Here is a collection with descriptions of each.

West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach
Florida on the horizon at night

On our first evening at sea, we sailed down the east coast of Florida from Cape Canaveral. The lights on the left are from West Palm Beach if I’m not mistaken. The first day is always a good time to look out to sea and decompress from life on land.

The Trail
The Trail
A trail from the stacks as we navigate south to the Caribbean

Here is another shot from the first night, looking to the back of the ship, as the smoke from the engine trails out. These first two shots are long exposures that were stabilized on the balcony railing.

Leaving Falmouth

Leaving Falmouth
A long exposure creates light trails as we leave port

We departed Falmouth, Jamacia in the evening after a very windy day. All day long I wondered how the captain would pull out in such conditions, but as the sun fell so did the wind, and we departed quite easily. I created this long exposure as the ship slowly moved past the dock. The jiggling of the light trails was from my unsteady hand as I held the camera (not necessarily from the Jamaican rum one may be obliged to try).

Hot Tub
Hot Tub
The hot tub overhang on deck fifteen

There are large hot tubs on both sides of the upper deck that protrude out from the sides of the ship on deck fifteen. I didn’t manage to try them out for myself, but that didn’t stop me from taking an architectural shot from our balcony five floors below.

Over Dock
Watching people board

One lazy pastime when leaving a port is to sit on the balcony and watch others board the ship. In Labadee Haiti, there are musicians and dancers on the dock as well. Here I’m aiming directly down at the pier as a passenger walks to the gangway.

After Hours
After Hours
Bar stools after the bar closed late at night

The perfect symmetry of the bar stools caught my eye as I wandered around the decks at night. This is one of the outdoor bars that had closed for the evening.

Port Side
Port Side
A place and time to do very little

I snapped this as we left our last port of Cozumel. Another pastime for me is to sit on the balcony and read or listen to music. No agenda, no schedule, just free time to do anything or nothing at all.

See more travel photography here in the gallery

The Magic of Street Photography

A messenger in downtown Tampa reading his text for the next pickup.
A messenger in downtown Tampa reading his text for the next pickup.

Street photography is something I rarely do but at the same time love to do. I’m a bit shy and so getting out onto the street and taking pictures of random people is not easy. Nonetheless I do it any chance I get because of the magic of freezing time. Images can be thought of as frozen moments in time, yet they are poignant when they have people in them. However, when the scenes are out in public on a busy street it and if done carefully and with purpose, these frozen moments can provide glimpses into the soul of a city that connect us with the inhabitants in a powerful way.

A unique gesture, expression or circumstance can be preserved in a split second that we can return to over and over again. Maybe it’s a circumstance that didn’t even exist when the photo was taken because in truth, we overlay our own stories and meanings onto street photos. We look at a person in a photo and imagine who they are and what they are doing or saying. In most cases we’re wrong, but it doesn’t matter, it’s a photograph and what is left out is quickly filled in with our own imagination. And in that split second, the photo becomes art.

Setting the stage

Here I positioned myself and waited for someone interesting to walk through my frame.
Here I positioned myself and waited for someone interesting to walk through my frame.

There are different ways to do street photography. My overall favorite is staging or framing. This involves preselecting a composition and then waiting for someone to walk through. For me it’s particularly fun because it engages my imagination and perhaps is most closely related to landscape photography. By that I mean this technique gives me a bit of control. In case you didn’t know, us landscape photographers are control freaks. We like doing things on our own terms and in our own way. So perhaps this technique is the easiest to try if you too are a landscape photographer like me.


Gentleman walks past a white brick wall
Gentleman walks past a white brick wall

The idea is to pick an interesting composition like an entryway to a building or wall and then wait for someone to walk past. There are no real rules on the frame, just something that forms a backdrop and can add a little to the story you are trying to tell. The next step is that I line myself up so that I’m positioned perpendicular to the frame and then just wait. This is where it gets a little tricky. If I make myself too obvious, people will look up and may avoid the frame. The ability to blend in and not attract too much attention is key.


Someone walks along the shore as the sun recedes. Now get out and enjoy the weekend (say's me to myself). ;-0
A man walks through my frame at sunset on the beach.

Funny thing is I use this technique when at the beach around sunset. While this is not street photography, the technique is identical. I’ll line up my shot of the setting sun and wait for someone walking along the shore to walk in my frame; it can make for a nice image. At sunset on the beach everyone has their camera or cell phone out and is snapping pictures as the sun goes down. Yet invariably what happens is people will look up and out of courtesy walk around me, thinking they don’t want to ruin my lovely shot. Little do they know it’s just the opposite, they are my subjects. And so this happens with street as well and trying to look inconspicuous is key.

Drive by shooting

Captured an expression on the woman while walking in mid-town Manhattan one evening. The man was engrossed in what he was saying.Another technique I use is what I call drive by. That’s a terrible name, I should think of something different. How about “spontaneous shooting”. Hmmmm, not much better, perhaps I’ll work on it. Nevertheless it involves taking impromptu photos of people as I walk down the street. Precisely because of the unscripted nature of this, good results are far and few between. When doing this at night, it involves a high ISO so that the shutter is fast enough to freeze the action of both my stride and the stride of my subjects.

Also, autofocus helps a lot because there is little or no time to focus manually. This is a low percentage endeavor; ninety percent of the time I get junk, blurred or boring images. But every once in a while I capture an expression and it pays off. The expressions are of two types, either the instant recognition of what’s happening or something completely private and intimate. Either way it can make for interesting images, especially once I’ve made my getaway and I’m long gone. 😉



Cooks in lower Manhattan Chinatown taking a break on the doorsteps of the side entrance.Finally, perhaps the largest category of images is interesting scenes I call vignettes. Walk around any busy street, take the time to notice and you’ll see evocative episodes of daily life unfolding all around you. For me I’m attracted to things that are not part of my everyday experience. For the most part I work in front of a computer, so if I see a cook taking a break on some steps, to me that’s interesting. If I see a guy meditating in a busy park, well now that’s very interesting.
On a recent Saturday morning in lower Manhattan I noticed this gentleman meditating in a park. Boy, if I could meditate in the middle of a busy park in Manhattan, well, that would be something. Anyway, there was ancient Chinese music being played nearby, people singing, talking and all manner of activity and he was sitting there meditating right in the middle of it. I couldn't resist capturing a photo yet given everything else going on I doubt he even noticed.

A lot of times the people are so engrossed in what they are doing that they never notice me taking a picture. It still helps to be ready because you never know how long the scene will last or if the people will notice you. More times than not, in the time it takes me to setup the scene has changed and the moment lost; that’s why I try to be prepared when doing street photography. High ISO, fast shutter and auto focus are my most common choices. However sometimes in complex scenes I prefer manual focus such as when I have some foreground distractions such as people walking by which will easily confuse any autofocus system.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of these images. Many of these I’ve never shared before. If you are interested this is link to some of my street photography which I’ve not shared before. They are for me like a private collection that I come back to and enjoy from time to time. And the more I look at them the more I want to go back out and try it again. Street photography keeps me on my toes, both in terms of my gear and in terms of being aware of the busy scenes all around. And perhaps the most satisfying thing of all is that I’m always surprised at what I come back with. Try it sometime, put yourself in a busy location and just let the magic happen, you will most certainly come home with some real gems.

Adventures in Florida

About a month ago I took a jaunt to the jungles of Myakka River State Park about forty minutes away. It was after heavy rains and I was there to look for some new images. The atmosphere was absolutely AMAZING. Everything other than the roads was flooded. And throughout the whole park there was an eerie silence. Maybe because of the humidity that hung in the air, maybe because I seemed to be the only fool photographer in the park, I’m not sure. But from a photographic perspective it was spell binding. That, combined with the solitude was like a waypoint between two worlds. I took photos at various points and just before leaving I stopped at a trailhead near the park exit.

Overflowing water from the river flattened the grasses across a submerged trail
Overflowing water from the river flattened the grasses across a submerged trail

This image shows the path partially submerged as it led away from the road and reemerged only inches above the overflowing river. The water from the river overflowing the path had flattened the grasses as seen here. A mixture of fascination and curiosity got the best of me and I decided to follow it into the jungle.

It was eerily quiet, I was alone, and my senses became heightened. I could hear a twig snap two hundred yards off. My mind kept running through the risk verses reward argument as I wondered if I was crossing the line. It was perhaps a little risky; if I fell in the water it could be bad.

As the park is in central Florida, it is a sanctuary for alligators. Not just a few, five hundred or more in the lake and surrounding rivers, like the one I was following upstream. My idea was that I wanted to get that low angle perspective of the water in the flooded river and so was looking for a vantage clear of foreground obstacles along the bank of the river. I stopped a few times to still my breath and listen. I warily proceeded, slowly and alert, and then it happened. Out of nowhere I heard a splash in the forest perhaps thirty meters away.


The jungle floor was flooded from the recent heavy rains
The jungle floor was flooded from the recent heavy rains

The forest floor was covered in about a foot of water and whatever made that splash was substantial, …not a twig. Frozen, heartbeat elevated, I strained with my eyes and ears, peering into the shadowed thick forest for any signs of movement. Nothing. Determined, I continued at a much slower pace, looking for that bend in the river to set up. Then, I heard it, …the sound of a bullfrog. (Lesson break: for those of you not familiar, male alligators make a sound just like a bullfrog.) If you hear that sound, and you are home and not near a body of water, it’s probably a bullfrog, no need to put your drink down. If, on the other hand, you are in a state park that is an alligator sanctuary, and just had heavy rains, and the rivers are flooded then it maybe, just maybe it’s not a bullfrog. The difference between the two sounds is resonance. Bullfrogs are small. Large four hundred pound twelve foot long reptiles produce a deep resonance that cannot be produced by an animal the size of a fist. The sound I was now listening to had a wonderful resonance.

So, here I am, in the jungle, looking for a composition, faced with a decision, do I get my shot or get the hell outta Dodge. At this point I’m thinking that last bend in the river a few meters back might of had some overlooked potential. To continue walking upriver for a better bend might just be the equivalent of pizza delivery for reptiles. Therefore I walked back a few paces to the previous bend in the river and setup my tripod. I figured that as long as I could hear him, I was probably okay. It meant he was stationary (so I reasoned), I really have no clue. I was born and raised in California, I was a boy scout; I backpacked and hiked a lot, I feel at home in the mountains. Put me in the swamps and jungles of Florida and I’m no better than the next Wal-Mart shopper. Strike that, I’m probably worst because I don’t know what I don’t know.

About a month ago I visited Myakka River State Park after some heavy rains. It was an adventure since the park is a sanctuary for alligators and the whole time that risk verses rewards debate was roaring in my head. In general I'm not one for taking risks to get a good shot, it's just not worth it. Having said that there are times when common sense takes a temporary leave and I cross that line anyway. This image is at a bend in an overflowing river. The rains had just stopped and there was a break in the clouds that created an enchanting scene, and fortunate for me I lived to tell about it. For the full story, check out the latest post on the blog.
I settled for this bend in the river to capture the water overflowing it’s banks

Obtain Print

So anyway, I composed the shot and captured the image above and just about that time my sanity came running along and caught up to me. Basically she asked what it was on Gods green earth did I think I was doing? The fact that I had to think a moment meant I didn’t have a good answer. So with sanity leading the way I made a hasty retreat to the trailhead and into the car. Well, not that hasty. Just before I climbed into the car I snapped this selfie.

I think this last bit of documentation was probably a fool’s errand. I half thought that a ranger would later find the phone and the selfie and my disappearance would be satisfactorily explained and the search called off. Fortunate for me that never occurred and despite my questionable decisions I lived to see another day.

My Experience in The Arcanum

About a year ago I joined The Arcanum. Since that time I have been on a journey towards artistic mastery. I’m going to do my best to relate my experiences over the last year. This post is a little long but I’ve tried to distill the aspects of The Arcanum that have had the most impact on my photography and me as a person. In reality it’s a story of a personal journey that I’m on and perhaps as you read this you can relate to it in your own way.

What is The Arcanum?

Trying to write a sentence describing The Arcanum is a challenge. I wanted to start this paragraph with something like, “The Arcanum is an on-line Academy”, …or “The Arcanum is a school of artistic mastery”, but in each case it falls a little short of the mark. The premise of The Arcanum is the brainchild of photographer and entrepreneur Trey Ratcliff along with Peter Giordano and Curtis Simmons. As best I can describe it is to say it’s an opportunity to do something really amazing. I know that sounds vague so let’s try and get to the root of it, at least as far as my own experience goes.

A girl sits on the seawall and talks on the phone in St Petersburg Florida.

The basic premise is that it’s a school of artistic mastery based on a master apprentice relationship. Long story short, you apply, are considered, get accepted and then begin a journey of artistic mastery. In reality there are a many more dimensions. For instance the selection of a master is a two way street. You play just as much a role in the selection of your master as does the master in selecting you. And before I go too far, let me describe what a master is. A “master” is someone who has demonstrated mastery in a particular field and has a gift or talent for teaching others. In my own personal worldview the term “master” conveys a certain amount of honor on that person and in order for it to work it requires a requisite amount of humility on the part of the apprentice. This forms the basis of a trust bond that becomes a crucible for self-transformation.

I think it’s fair to say The Arcanum is best known for photography, that’s how it started out, but in reality it’s a platform that can be applied to other endeavors, which it now does. I suspect it could also be applied to things beyond artistic pursuits, but I digress.


My journey

A few weeks ago I stopped by this beach in Key Largo. It seemed like a remote island hideaway and I couldn't help but hear the Beach Boys singing in my head. I wonder if that happens to everyone that comes here. Nevertheless, the water was warm and calm and the breeze just right. Ah dang, there it goes again in my head. I better go look at a parking lot or it'll keep playing.When I started in The Arcanum I already considered myself an advanced photographer, meaning that I knew about F-stops, shutter speed, focal length and basic composition. In fact I had already started a photography business selling and licensing prints and images. So this is where the story gets a little personal. Remember what I said about humility? Despite the need to have an open mind, I had some preconceptions about what I needed to learn and what I had to do to get better. Hindsight is 20/20 and in retrospect that was a mistake. What I thought I knew was a little incomplete which, if not addressed would have held me back from my goal. What was my goal? It was and still is to become a fine art photographer and produce images that have a certain aesthetic quality.

When I joined The Arcanum I became a member of a cohort, a group of people assigned to a master (more on that later). Individually we each work on projects and complete challenges and which culminates in a moment of truth when the master critiques our work. If you are not used to having your photos critiqued the experience can be a little daunting. It involves vulnerability and a bit of surrender to whatever comes next. My early critiques where hard for me because the composition, tones and details of my images were not to the liking of my master, at least not as much as I expected. Even so I did pass the test but felt slightly wounded. I thought some of my images were good and should’ve been received better. That sent me into a little bit of a funk for about a month or so as I privately seethed at my master for being so inconsiderate. Looking back, I have to chuckle to myself. Of course he was absolutely right, I just wasn’t prepared to accept it. I think a quality of a good master / teacher / mentor is the ability to point out areas of improvement even when the person might not want to hear it. It takes experience and a certain amount of backbone.

I continued with the challenges and assignments, only now I had the fresh memory of the things the master had pointed out. For the sake of this article I’ll mention one, although there were more. My images were consistently over saturated, which if you are not familiar with the term, means the colors were too bright. There’s nothing wrong with bright colors if used correctly, just that it didn’t work with my images. Also, it’s a scientific fact that the cones in our eyes become stressed from bright light and look for relief in less saturated areas. Going forward I started pulling back on saturation a little and continued submitting my images for review. The method is basically summed up as; lather, rinse, repeat.


The cohort and the culture of feedback

I'd been looking for a good vantage point to get the whole of downtown Sarasota in my lens and finally found it here at the southern tip of Lido Beach. Because this body of water is mostly behind a key, it's normally calm and glassy. The other nice thing about it is that in the late afternoon this is a deserted spot, so you pretty much can walk along the shore in solitude and peace. Don't tell anyone but I think I found the perfect spot.This is where the cohort comes in. Most of the interaction I have in The Arcanum is with fellow apprentices. The cohort is a safe place to receive feedback on my work. My fellow apprentices are in the same boat, they are striving to get better and there is an expectation that everyone will do their best to provide honest constructive feedback. Everyone has different tastes and talents, so if I have a specific goal for an image, I can say so and the feedback from my fellow apprentices becomes more focused. Now this is where the magic starts to happen. As I get feedback, as I practice creating images, my images begin to change. Not all at once, but in perceptible increments.

However, I still wasn’t convinced; I believed my images were already good, yet I went along with the suggestions and applied the changes anyway. And then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, I started to appreciate the changes. Fast forward a few months and I noticed my tastes were beginning to change as well. Through practice and reflection, I was beginning to acquire something I had been missing all along, an eye for detail, composition and visual story telling. Keep in mind, not only was I receiving feedback on my images; I was offering it to fellow apprentices. Its one thing to receive it, but an entirely different matter when you must formulate constructive thoughts in a vocabulary you’re not accustomed to. This is one of the most important things I learned in the first year of The Arcanum; visual literacy. At first it was an awkward experience for me. But the more feedback I offered, the better I became at being able to do it; not just discussing other people’s images but gaining enough courage and detachment to begin looking at my own images with a critical eye. This is a very important life lesson for me as I continue on my path towards fine art.


Finding my vision

This tree is a favorite of mine especially if I can manage to get here before dawn. It's on a little island park in Sarasota and if you get here at this hour you have the whole placate yourself. I took another shot of this tree from a different angle several years ago and I'm sure than in several years from now I'll come back and do it again. Some things I'll just never get tired of. Here is the link to the old version: is another side effect of this process of feedback and improvement, finding your vision. The bold confidence and abandon that came through in my earlier work was shaken, I was less certain, more cautious, almost tentative. I didn’t know it at the time but I was in the process of breaking through to a new level.

If you climb a cliff for the first time you may be all vim and vigor at the bottom. As you climb higher you might look down and become aware of your height and suddenly you become self-conscious and your next step becomes trickier. But if you practice rock climbing everyday, soon your movements will become measured and deliberate whether you are on the bottom or two hundred feet off the ground.

Through the process of critiques as well as giving and receiving feedback, I began to feel comfortable with my own vision. Now for the first time in my life I could communicate it with words, and because I practice at it daily it grows stronger. Rinse, lather, repeat. The more I participated in the process, the more I gain confidence in my photography in a way that can weather the thoughts and opinions of others. I am learning to hold true to what is important to me in a way that is open to change and involves self-reflection. Hmmm, no one ever taught me that in school. To be honest I am still evolving and learning and I hope it will always be so. However finding my vision and the ability to follow it is another of the big takeaways I get from The Arcanum.


The Ringling Bridge connects Sarasota to a series of keys that stretch northward ending in Anna Maria Island. So whether you take the bridge and end up there or start at Anna Maria and end up here, it's going to be a nice drive. I live about fifteen miles north of here, and even though there are quicker ways to get home, once a week I'll take this drive to let the good energy from the ocean wash over me. Scientifically we might say there are a lot of negative (read good) ions. Ions and energy aside, I took this picture at sunrise today and I really lucked out with the colors in the sky. Maybe thats what the good ions look like.The Arcanum is setup with a lot of interaction, facilitated through hangouts where we talk, chat and get to know each other. Having graduated from one cohort, I am now in a second more advanced cohort. It is my experience that each cohort develops a fiercely strong sense of camaraderie and community. It’s amazing to witness and even more amazing to be a part of. Add to that, from time to time we get together in person. We’ll meet up at some event, a photowalk, a trip sponsored by a master, and the bonds become even stronger. What occurred is that I gradually realized I was part of a community; a global community of like minded people who want nothing more than to go take pictures. And did I mention humor? This doesn’t have to be all serious business, and so we often just goof around and banter back and forth with silly nonsense. There also tends to be a lot of humor in cohorts, not a day passes when someone or something shared just cracks me up.

The people I’ve met and continue to meet and interact with just blows my mind. Since joining The Arcanum I have developed quality friendships with people I would never have met otherwise. We share in the ups and downs of our creative lives and believe me its not all ups. We’re all human and when we invest ourselves in an art form we at times find ourselves riding an emotional roller coaster. When I hit the dips the folks in the cohort are there to listen and oddly enough, understand. When I hit the highs it’s high-fives all around. What ends up happening is we each participate in each other’s creative journey. And then more of our lives begin to spill into the cohort and before I know it I have new sisters and brothers, entrusted with a part of me that’s akin to family. That is an amazing thing. Art is a human expression, an expression of our souls, and so when we create art with others the level of interaction is truly breathtaking. I for one consider myself fortunate to be a part of my cohort.

My motivation

This is another long exposure of an old pier at Gasparilla Island State Park in Boca Grande. There's something about making time stand still that I find appealing. In any case, this is one of the last images I took before smashing my camera on the seawall. Don't ask, it was my fault. Lucky for me I had an extended warranty and Sony fixed it good as new. Now that I have my camera back I'm going to look for more of these images, only this time I'll stay off the seawall.I know this is a rather long post but I’ve been ruminating on this for a while now. This is a post that has been waiting to be written. Before I wrote it I wanted to be sure I understood well enough the journey I was on and the role that The Arcanum played. Now, after having been apart of The Arcanum for over a year I feel I have seen and experienced enough to share a bit of that with you. I’m not associated with The Arcanum in anyway other than as an apprentice. I’m not trying to recruit apprentices or anything like that. The Arcanum is not for everyone and some reading this may have different experiences or opinions. I find that I get out of The Arcanum in proportional to what I put in. For me, artistic expression through photography is a real lifelong passion and so it’s a no-brainer that I invest myself into this. In truth, I really don’t have the time for The Arcanum; I’m too busy in my normal day-to-day challenges. But I do it anyway because of what it means to me and what I’ve gained in return. This is my story of reciprocity.


Final note

It's not uncommon to see a Spoonbill along the side of the road here in Florida.I’m sure by now you get that for me The Arcanum a life changing experience and an exciting community to be a member of. There are amazing people involved and to be able to rub shoulders with them is pretty cool. I’ve already mentioned the founders and as well there are other stars of the industry you would surely recognize. But for me what is perhaps even more exciting is the talent among the apprentices. I see on a daily basis talent so amazing that I often ask myself why I’m even in the same group. These artists are people from other professions including doctors, authors, hair stylists, business owners and moms raising kids. As well there are a good number of professional photographers that are also apprentices. In fact, some of the masters are apprentices also.

I am astounded at the depth of experience around me. The level of the work being produced in The Arcanum is beyond belief, and some of these people have little or no social media profile, so chances are you don’t even know they exist. Their work should be hanging in museums around the world, its that good.
I think what I’m saying is that all of this has a tendency to rub off on me. It motivates me to keep pushing myself beyond my comfort level, to expand my concept of who I am and what I can do. If you ask me that’s the key to growth, as a creative and as a human being.

Rick’s Story in a Nutshell


Up until now this website has been a place for me to share my photography. For a few years now I’ve been sharing a daily photo and writing a few thoughts to go along with it. I really enjoy sharing my passion for photography with you so thanks for stopping by. Starting today I’m going to add another dimension to it in the form of a longer posts about photography. It just seems like a fun thing to do and the next step in the evolution of my photography. It’s easy to follow me and my photos daily. Everyday I posts to my portfolio here (and the menu above) as well as a lot of social media sites.

So, without further adieu, here we go.

To start I thought it might be a good idea to share a little about myself, an introduction if you will.

About me

Even though I do photography almost every day I am still learning all the time. Anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture, like making a meal. How it turns out depends on your skills, experience and tastes. Along the way I’m learning a few tricks and techniques that reflect my own tastes and vision. There is always more to know. I relish the journey and the everyday learning and experiences that photography brings me.

Heaven knows there are a lot of folks that write about photography, from the details of the gear, techniques to improve, to inspired writings on photography as art. So why would I write want to add to all that? As I share my experiences I suspect I’ll learn more through the process of writing it down and sometimes you’ll connect with what I have to say, and through that we’ll create a bond and sense of community.

So who am I, this man behind these photos? Well my name is Rick Schwartz. I am married to a lovely lady, I have a grown son who has his own career, and I love animals; I have a cat and a dog who are my two best friends.

I'm posting this to remind myself to get outside after it stops raining. That's when we get great light and as everyone knows, photographers love unusual shades and hues of light. Right after a storm is one of those times. In any case, this was taken in the morning after an evening of rain and with any luck I'll get out again today or tomorrow morning for some similar shots. In the meantime, have a great day everyone.I live in Florida, which becomes obvious when you see some of my photos. However I was born and raised in California. For my formative years I lived in or near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I was a Boy Scout and as I grew up I camped and backpacked quite a bit. That instilled in me a love for the outdoors that I still have and which helps explain my love of landscape photography.

As a teenager I discovered computer programming and for whatever reason I was good at it. That later turned into a career that continues to this day. When I’m writing software I get to a place in my head where time seems to stand still. Hours can pass before I know it. For me writing software it’s not only about solving a problem, it’s also about aesthetics. I know this is going to sound strange, but I strive to create computer code that is pleasing to look at. You’re probably scratching your head wondering how software can be pleasing to look at. Well, if you think about it, you could apply that same idea to just about anything. An architect can come up with an elegant design, a chef can create a gourmet dish and a computer programmer can write beautiful code.

I write programs my grandmother (rest her soul) could read. I take problems and decompose them and then rearrange the blocks in a simple, logical, step-by-step way that creates an elegant solution to something that started out looking really hard. This is a creative process and it’s the part of my career that I enjoy and get a lot of satisfaction out of. This is a way of thinking, it’s how I’ve trained my mind, and I believe that some of that same creativity and appreciation for aesthetics carries over into my photography.
Regarding my personality I’m a little shy and reserved. I gravitate to things that keep me out of the limelight. I’m not sure where I get that, but I think half of us are outgoing and the other half reserved. But really it’s more varied than that. When teaching programming or working with a client I can seem outgoing and talkative. So we all have different aspects to ourselves, but if I had to boil it all down to a single word I would be shy or reserved, yet occasionally outgoing when the need arises.

Having said that, when I write about something as creative as photography, my thoughts and musings are a little freer to come out. So you’ll pick up things about me along the way, that’s inevitable. Whether it’s a photo, a caption or a longer story about my passion for photography, you won’t have to look too far to pick up on who I am and what I’m thinking.

How did I get into photography?

I was thinking about this the other day and mentioned it to my wife. She said something I didn’t expect, that I always had it in me. Like so many other things, I think she was right. I always had a love of photography but it was forgotten for a long while.

Years ago in the 1980s I used to shoot and develop film. I had a dark room and all the equipment I needed to process film and produce prints. I use to love to take pictures of people, streets and landscapes. When I lived in California I would go to Yosemite to take photos of the waterfalls. When I lived in Long Island in New York and I remember taking pictures of the sailboats along the shore, villages and occasionally portraits. It was a big effort to maintain the equipment and a darkroom, but I was hooked, it was a passion and I did it as much as I could. As I moved from city to city for my career in software, all of the equipment and artifacts of photography slowly fell away. Life moved in, I moved on. The passion receded as I became involved in life, friends, career and family. When cameras started going digital there was a lot of hype that it would replace film. But like all hype, the reality took longer It's warm and humid here in central Florida and this evening the clouds were heavy and thick. So I headed over to the Skyway Bridge to capture this. As I was here some dolphins swam by, ships passed under the bridge, and pelicans looked for scraps from the fishermen. All in all, just another lazy Sunday realize. Fast-forward to today and of course it’s a completely different world.

One night a few years ago while sitting up in bed trying to fall asleep I was browsing the Internet on my iPad. I ran across some photos by Trey Ratcliff. Whatever photo I first saw intrigued me because I pressed the next button, then I did it again, and again and again. I became spellbound by what I was seeing in photo after photo. I clicked to his website and came to realize that what I was looking at was digital photography with post processing. Sometime during the last couple of decades it became possible to create beautiful digital photography. Actually, knew it was possible, I have a friend that has shot digital for years, but for whatever reasons it never really registered with me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. However now it finally hit me that the hype had finally turned to reality. So night after night I would go back at stare at those landscape photos, I thought it was pretty cool. At that time I didn’t realize it but the long forgotten passion inside was beginning to stir once again.

Also, around the same time, I was traveling a lot for my job. At night I’d be back at the hotel, working out in the gym, reading books or walking around for exercise. For a while now I was feeling like something was missing or that I was out of step with something. As I analyze it now, I realize that this feeling had been percolating just under the surface for years. It’s an odd feeling but I think many of us feel it at one time or another. Yet I still couldn’t put my finger on it so I paid it little heed. This is just about the time when it all came together for me, most certainly because I was just about ready for it.

The epiphany

One night I had an epiphany that forced the subject of photography to the forefront. I was reading a book from an author by the name Anita Moorjani entitled Dying to Be Me. In the book she chronicles her personal journey overcoming cancer. It’s a transformative story and I highly recommend it whether or not you’ve struggled with disease. Now I’m paraphrasing, but in the book she said that our true nature is an unstoppable creative energy, and that if we don’t let it flow out of us, it can turn in on itself which can lead to problems, health or otherwise. Her life is a living testament to this and it struck a chord with me and resonated in a powerful way.

Every time I drove between Tampa and Orlando I'd see this under construction. Finally completed I made it a point to stop here to get a closer look. From an architectural perspective there isn't anything in the region that compares, an icon of design and innovation.It’s funny because I can still remember the feeling I had when I read it, it was an “ah ha” moment. Certainly others have said similar things in similar ways, but for me, at that exact moment, it just clicked (no pun intended). My very next thought was that my creativity had been stifled in the process of living my life, that I had a passion for photography and that it was a creative force inside me that most certainly needed to flow again. I didn’t think, “oh that’s nice, I should do photography, wouldn’t it be nice?” No, it was an undeniable statement coming from inside me. I might sound a little strange I’ll admit. But with that affirmation of what I was about to do, creative energy started flowing inside of me once again. It was a quite a rush because it felt final and I was so excited I could not sleep that night.
Seeing Trey’s photos and reading Anita’s words reawakened creative energy that I already had inside. To this day, just like that evening in the hotel, I continue to get charged up about photography. I have to be careful because if I start looking at photos just before I go to bed it’s like drinking a double espresso. My mind starts running a million miles a minute and sleep is impossible. It’s funny and yet it’s just one indication of how photography affects me. There’s a lot more but these are the Cliff notes.

That’s how I got back into photography. I have always loved it, and for me it’s a way to be creative. Fast-forward from that night to now and a lot has happened. Photography is back in my life and it has become a business as well that goes by the name Just Enough Focus. I license images and sell prints, but I have kept the business to a minimum for the time being while I work on some things behind the scenes. I lean more towards the artistic pursuit of the medium and I have a few ideas as to where I’ll take it, or should I say, where it will take me.


That’s me in a nutshell, at least as it relates to photography. Photography is an all-consuming passion, and the more I feed the muse the stronger Mountain lakes are peaceful first thing in the morning. On this morning I was lucky enough to get a few colors of the sunrise as well as the calm water. That's Mount Edith Cavell in the distance which has a big glacier that hangs precariously over a small lake. However there are no glaciers around this lake and so the water is clear without the typical aqua blue which is typical of glacier fed gets. Is that cool or what?

So this was the first of my expanded posts. Now that we have the how-do-you-do’s out of the way I can get down to the business of writing about what I love to do. I have a few ideas of what I’ll write about next, ideas and thoughts that are just waiting to get out. Rest assured it will be something fun and maybe we will all learn a little something together.

Catch you on the flip side!