Sunday, September 19, 2021



Surrealism is for those who have no boundaries; who can easily get out of their comfort zone; who can see the beauty, and art, in the unfamiliar. Salvador Dalí, to me, is the godfather of surrealism. Most folks are familiar with his melting clock in the desert--The Persistence of Memory.

Surrealism can be confusing, perplexing, and uncomfortable. It's the juxtaposition of the unexpected; the coming together of concepts or ideas we might not even fathom. The old TV show, The Twilight Zone, had a lot of surrealism, as did the old Alfred Hitchcock shows. 

Think of something you don't think about. That's hard to do, right? If you don't think about it, how can you think about it? That sentence alone is an example surrealism. 

Surrealism makes us say, "What the.....?" "What am I looking at?" "How in the world.....?" 

With that introduction, I will now share some of my images that fall under the category of surrealism, as I explain what you're looking at and what attracted me to photograph it or to create it.

I'll start with something simple, like a vase in the desert. Well, it's not actually in the desert, but it looks like a desert. It's actually in the high plains of Colorado. 

What makes this image surreal is that the viewer sees it out of context-- a large clay pot in the middle of nowhere. Clay pots belong inside homes, or in front of a house, or in the backyard, but not in the desert. It is out of context, unless you took the picture and know why it's there. The ornate pot is actually part of the early stages of an RV campground owner's plans to revamp the campground. He had graded part of the hillside and placed the pot there temporarily until he decided where it was going to be as part of his master plan. In the meantime he had just left it there until whenever.  

Here, you see what appears to be a blue-tinted mountain scene with a lake running through it. But, wait. There is a window in the landscape. That window/landscape incongruency is what categorizes this image as surreal. We don't associate the word "window" with "landscape."

So, what is it, really? Someone painted a mural on the side of an abandoned building. The artist painted the mural around the window on the building's facade. 

You would think subjects like boots would not be interesting subjects to photograph, unless it's for a commercial shoot or opening gifts at Christmas. When we think of boots we don't think of silver-studded boots--and therein lies the surrealism. Are these boots made for walking? 

Similar to studded boots, how about a sequined telephone? Oh yeah, now that is surreal.

This doorway was part of what remained of an old decaying ice plant. The surrealism to me was obvious--what used to be the interior of the building had become part of the exterior of the building, with trees growing inside! 

It was a cold, cold winter in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I went into my favorite local coffee shop, Moca Molly's, which doesn't exist anymore. I went to the restroom before I ordered. I had my camera with me because I had done some shooting that morning. Before I "took care of business," I locked the door behind me, set up my tripod and photographed what I ended up titling, "It's A Jungle In There." Too bad that surreal mural doesn't exist anymore! 

Now, here's an interesting surreal scene. Look closely. Yes, We're Open--really? Welcome-- wow, what a welcome! Office Staff Parking--wow, you really treat your office staff that well, huh? 

Can you see it? Do you see the surreaism in this scene? The words "Open" and "Welcome" are incongruent with the less than well-kept office staff parking area.

This last example was inspired by Salvado Dalí's Christ of St. John of the Cross, and is part of my current photo art project, "Renditions of Famous Paintings." My book about this project will be released in 2022. Stay tuned for that informational, educational, and entertaining read.

So, go out there and look for those slices of life that most of us overlook, disregard, or just simply take for granted. Look for the unexpected; things that are totally out of context; the surreal.

Feel free to ask me any questions about the subject of surrealism or about my project and upcoming book. 

Eli Vega, Photo Artist  






Wednesday, August 11, 2021


We restrict, stifle, our creativity when we label the things we see around us. A tree is a good example.

The label "tree" doesn't sound very appealing in terms of something to photograph. However, when we peal the label(s) off, we begin to see what's left when it's no longer a tree.

If we photograph colors, shapes, designs, texture, lines, patterns, and even feelings, all of a sudden we see much more than a tree or trees. When we take that approach to photographing trees, or anything else for that matter, the trees themselves become secondary, thus resulting in more interesting images. If it isn't a tree, what's left to be?

This month I am sharing what I have done with trees when I don't see them as "trees." You'll see what's left to be.

This scene looked better in black and white. There's a feeling; a mood here. Is that a path? A trail? Where does it lead. Just those few thoughts take this image beyond "trees."

When it comes to photography, the eyes see too much, which leaves us waiting for something to hit us between the eyes and yell, "Here I am!" What we're not looking at is often more interesting than what we are looking at. 

My intuition told me there was something down there. I had to walk down this slope to really see what my intuition was trying to tell me.


The winter season exposed this tree's unique personality--all those extensions and branches reaching out in all directions. The mood led me to change my WB to florescent, which gave me the cool blue hues.

I was leading a winter workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. All my students were walking around this tree, looking for something to hit them between the eyes. Only one  student stopped to see what what had caught my attention. I explained that this would be a good B&W image, especially if we under exposed it. I underexposed it by 2 stops, or 200% less than what my built-in light meter thought I needed for a "correct" exposure. The one student followed suit, saying that he was glad I had pointed it out.

I was shooting around the Maroon Bells area in Colorado in the fall. I found this reflection of aspens in the lake. We miss what we don't see. 

I found this awesome grove of aspens between Aspen, Colorado and the ghost town of 
Ashcroft. The repeating patterns of vertical whites really appealed to me. I could have converted this to a B&W, but I liked the contrast between nature's greens and colorless whites. 

This was an amazing find. I went out there to photograph an old church. I had photographed it before, but I was curious as to what it might look like under different lighting. Across the old church was a lake, with this great composition just waiting for me. 

I was leading another workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. Now, for this kind of image, you really need to be looking at what you're not looking at. I know, that sentence sounds crazy, right. I stared out onto Sprague Lake and saw some reflections in it. I decided to do something I am known to do. I knew I was going to photograph the reflections, but show them upside down! That is what you are seeing. The bottom sliver is the real landscape; all that green area is a reflection of the trees above the landscape--the whole thing turned upside down, or right side up, depending on how you see it. 

I'll conclude this series with this extremely interesting, colorful, and surreal image. I saw this scene from the corner of my eye as I drove between Hot Springs, Arkansas and Benton, Arkansas, on Hwy 5. I just had to turn around and get a closer look. In many respects, trees look more interesting in winter--you see branches reaching for each other instead of a sea of green leaves. The floor of reds and yellows were a great addition to the trees.

So, next time you go out with your camera, look for shapes, forms, patterns, lines, colors, and, yes, mood. Let the trees, as we know them, be the backdrop to everything else. Have fun! 

All images on my blogs are available as fine art prints. 

Contact me for private 1-on1 ZOOM lessons. 


Thursday, July 22, 2021


For my tip this month, I am going to give you all the details up front, then show you several examples of fireworks. All of my samples came from one shoot, this past Fourth of July over Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado, 2021. 

Several years ago, I photographed their Fourth of July fireworks and was extremely impressed. I didn't know it until after the fact that they had commissioned the same company for 2021. They outdid themselves! I thought they did a great job before, but this year was the best I've seen--ever, and anywhere. I have photographed fireworks in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, and Branson, Missouri.

Okay, so now that I have shared my excitement, let me talk about the techniques I use to create my fireworks images. First, shake off the notion that you're going for perfection. No. This is more art than science. Some of the 'works will be outside your viewfinder's view; some will be a little too high; some a little too low; some to the left. That said, my first tip is shoot, shoot, and keep shooting. However, don't be amateurish and just throw spaghetti on the wall, hoping some of it will stick. I am going to show you how to be artistically calculated; not random. 

First, you need a tripod. Sorry, but you will need a good tripod. Not super expensive; just good-- not wobbly. It should extend four-five feet high, or higher, depending on your height. You need one that allows you to quickly adjust from vertical to horizontal, so you can vary your shots during the display. Most displays last from 15-20 minutes or so.  

Cable Release.
I strongly recommend a good, reliable, quick, cable (or remote) release.
Lens. I recommend a zoom lens so you can be zooming in and out as needed. Obviously, if you are far away from the action, you'll need a stronger focal length. I like to be close to the action, like across the lake, where I was at Lake Estes. Throughout the evening, I used a range of 18mm to 40mm, with an APS sensor.
F/Stop. I like to shoot with a range of f/8-f/11. Why? As carefully as I manually focus where I think the 'works are going to explode, I'm never quite sure, so, that range of f/stop will assure me that everything will be nicely focused. For my Lake Estes shots, I kept mine at f/11 throughout the display. F/11 also keeps a lot of the fireworks from being overexposed. 
Shutter Speed. I always use the BULB setting--that becomes my "shutter speed," as I'll explain later. 
Exposure. Again, the BULB setting also serves as my "exposure."
Image Format. Believe it or not, I have always shot all my firework displays in JPEG  large).   I set my Picture Control to VIVID (your camera might have a different designation).   

TECHNIQUE. Now that I have shared the left brain stuff, now let me share what I do once I have all the left brain stuff taken care off. I first wait until the first display--that gives me a hint as to where they have their equipment aimed, knowing that some will be off a little from that point. That is why I use wide focal lengths. I'd rather get a little more space than I need, then  crop my images a little later, if I need to. I vary my focal lengths, positioning of my camera, and switching from horizontal to vertical during the evening. 

Now, you might ask, what about that BULB setting? I usually take with me an opaque piece of material-- a camera manual, folded copy paper, etc. The key point is to take something to use as an improvised "lens cap." It needs to cover the lens in-between each fireworks display. This fourth of July, I thought I had my usual material in my camera bag, but I didn't! What to do? I used my hand instead. Hey, whatever works! The purpose of a piece of material, or hand, is that it becomes my "shutter speed." 

Here is how I use my hand (or piece of paper) as my "shutter." For example, I have my hand carefully in front of my lens, so it won't receive any light. THEN:
1) I see a beautiful display go up in the sky. I take my hand away from the front of the lens and trigger my cable release at the same time. Right before the display dissipates, I cover the lens again with my hand, BUT I don't let go of the cable release--thus the shutter in the camera is still open. I then see another colorful explosion. I take my hand away again, then cover my lens again when that second display begins to dissipate. Then I take my finger off my cable release. I have, in essence, created a double exposure, combining two displays!
2) I repeat the above process, but this time I do it for three firework displays, just to be different. Now, I've created a triple exposure. I've combined three displays in the same image! 
3) I then repeat the above process, but just do it for one burst/display.

I go back and forth between steps 1-3 above during the course of the evening, getting one, two, or three firework bursts in my images. It's fun, exciting, and can even be jaw-dropping.

Software fine-tuning. Most folks today call it "post processing." Actually, this process I follow requires only a little fine-tuning. All I do is crop (if necessary), burn, or dodge--darken some areas or lighten some areas of the images.

As Forrest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." 

So, with that, I hope you enjoy seeing samples of my 2021 Lake Estes fireworks. Have fun!

If you turn this one upside down, it looks like a heart!

So, next time you know of your scheduled local fireworks display, keep my notes handy and have fun with it! Your friends will ask, "How did you do that?" It will remain our little secret. 

Contact me for my 1-on-1 ZOOM lessons: 









Friday, May 28, 2021


Old churches and church structures have always fascinated me. Their architectural voices speak to me, which leads me to photograph their essence; their presence, more so than just a single building.

Let's start with a good example of essence. The sunlight entering the structure and painting the stone floor added so much to the character of Concepcíon Mission in San Antonio, Texas.

Also in Texas, east of San Antonio, are several old German "Painted Churches." They are extremely colorful and ornate, as this photo depicts. They didn't go easy on the minute details either.

This beautiful eight-story Buddhist stupa in northern Colorado also got my attention, especially all the offerings in this offering plate. There was a candle, an apple, a tennis ball, and what appears to be an inhaler even. I wish I could talk to everybody who placed an offering and ask them what their offering symbolized. 

San Francisco de Así church, Taos New Mexico. It is probably the most photographed structure in Taos, maybe in all of New Mexico. One article I read said it is the most photographed church in the world. Built in 1772, it was photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by Georgia O'Keeffe. This is my rendition, showcasing the adobe construction, rounded edges and corners, and mystery, It's not what we usually think of when we think of a church. A beautiful structure, inside and out. 

This beautiful Catholic church in Eureka Springs, Arkansas has a Hungarian influence.
The grounds, as well as the structure, has a lot to admire and absorb. I had to use a super- wide 10 mm focal length to get the whole thing in.

St. John's Catholic church is in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I did not expect to see a blue ceiling.
They allowed me to go up to the back balcony where the choir is on Sunday mornings. This view from up high brings out the geometric designs on the ceiling. Most photos, including my own, emphasize mostly the walls, stained glass windows and the alter. 

This beauty, also a Catholic church, is commonly referred to as Chapel on The Rock. It attracts folks with mobile phones, tablets, and digital cameras as they travel south of Estes Park, Colorado on the Peak--to-Peak highway. 

I'll leave you with this jaw-dropping piece of architecture--Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. No nails! The precision on this spiraling staircase is a work of perfection and wonder. It was completed in 1878. You can read more about its dimensions and history here

These beauties are everywhere. Every city has old churches that date anywhere between the 1700s and early 1900s--look for them. Most authorities will let you photograph them, especially is you promise to send them the photos you take. If I can, I like to ask permission, just to remain on the ethical side of things. 

So, get your wide angle lens and tripod and have fun. And remember, you can all the depth-of-field you need with 10mm-17mm lenses without shooting at f/16 or higher! I usually use f/8-f/9.5 with my 10 mm lens. 

And don't forget to wet your fingers with holy water before you start shooting. It could bring you luck. 😊





Thursday, May 13, 2021


It's all around us--ponds, puddles, lakes, dripping water, waterfalls....the list goes on. It's fun to interpret the quality of water, its context, or the feelings it stirs in us. 

One key point to remember is that when I aim my camera at water, it is often very bright, which makes it difficult for the camera's built-in light meter to know what I want. It will try to give me what it thinks I need, but, since it can't think, it doesn't know what I'm after. That could be very troublesome. However, the easy fix is two-fold: I either, 1) Overexpose the shot to give me more needed details in the water and other parts of the scene, OR, 2) I go with the flow and underexpose the scene even more than the meter thinks I need when I want to make the common uncommon, or if I want to create something the eyes can't see.

Here are some examples to show you what I mean.

I'll start with an image from my Impressionism series. If you've taken a class from me or have read my book Right Brain Photography, you know I like creating Impressionism through photography. One way I do that is to photograph only the reflection in a scene, knowing that I'm going to display it (or show it) "upside down." that is exactly what I did for this scene along  Hot Springs Creek in my hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I was captivated by the impressionistic-looking trees reflected in the creek. I chose a high shutter speed (1/350) to make sure I "froze" the movements of the water. It looks like a painting, without spending time with software applications. I get more creative freedom from applying my photographic skills than from applying computer software skills. 

By coincidence, I found this unique scene along the same creek. There was an indention on this big boulder in the middle of the creek which had filled up with water during a recent rain. Surprisingly, it formed a heart shape, which added to the scenario. The boulder was grayish in color. I converted it to black and white to make the water-filled indention stand out even more.

By many accounts, Maroon Bells, near Aspen, are the most photographed subjects in Colorado. You can see why. I have learned that if you want mirror images in lakes, you need to be there early, before the wind kicks up, causing any reflections to get lost in gyrating ripples in the water.

Also in Colorado, south of Breckenridge, are hidden, but beautiful, Blue Lakes. The reflections that day were very surreal in that they looked distorted, ala Salvador Dali. 

Smaller subject reflections also grab my attention. Water lilies have a sensual softness to them; romantic in a way. They're soothing, especially when they are repeated in reflections.
For scenes like this, you have to get down low, very low, in order to pick up the reflections. If you photograph a scene like this from eye level, the reflections are lost under the lily pads--you won't see them.


I like to take what I call my "birthday hikes." That's what I did this particular day. This was such a unique scene, I just had to stop and study it. It was like an abstract painting on canvas, but it was real--right before my eyes. The big rock in the low-level lake added interest and mystique to the scene. A great composition just waiting for me to aim my camera at it.

I will often underexpose a scene to bring out its mysteries and create a bit of artistic drama. 
Such was the case this early morning when I saw the sun just above the trees. I loved the silhoettes against the sunburst reflected on the lake. I underexposed the scene by an additional -2/3 to create the mysterious, ethereal feel to the scene. By the way, I chose an f/stop of f/20 in order to create the sunburst. 

I will end my blog today with this meditative image. This is how I feel when I go into a deep meditative state. Aahhh! I used a soft-producing shutter speed of 1/6 of a second to create this soothing, peaceful feel on Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.

There is water all around you. Go find it and have fun. Even a simple bird bath bowl can have artistic appeal, if you see with your imagination, not your eyes.  



Wednesday, April 14, 2021


The thought of photographing doors and windows may sound boring and mundane. However, if we pick the right doors and windows, they are anything but boring. Some doors leave messages for us to interpret, some look mysterious, some lead us into their inner soul, and some can be pretty artistic. They're out there--we just need to take the labels off and see  what's left for us to photograph. Let me show you what I mean.   

Here are some examples from my travels in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. What's fun about them is that every viewer will have his/her own interpretation, thoughts, and feelings about these doors. What are yours? 

My first three are from New Mexico, starting with this one. According to Native American-related information I have read, the color blue is supposed to keep away evil spirits. I have seen several in Taos and Santa Fe. I found this one along Canyon Street in the art district of Santa Fe.

I found the following two in Taos, New Mexico. 

I saw these two doors on the exterior walls of a historic hacienda. I loved the adobe texture, the color, and that huge pot in the middle. The left door, slightly ajar, adds mystery--why is it partly open? Is there someone inside? What's inside?

I loved the way the blue door in the Taos Pueblo was partly hidden from view. 

This poor door in Broken Bow, Oklahoma was being consumed, taken over, by the surrounding vegetation. You can hardly see it!

These next two are artistic. Someone decided to create art from something as simple as a door.

I loved the palm tree on the door I found in Texas. The door had a lock, and even what appeared to be a maildrop. 

I found a palm tree door in Texas, and a cowboy door in Marble, Colorado. Creative, and fun.

This haunting window was barely hanging on to an aging building in St. Joe, Arkansas. I visited the place two decades later and the entire building was gone! When I photographed it, a local man told me the building had once been a motel, a retail store, and a place where "they" grew marijuana. Who knows the real truth. Regardless, I'm glad I captured its history before it became history. 

This was once a power plant in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I loved the surrealism of this scene. After years, perhaps decades, of abandonment, the outside was inside. 

This is a different kind of window-- looking through the window of a 1940s pickup.
With the old wooden wagon in the background, it was like looking at history through history.

I was in the middle of 1-on-1 field lesson with a student in Hygiene, Colorado when we both saw a window almost at the same time. Before I had a chance to say anything, she yelled out as she stared at the window, proclaiming that that (the window) was the kind of thing she is attracted to, but just didn't know what to do with it. I told her what we were going to do. 

This is the window we both saw. Not much, huh? She wanted to do something with what she  saw with her eyes. I taught her how to extract the hidden art in the splattered paint on the inside of the window, by seeing, not with our eyes, but our imagination. First, composition. I suggested we close in on the middle window because it had some interesting, art-like, abstract patterns. Then I told her that in order to make those patterns "pop," we were going to severely underexpose the scene---by an unbelievable 2-stops! That's equivalent to saying. that we are going to give the middle window 200% less light than the built-in light meter thinks we need. She wasn't sure it was going to work, but, at the end of the shoot we ended up with almost identical images.

And this is what we ended up with--a total abstract from paint splattered on a window. It looks like a Jackson Pollock painting

My last two examples are both from one single mission: Concepción Mission in San Antonio, Texas. It is part of a trail of historic Spanish missions in the city. 

In order to get the best exposure balance between the light hitting the exterior doors and darkness of the room inside, I had to make some careful left brain calculations. I took a "reading" of the interior room wall, then took a reading of the exterior walls. I then used an exposure setting that was in-between those two extremes, and voila! Here is a hypothetical example to help explain what I mean: Let's say the reading on the interior wall gave me 1/30 of a second and the exterior doors gave me a reading of 1/250 of a second. The middle of that range is roughly 1/90 of a second, which is what I would use, then fine-tune it later. 

This door, or doorway, was inside this same Spanish mission. I loved the way the sunlight highlighted the floor along the hallway. Taking the scene from this perspective gave the scene a sense of extreme depth, which gave a three dimensional feel to the flat surface of a photo. 

So, don't let your mind convince you that doors and windows are just that--doors and windows not worth your attention. You might be missing out on some great photos on your walls! They are souls to the past. Have fun!