Chris Eaton, a fine art photographer from Grand Junction, took nighttime photographs in the park from Sept. 4 through 16 as part of its artist residency program.
On Friday, he gave a free presentation on his latest work to a small crowd of campers and Montezuma County residents in the park’s Morefield Campground. He also offered a workshop for photographing the night sky.
Eaton has been taking pictures as a hobby for about 30 years, but he said he started his career as a photographer trying to capture lightning. His focus changed during one storm about six years ago.
“I was shooting this storm, and I wasn’t really paying much attention, but all of a sudden, I looked up and I could see the stars,” he said.
Ever since then, he said, he’s specialized in taking pictures of the night sky, mostly in Colorado and other parts of the Southwest.
Using a projector screen in the darkening campground, he showed many photos that he plans to publish in a book soon, as well some photos he took in Mesa Verde during his residency. Most of them prominently featured the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, the North Star or other prominent celestial objects, often juxtaposed with rock formations in public lands like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah or Death Valley National Park in California.
“You can do so many cool things with geology,” he said.
He said he enjoyed shooting the ruins in Mesa Verde, because they look different depending on the time of year and position of the moon and stars.
While most of his photos focused on nature, several featured objects such as ruins, satellite telescopes or vehicles.
Throughout his presentation, Eaton offered advice for photographers, from safety tips to practical steps to achieving effects like star trails and moonlit landscapes. He also advised photographers to plan ahead and find out where the stars they want to shoot will be in the sky, and reminded the participants to be aware of their surroundings.
After the presentation, about 10 people stayed with Eaton for a hands-on lesson in night photography. Several attendees were able to photograph the Milky Way above Mesa Verde National Park.
Mesa Verde’s next artist in residence will be New Mexico painter Carol Chamberland, who will work in the park from Sept. 18-30. Chamberland also plans to host a free presentation as well as a sketch workshop at 3 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.