Ski Mount Stupid

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In Random Thoughts #7 I mentioned how I wanted to create a tee-shirt which read, “Ski Mount Stupid.” A lot of people probably don’t know what that is and, to be honest, I only remember about it when it pops up in an article somewhere.”Ski Mount Stupid” is about the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The effect looks like the image below.

Graph of the Dunning-Kruger Effect
Image taken from Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

The y-axis in the graph is the level of confidence a person as in their knowledge of a topic. The x-axis is the amount of competence a person develops on a topic over time. Confidence begins at zero, but quickly rises to lofty heights in short order. At this point a person will feel that they know everything about a topic and will consider themselves an expert on the subject. This high point is known as “Mount Stupid.”

As more time passes, people who are planted on Mount Stupid begin to realize how little they actually know. As this happens people’s confidence in their knowledge plummets into the “Valley of Despair.” This is an awful place to be, but this is where the journey toward actual competence begins.

I ski Mount Stupid all the time 1, let me share one my more recent examples.

I’ve always loved astronomy, and ever since I took up photography as a hobby I’ve wanted to get out and do some astrophotography. To prepare myself I began watching youtube tutorials on how to set exposure, the maximum shutter speed you can use to avoid star trails, how to prepare RAW files for stacking, and the best applications to do the stacking process. After getting a lens which was ideal for this type of photography I thought I was ready to head out and get some fantastic photographs of the night sky.

It was a disaster.

I knew what the tutorials told me to do, but I had no idea why they were telling me to do what they were telling me to do. It was depressing, I fell into the valley of despair and stepped away for months from trying to do any sort of astrophotography. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to head out to Long Beach Island for a retreat this past January that I dared to try my hand at some astrophotography again. Before I headed out to the beach, I rewatched some of the better tutorials on YouTube and began to ask “Why do they tell me to set it that way?” as I watched. I was confident I’d do a better job.

I didn’t come away in a state of depression after developing these photos. That was an improvement, but the results still didn’t look as good as I hoped.

So I headed out to Long Beach Island again, with an even better understanding of what the tutorials were telling me what to do. I took forty exposures and developed them the way the tutorials told me to do. I was confident I was beginning to understand what was happening and I’d have my decent photos of the night sky at long last. The results were “meh,” and I was ready to just give up. Once again I got stuck in the Valley of Despair.

And then my brain kicked in and I began to look away from “the tutorials say to do this” and instead turn to what little I know about photography. As the light bulb in my head began glow I realized that my photos were over-exposed. And when that clicked for me I began to look at my settings, and adjust them to levels my photo stacker 2 would be able to use. After that, my results were much improved. They still weren’t where I want them to be, because I the photos were way over exposed out of the camera, but I’m at the point where I’m beginning to understand why 3. The upward slope out of the Valley of Despair has been reached 4.

Skiing down Mount Stupid was awful. I’d really been looking forward to using the sky stacker software I purchased, and when things didn’t work out it was not enjoyable. In fact, I would describe the ride down Mount Stupid as, “Frustrating, disillusioning, and often bitter.” It is also, however, necessary. When we come to grips with how little we understand about a topic, we can begin the journey toward wisdom and humble understanding. That’s an amazing ride.

So go ahead, dare to ski Mount Stupid. You’ll probably hate it, but in the end you’ll be glad you did.

Ski Mount Stupid


  1. I’m doing it right now, to be honest. 
  2. I use Starry Sky Landscape Stacker, in case you were wondering. This application takes multiple images and aligns the sky, while keeping the foreground aligned separately (it doesn’t move, after all). The result is a composite image which takes the light from every exposure and combines them. This brings out more detail. 
  3. From what I’m learning, you want them to be a little over exposed. The problem is, the settings all my tutorials were telling me to use were hitting up against East Coast light pollution and blowing my images out. 
  4. At least, I hope. We’ll see.