Pontiac Starchief Thursday, Oct 18 2012 

Since I talked yesterday about some rusty cars, I thought I’d add another.

Pontiac Starchief

Pontiac Starchief

Most of the cars in the field were covered in rust, but this Pontiac Starchief still had the bright red paint on. Perhaps it wasn’t shiny as before, but it still made it stand out, especially with that massive tail fin.

Again, my Mamiya 645 1000S camera, with expired Kodak Portra 800 film, shot at EI 200 (2 stops overexposed), due to the age of the film.

Ford Truck Smile Wednesday, Oct 17 2012 

I wrote the other day about my Mamiya 645 camera and the fisheye lens I had for it. This is one of the photos I made with it.

Ford Truck Smile

Ford Truck Smile

A local photographer I know suggested that we look for abandoned vehicle lots somewhere south of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The field where we found the Desoto Powerflite was one of such locations, and this was another. It looked as if it was someone’s back yard, and it had a lot of old rusted out trucks and cars that still had some really distinctive design features.

I made a few shots with my normal lenses, but then I wanted to play around with the fisheye. The photo is made from about a foot away from the grille of the truck, and the way the lens curves the lines, it makes it seem like the truck is smiling, like a cartoon character.

In the end, I decided that the fisheye lens is a nice toy, but that my preferences lay on the other end of the focal length scale, in the normal to telephoto range. So I sold the lens for a nice profit and eventually used the money to upgrade to the Mamiya 7 I have now. I have no regrets, but I do have a few fun shots.

Mamiya 645 1000S Monday, Oct 15 2012 

Once I started shooting 35mm film, I found that I was really enjoying the process and the result. Film makes you slow down, think about your shots, and as a result, you usually end up with better photos.

Mamiya 645 1000S

Mamiya 645 1000S

I got greedy, though, and I knew I wanted to get into medium format film. I stumbled upon a great deal on Craigslist and bought this Mamiya 645 1000S camera, with the 80mm lens, for $250. I even got an extra body, along with some knicknacks.

It was heavy and clumsy, and it took some getting used to, especially since there were some minor bugs that I had to learn the hard way. But I enjoyed the simplicity of it – manual focus, manual exposure, split level focus point, and a gigantic viewfinder. Most of all, I liked the huge image area – when the developed slides would come from the lab, it was just beautiful to look at.

Mamiya 645 1000S with the 25mm fisheye lens

Mamiya 645 1000S with the 25mm fisheye lens

I bought two other lenses for it; one was a slightly wider 45mm, which worked brilliantly, and the other was Mamiya-Sekor 24mm f/4 Fisheye ULD C, which was a mouthful to say, and a beast of a lens. It works out to be about 15mm on a regular film format (35mm), which is extremely wide.

I eventually sold all my 645 gear and traded up for the Mamiya 7 that I have now. I wrote a blog post when that camera was only a shy little wish list entry. Mamiya 7 is a 6×7 format, so it is slightly larger than the 6×4.5 format. The camera is also a rangefinder, so it’s more compact and easier to carry around. I’m still enjoying the medium format film, and I think I have a great camera; I may start getting some more lenses for it soon.

Deep Ellum, Dallas, TX Thursday, Oct 11 2012 

I mentioned recently that I had some fun shooting expired Kodak Portra 800 film a few years ago. The film expired in 2003, and the first effect of that was that the film lost at least a stop of light sensitivity. So, I exposed the following rolls at EI 400, which yielded much better results. The colors were still hit and miss – in the Desoto shot I posted earlier, they looked great, but they looked quite muted elsewhere.

Deep Ellum, expired film

Deep Ellum, expired film

In terms of content, the murals in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas depict two blues guitar icons, Robert Johnson, who famously sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads, and John Lee Hooker. The third painting seems to show a Dallas skyline, with a cat resting on the half moon above the city.

Final note: on this occasion, I went on a walk through Deep Ellum with two other local photographers, who were also shooting medium format film. It was one of them who gave me the idea to try developing my own film. The process of developing color print film is much more involved, but developing black and white film turned out to be pretty straightforward.

Desoto Powerflite Thursday, Sep 13 2012 

This is one of my all-time favorite photographic surprises.

A few years ago, I scored a fantastic fisheye lens for the Mamiya 645 medium format camera I was shooting at the time. I only paid $50 for the lens in the used section of a local camera store. For good measure, I bought a 5-pack of expired Kodak Portra 800 film in the 220 format for another $20, I think.

After the first roll was developed, I realized that I needed to severely overexpose the film. Soon after that, I was shooting some old rusted out cars in a field just off the I-35 highway and grabbed this photo of a Desoto Powerflite.

Desoto Powerflite

Desoto Powerflite

Surprisingly, I didn’t have to do much to make the colors pop, even on expired, grainy film. Portra seems like it was a nice emulsion for Kodak, although it seems inconsistent. I even tried the recent 160VC, but the results were very underwhelming.

On this photo, I wish I had composed the telegraph post out of the picture, and at 1/60 there is still some movement in the leaves of grass. I didn’t have my digital on purpose, and I never went back to try again, so this is the only photo I have of the scene, but I really like the way it turned out.

Colors of Lower Antelope Canyon, AZ Thursday, Jul 21 2011 

While I was looking for more photos to post from our trip to Zion National Park, I kept running into some scans from rolls of medium format Fuji Velvia film that I shot in 2009. That year, John, Tyler and I were joined by Scott Jones in our adventures throughout the American Southwest. One of the most satisfying destinations was Lower Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Even if you don’t bring a camera, this stretch of real estate is amazing to behold. It’s a tight slot canyon carved over eons by sand and water, which inexorably pushed through the layers of sandstone. The Lower is much more difficult to navigate than the nearby Upper Antelope Canyon; there are several places where steel ladders were installed to assist the hikers.

The light comes from many dozens of feet above and it is generally reflected back and forth off canyon walls. This brings out a wide palette of colors, which is what this photo attempts to show. There are the fiery oranges where the light is more direct, but as the canyon walls deepen, so do the shades of red and even purple.

Regardless of what I said a few paragraphs earlier, you need to bring a camera here (I brought three!). You also need a tripod, but most of all, bring your sense of focus. It’s easy to get lost in the majesty of this place and snap away. Many of my shots were lost to lens flares or poor composition. And yet, this one stood the test of time – nearly thirty months later, I still find joy in looking at this image.

Note: My Flickr gallery has a few more shots from the Lower Antelope Canyon (“Straight Up“, “Lower Antelope Canyon“), and quite a few more from the Upper Antelope Canyon (“Spotlight“)

Virgin River, Zion National Park Friday, Jul 1 2011 

On our first full day at Zion National Park, Tyler and John and I wanted to take another stab at the Emerald Pool Lakes trail. We had done it a few years ago, but felt we could come back and get some good photos on it. While the jury is still out on some of those photos, after we came back down to the valley, we had time to kill before sunset, so we went to the Riverwalk Trail, at the very end of the canyon.

Record snowfall has turned Virgin river into a raging torrent, much like what we saw in Yosemite a year ago. At the end of the Riverwalk trail is the start of the Narrows, for which Zion is famous for, but the Narrows trail was closed because, well, there was no trail, only a river.

Virgin River

Virgin River

So we took a leisurely stroll, taking our sweet time setting up our gear in between the children and squirrels and other critters roaming around us. With no direct sunlight inside the canyon, we were trying to look at unusual scenes that you wouldn’t normally notice if you looked for grand vistas and bold scenes.

This was shot on Kodak Ektachrome 100 slide film with my medium format Mamiya 645 1000s camera, and, while I had some nice results with this film before, this was just flat and boring. I loved the composition, and the watery blur was in a perfect balance between a milky artificial look and the instant snapshot. There was depth there, and content, but the colors just didn’t work. This was a “maybe”, and that’s how I presented it to Tyler.

Virgin River, before Tyler-ification

Virgin River, before Tyler-ification

He made a few subtle adjustments, some of which are beyond my scope as a digital artist. He made some color enhancement – there was a lot of reflected blue light from the sky, and the green trees now look a lot better against the red canyon walls. He also encouraged the shadows and made the highlights behave. I’m posting the main photo the way he edited it, with the “before” image (direct slide scan) posted smaller, for comparison.

Canyon Stopper, Zion National Park, Utah Tuesday, Jun 28 2011 

Canyon Stopper

Canyon Stopper

My previous post was all about the mouth of the Taylor Creek Canyon in Zion National Park. Tyler and John and I spent a great evening shooting there, but, as I said, we also had a very productive day inside this canyon. As we followed a trail “less traveled by” into the canyon, the scenery continued to get more dramatic.

The canyon starts to narrow quite a bit and the vertical walls of red sandstone close in on top of you as you walk further in. There is a wooded meadow where we fanned out to photograph some really interesting scenes. Tyler in particular has some great shots, inspired by a great photographer Charles Cramer.

For me, not much really came together that day. I was enthralled with the beauty around me, but I seem to be trying too hard to convert it into a photograph. I have some interesting shots of tree canopies against colorful canyon walls (one such shot is presented below), but nothing really jumped at me (except a timid young buck, who really jumped away from me at one point).

Tree Canopy and Canyon Walls

Tree Canopy and Canyon Walls (digital)

But then I got a glimpse of the terminus of the canyon. Although we were already in May, there was a thick cover of snow in the everlasting shade. I kept walking toward the point where I expected the canyon walls to finally join, and then I couldn’t walk any further, because a massive boulder authoritatively announced that this is where the canyon ends.

I stuck my tripod in the snow until I felt it was solid enough to hold my medium format Mamiya 645. This was shot on Fuji Velvia 50 slide film, and yet again I failed to improve on the shot in post-production. I was thrilled with the range of red hues on display here; from the dark purples at the bottom, all the way to bright oranges up top, where sunlight bounces off the canyon walls. The image reminds me of something you might find at Antelope Canyon; sandstone carved by unrelenting force of water.

Taylor Creek Canyon, South Fork, Zion NP, Utah Wednesday, Jun 1 2011 

Life of a landscape photographer can be hard. Sometimes you have to try several angles until you find the right one. Other times you have to hike for miles to get to the right vista. There are those times when all your efforts go in vein because the light just isn’t there.

And then there are shots like this one, where all I had to do is not screw it up.

Taylor Creek Canyon

Taylor Creek Canyon

Most people come to Zion National Park through the eastern entrance and enjoy the spectacular main canyon, where Virgin river rages in between rocky cliffs. But, there is so much more to Zion than that, and on this visit, our third, Tyler and John and I decided to finally get at least a glimpse. This shot is a part of that glimpse.

The western part of Zion is comprised of several “finger” canyons, Kolob Canyons, which all face west and have awesome cliffs and peaks as their boundaries. There is a short road that goes up to Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, although you can pull over anywhere on that road and get an observation point just as wonderful.

We got here early that day (after shooting the sunrise at the Towers of the Virgin), shot this same scene early in the morning, until one of us noticed a trail winding down below us, leading into the canyon. The official Taylor Creek Canyon trail is in the next canyon over and ends with the scenic Double Arch Alcove, but, geniuses that we are, we decided to forgo the official trail and go with this one, which starts with a warning, informing hikers that Zion National Park doesn’t maintain it. After some rough going, we got to a gorgeous wooded meadow squeezed in between vertical canyon cliffs, and we spent most of the day there (more shots from the day at the canyon are coming soon). We hiked out, got some food in our bellies, and then came back to this spot for the sunset shoot.

I loaded a fresh roll of Fuji Velvia film into my medium format Mamiya 645 camera, got out of our car, walked about 100 feet, set up my tripod, and when the setting sun set the red cliffs ablaze, fired off this shot.

Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Formula Solution, Zion National Park, Utah Wednesday, May 25 2011 

I talked about The Formula before. All you need for a good photo is the golden hour light, just after sunrise or just before sunset, and Velvia 50 slide film. It almost doesn’t matter what your subject is; the colors that the chemical engineers in Fuji laboratories cooked up are so bold, they’re their own subject.

The Formula has some limitations and challenges. Slide film traditionally has a rather low dynamic range, meaning that your dark shadows (which usually afflict your photos during golden hour) are going to be indistinguishably black if you’re not careful. Even if you are careful, there’s often not much you can do. Such was the challenge here.

Formula Solution

These are the Towers of the Virgin, a series of ragged peaks soaring hundreds of feet above the little alcove at the mouth of the Zion Canyon, right behind the Visitor Center and museum. They have good fortune that they face the east and that their view of the rising sun is largely unobstructed. The bad fortune is that this geographical position makes them an easy favorite for sunrise subjects of photographers of all skill levels.

I’ve been to Zion with Tyler and John two different times before, and we have never been around this area this early in the morning. Below, in black and white, is a shot from one of the previous visits, where we snapped a few quick shots of this same scene in the afternoon. We also did some moonlit shooting on another occasion. So, on this morning, we decided to take this cliche shot off our to-do list.

I had some trouble composing the photo above. My normal lens was a bit too long, and some of the peaks would be left out of the shot. The wide angle lens seemed like an obvious choice, but I was frustrated that my shot consisted of a large swath of blue on top, equally large swath of black at the bottom, with a little strip down the middle.

Afternoon, 2008

The solution was simple – cut off the top and the bottom, and embrace the panoramic quality of the subject. There was really no point in trying to bring out the uninteresting vegetation of the meadow in the foreground. The resulting format is a little wider than 2:1, but I think it fits the scene. That afternoon, many photographs later, I will visit a park gift shop and find a similar shot on a very wide souvenir magnet; it’s nice to see that I have the same thought process as the park’s merchandising department.

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