Utah Rocks, Part II: Thor’s Hammer Monday, Dec 9 2013 

In my previous post from the Bryce Canyon National Park, I mentioned a rock formation known as Thor’s Hammer. It is one of the countless “hoodoos” in the main amphitheater of the park, but possibly the most imposing and easily recognizable.

Thor's Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park

Thor’s Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park

It gets its name from the shape at the top of the spire; through some fortunate geological coincidence, the sedimentary rock at the top of the spire is harder than the one below it, so it eroded less over eons, resulting in the characteristic shape. The rock is porous and the water that seeps in the microscopic cracks expands and contracts during endless daily freeze-thaw cycles, carving stone into hoodoos in the process. Geology meets mythology, you might say.

To get this photo, I simply walked down the path just under the Sunset point. It’s about as close as you can get to the Hammer, as it sticks out from the slope of the canyon. The rising June sun paints it a bright orange color while most of the rest of the amphitheater is still lit indirectly. One thing I love about the amphitheater is the shades of orange and red that it creates as light bounces around in the tight spaces in between the hoodoos.

It seems like Hammer has three siblings who live next door, but they are bunched together, and we’ll see over the next few millenia whether they turn into something quite as imposing as the Hammer. Who knows, maybe by that time the endless freeze-thaw cycles of Bryce Canyon would end Thor’s Hammer as we see it today.

Thor's Hammer At Night

Thor’s Hammer At Night

As it happens, I walked this path around midnight the previous night. The Moon was full and high up in the summer sky and it lit the amphitheater beautifully. There were even guided midnight hiking tours, where visitors got to see a very different Bryce Canyon. I took several digital shots, and was reminded of an old technical problem; without a remote shutter release, I could only take 30-second exposures, unless I wanted to hold my finger on the shutter button for an extended period of time. On top of that, I had to use a pretty narrow f/11 aperture setting, to keep everything sharp, since camera has a hard time getting focus lock in such low light conditions. As a result, I bumped the ISO on my Canon 7D camera to 1600, but it all worked out nicely — photo is sharp and not too noisy, and offers a different perspective of this great looking rock.

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Utah Rocks, Part I: Bryce Canyon National Park Friday, Oct 11 2013 

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of my favorite places to watch the sunrise. It’s more of an amphitheater than a canyon, and it’s facing east, so the morning sun lights up the endless rock formations known as hoodoos. The resulting color palette is a sight to behold.

Sentinel, Bryce Canyon National Park

Sentinel, Bryce Canyon National Park

I shot sunrise at Bryce on two separate earlier trips, but when I decided to attend a conference in Las Vegas in June 2013, I knew I would want to do it again. And so, after the conference wrapped up, I rented a car, and made the 4-or-so-hour drive into the mountains of Utah.

I stayed only two nights, which meant two attempts at a sunrise. The first morning I stayed at the rim and shot pretty much the same composition as I did a few years ago. As it happens, that’s been one of my most successful photos ever, so I didn’t improve on it.

Sentinel, Without the Hikers

Sentinel, Without the Hikers

The second morning I decided to walk down the trail and among the hoodoos. The shot was set up so that the Thor’s Hammer, a famous rock formation, was behind me. In front of me was the slender spire called The Sentinel, and some rock cliffs on the right. The horizon to the east was muddled with some clouds, but in a fortuitous moment, the sun shone through and lit the cliffs perfectly.

Sentinel, Without the Sunlight

Sentinel, Without the Sunlight

As it would turn out, in that fortuitous moment, two hikers leisurely walked into the bottom right corner of my frame. Since my Mamiya 7 is a rangefinder camera, I didn’t notice them through the viewfinder, but the lens definitely did, since it sits down and to the right from the viewfinder. I didn’t feel like editing them out until I’m ready to display the photo at an exhibit or something, so I took another shot, shown here in the smaller format. The composition isn’t quite what I’d like, but the colors are still spectacular. In fact, they look even more saturated here due to the fact that I scanned that frame with a little less care than the main photo above.

Another bonus shot is of the same composition, taken while the sun was obscured by the clouds. It’s just another proof of my “Formula” for a successful shot, which states that you need only Fuji Velvia 50 film and “golden hour” sunlight; the subject almost doesn’t matter. Here’s the same subject under two lighting conditions only moments apart, and while it looks nice on one shot, it really comes alive in the other.

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.

Nuestra Señora de Almudena, Madrid, Spain Thursday, Sep 20 2012 

For my final photo from Madrid, I decided to re-scan this evening film shot of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Almudena – a massively awesome looking church directly across from the Palacio Real. In fact, in the photo of the Palace that I posted the other day, I was standing on the steps of the cathedral.

Nuestra Señora de Almudena

Nuestra Señora de Almudena

Pictured here is the north facade – you can see the setting sun hitting it from the right side of the photo. It’s worth noting that there is a statue of Pope John Paul II in front of the east entrance to the church. Which reminds me to let you know that next week I will start posting photos from my trip to Rome this past July, which included a visit to the final resting place of John Paul II.

So, over the last few days, we’ve seen Spanish palaces, churches, gates and squares. As we say goodbye to Spain (at least for now), I should mention that I wrote additional posts about Spain for a travel blog of my friend Dave Dunn. You can read those on his blog, and see a few more of my photos if you click on the following links:

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.

Vlašić Mountain, Bosnia and Herzegovina Friday, Dec 23 2011 

In October of this year, as I try to do every year, I visited my homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina and spent two weeks with the closest members of my family – mom, dad, and sister. The four of us wanted to take an extended weekend trip to a resort on the mountain of Vlašić, a few hours north of the home town and capital of Sarajevo. All photos in this post were taken with my new medium format film camera, Mamiya 7.

Clouds over a Valley

Clouds over a Valley

To properly write “Vlašić” is hard enough with English alphabet, and to pronounce it even harder. But the place is a gorgeous ski resort, which we visited before the first snow and the official start of the busy season. The black and white photo above (Ilford HP5 film) was one of the first I took up there, on a trail just above a ski jump tower, which can be seen above the tree canopies on the right. The sky was quite foreboding and threatened the sleepy valley below.

Last Light on Pines

Last Light on Pines

The following morning, I was too lazy to get up and shoot the sunrise, but in the evening, I went back up the trail to try to catch some of the warm “golden hour” light. The clouds parted a bit and just before the sun went down, it lit beautifully this row of conifer trees. I like the way that streak of red stands out among the green, both of which come out great on the Fuji Velvia film.

Ski Lift Shack

Ski Lift Shack

Remarkably, I managed to squeeze one more shot during this golden hour – the odd looking building is a tiny wooden shack at the top of the ski lift. The wood picks up the warm light nicely, enhanced again by the magical Fuji Velvia.

Splash of Color

Splash of Color

A day or two later, on our last evening on the mountain, I went for a walk in a different direction – not as much elevation gain as the top of the ski lift, but still some nice scenery. I was walking through some fields and found this bundle of color in the grass. I envisioned a depth-of-field shot, turned my aperture to f/4 and got as close as I could to the flower. The depth of field in the resulting shot was a little too thin, but I still like the way it turned out.

For more of my photos from other trips to Bosnia, visit my Flickr sets here, here and here.

City Postcards: Seattle Monday, Nov 21 2011 

A few months ago, my friend and photographer Tyler invited me to spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest. Although our main target were the National Parks in the area (photos from Mt. Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park are coming shortly), I wanted to get a good look at the city of Seattle. So, here’s a selection of best shots that I created with my new Mamiya 7 camera; all photos were made on Ilford Delta 100 black and white film.

We’ll start this post with a view of Seattle’s most famous building.

Space Needle

Space Needle

I’ve been on top of a few famous buildings, so I didn’t want to spend time and money climbing on top of Space Needle. I’m sure the view is great, but I had limited time to spend downtown, and the ticket was slightly over priced. Nevertheless, it’s still a very cool, sleek structure, in the middle of the city, surrounded by parks and businesses of all kinds. We’ll come back to it in a moment.

Pike Street Market

Pike Street Market

Almost as famous as the Space Needle is the Pike Street Market. It’s blocks and blocks of shops and vendors, centered around the intersection of Pike Street and First Avenue. You may have seen the whole fish-throwing act; that’s right here. According to the clock, it was around 3:30 P.M. when this was taken. It was Thursday and it was lively; people having lunch, running errands, tourists with cameras around their necks, UPS truck deliveries… It’s a city center in many ways.

Coffee House, Seattle

Coffee House, Seattle

Rewind a few hours, and go back about a mile, and this is the scene in a more quiet part of Pike Street, further up on the hill. One other thing that Seattle is famous for is coffee, and the coffee houses are everywhere. This one caught my eye because it was particularly colorful, with its teal paint job and a gold window frames. And yet, as I often do, I preferred this b/w film shot to my color digital. Maybe it’s the old-school font in the name of the business that gave the whole scene a more serene, relaxed look.

Downtown Seattle, from Gasworks Park

Downtown Seattle, from Gasworks Park

The August days were surprisingly sunny, but this Monday started like a traditional Seattle day – gloomy, overcast, with a bit of a drizzle. I explored the neighborhood of Fremont and moved along the shoreline until I got to Gas Works Park. Tyler has made some fantastic images there, and I was excited to see the old machinery that still resides there, but the park is also a nice overlook to downtown Seattle on the other side of Lake Union. There’s Space Needle again on the right edge of the photo.

Machinery, Gasworks Park

Machinery, Gasworks Park

An interesting note about the machinery photo above is that I heavily corrected the vertical perspective in PhotoShop. In the original image, the chimneys were converging toward the middle axis of the photo. Because of the correction, the chimney on the left looks unusually large, but I’m satisfied with the overall result.

And, finally, here is my favorite photo. With only a few hours before I had to head back to Seattle-Tacoma International airport, I took a bus toward Volunteer park and then walked over to Lake View Cemetery. I wanted to visit one of the most visited grave sites in the US, the final resting place of Bruce Lee, my childhood hero and one of the coolest icons of the world of film. The cemetery office was across the street from the gate, so I stopped by to sign the guest book and pick up directions to find Bruce and his son Brandon.

How cool was Bruce Lee? Well, consider this: Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris were among the pall bearers at his funeral. Rest in peace, master.

The Dragon's Eternal Nest

The Dragon's Eternal Nest

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