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“)

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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.

Nevada, USA Monday, May 16 2011 

This was the fourth consecutive year that I took a photography-focused trip with my friends Tyler and John. Even though we’ve been there before, we decided to come back to Zion National Park and explore it a little bit more. More on that later.

As on the previous trips to Southern Utah, we flew into Las Vegas, rented an SUV and drove north. This time around, we decided to stop at the Valley of Fire State Park, which is only a few miles off the main interstate.

The park is the home for many interesting rock formations, and several examples of petroglyphs, drawings carved in stone by ancient peoples inhabiting this area. This shot was taken from an elevated platform by the Atlatl Rock, where some of the petroglyphs can be seen up close.

Nevada, USA

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

There are several things seemingly illogical about this photo. Clearly, there are no petroglyphs immediately visible. In fact, I was turned the other way, into the desert, bathed in the mid-day sun. Further, despite the fact that the whole idea of the Valley of Fire is that it’s the bright red sandstone that gives the rocks their attractive color, I was shooting through a roll of Ilford FP4 Plus black and white film.

But, I’m pleased with the way this turned out. The film’s sensitivity to red end of the light spectrum rendered the sand nearly white. The desert, dotted with bushes and dissected by a straight road against the backdrop of rocky hills and distant mountains, gives off a quintessential American vibe; even more specifically, a Nevada vibe.

Color of Nevada

So, it’s the wrong time of day to take a landscape photo, there is no clear subject, there is no color, and there are certainly no petroglyphs. And yet, at least for me, there is a story. For comparison, I included the digital color shot.

(NOTE: Ilford FP4 Plus film processed by the Dallas lab BWC.)

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Friday, Feb 4 2011 

As I mentioned before, this past January I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Alas, I get antsy if I spend too much time sitting by a pool or on a beach, so I eventually have to do some exploring.

Puerto Vallarta is a fairly large town, built on tourism, where flashy condominium buildings, villas and hotels meet the traditional, humble dwellings of the local workforce. Dominating the downtown area is the unique Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its signature crowned tower.

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The church was being built throughout the opening decades of the 20th century, and the main tower was not completed until 1952. The tower concludes with quite an interesting crown, which was said to resemble the crown worn by the mistress of emperor Maximilian in the 1860s. On top of the crown is a cross sitting on what seems to be a soccer ball.

Although the church is rather prominent in the city, it wasn’t easy getting a clean look at it. I climbed up and down some side streets, and failed to convince a hotel official to make a restaurant available to me where I would be directly above the church. From the street level, the view of the tower always included power lines going in several different directions. It was quite frustrating, until I decided that the network of cables could be its own subject and embraced my misfortune; the resulting photo is shown here.

Power Lines and Church

Power Lines and Church

My luck changed when I got to the street behind the church; a door was open and I saw two women sitting across from each other at a desk. One of them seemed to be some kind of an official and fortunately knew more English than I knew Spanish, and, even more fortunately, asked the other lady to accompany me into the inner courtyard to take some photos. It turned out that the church now also doubles as a school. As quickly and as respectfully as I was able, I fired off a total of four shots: two with my digital Canon 7D, then one with my Elan 7 camera with Ilford HP5 Plus black-and-white film in it, and, finally, one shot with my Mamiya 645 1000s and Kodak Ektachrome slide film. That shot turned out to be the winner, with a lot of nice details and pleasing colors that I tweaked just a little.

Model Shoot: Ashley Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

Last weekend, I was invited by the photographer Ray Dauphinais to assist him on a photo shoot he did for The Angels Foundation. I worked with Ray a few times before, and I didn’t mind helping around with lights and equipment and learning something in the process.

Most of the shoot took place in a gym of a downtown Dallas residential building, but then Ray and I went exploring the building with one of the models, Ashley.

Ashley had a great attitude and a photogenic face highlighted with brilliant eyes. The impromptu shoot started when she changed from the gym clothes into a little black dress. As she sat down by a window to wait for us photographers to get our gear ready, we put away our flashes and worked with available light. We made a makeshift reflector to fill in the shadows and this quick portrait with her smirk was the best of that series.

Ashley, digital

Ashley, digital

Then we took a quick trip to the roof of the building. The downtown skyscrapers provided great background for Ashley and her dress. After a few digital test shots, I felt brave enough to put a flash on my medium format Mamiya 645 1000S. The idea was to use a few last frames of a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 100 that I had in the camera for months. I climbed on some patio furniture to eliminate the whitish overcast sky and fired off two shots, of which I prefer this one.

Ashley, on color slide film

Ashley, on color slide film

Finally, on our way down from the roof, we walked through a narrow hallway with distressed walls and tall windows. Again Ashley’s face looked great in natural diffused light framed by her flowing hair, so I used another film camera to capture the image. There was a roll of Ilford HP4 Plus in my Canon Elan 7 since my trip to New York in November, and I wanted to get a few shots to wrap it up. Sure enough, this “look”, showing Ashley’s “femme fatale” side, was what I was looking for.

Ashley, on black and white film

Ashley, on black and white film

October Manifesto Sunday, Oct 3 2010 

In my September Manifesto, I set some goals designed to get me more involved in photography. Overall I did pretty well – I posted eleven portraits on my Flickr page; I shot a roll of medium format film and I read the book “First Light”. The goals I fell just short of were the number of blog posts (six instead of projected seven), and I did not make the 11×14 prints I wanted.

Despite not completing the list, I’m pretty pleased, and it definitely helped to define the goals in order to stay driven. It makes me adjust my October goals slightly, based on available time and opportunities to do photography-related activities. So, here they are:

Write 6-8 blog posts. Six is a good number – not too much so that I would have to blog too often, and not too little either so that I can stay motivated. I still have to get some ideas out there, so this should not be a problem.

Post 8 photos. I still have some maternity shoot photos to post, and let’s not forget that I shot a roll of medium format film that I could scan and post a few keepers.

Read “The Camera”. It was great that I was able to satisfy the September requirement by reading “First Light”, but that wasn’t really the achievement in reading. It was definitely amazing to learn the experiences of five great photographers, and even more inspiring to see their photos, but there wasn’t much text in the book, and I finished it in a few hours. However, “The Camera” is a little more substantial and requires some effort, perhaps even taking some notes. Still, I can’t wait.

My favorite photo from October 2009

Make 11×14 prints for portfolio. (From the September Manifesto) This is what I do to show people my work, and also to evaluate the possibilities of making even larger prints. All the Yosemite shots should be in here, as well as a few others; there are serious candidates for drum scans there, I just need to be able to visualize what I want.

Streamline Flickr page. Right now, most of the stuff is there, but there are some orphan sets, and a few things need to be tied together. It’s a vague goal, but any step would be a step forward.

I could also invest in a frame for one of the prints I made, and shoot another roll of medium format film, but this is enough for now.

What’s your plan for October?

September Manifesto Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

July was okay in terms of my involvement in photography. I took a few photos on my trip to Bosnia, I polished and posted a few photos from my June trip to Yosemite, and I even managed to participate in a mini-meetup session with a few models and photographers just before the month expired.

August, on the other hand, was terrible.

My shutters were completely silent; not a single exposure was made. I barely even got my gear out of the bag since that July 31 model shoot.

This could not go on. Therefore, I made some quick notes about how to reclaim my zeal for photography in September. Nothing big, just a few basic things to get things going. Here they are, in no particular order.

* Post 5-10 portraits. Model shoot with 3 models, studio maternity/pregnancy shoot, as well as the rock show I shot for my good buddy…. there’s got to be 10 good shots in there somewhere.

* Write 7-10 blog posts (not counting this one). I only wrote a few posts in August, and I know I could have written more, even without posting new photos. They don’t have to follow the portraits mentioned above, I have things to write about.

* Make several 11×14 prints for the portfolio. This is what I do to show people my work, and also to evaluate the possibilities of making even larger prints. All the Yosemite shots should be in here, as well as a few others; there are serious candidates for drum scans there, I just need to be able to visualize what I want.

* Read a total of one book on photography. I already have the books to choose from: “The Camera” by Ansel Adams, and “First Light” by a group of authors/photographers (including Scot Miller, who signed my copy!). The way I worded this leaves some wiggle room; since I like to start more than one book at the same time, I can read half of each book or any similar combination.

* Shoot at least one roll of medium format film. Digital snapshots are easy, but you know you’ve been out shooting when you have a roll of exposed medium format film in your bag. On my Mamiya, that means 15 exposures. I actually have a plan for this, but I’d really like to go beyond the minimum of one roll and shoot more. I have many films to choose from, but they’re sad and lonely in my fridge, their only company a carton of eggs and a bottle of tonic water.

One of my September 2009 shots...

That’s about it. Nothing too fancy, just a pledge to get out there and shoot, come back and post, think and write. There could be a few minor additions to the list along the way (my Flickr page needs a makeover), but these are the main objectives.

What’s your plan for September?

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