Agathla Peak, AZ Wednesday, Oct 3 2012 

When I decided to start the 365 project, I realized I will have to recycle some of the photos I have been posting over the last 5 or so years on my Flickr page. The tougher challenge would have been to actually post a brand new photo every day for a year – and that may be something I can look into next year.

I balance that by often posting more than one photo in each blog post. So, today, I wanted to share three photos from one of the most surprisingly magical places I visited.

Agathla Peak, After Sunset (digital)

Agathla Peak, After Sunset (digital)

This is Agathla Peak, sometimes called El Capitan, and it is a volcanic plug just south of the border between Utah and Arizona. My friends John, Tyler and I were on our way to the Monument Valley a few years ago and couldn’t help seeing this fantastic piece of rock protruding from the ground.

After shooting a sunset at the Monument Valley, we stopped by Agathla on our way back to Page, AZ. That’s where the first photo was made – I made it with my Canon 20D digital camera. Because I didn’t have a remote shutter release, I had to limit the exposure to 30 seconds, using the ISO of 400 and even lightening the photo in post-processing.

Agathla Peak, Day (film)

Agathla Peak, Day (film)

A year later, the three of us were joined by our friend and photographer Scott; this time Agathla wasn’t going to surprise us. We made sure to have enough time to stop there in the afternoon. The second photo was shot on medium format Velvia 50 film, and you see it here pretty much the way it looks like on the slide. I was very proud of it – the composition was great and the moment captured was lovely. Just look at those clouds!

Agathla Peak, Night (digital)

Agathla Peak, Night (digital)

Speaking of clouds, the third photo was taken later that night; the wind was moving the clouds exactly over the tip of Agathla, which became very evident on this 5-minute exposure. That’s no typo – this shot is lit by nothing except the Moon, and it took 5 minutes to get enough light to the camera sensor. You can even see the star trails – that’s how much the stars moved while the photo was being taken. You can tell I was ready to take this photo by the fact that I bought a remote shutter release for my Canon 20D.

Don’t let this rather technical post diminish the fact that this place is just fantastic. It’s nothing but a rock sticking out of the ground, but the combination of its ruggedness and the relative serenity of its immediate surroundings creates a very dramatic image, at any time of day. Or night.

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Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, UT Saturday, Sep 22 2012 

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing

Back in May 2011, I traveled to the Zion National Park in Utah with my friends and photographers John and Tyler. You can see a few of the photos I brought back here, here and here. The goal was to create some nice landscapes worthy of our portfolios and to have a good time hanging out with each other in the process.

Halfway there

Halfway there

One of the things we wanted to do while in Zion was hike the Angel’s Landing trail. It’s not a particularly difficult or strenuous hike, although it climbs a total of 1500 feet (500 meters). The main appeal of it is in the very narrow ridge that you have to negotiate while getting to your destination. Angel’s Landing is a tall rock protrusion into the valley and it was so named because it was believed that only angels had the ability to get up there.

But up there we went, the three of us, navigating the trail that at one point consisted of a meter-wide path with a death-defying drop on each side. There were plenty of places where you had to hold on to the chains bolted into the rock along the way, so that you would not lose your balance and fall hundreds of feet down.

I remember passing a family that included a girl who couldn’t have been more than 7 years old; the family was on their way down while we were on our way up. The three of us guys spurred each other on by saying, “If a 7-year old girl can get up there, then we can get up there, too.”

View from the Top

View from the Top

The view from up top was excellent. The main canyon of Zion was both in front of us and around us, and we truly had the “top of the world” feeling. Of course, by the time we got up there, it was mid-day, and the light was “wrong” for truly breathtaking photos, so I never really got to show these before, except to friends and family. But here they are, if nothing else, as a document of where I’d gone, like a t-shirt I purchased later that day in Zion. The shirt says “I hiked Angel’s Landing.”

Traditional Sunset, Eagle Crags, Utah Tuesday, May 17 2011 

I’ve been traveling with Tyler and John for four years now, for purposes of enhancing our friendship as well as our photography skills. And if there’s one thing that we bonded over more than over lens caps and ISO settings, it’s botched sunset shoots.

First, there was not one, but two sunsets in Monument Valley, a year apart, that left something to be desired. Then there was one when we didn’t get to Lake Powell in time on our way from The Wave, even though I hit 100 miles an hour to get there. There was one at Yosemite’s Tunnel View (although, the Sierras paid us back a few days later with a magnificent sunset from Sentinel Dome). And then the one when the skies finally cleared only when we were already many miles on our road out of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park…

If there’s one thing we can count on, that’s a less-than-perfect sunset.

Traditional Sunset

Eagle Crags, UT

And here we were, three hours before sunset, after a morning hike to Angels Landing, after driving up a bad dirt road, getting perilously off the hiking trail, setting up our tripods in between the bushes and trees, wondering if we will get rained on before the skies clear and allow some sunlight onto the peaks in front of us.

The peaks are called Eagle Crags, and they’re located just outside Zion National Park, near Rockville, UT. We saw them a few sunsets earlier, as they were the peaks getting the very last light, due to the fact that they’re outside the main canyon of the park, so the light lingers on them just a little longer. Tyler found a road on the map, and the road led us to a BLM hiking trail, which eventually goes all the way to the foot of the Eagle Crags hill.

Eagle Crags, UT

Velvia film shot, not as good as the digital

Skies were dark and foreboding, which made for a dramatic background. We were cheering for the sun to break through the cloud bank to the west and light up the red sandstone. We had reason to hope: it happened a little earlier, but it was not the magical “golden hour light”. I captured it on Fuji Velvia 50 film, shown here, and it looks nice, but it’s not quite the same as the main digital photo, taken just that much later. Light was changing fast, and I never snapped another film shot. I didn’t even time to change my lens – it was gone in a flash.

Still, we’ve seen some photos in the local galleries, and this formation, somewhat off the beaten path, offers great potential for some wonderful sunsets. On this evening, however, our tradition continued.

Cloud on Half Dome Monday, Jun 28 2010 

Half Dome is a great mountain with endless variations of lighting and sky situations and seasonal characteristics; the many images I have made reflect my varied creative responses to this remarkable granite monolith. – Ansel Adams

As I mentioned before, on our trip through Yosemite National Park, Scott, John, Tyler and I unwittingly made Half Dome the main subject of many of our photos. The peak towers over all of the Yosemite Valley, and you can see it from just about anywhere. Ironically, the only higher peak is called Clouds Rest.

This particular afternoon, we were stuck in the horrible traffic of the Valley, trying to get some supplies for the evening and the day ahead. We exerted ourselves on the Mist Trail (photos from which are coming very soon), and we hoped to take in the sunset at the Tunnel View. But, as we crossed the bridge over Merced river on the eastern end of the valley, we saw a big cloud covering the top of Half Dome in a striking scene.

Cloud on Half Dome

We quickly found a parking spot (no small feat!), and dragged our tired legs out of the car. The brightly lit Half Dome was reflecting in the river, but the late afternoon sun was leaving a lot of shadow and it was difficult to find the correct exposure. The only possible shot was with a telephoto lens, and I mounted my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens on the Canon 7D and fired off a few shots.

It wasn’t the golden hour yet, so the colors aren’t spectacular. I even thought about converting to black and white, which I’ve done below. But, I think just the sight of the threatening cloud obscuring the peak looks quite dramatic, and the pine tree silhouettes complete the framing very nicely.

Cloud on Half Dome, black and white version

Half Dome, Sunset No. 4 Saturday, Jun 26 2010 

I have photographed Half Dome innumerable times, but it is never the same Half Dome, never the same light or the same mood. – Ansel Adams

My main image of Yosemite was El Capitan, with Half Dome being only a distant second. Nevertheless, after five days in the park, I didn’t even realize that we shot Half Dome during each of the five sunsets. We snapped dozens of shots more, from the valley, from the Mist Trail, and from anywhere else we could. It quickly became the focal point of the trip, the main star of the show. Some of those shots are coming soon, but I wanted to post this one before all others.

Half Dome, Sunset No. 4

This was Sunset No. 4, when we drove up Glacier Point Road, but only to the trailhead to the Sentinel Dome. After an easy 1-mile hike, we came to the bare granite clearing at the top of Sentinel Dome, which towers over all of the Yosemite Valley and offers unbelievable 360-degree view of the Eastern Sierras.

We got there early enough and snapped around, but then the sky lit up and the golden hour followed. This shot follows The Formula, which says it’s not even that important what you shoot during this kind of light. But, the glory of Half Dome just elevates this to another level.

Another reason I like this shot so much is that it was taken with my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, which was simply in love with Half Dome. Several great closeups of the peak are waiting to be posted soon. Until then, here’s a bonus shot, taken 15 minutes after the one above. The sun has set, but the clouds were glowing in shades of pink, and some of that light was reflecting on the stony face of Half Dome. If you ever get a chance to witness the sunset from Sentinel Dome, don’t miss it.

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