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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Toadstool Hoodoo, UT Tuesday, Oct 2 2012 

In May 2008, I went on a trip with fellow photographers Tyler and John, and we explored the areas around the Utah-Arizona border.

Right before the trip, I bought a used Canon Elan 7 film camera, because I wanted to use my 17-40mm lens on it, so it can be the true wide angle lens. The results I got on film were really good, and I was encouraged to continue with my retro ways.

Toadstool Hoodoo (Ilford HP5)

Toadstool Hoodoo (Ilford HP5)

Shown here is one of my favorite film shots from that trip. It’s the back of the Toadstool Hoodoo, on the road between Page AZ, and Kanab, UT. The sun came up high enough that the light wasn’t as “golden” as it may have been an hour or so earlier. But I really like how the texture of the rock reflects the grain of the film, and the shadow detail was wonderfully preserved on Ilford HP5.

Like I said, this shot encouraged me to continue shooting film. For our 2009 trip, I bought a medium format camera, the Mamiya 645, and recently I upgraded again, to the 6×7 format of Mamiya 7. I still get great results with film, especially black and white.

If you still shoot film, leave me a comment below.

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.”

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.)

Cloth’d In The Sun Friday, Sep 17 2010 

This is my buddy John. By occupation, he’s a philosopher. By conviction, he’s a rocker. Ask him about Allister Crowley, or Roger Waters, and he’ll tell you all you need to know, and more. He’s provided me with more workplace-related motivational quotes than anyone else. Just enough of an idealist to inspire some serious introspection, even for a cynic like myself.

So, the story goes a little like this: John walked into a Guitar Center one day with his better half and immediately fell in love with a curvaceous beauty that appeared before him. His better half encouraged the adulterous relationship, probably because she didn’t feel too threatened by a bass guitar.

Cloth'd In The Sun

His Rickenbacker is indeed gorgeous, and John put it to good use. He reinvigorated his progressive rock band, “Cloth’d in the Sun”, they worked hard on their songs, and they were invited to appear at a festival in Flower Mound, TX back in June. I offered my services as the unofficial band photographer, partly because I have a secret craving about stage photography. They, in turn, offered a vibrant set of original songs and lit up the crowd like the setting sun.

That setting sun made this shoot both interesting and challenging. It’s the ultimate spot light – small, strong light source very far away. The shadows are harsh and the contrast is high, but the color is warm and pleasing.
The black and white Rickenbacker looks great in front of John’s Ohio State football jersey. There’s a little too much stage clutter even with the f/3.5 aperture, but I liked this shot as a portrait of an artist as a young man.

For the bonus shot, I picked this closeup of John and his Rickenbacker locked in a passionate embrace. It may be love at first sight, but something tells me these two will live happily ever after.

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

Suad Bejtovic Photography etc.

Photography and more