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.

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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.”

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.

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.

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.)

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