September 29, 2011

Southwestern Adventure: Antelope Canyon

What an amazing place!  Every corner and every turn seemed like there was a photographic opportunity.  It's no wonder so many photographers have a foundation of Antelope Canyon photos.  The light bounced around the walls to create a rainbow of colors inside.  Blue, purple, red, orange and yellow.  It was a bit more difficult than I thought to get a decent photo without someone in the crowd walking through it or getting the exposure right in the ever changing light.  I found that Manual mode was the only way to get the exposure I wanted and stopping down about 2 stops gave me an overall better exposure. The most important thing I could recommend for a place like Antelope Canyon is to protect your camera!  I (luckily) did my research beforehand and found that guides will throw dust up into the air to create the light beam effect, and with dozens of people walking through on the sandy floor dust is bound to get into the air.  The essentials in protecting your equipment?  A plastic bag (whether you make it to fit over your camera or you buy a camera specific one) and lens filter (a cheap one is probably best although you don't want to sacrifice too much quality).  After spending a few hours in the canyon I came out with one dirty, pretty much useless, filter.  Imagine if that was my lens!  All those tiny particles of sand scratching the glass, I was glad I did my research.  Some other things to keep in mind if such an occasion arises that you happen to get the opportunity to photograph such an amazing place; do not change lenses, stick with a wide angle lens, and go to the tour booth set up just to the east, down the road from the sign for Antelope Canyon Upper and get the 11:00-1:00 photo tour.  It is well worth it.  The guide for my tour was excellent and made sure everyone got the shots they wanted. 

I did a bit of experimenting with my Singh-Ray ND Graduated filters and was pleasantly surprised by the results.  With so much range in light there were several blown out shots that had potential.  With the help of my 3-stop graduated filter I was able to hold back enough light to catch the details in the brightest spots that were naturally visible to the eye.  On shots 2, 3 and 6 of the series below the variation of light was so broad I couldn't get it all without compromising one way or the other in exposure.  However, with the graduated filter I was able to get the correct exposure of the darker (blue) areas while holding back the brighter (yellow) areas enough to get the detail in the rocks. 

  • Tripod - it sounds crazy to take one with the lack of space and crowds, but there is no other way to get the photos you want.  Long exposures are a must.  Not only is flash not allowed, it does nothing for the photo.
  • Protection - plastic bag for camera, lens filter.
  • Shutter release cable.
  • Singh-ray ND graduated filters.
  • Patience!  You have to realize everyone else feels entitled to be there, too.  Get your shots and be considerate of others' shots.

*note:  The blacks in these photos are essential to accentuate the depth and rich color of Antelope Canyon.  

September 27, 2011

Southwestern Adventure: Monument Valley

Mittens View is by far the most recognized if not most photographed part of Monument Valley.  I enjoyed the 17 mile off-road loop, but didn’t get anything that jumped out at me photographically.  So I stuck to the Mittens View photographing from the base to the overlook. My campsite even overlooked the Mittens, which was very convenient for both night and sunrise shots.  My time at Monument Valley was mostly relaxing as most of the wonder was right in front of me.  There were areas I wanted to explore, but were restricted and only allowed if accompanied by a well paid guide.  Even though I was photographing essentially the same scene over and over I wanted to make each take unique.  Different light, different angle, different focal length, different eye.  The shooting never stopped.  Even when I was running back down the sandy hill I just hiked up to retrieve my forgotten tripod, I was taking pictures.  Light changes, your eye can catch a view differently and things can come together at a moment’s notice.  The key is to be ready for that moment and have the patience to wait to capture it. 

Tomorrow:  Antelope Canyon

September 26, 2011

Southwestern Adventure: Canyonlands NP

My time at Canyonlands National Park was one of the best parts of my four day trip.  I took the backcountry road from Moab to Canyonlands going from Potash Road to Shafer Trail.  It was a bit intense at times, but my Jeep performed perfectly.  Great views at every corner.  Going up Shafer trail was by far the best part of the 27 mile off-road trail as you climb the side of the cliff to Island in the Sky of Canyonlands National Park.  


Overlooking the Colorado River on Potash Road/Shafer Trail.

Looking back from Shafer Trail.

I finally made it to Island of the Sky and went straight to the Ranger Station to find more information on the Class II site False Kiva.  One of the most awe inspiring, peaceful places I've ever been.  The hike was a bit nerve racking at times and at a few points I wondered if I was really on the right track (as it is not marked besides a few cairns and is not often travelled).  You come around a bend without a soul in sight to see the magnificent view overlooking the mesas and buttes far off down the canyon walls.  As if in its own bowl of beauty the cave that holds False Kiva is nearly hidden until you climb right onto it.  The last switchback to the edge of the cave is where it required the most attention.  Every step counted.  Once I came to the cave I realized how silent it was.  I was the only one making a sound.  What a great reward in the end.  I signed my name amongst those who had made the trip before me in the notebook kept in an ammo can, took my pictures and left before the sun completely set so I could find my way back to my car.  


The next morning I arrived at Mesa Arch extra early and was surprised to come upon three other photographers who had arrived before me.  The stars were still out and each photographer respected the other.  The sun slowly rose behind the cliffs on the horizon as floods of tourists started coming around the trail to witness the natural wonder of a glowing arch overlooking vast canyons.  It really is a photographers dream spot.  Every photographer has a shot and I couldn't leave without mine.  As much as you try to be different as a photographer you can't help noticing your tripod legs hitting the same spots as thousands before you in some spots.  Mesa Arch didn't disappoint, but the crowds made me want to scramble back to False Kiva and explore.

Tourists and photographers getting their shot of Mesa Arch at sunrise. 

 Tomorrow: Monument Valley

September 25, 2011

Southwestern Adventure: Arches NP

I have returned from my southwestern photo trip with an arsenal of new images.  I am so excited about photography and the possibilities for creatively expressing your experiences and telling your own story.  I had some shots in mind that I wanted to capture and I was able to bring home several more.  My first shot was to get the milky way/night sky in the background of an arch.  I made reservations to camp at Devils Garden at Arches National Park which is right next to Skyline Arch.  I got there after sunset and knew I'd only have time for night shots and sunrise at Arches before I had to get to the next location so I had to work quickly.  It took the help of some fellow photographers to find this arch in the dark, and I was very grateful they were willing to help.  I liked the composition of the Milky Way running through the arch opening so I turned to portrait so I could get more of the sky in the shot.  A high ISO and a wide aperture made this night sky photo possible.  

The next morning I got up extra early to get some sunrise shots of landscape arch.  With such a clear sky the most interesting shot was before the sun came up.  The moon was shining behind me and was able to give me just enough light to get some detail in the arch.

With clear skies silhouettes and night shots became my go-to.  The Arches and it's many shapes and rock formations provided great silhouettes. 

Boring skies bring you to the ground.  Reflected light and contrast make this image work for me.

Tomorrow: Canyonlands

September 19, 2011

Documentary: Carnival

I've read different articles in photo magazines about how carnivals and fairs are great places to photograph, but never really sought them out.  Last week I went to the Utah State Fair to see what all the fuss was about.  Initially, I thought the rides at dusk with slow shutter speeds was going to be the recipe for the night (which it partly was), but I found myself drawn to the small vendors and everyday carnies even more.  The first guy I spoke to was running a 100 shots for 5 bucks game.  Shoot out the middle of your target and you get to take home a giant stuffed Scooby.  I have to say I was tempted.  I gracefully declined but asked if I could take his photo.  He straitened up, took off his hat, combed his hair and smiled.  He told me he felt like a picture gave a person a kind of immortality, as a photo can last a whole lot longer than we can.  This stuck with me the rest of the night and I couldn’t help but thinking he was right.  He reminded me of the whole reason any of us really start taking photos.  For myself it was to document.  Every photo I take for one reason or another is to document.  And really that's what any of us are really doing when we take a photograph.  I took his photo proudly, hoping I had done him justice even if I had only spoken with him for a moment.  He tried one last time to get me to play his game but the sun was setting and pictures were waiting to be taken.