Yellow Rock, Utah. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
In the spring of 2013 I spent four months in my camper traveling and photographing in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Montana. While in Utah, I was following the guidebook by Laurent Martres titled “Photographing the Southwest,” specifically volume 1 of the three-volume series and covering southern Utah. One chapter in Martres’ book describes the Cockscomb, a 50-mile long fault in the Grand Staircase National Monument. He describes it as one of the most remarkable geologic formations of the Colorado Plateau, and that alone had me spending about a week there during the last half of May.
Yellow Rock is an area about 10-15 acres in size (this is a very rough estimate based on my younger days of fighting forest fires and having to estimate the size of a burn) of fabulous slickrock at the top of a small mountain that varies in beautiful colors and textures. Somehow someone found a way to make a trail up the very rugged upheaval slope originating from the geologic fault. The trail is narrow, steep, full of short switchbacks and loose rocks, but it is not a long trail. While Martres describes it as a 20-minute hike, I needed about 45 minutes — I’m walking on artificial hips, and they just don’t seem to move as fast.
I followed Cottonwood Road (LINK) north from US 89 beginning about two miles east of the Paria Contact Station. To reach Yellow Rock, I parked in a wide open area where the Brigham Plains Road meets the Cottonwood Canyon Road. Directly across the road is Hackberry Canyon. The trail to Yellow Rock is in the next canyon to the south, only about 300 meters away. After crossing Cottonwood Canyon Road, following some cow trails through the vegetation, and crossing the dry Paria River (remember, I was there in late May, and there were some muddy spots), a fairly well-defined trail begins the ascent. The trail is well-defined simply because there is no other way up this exceptionally rugged landscape. That means there is no other way down as well, something I would soon discover.
The trail soon reaches a saddle that turns south. After a few more minutes of climbing, the trail passes the last of the big rock outcrops, and this should be used as a landmark for finding the trail again on the way back. While the trail continues, it becomes more faint and several alternate routes head off to different parts of Yellow Rock. At this point small rock cairns become more important, especially for finding the way back.
Yellow Rock from this initial vantage point is stunning; never have I seen such a large area of colorful and sculpted slickrock. The photograph above shows one of the initial views. NOTE: all photographs in this article were done with a Canon 1DsMkIII camera body.
The sandstone has a variety of “surface finishes,” from shallow to moderate grooves, cobblestone blocks of varying sizes, some rock outcrops, and just a few areas of smooth rock. Colors include yellow (no surprise there) to red, orange, brown, and ivory.
Slickrock Colors and Patterns, a closer view. Canon 70-200 f/4 IS lens.
Slickrock, closer still. Note the cobblestone texture in the foreground and terraces in the background. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
On the first day I visited Yellow Rock, a storm was coming in from the west. This was an opportunity to include some skies with more interest than uniform blue, but I also found that uniform gray was equally challenging. I looked for areas in the sky that had variation; they also did not seem as threatening regarding rain or lightning. One does not want to be standing as the tallest point around when lightning appears imminent.
Slickrock Under Storm Clouds. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
During this hike, there were also two adults and a child on Yellow Rock, and I took one photograph to try to show the relative scale of the surface area and textures.
Scale of the Patterns. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
While the other hikers proceeded to the top, I became increasingly worried about the changing weather, and so I decided to head down. I walked back to where I first stepped onto the slickrock, and from there I looked for my landmark rock outcrop. Unfortunately, from this angle everything had changed, and I couldn’t tell which of three ridges in front of me was the proper way down. I headed down in the direction I thought I had come up, but after a short distance I couldn’t find any rock cairns. Knowing that the trail was absolutely the only safe way down, I walked across the saddle to the next ridge to the north, which I found is much easier said/written than actually done because of the soft soil, cactus patches, and sandstone ledges that seemed to pop up everywhere. Having reached the second ridge, again I found no rock cairns that would indicate a route down. However, I did find some footprints which told me one thing: I wasn’t the only person to have gotten “a bit confused” trying to find my way down. Again I traversed another saddle, complimenting myself that at least I had enough sense to head down early, and I finally found some rock cairns that eventually led me to the trail. Where it had taken me about 45 minutes to hike to the top, I spent twice that long getting down. When walking toward the slickrock, it’s important to turn around from time to time to get a good look at the changing perspective; this will help in getting off the mountain.
I went back the next afternoon, a day of blue sky and white clouds. As is typical for most landscapes, Yellow Rock is best photographed with a low angle of light to get some shadows on the surface texture. Most of the slickrock is on the east side, but it curves around to include substantial areas on both the north and south sides. After hiking to the very top (“because it was there”), I learned there is relatively little slickrock on the west side. Therefore, It may be best to begin afternoon shooting on the north side, and then explore across the east side toward the south as the afternoon progresses. Martres suggests that the best light might be close to sunset, and he includes a photo with shadows and highlights across the small grooves to make his point. However, unless I were extremely familiar with the area, and/or had a GPS to help guide me to the trail at the top, and had a fellow hiker along, I think it would be foolish to tackle this area with a flashlight after sunset. There are many loose rocks on a narrow and twisting trail down; it’s just not a good trail to hike in the dark.
How does one capture a sense of this vast, open area with a camera? I chose to shoot close to the ground in most areas to concentrate on the rock textures, and over long distances this is bound to create depth-of-field problems in keeping everything in relatively sharp focus. Therefore, I used focus stacking techniques extensively for the first time, even with a 17mm lens, but especially with the longer focal length lenses.
I spent an afternoon and early evening happily exploring slickrock, looking for interesting compositions of surface texture and colors, hopefully complemented by some good sky. The following are my attempt to capture the spirit and beauty of this area.
Slickrock Terraces. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Cobblestone Patterns with Wood. Pieces of wood were sometimes found, obviously brought by other photographers to make the composition more interesting. This was located right at the boundary of the slickrock, so it might have occurred naturally. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Cobblestone Patterns. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Yellow and Red Grooves in Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Ephemeral Water. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Slickrock and Cloud. This heavily layered area on the east side was a favorite spot. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Slickrock Orphans. Canon 17mm TS-E lens.
Stone Fish on a Sea of Stone. Note how little the clouds have changed from the previous shot; one doesn’t have to walk very far to find compositions. Canon 17mm f/4 TS-E lens.
Slickrock Ledges on a Stormy Afternoon. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Inhospitality. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Red Runs Through It. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Cobblestone, Looking SE Across the Paria River. Canon 17mm TS-E lens.
Sandstone Hills NNE from Yellow Rock. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Multi-Colored Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Yellow Grooves in Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Orange and Ivory Grooves in Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Yellow Slickrock with Tinges of Red. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Slickrock Amoeba Trying to Move Uphill. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Contrasting Patterns and Colors of Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Small Remnants of a Small Cascade. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Slickrock Waves Moving Against Gravity. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Slickrock Ledges Moving With Gravity. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Multi-Colored and Multi-Patterned Cobblestone. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Wider View of Previous Photograph. Looking SE across the Paria River drainage. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Slickrock Being Surveyed by a Raven. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
A Ribbon Runs Through It. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
An Uncommon Occurrence of Wood and Sand on Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Zen on the Yellow Rock Trail. An ephemeral cloud and a solid rock share viewfinder space, while a tree has died trying to figure out what it all means. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
I recently spent four months in my camper traveling through the southwest, Wyoming, and Montana. While in Utah, I was following the guidance of Laurent Martres in his wonderful, three-volume series titled “Photographing the Southwest.” Utah is covered in volume 1, with Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado addressed in volumes 2 and 3. I find it to be a remarkably good series with a lot of detailed locational information that can be of great use to anyone looking for good places to photograph in the American Southwest.
Cottonwood Canyon in Utah is part of the Cockscomb, a 50-mile fault crossing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the north and on through the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument to the south. Cottonwood Canyon runs north-south between Scenic Byway 12 and US 89. I started at the southern end, with the road intersecting US 89 a couple of miles east of the Paria Contact Station. Cottonwood Canyon is administered by the BLM, and its liberal camping policies were much appreciated. While this section of road could be easily driven in a day, I spent five full days exploring the area during the last part of May.
Two notes of caution. Much of the area and the road consist of clay, and you absolutely don’t want to try to drive on a clay road when it is wet. I was once stranded for three days on a clay road in eastern Montana during an unusual October rain, and again when visiting Freezeout Lake in north-central Montana when photographing snow geese in March (see my first blog post). Wet clay is a remarkable substance — as slick as ice and as sticky as glue. Even a four-wheel drive jeep with chains will have a very difficult time, and it will damage the road with deep ruts as it tries to negotiate a wet road. These ruts will be as hard as rock when the clay dries. I found the Cottonwood Canyon road to be remarkably smooth, and it could easily be driven in a passenger car. However, according to the BLM staff, the road is not always in the good shape that I encountered.
Desert “Highway” of Clay. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
A second note of caution relates more to photography, and that is the disappointing fact that two sets of power lines run the length of the Cottonwood Canyon road. Sometimes it is a challenge to photograph a great composition while trying to omit the power lines. I was successful most of the time, but a couple of photographs simply could not avoid these lines, and some tedious processing was required to remove them. In other cases, the lines were sufficiently minor that I just left them in the photo.
Intrusive Power Lines. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm f/4 lens.
I spent three nights camped at the Box of the Paria in the southern portion of Cottonwood Canyon. Evidently the side road to the Box allowed 4WD vehicles to cross the Paria River and on to the Old Paria (Pahreah) Town Site. This informal route is now closed, so the road to the Box of the Paria is a secluded dead-end a couple of hundred yards off the main Cottonwood Canyon road; it makes for a good campsite. I didn’t hike to the old town site, but I would certainly try to do so on my next visit.
The main attraction in this area has to be Yellow Rock, an immense area of colorful slickrock at the top of a steep climb. This area is so unique that I’m going to post a separate blog devoted just to this incredible area.
The geological activity has produced some remarkable rock formations and a formidable wall to the west of the road for any hiker. For photographers like me with limited hiking abilities (in my case it’s due to artificial hip joints), the many views that can be photographed from the road is welcomed.
Rock Wall #1. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Rock Wall #2. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Rock Wall #3. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
In addition to the colorful and extremely rugged wall that parallels the road for much of its distance, especially in the southern portion, individual rock formations can be found on both sides of the road.
Pointed Peak. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Sandstone Spires. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II.
Rock Formation and Cirrus Clouds. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Red Rocks and Cirrus Clouds. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Rock Fins. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Occasionally the clay formations take over and dominate the landscape.
Clay Hill. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
One especially striking combination of rocks and clay stood out along the road. A large, smooth, purple clay hill contrasted dramatically from the sharp, rugged rocks around it. The clay hill looked like a huge, purple balloon among the rocks:
Purple Clay Hill Amid Rocks. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Purple Clay (lower left) in Rocky Context. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Further to the north, the road passes along a series of serrated ridges. From a higher viewpoint to the north, the ridges look like the fins on the spines of a Stegosaurus dinosaur. These are formed as a result of earth movement along the fault line, but I want to know more detail about how these come to appear like this:
“Stegosaurus” Hills. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.
“Stegosaurus” Hills, a Wider View. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Close-up View, Looking North. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Still further to the north, the Cottonwood Canyon road passes through an area of rocks of fantastic colors and shapes. Appropriately, the area is called Candyland.
Candyland #1. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Candyland #2. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 lens.
Toward the norther end of Cottonwood Canyon is Grosvenor Arch. The area has been developed somewhat with a restroom and short, paved trail from the parking area to the base of the arch. I camped here one night in a wide spot in the road very near the parking area. I was somewhat surprised at the number of people who arrived to view the arch. They probably came from Kodachrome Basin State Park and the towns of Henrieville and Cannonville, all of which are not too far distant to the north.
Grosvenor Arch #1 (p.m.). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.
Grosvenor Arch #2 (a.m.). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
Grosvenor Arch #3 (a.m.). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.
While I spent five days in the area, two of those days were devoted to Yellow Rock, so I photographed for only three days along the length of the road. There is so much more to see and explore that a return visit is in order.
Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah is a place that, like the Grand Canyon, draws people from all over the world. The multi-colored hoodoos covering such a wide area are a fascinating sight.
Just as at the Grand Canyon, a significant number of park visitors who are camping or staying in the lodge like to welcome the sun each day. About an hour before sunrise, engines of RVs, campers, trucks, and automobiles begin to stir and traffic begins to flow toward the numerous viewpoints along the rim of the canyon: Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, Bryce, and others.
I drive a Dodge Ram diesel truck, and I really do mutter apologies to my fellow campers as the engine very loudly pulls me up a short hill at about 4:45 a.m. (end of May, DST), and then I breathe a sigh of relief as the truck coasts much more quietly downhill and out of the campground.
Most of these early risers are photographers, and most are going just for the sunrise. Once the sun has cleared the horizon and lit up the canyon, most leave the viewpoint and either head out on a trail or head back to get some more sleep. A couple of days ago, prior to sunrise, I had trouble finding an open spot along the railing of Bryce Point , but 10 minutes after the sun had risen, I was the only person left, and I stayed for about an hour. There were compositions everywhere, small snippets of the entire canyon that had a combination of light and hoodoos that I thought were especially appealing. I simply enjoy the search, and the captures are added to my disk drive.
I have found a very special spot in Bryce Canyon. The rocks there at sunrise are like no others that I’ve seen elsewhere. I found it yesterday. I’ll share the “secret” with you.
The trail begins at Sunset Point. It’s the NE portion of the Navajo Loop trail, the portion that passes Thors Hammer on the downhill run. Shortly after passing Thors Hammer and just before the trail enters a canyon, look at the hoodoos at the bottom of the slope on which you’re standing. They simply glow.
This happens right at sunrise and for about an hour afterward, assuming the horizon is clear and no clouds are blocking the sun.
From the position you’re standing, Thors Hammer is to the left and looking about like this:
Thors Hammer. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
The hoodoos and rocks below are reflecting light onto each other, and as a fellow photographer said, they look translucent. Some are white, some have a hint of color to them, but the sunlight just seems to pass clear through them. Here’s what I mean:
Glowing rocks. Remember, the sun is on the opposite side of these rocks. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens.
Glowing rocks II. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens.
Glowing wall. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
From higher up on the trail, these same rocks:
Same rock wall, a different angle (and camera/lens). Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.
Further in the distance:
Distant rock walls/columns. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.
More to the north, the hoodoos stay shaded longer, but when the sun is finally high enough to strike them, they reflect a similar light. Here’s one particular set of hoodoos seen with progressively longer lenses (these hoodoos are also published in the park’s guide):
Distant glowing hoodoos. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
A bit closer (this is very similar to the photo in the park’s brochure). Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
And closer still. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.
Others in that same area (these two photos have three hoodoos in common):
Striking light-colored hoodoos. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.
Hoodoos in the same area. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.
Other rocks and columns in the area reflect their inherent golden copper color, just like Thors Hammer, and they really stand out against a distant background that is a different color and still shaded:
Gold columns against a distant, shaded background. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Hoodoos in the making. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.
I like to photograph solitary trees, and this one is doing well standing between three different walls of rock; perhaps it’s a natural tanning booth:
Ponderosa getting a golden tan. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Finally, far to the south, just below Bryce Point that by this time of morning has largely emptied of photographers, light-colored hoodoos reflect the morning sun, and the right combination of rock and light can make for a keeper photograph. This is what I like to hunt for:
Distant columns reflecting the sun. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
I consider this portion of the Navajo Loop Trail to be a special place in a special park, well worth spending more than the first 10 minutes of sunrise.
The suspension on my truck needed repair, and I found myself in Page, Arizona, for a week in May. The famous Antelope Canyon is located a few miles east of Page on Arizona Highway 98.
There are two Antelope Canyons, one called North Antelope Canyon and the other (you guessed it) South Antelope Canyon. The north canyon is more strikingly photogenic, but any slot canyon is going to have its attractions.
At the time I visited there were five independent Navajo companies offering tours of South Antelope Canyon. Three of these companies are in Page, and they each have a fleet of “shuttle vehicles” – trucks or jeeps modified to carry a dozen or so passengers in the back end. They make regular stops at the motels and RV campgrounds to pick up visitors who want to see the canyon. Many times I saw these vehicles full of passengers going to or coming from the canyon between mid-morning and late afternoon. Two other companies have their operations centered adjacent to the highway near Antelope Canyon, one right at the wash to the canyon’s entrance, and another just a little further east on the highway.
When I told the entrance booth attendant (yes, they are well organized) at the first field company that I wanted to concentrate on photography, she recommended that I proceed east to the second field company as they tend to specialize more on photography. I appreciated her willingness to send me to a competitor, and it was a mark of good cooperation between these independent companies.
Prices are higher during the hours that the sun is directly overhead and therefore casting light into the canyon. Prices for every visitor is higher for the tour at this time of day. Special “photo tours” are also aimed at this time, and tour members get to stay about an extra hour (2.5 hours instead of about 1.5 hours); for this they pay approximately double. Tours earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon are slightly less than the “high noon” tour.
Antelope Canyon has been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was willing to pay nearly double for a higher quality photographic experience. In the end, however, all it really got me was more time in the canyon as well as my own personal sand thrower (read on).
The canyon is located approximately one mile down a wide, sandy wash. It takes speed and know-how to travel the length of the wash without getting stuck in the soft, deep sand.
All of the water that sometimes fills the wash during a heavy thunderstorm in the summer months (they call it their “monsoon season”) comes through the narrow Antelope Canyon. Such a storm may affect the canyon 2-3 times each summer. It is the water from these storm events that has created and sculpted the canyon. Needless to say, one does not want to be in the canyon during a storm, as the water may rise 15 or more feet along the canyon walls.
My Photo Experience in North Antelope Canyon
My first hint of what was in store for this photography experience could be seen in the parking lot: more than a dozen shuttle vehicles were parked after disgorging their passengers. I knew the canyon was only about 150 yards in length (1.5 football fields long) and that it was narrow (sometimes only about three feet), so that meant a lot of people were crowded into a relatively small area. I was correct.
Shuttle Vehicles Parked at the Entrance to North Antelope Canyon All photographs in this post were taken with a Canon 1DsMkIII and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II lens. You don’t change lenses in the canyon!
Entering the canyon was almost a mystical experience; such is the nature of seeing a natural icon for the first time. Smooth, sculpted forms layered with colors of gold, red, purple, brown, and white were striking beautiful. So many possible compositions could be seen just standing near the entrance, and it got even better as I proceeded on. I just wanted to find a composition, set the exposure to about 15 seconds, shoot, and do it all over again with a different composition. Some walls were receiving light, some were in deep shadow, and some were in transition. It was spellbinding.
But setting up for such a composition was exceedingly difficult. All of the visitors were in groups with a guide, and I first had to wait for an area to clear before I could get a shot. The canyon is a two-way street, and frequently after one group had cleared the area by going further into the canyon, a returning group would come around the corner while my shutter was open. I had to crank up the ISO to make for a shorter shutter time. I also learned to take a couple of “exposure shots” while people were still in the area so I could more quickly get the shot when an area was clear.
I had elected to take a geared head (Arca-Swiss D4) so that I could more precisely frame a desired composition. That was a mistake, because speed was more important than precision. I missed shots while loosening knobs, framing, tightening knobs, and then making fine adjustments – a returning group would often enter the area or a faster group would pass me from behind while I was fiddling with the tripod head.
In addition, I was never alone with my guide. Invariably I was shooting with 5-8 other photographers, and we often had to overlap our tripod legs so that everyone could fit in the shooting area. The guides facilitated this as best as they could. The guides also did their best to keep their group on the move. Even though they may have been representing different companies, I was impressed with the coordination (and comraderie) among the Navajo guides.
One interesting problem was that the beams of light entering the canyon from above had a special allure to some visitors (much like the moving rocks on the Race Track in Death Valley). Many insisted on having their picture taken while standing in a beam of light. You can imagine the light contrast in such a situation: the person is in a high-powered spotlight, while the surroundings are in deep shade. There was no way to make that work, but many people would lag behind their group and keep us from shooting while they posed for a picture. One young lady must have been a model, because she kept giving her photographer friend all kinds of poses over the course of several minutes. I couldn’t resist, and this is what I recorded:
Wait! The last group hasn’t yet left.
O.k, the contrast might be a bit high, but your routine is great.
What sparkling eyes! That’s a keeper for sure.
So that was one basic aspect of photographing in Antelope Canyon during the peak hour: there were many, many people. I spent far more time waiting to shoot than actually shooting. Waiting for five minutes and shooting for one minute was not uncommon.
Another distinct aspect of photographing in Antelope Canyon when the sun is overhead is that the guides emphasized the beams of light over the sculpted forms. I suppose that’s only natural when the light is present for a relatively short time during the day, and it’s not present at all during the winter months.
So how does one photograph a beam of light, something that can’t even be seen except for a blown-out spot where it hits the canyon floor? You throw sand into it. For the brief moment (~5 seconds) that sand and its accompanying dust is in the beam, the sand/dust makes the beam visible.
There was sand flying everywhere! All of the guides were throwing sand, and being on a special photo tour meant that I had my own personal sand thrower. I soon learned that if one opened the shutter too soon when the sand was still concentrated in one portion of the space, it would reflect almost as much light as the sand on the floor where the beam was hitting. I had to wait for the “decisive moment” when the sand had settled and the dust lingered for just a second or two to get a good shaft of light in the photograph.
Here’s what I mean:
A beam with little to make it visible except for the light on the canyon floor (the photos of the young woman above are really the best examples, because no one was throwing dirt on her):
Little dust in the air.
Open the shutter too soon, and I would catch the mass of sand still high in the air:
Shutter opened too soon. The light beam comes in two pulses.
If too much was thrown by the guide and I opened the shutter while this mass was still in the air, it resulted in a very solid ray:
Too much dust and shutter opened too soon. Reminds me of a Vulcan death ray.
If I waited for a few seconds (it settled out pretty fast), I might get a more ethereal look, which is what I wanted:
Better timing and perhaps a better look.
One more quick series. Here I opened the shutter too soon:
Shutter opened too soon.
Too much dust and dirt in the air:
Too much debris in the air.
A somewhat better spirit beam:
A more spiritual beam, perhaps.
But there are three prices to pay for all of this throwing of sand. One is a very dusty camera and lens. I often felt sand raining down on my face. Sometimes a guide threw more sand onto the group of photographers than into the beam of light. When I emerged from the canyon, I could see a layer of red dust completely encircling my lens mount and many of the buttons and dials on the camera body. Most of this could not be blown off, and I spent over an hour using a fine brush to wipe the dust away. When you think of how many grains of dust it takes to affect a photograph, this was a daunting task.
The second price that is paid is the artificiality of the resulting photograph. While sand being blown into the canyon from above is a natural occurrence, this amount and this degree is way beyond normal. It just wasn’t a natural canyon when this was going on.
The third price to be paid for a lot of sand throwing is, IMO, a diverting of time and attention from photographing the natural beauty of the colorful sandstone forms within the canyon. I think sandstone is one of the most interesting and photogenic rocks on the planet. I had just come from Zion, and a short time after leaving Page I returned to the eastside of Zion just for the sandstone. The sandstone in Antelope Canyon is the most three-dimensional sandstone I’ve ever seen, and the lighting is unique. To diminish this aspect of the canyon so that sand can be thrown into beams of light is not how I would choose my time if it were mine to choose, but I could not be free of the mass of people who shared my space in the canyon. I did find some spaces and compositions that emphasized the sandstone over light beams, and these are some of my favorites:
Sandstone Walls #1
Sandstone Walls #2
Sandstone Walls #3, vertical
Same wall as previous, but horizontal aspect.
Sandstone Walls #4
Sandstone Wall #5, detail
Sandstone Walls #6
I received a note from a photographer friend who said he visited Antelope Canyon back in the early 1980s before it was “discovered” and became a photographic icon. He drove to the mouth of the canyon by himself, shot with a view camera, he was the only person in the canyon, and he left when harsh light beams started to spoil his compositions.
Antelope Canyon is an economic boon for many of the Navajo of the area, and I don’t think I’d operate it any differently if I were in their shoes. The price for a single or small group of photographers, widely spaced with ample time for shooting, would have to be very high to match the revenue obtained from the very large numbers of tourists who just want to visit a famous place, perhaps have their photo taken in a magical light beam, and come away with a few photos to remind them of a wonderful experience.
It’s still a wonderful area to photograph, but the task is difficult and the experience is lessened due to the sheer number of people. I’d go again, but I might choose the first tour in the morning, and I’d strongly consider visiting during the winter months when the tourists are largely gone. The light beams would be gone as well, but the incredibly sandstone formations would still be there. I wonder what the quality of light during these times would be?
My first impression of Zion National Park in Utah was made in January, 2011 (described in an early posting here), and I concluded the place was an icicle. It was beautiful, but the trees were bare and ice was everywhere. I didn’t stay long, but I knew I wanted to come back.
After I sold my house in Walla Walla (after three years on the market) and moved into my camper for the duration, I made my way to Zion after a slow trip down the Oregon coast in April. I arrived on April 12, 2013, about a week or so after most of the trees had leafed out — very good timing on my part.
Zion has two campgrounds, one that usually requires reservations (Watchman Campground) and another (South Campground) that is first-come. Here’s a tip for getting a campsite at South Campground without having to wait for the current occupants to actually leave: Very early in the morning, the campground hosts pull the paper stub from the clip posted at each campsite. If the post clip has no paper stub, it means those people are leaving sometime before 11:00. Anyone wanting a campsite could fill out the small envelope available at the campground entrance, tear off the stub and place it in the empty clip on their desired site (if the current occupant are up and around, it would be best to talk with them first), and then simply wait in a nearby place (picnic area, overflow parking area) for the site to become vacant. That beats driving around hoping to be in the right place when someone leaves, especially when other would-be campers are doing the same thing.
For those not wanting to camp, there are a variety of places to stay in the adjacent town of Springdale, within walking or biking distance from the campgrounds.
Between the end of March and the first part of November, travel on the scenic drive that goes to the heart of the park is restricted to shuttle busses — private vehicles are not allowed. However, private vehicles can drive as far as the bridge over the North Fork of the Virgin River (this section includes the Human History Museum and a wonderful morning view of the Towers of the Virgin sandstone cliffs), and private vehicles can continue on Highway 9 through the tunnel to the east side of the park. Large vehicles, including my camper, must pay a $15 fee to go through the tunnel, because the tunnel has to be closed to traffic from the other direction to allow a large vehicle to drive down the middle of this relatively small tunnel. Those who are staying at the Zion Lodge get a special pass that allows them to continue on the scenic drive only as far as the lodge. Accommodations can be made for people with handicaps to travel the entire length of the scenic drive in their own vehicle, but from my experience at Zion such permits are very limited. [Side note: I'm handicapped and have a handicap parking decal, but I'm able to get about on my own most of the time, and that's true of a vast majority of holders of handicap parking decals, in my opinion. The use of such decals greatly exceeds the true need, again in my opinion and experience.]
Good news: the shuttle system works marvelously, and it’s a wonderful alternative to a roadway jammed with cars and RVs. The hub of the shuttle system is a very short walk from both campgrounds, and the system also connects with downtown Springdale so those staying there can just leave their vehicles parked during their entire stay at Zion if they wish.
The busses leave every 10-15 minutes, and they are never crowded (based on my April experience) as they are in the Grand Canyon (based on my subsequent April experience). The busses stop at a number of established locations and trailheads on their way to the north end of the scenic drive. Passengers can embark or disembark at any of these stops, and the ride is free. I think the shuttle system has greatly enhanced the experience at Zion.
Shuttle bus on the scenic drive. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 17mm T/S lens.
The sandstone peaks and cliffs are some of the tallest in the world. The beauty of sandstone is simply incredible: such a diversity of colors, textures, angles, and shapes! Some of my favorite photos are these:
Zion sandstone, somewhere along the scenic drive. The trees provide a scale perspective. Hasselblad H4D-40, HC100mm lens.
Abraham, one of the three patriarchs. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Contrasting cliffs, near the Big Bend on the scenic drive. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Bad weather often makes for good photography. On a warm spring day that started out with blue skies, Zion had a small snow squall followed by shifting fog in the afternoon. It was a wonderful time to have a camera, and the rest of the day was a lot of fun.
Fog and sun in Zion. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Small peak shrouded in fog. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Fog and formations. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
I got up early on several mornings to photograph stars. At the end of the campground, I found a clear area that allowed a view of The Watchman towering above. Light from the town of Springdale made the mountain more visible. I also found that the dense portion of the Milky Way galaxy came up from the horizon about 5:00 a.m. at this time of year, just before the first light of the sun started to dim the stars. I don’t do many shots like this, and it was much fun despite the early hour (or maybe even because of being active while everyone else slept).
Watchman at night (i.e., Night Watchman). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 50mm f/1.2 @ f/1.6 for 20 seconds.
Another diversion in Zion National Park is rock climbing, and rock climbers could be seen on walls all around the park. Shuttle drivers would often slow down to point them out to passengers. I am content to stay on the ground looking up through a viewfinder.
Rock climber (below and to the left of center). Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
The most memorable and unique hike I’ve ever taken was done on this trip to Zion when I climbed to the top of Angels Landing, one of the best-known hikes in the park. Because of my inability to walk long distances or carry heavy loads, I left my big cameras in the camper and took only a cell phone camera. The iPhone 5 camera did remarkably well, and I’ll save that for another post. Below is a photograph of Angels Landing (tall peak in the center) with the Virgin River in the foreground.
Angels Landing and the North Fork of the Virgin River. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens.
This description centers on the main scenic drive in Zion National Park; it’s where the majority of park visitors experience Zion. The northwest portion of the park, reached by traveling I-15 north to Exit 40, is called the Kolob Canyons. I visited there one afternoon but didn’t do any hiking. When I return to Zion, I will spend more time here, as I’ve read of some relatively easy and beautiful hikes (especially the Taylor Creek trail).
Another long road through the park leaves from the town of Virgin and is called the Kolob Terrace Road. It’s an unpaved road that is impassible when wet, and I didn’t want to travel a road like that while carrying a heavy camper. Next time I’ll unload the camper and take a look at that part of the park. There is a primitive campground toward the end of the road.
Finally, many people enjoy walking up the North Fork of the Virgin River, beginning about a mile (on a paved path) past the last shuttle stop on the scenic drive. I don’t do well on uneven, slippery surfaces, especially with camera equipment that doesn’t like to get wet, so I’ve never had this experience at Zion. Still, I’ve seen some families with youngsters returning from a hike in the river, and they were in great spirits from the outing.
The east side of Zion, past the tunnel on Highway 9, offers a very different feel and look from the scenic drive. There is less vegetation, and the sandstone formations are beautifully different than those in Zion Canyon. I want to get more photos of that area before I try to describe it in pictures — yet another visit and another blog post.
Let me know if you have any questions about Zion, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
It is commonly known that the direction in which a culture reads can affect how people in that culture view photographs. Here in the U.S. (or more broadly the “West” in geopolitical terms), we read from left to right, and top to bottom, or more precisely, from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.
When we look at a photograph, especially one without a commanding visual center or dominant element, we will typically scan it from left to right, based on our style of reading.
A short time ago I posted a photograph on photo.net, my favorite on-line photography discussion site. The photograph is shown below, and it consists of a series of lines of new crop vegetation on a sweeping hill that intersects visually with other hills in the background.
Gardena Hills, Sweeping Down. Hasselblad H4D-40, 210mm f/4 HC lens.
I received a very helpful comment on this photograph. The person who commented said it made his eyes work “harder” than they should have to. The natural tendency is to follow the lines of the foreground hill downward from left to right (“reading” the image), at which point the eyes reach the right-hand edge and leave the frame. To get back to the photograph, the eyes must “pick themselves up” and re-enter the frame at the top, move back to the left, and follow the upward sweep of the hills in the background.
By flipping the photograph horizontally, the eyes would take a different path. With this new orientation, the eyes would naturally “read” the photograph by following the lines upward from left to right. But this time, instead of running out of the frame, they would first encounter the intersecting hills that are coming down to meet the foreground hill. From that point, they would more easily shift and “zag” in the opposite direction to the background to take in the remainder of the photograph.
Garden Hills, Sweeping Up. Hasselblad H4D-40, 210mm f/4 lens.
This simple change enhanced the overall image, IMO, simply by making it easier to read, based on the way that our culture scans and reads text.
Making the horizontal flip was easy to do technically, but it was harder for me to do as a landscape photographer. The second photograph, the one that is easier to read, does not exist in real life. One cannot drive from Walla Walla to Lowden on US-12, turn south on the Lowden-Gardena road, and eventually find what I have shown in the second photograph. Instead, one would find what I have shown in the first photograph.
This bothers me somewhat, and it gets to the heart of what is sometimes debated with great passion among landscape photographers: Are we documenting the wonders that we see in our travels, or are we presenting artistic interpretations of the wonders that we see in our travels?
The answer to this varies widely among landscape photographers, with many nuances along the way. Personally, I tend to want my photographs to be based on the experiences I’ve had, not on the way that I wish the landscape had presented itself.
On the other hand, I’ve never experienced a black-and-white landscape, yet I enjoy sharing those photographs. My wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses both distort the landscape in ways that I’ve never seen with my eyes, yet I enjoy sharing those photographs as well. I’ve never seen a silky smooth waterfall, nor have I seen a perfectly crisp waterfall with individual drops visible, yet I can create those by adjusting the shutter speed of my camera, and I enjoy sharing those photographs.
While the camera seldom records reality, it can come closer than any other art form with which I’m familiar. But how far are we willing to take a landscape photograph from what we’ve seen to our artistic interpretation of what we’ve seen, especially in this day of the computer when digital manipulation is so easy? Every photographer has his or her own answer to that question, and our responses usually evolve over time as we create, share, and discuss photographs.
Wind Turbines. While the subject is turbines in Washington State, these were actually photographed in California between Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs. Hundreds of turbines are found in this area, and the setting sun made the image irresistible. Nikon F100, telephoto lens, Fuji 100 Pro film.
Wind turbines are relatively new ways to generate electricity in a sustainable manner that has less damaging effects on the environment. While they may be “greener” than burning coal or natural gas, they do have some environmental consequences. Hundreds or thousands of birds and bats are killed each year when they fly into these structures, especially during long migrations at night. Wind power officials are aware of this, and studies are conducted prior to construction to try to select areas to site wind farms that are not primary migration routes for birds, especially large birds of prey like hawks and eagles. When I worked for the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, we worked closely with power companies to develop siting and construction policies that would minimized the environmental impacts of wind turbines, and those policies were a model for the nation.
Wind turbines really started kicking in Washington State at the beginning of this century, and many hundreds of turbines have been constructed over the last 20 years. Living in Walla Walla in the SE corner of the state and surrounded by wheat fields, I’m often “desperate” for new things to photograph, so I spent several days photographing turbines near Walla Walla (actually located just over the state line in Umatilla County of Oregon) and near Dayton, WA, about 30 miles east of Walla Walla. My goal was to capture some of the aesthetic views offered by wind turbines, although some contend these giant structures, so visible at the tops of ridges, will always be a visual detriment to the natural landscape. How one reacts to the sight of wind turbines is very subjective, and IMO each is valid.
While wind turbines come in a variety of sizes and designs (evident in my opening photograph), those in this part of Washington State consist of three rotating blades, and they are huge!
Typical wind turbine near Dayton, Washington. Canon 1DsMKIII, Zeiss 50mm f/2 ZE lens.
A few statistics I gathered from web sites: The turbines in this area number 204 (Hopkins Ridge owned by Puget Sound Energy, and Marengo I & II, owned by PacifiCorp). Each turbine tower is 221 feet tall and weighs 77 tons. The blades are each 129 feet in length, weigh 7 tons, and rotate about 15-17 revolutions per minute. The total weight of each wind turbine structure is 223 tons, and each can produce 1.8 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 460 households over the course of the year. Considering there are a number of similar wind turbine farms in the state, this adds up to a considerable amount of generating power.
My goal was to capture some of the interesting photographic aspects of wind turbines. Using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 B&W conversion software, I created a more romanticized view of the turbines (these are located just across the Oregon State line, west of Milton-Freewater). Most turbines have restricted access, primarily for safety reason, but some allow a close approach.
Wind turbine near the Oregon-Washington state line. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 16-35mm II f/2.8 lens.
Most of the turbines are constructed on farmland leased from local farmers. Even though the wind farm may cover thousands of acres, the actual footprint of the turbine itself is very small. Farmers benefit by receiving financial income from the lease, new roads to move their farm equipment between fields, and an ongoing ability to farm the area very close to each turbine.
Wind turbines in a wheat field, a very typical situation. Canon 1DsMKIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
Wind turbines can have different aesthetic appeals. I managed to capture four in the same rotational cycle, and it reminded me of a squad of soldiers led by a commanding sergeant:
Five synchronized turbines. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Some of the most appealing photographs of wind turbines for me appeared when evening fog moved into the valleys and climbed toward the ridge tops as the sun set on the western horizon:
Rising from the fog. Canon 1DMkIv, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.
A close-up of one turbine with others rising through the fog had particular appeal:
Rising from the fog II. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.
Zooming out a bit added some farmland in the foreground, creating a slightly different look:
Turbines in farmland with fog. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.
My fascination with the fog made me forget all about the nearly full moon that would be rising that evening, and I was shocked and dismayed when I looked to the east and saw the moon already well above the horizon. I quickly drove to a pre-scouted location to get some turbines for the foreground, although it wasn’t exactly as I had planned:
Rising moon and turbines. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.
Later in the evening, as the light was fading quickly, I photographed a much darker turbine with the moon in the background (all of these are single shots with no post-processing to balance the light — it’s pretty much how it looked to my eye):
Nearly new moon in late twilight. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.
By far my most exciting and rewarding experience photographing wind turbines occurred when I made the short drive to the wind farm near Milton-Freewater, Oregon (I believe it’s the Vansycle Wind Project owned by NextEra Energy Resources). When I was driving to the wind farm, the sky was clear blue and the day was beautiful (although blue skies are generally not the best for landscape photography). A short time later, a storm started moving in from the west, and some of the most dramatic cloud formations I’ve ever seen marked the forefront of the storm. I wanted some wind turbines in the immediate foreground, but the closest ones were a short distance behind me and on private, gated land. Therefore, I used a longer lens and included a wind farm located in the distance. In the end, I like this larger assemblage of wind turbines at a smaller size relative to the clouds, because I think it better communicates the size of the storm. I converted the photograph to a toned B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 software.
Wind turbines about to be tested by an approaching storm. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm f/4 lens with 1.7x converter (284mm equivalent in 35mm terms).
A nearby radio tower also showed off the power and beauty of the approaching storm:
Radio tower and approaching storm. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 35-90mm f/4 lens.
I find that clouds make all the difference when photographing wind turbines. Converted to B&W, some striking photographs can be made:
A line of wind turbines and brush strokes of passing clouds. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm lens with 1.7x converter (284mm in 35mm terms). I really like the H4D medium format digital camera for high ranges of light like this, because it has an amazing ability to capture a broad range of light (HDR photography with its inherent challenges is often not needed).
Five turbines against a turbulent sky. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
Three turbines against a turbulent sky. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.
A slower shutter speed will reveal some motion of the turbine blades, and this can be very appealing. A shutter speed that is too fast will simply make the blades appear slightly out of focus, while a shutter speed that is too slow will allow the blades to move to the extent that they “disappear” from the photo. A Goldilocks approach of “just right” is needed, but that depends on the rotating speed of the turbine blades. I photographed these turbines using a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds:
Motion in turbine blades. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 50mm f/2 lens, 1.3 seconds.
The whole point of the wind turbines is to produce electricity, and I wanted a scene that captured this notion:
Wind turbines and electrical power. Canon 1DMkIv, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
While flying birds and bats may be adversely affected by the presence of wind turbines, ground animals are apparently unaffected. This deer asked for its picture to be taken with ghostly turbines rising through the fog in the background, and I obliged:
Deer and distant wind turbines. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.
Finally, a quick word about wind turbines versus windmills. “Wind turbine” defines structures that are used to produce electricity. “Windmill” defines structures that are used to move mechanical devices, such as grain-grinding machines and water pumps. I photographed this derelict windmill against a crescent moon some time ago. Since then, a couple more blades have been lost. Soon it will be just a tower with a hub, a relict of the past:
Windmill and crescent moon. Pentax 645NII, lens unknown, Velvia 100 pro film.
I like to peruse the galleries and postings of several Internet forums to admire photographs, see how other photographers approach a subject, and gain general knowledge of techniques as well as inspiration when going out on my own.
Yesterday I came across an original and truly unique way to create “atmosphere” when photographing a back-lit tree. Often we rely on lingering fog or heavy morning mist to provide something that sunlight will hit to produce the ethereal look we’re after. But what is a photographer to do if there is no fog, if the humidity is low, or if there simply is nothing in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight?
One ingenious photographer found a novel solution. Get a battery-powered leaf blower and the largest sack of flour you can carry, go behind the tree you want to envelop in dazzling sun beams, and use the leaf blower to spray the flour as high as possible to create a “flour fog” around the tree. This will definitely give the sunlight something to strike in the atmosphere, and when you quickly run around to the other side of the tree where you had previously set up your camera (flour is denser than mist, so you have to work relatively fast), the tree will be surrounded by an atmosphere like nothing you’ve seen before.
If the settling flour starts to coat some of the adjacent plants and create a white film, a backpack sprayer filled with water can quickly clean the plants sufficiently to remove the “snow in summer” effects caused by the flour.
This technique is best applied on a calm day. Whether you want to try this in a national or local park or other location where numbers of people pass by is debatable. It has not yet been proven, but I strongly suspect that park administrators will be less impressed with your ingenuity than with the mess that it will cause. You could try arguing that flour is a food source for little critters, but most places frown on visitors feeding the wildlife.
Still, for sheer originality, you’ve got to hand it to the photographer who first thought “What if…” when walking down the aisle of a grocery store.
In late 2010, Hasselblad USA had a special promotion in which it would include a lens of one’s choice when a Hasselblad medium format digital camera was purchased (that’s the gist of it; I didn’t see the ad, so I may have some of the details wrong). At the time, I was waffling over my love affair with film (discussed in a previous post), and I decided to purchase the Hasselblad H4D-40 along with the Hasselblad 35-90mm f/4-5.6 lens.
Despite the fact I was getting a very expensive lens nearly for free, I was still paying more than I had ever dreamed of paying for a camera body. I don’t earn money from my photography, and for many that’s a significant reason to not spend so much on any photography equipment.
Nevertheless, I made the leap. Now, nine months later, if I had it to do over again, with the advantage of knowing what I know now, I would make the same leap without hesitation. This post, while not a full review or evaluation, will provide my initial thoughts regarding the H4D-40.
The outstanding attribute of the H4D system is, IMO, the tonal range the camera is able to capture in a single exposure and which the Phocus software is able to bring out from the digital file. The first time I came to appreciate this is when I took a photo of some storm clouds, and the light varied from very bright clouds in the sky to wheat fields in shadow on the ground. I was impressed when I looked at the histogram after taking the shot, and I was astounded when I saw the image on my computer screen and later in a print. That first photo is shown here:
Storm clouds above Skyrocket Road Near Prescott, WA. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 35-90mm f/-5.6 lens.
The camera came with two PDF manuals, one covering the camera and the other covering the software (Phocus) that brings photos from the camera, makes corrections and edits to the digital files, and then saves them in a designated place (it does more than that, but that’s its main function).
I found the camera manual to be well-organized and fairly easy to understand. I also found the camera’s menu system, in which options regarding the functions of the camera can be selected, to be fairly intuitive. Navigation through the menu system has not been difficult, I’ve been able to easily access my most used function (2-second timer, a.k.a. 2-second delay in raising the mirror to the actual opening of the shutter to make the exposure after the shutter button is pressed), and I’ve easily transferred lens focusing from the shutter button to another button on the back of the camera. Much of this is important to many photographers who do a lot of photography.
The camera handles well in my hands. I always shoot from a tripod, but I would anticipate no difficulty using this camera hand-held. The only handling difficulty I may have is removing the lens with one hand, simply because the lens barrel is relatively large and it can be difficult to get a good grip, press the lens release button, and twist the lens off in one motion, especially if the camera is on an elevated tripod. Fortunately, the lens does not have to rotate far before it disengages from the body; this seems to be a characteristic of Hasselblad cameras, because the same was true of my Hasselblad 501cm film camera. Note: I have fairly large hands and I like to lift weights; a more diminutive, less strong person may find themselves using two hands to change lenses and to mount the camera on a tripod.
If I had a complaint about the body, it would be regarding the battery. A fully charged battery will generally last just for a medium-long day of shooting, and then it requires a number of hours to fully recharge when plugged into an electrical outlet. This is in strong contrast to the battery on my Canon 1DsMkIII which seems to last for days of shooting and then recharges in relatively short order. Sorry I can’t quantify this, but it’s a very distinct difference. As a result of this characteristics of the Hasselblad battery, I carry two such batteries as well as a battery holder that can run the camera with three CR123 lithium batteries.
A second complaint that I hear from some Hasselblad owners is the relatively poor resolution of the LCD screen on the back of the camera. It can be very difficult to get a good view on that screen of the photo that has just been taken, even with hardware improvement that was recently implemented to improve screen resolution and function. However, I’ve never used a screen to evaluate the adequacy of a photograph except in the most gross sense. Instead, I use the screen for the histogram, and I don’t expect this to change even with an improved screen. I use the screens on my Canon cameras in the same manner.
My experience with the Phocus software has had its frustrations. I must quickly add that the software is more integrated into the characteristics and use of this system than I’ve found in any other camera system I’ve owned. It’s hard for me to think of the camera by itself; the Phocus software is a very significant component of the Hasselblad system.
In general, I’ve found the software manual to be less clear than its hardware counterpart. Most especially, I’ve found the software to be less intuitive; it just doesn’t seem to manage the files in the way that I would expect. It has been a struggle to get the images where I can view them, select some and discard others, and then save the edited image and it’s RAW original in a specified location. It took a few months with the camera to have a photo session that went smoothly from start to finish when processing photos.
Despite the difficulties I’ve had understanding Phocus software when files are being moved around, I’m incredibly impressed with the ability of the software to bring out the most from a RAW file to a finished photograph. Processing a file that’s on my screen has been relatively easy, intuitive, and very thorough. I’m sure there are features that I have not yet discovered, but what I have found has sometimes made any additional processing with Photoshop completely unnecessary. I will soon have a very smooth and powerful workflow as well as two great partners in hardware and software.
An aspect of the Hasselblad system that was new to me is the ongoing relationship that is expected between the new camera buyer and the Hasselblad dealer. To help with my difficulties in understanding Phocus, I should be going to the dealer who sold me the camera. That’s a relationship that I’ve never had or expected after purchasing any previous camera system. The problem I have in this regard is that my camera was a special leftover from Hasselblad’s promotional program of 2010, and only a single dealer in Detroit had a deal like this available when I decided to make the leap. My dealer, therefore, is in Detroit. Perhaps I should have or still could initiate that on-going relationship, but I have not yet pursued it.
I started out using my “old” “V” lenses from the 501cm film camera by purchasing an adapter that enabled their use on the H4D. However, they were manual focus only and required a cable to be attached to the sensor in order to be fully functional. This was a hassle, and I soon made it my goal to use “H” rather than “V” lenses; most of the “H” lenses are designed and meant for use on the H4D and other Hasselblad “H” cameras.
New “H” lenses are expensive. Fortunately (at least for me), new lenses seem to experience a sharp decline in value when they leave the camera store; it’s somewhat like buying a new car. All of my additional lenses (28mm HCD, 100mm HC, 150mm HC, 120mm HC macro, 210mm HC, 300mm HC, and 1.7x converter) have been purchased used, in excellent condition with relatively low activations (number of times the lens has taken a picture), for about 50% of the price of a new lens (37% at the low end and 67% at the high end). As a result, I feel that I have a nice range of lenses for not a huge outlay of funds, and I’d be able to recoup most of my lens costs if I had to sell my equipment in the near future.
I’m finding the H4D to be somewhat overlapping in its functions as a landscape camera with my Canon 1DsMkIII. The fact that I also have a Canon 1DMkIV makes the 1DsIII have an advantage only at very wide angles. However, when traveling to faraway destinations for once-in-a-lifetime trips, I would prefer to have two camera bodies that use the same lenses. For that reason alone, I plan to keep both Canon camera bodies.
I once said I had all of the camera equipment I would ever need. That was two camera bodies and several lenses ago. I’m thrilled to be using the H4D-40, and the Canon bodies complete it in special ways. This time I really mean it when I say that I have all of the camera equipment I will ever need. Except maybe for lights if I try my hand at portraiture. Except maybe for extension tubes if I want to get serious with macrophotography. Except maybe for a really nice walk-around camera for non-photography trips (if such a trip exists). If my photography is ever exceptional, it will be in this sense of the word.
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I’ve always enjoyed photographing forests, especially in the interior under the forest canopy. It can be a so-called “mess” with trees of various sizes, fallen logs, shrubs of all kinds and sizes, and groundcovers that vary from delicate clovers to strongly-defined ferns. Finding a composition that is “aesthetically pleasing” amid this chaos is a challenge that I greatly enjoy.
Two of my favorite forest interiors have been the Kestner Creek Natural Area near Lake Quinault on the Olympic Peninsula and the Carbon River area in the northwest portion of Mount Rainier National Park, both in Washington State. I’ve written about Kestner Creek in a previous posting on this blog.
The Carbon River area of Mount Rainier National Park receives a large amount of rainfall, and the vegetation resembles that of a temperate rainforest. This contributes much to the area’s qualities for photography.
Carbon River Area Temperate Rainforest. Canon EOS 20D, Canon 300mm f/4 lens.
A road five miles in length begins at the Carbon River entrance to the park and ends at the Ipsut Campground, from which other trails begin. One section of this road washed out in 2006, and a decision was made to keep the road permanently closed to vehicles but open to hikers and bikers. This decision was a boon to photographers, because the road extends through the temperate rainforest. I’ve spent many hours photographing along the road, but now I don’t need to be aware of and step aside for passing vehicles intent on getting from point A to point B.
Carbon River Road. Canon EOS 1DsMkIII, Canon 135mm f/2 lens.
A short nature loop begins at the Carbon River entrance and is a nice introduction to what lies beyond. Boardwalks cross wet areas where skunk cabbage grows in the early spring, and bridges crossing small streams are attractive photographic subjects in themselves.
Boardwalk through wet areas. Canon EOS 20D, Canon 24mm f/1.4 lens.
Skunk cabbage. Nikon F100, lens unknown.
Bridge across a small stream. Nikon F100, lens unknown.
Walking down the road toward the campground, the nature of the temperate rainforest unfolds on both sides. The tangle of moss-covered trees and limbs, downed logs being taken over by groundcovers, shrubs (especially vine maples and devil’s club) making off-trail or off-road passage difficult, all make for the mess and beauty of the old-growth forest.
Complexity and beauty of an old-growth temperate rainforest. Canon 5D, Canon 24-70 f/2.8L lens.
The thick tangle of groundcovers, shrubs, and downed logs makes off-trail walking very difficult. Hasselblad 501cm, 120mm makro lens.
The challenge is to find compositions in this “mess” that have aesthetic appeal. Canon 5D, 24-70 f/2.8L lens.
The dense tree canopy causes lower limbs to die, but they often persist and become covered with moss. Pentax 645NII, 80-160mm lens.
Ferns are best at the end of June and beginning of July. Canon EOS 20D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens.
In past years, I always preferred to photograph forest interiors under cloudy skies. It was then that the light in the forest would be more evenly distributed, and the range of light would be within the capabilities of the camera to capture in a single exposure. Therefore, the resulting photographs would not suffer from blown highlights or deep shadows within the same frame.
Now that I live on the eastern side of the state, my opportunities to photograph in the Carbon River area are much reduced. During a recent visit, I was happily photographing along the road when the late fall / early winter sun peeked over the south slope and began to throw stronger light into the forest. Rather than pack up and call it a day (this was the only day I had), I decided to work harder to incorporate the light into the photographs. That meant that larger areas with a wide range of light values would not be possible. Instead, I had to concentrate on smaller areas in which a relatively bright spot could be a desired focal point. It was a new way of photographing the forest interior for me, and I really liked the results — it gave me a new kind of forest-interior photograph.
Early Autumn in an old-growth forest. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HCD 35-90mm f/4 lens.
Vine maple stretches across a shaft of sunlight in front of shaded trees. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens, cropped to square.
Spots of light. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens, 1.7x converter.
Turning vine maple stand in sunlight against a shaded background. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens.
Yellow vine maple stand in sunlight seem to form a spiral staircase. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens + 1.7x converter.
Overcast skies or a combination of sun and shade provide their own unique opportunities for great compositions within a forest interior. When the quality of light changes, it just requires a different strategy to find a striking photograph of the forest interior.