SouthWestern Zen

Southerwestern ZenThere are times when everything just seems to fall into place.  It seems as though I am in the right place, at the right time, and have my camera in hand.  This is the story of my favorite image from this year.

In early November of 2008, I was on the BLM website where you can try your hand in the lottery for a Coyote Buttes North Hiking permit.  I saw that there was a single permit available on the calendar for Feb 1, 2009.  This never happens.  I quickly snapped up the permit, and immediately started planning my trip.  I had been there about 6 months prior, and was anxious to return during the winter.

As it turns out, Feb 1, 2009 was Super Bowl Sunday.  I have a feeling that this is the reason that I was so lucky.  I visited Coyote Buttes North on the first day, then decided to hike into Buckskin Gulch the following day.

It was quite chilly in the morning, around 18 degrees.  There was a bush that I wanted to shoot (not the one pictured) in reflected light that was not possible 6 months prior.   I set up for that photo, and captured it with ease.

About 50 yards to my left, I saw what looked like an interesting scene.  There was a rather ideal bush perched on an eroding bluff.  Behind it was a beautiful sandstone rock face.  The intersecting lines caused by flash flooding, and drainage, created a gridwork that was unlike anything I have seen.  As icing on the cake, there was an equally large sandstone wall behind me, bathing the entire scene in beautiful reflected light.  There are very few places in the world to witness such beautiful light.  Although it looks great to the eye, the film further enhances the color.

I had to act quick because the sun was quickly rising.  Pretty soon, my camera lens would no longer be in the shade of the cliff in front of me, and my photo would suffer from lens flare.  As fast as is possible with a large format camera, I setup the camera, metered the scene, and placed my film in the camera.

My shutter speed was metered at 1.3 seconds.  This is one of the more difficult exposures for large format because the slowest timed exposure possible is 1 second. Beyond that, you need to use the bulb mode.  An exposure of 1.3 seconds involves using a stopwatch in one hand, and the cable release in the other.  If the timing isn’t just perfect, the exposure will not be accurate.  By contrast, an exposure that is 4 seconds or longer is quite easy to time.

As soon as I had the stopwatch set, and the film ready for the exposure, the sun crested the rock wall.  Not only did I have to do the 1.3 second exposure, but now I also needed to use one of my hands to block the sun.  This is far too much for me to think about when it’s 18 degrees.  My mind was numb.

I got myself ready, and used my left hand (holding the stopwatch) to block the sunlight.  As soon as I started the exposure, I accidentally let go of the shutter, resulting in an uncalculated accidental exposure to the film. However, based on the sound of the shutter, it seemed to be somewhere around a third of a second.  I re-cocked the shutter, and gave it another full second.

I honestly did not know if the shot would turn out. I did not have enough film on me to shoot a second frame.

When I got the film back from the lab, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had nailed the exposure, and the double exposure was not in any way apparent in the final image.

I had this image printed at 40×50, and am still amazed by the amount of detail, and the richness of the color.  I titled it Southwestern Zen, which is a bit ironic because of the very frantic, non-zen moment that I shot it.

(Toyo 45AII | Nikkor 210mm | 1.3 seconds @ f/32)

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