A Trip of Learning (Part IV)

My 8x10 w/ 450mm nikkor setup on the edge of the cliff at Toroweap

My 8x10 w/ 450mm nikkor setup on the edge of the cliff at Toroweap

Friday October 2, 2009
When I woke up a on Friday morning, I knew that I needed to get an early start.  Today, I was to head back to Toroweap to re-shoot the photo from the previous morning. This meant another 60 miles of dirt roads to get to the shooting location. I arrived at Toroweap around 9AM, and immediately grabbed a campsite. There are only 9 individual sites available, and it is important to get one as early as you can. I selected site #1, setup my tent, then drove to the rim to setup my camera for the following morning’s shot.

As I started pulling my camera out, I saw a few photographers who were finishing up taking some photos. As I chatted with them, they mentioned that they heard a very loud sound at around 8:30AM. They said that it sounded like thunder, but lasted 10 to 15 seconds.  The skies were clear.

In an attempt to find the source of the noise, they headed toward the rim of the canyon. Across the canyon, they saw a large plume of dust.  There was a large rock slide on the opposite rim of the canyon. When I viewed the scene a half hour later, there was still a bit of dust hanging in the air. It was very obvious where the rock fall was. Near the rim of the canyon, I could see where a large chunk of sandstone broke off. It is difficult to judge scale since the South Rim was about a mile away. I estimate that the rock was at least 60 to 70 feet tall, 50 feet wide, and perhaps 15 to 20 feet thick. As the rock fell, it was pulverized into tiny pieces of sandstone, and dust, some of which nearly made it to the river some 3000 feet below.

At this point, I setup my camera, then spent the rest of the day exploring the area to get more familiar with the location.

The following morning, I re-shot the image without incident. I felt that I had accomplished my goals for this trip, and decided I should head home a few days early. I was very curious how the shots had turned out.

This is where the title of this post really comes into view.  I call this a trip of learning because I gathered a lot of information from this trip.

1) Exposure I learned that my metering skills are very good. Of all the photos that I shot on the trip, the exposures were very accurate, and there were no surprises. This is something that is not to be taken lightly when shooting slide film on an 8×10 camera with difficult to meter scenes. I have the upmost confidence in my spot meter, and its abilities to tell me where the tones fall in a scene. Slide film has a very narrow range of tones, which means the exposure has to be darn near perfect. If the exposure is even 1/3 stop too bright, or too dark, it will make a difference. I have to calculate the bellows extension factor, and reciprocity failure amounts for each scene, and take that into consideration when determining the final exposure.  I am very happy that my photos were properly exposed.

2) Pushing Velvia 50 I learned that it is indeed possible to push Velvia 50 to 100 with very little consequence. It will result in a more contrasty image with deeper dark tones, but the exposure will not be lost.  It is of course best to properly expose the film, however, it’s good to know that there is so much wiggle room in the event of a mistake. It is likely a smart strategy to shoot two identical frames of a tricky to expose scene. I can process the first image normally, and view the results. If the transparency is a bit dark, I can always push process the second sheet to gurantee an ideal exposure. This is a lot easier than taking bracketed shots, and it allows a lot of control after the fact.

3) Double Exposures Although my shots from Toroweap turned out as good as they can be, the morning ight is quite contrasty, and the exposure latitude is pushed to the limits. I can likely drum scan the image, then pull some detail out of the shadows and highlights.  The highlights are pinned at nearly +2, and the shadows are nearly at -2. I have captured the tonality I need on the film. However, I am debating if I should make a return trip in November (assuming no rain), and re-shoot the image with a different technique. If I make a double exposure, this could solve the problem. I could shoot one photo before sunrise when the tonality is very simple (a range of +1 to -1), then capture the second half of the light after sunrise when the cliffs light up in a golden light, I will likely end up with an image that still has very strong color, but I would have a narrower range of tones.

4) Subway I now know that the best light for shooting subway is in the early morning. There is a cliff that is illuminated by the early morning sun. This will help to give a glow in the final photo. However, I was not able to capture the image that I wanted there because I did not have a polarizer. I need to purchase a 95mm slim polarizer for my wide angle lens in order to get the shot that I want with the 8×10 camera.  Either that, or I can use my 4×5 camera.   I will return to Zion in early November for fall color, so I have an opportunity to re-shoot the image.

5) The Narrows I was very happy with the image I shot in the narrows at Zion. This is where the river flows through a deep, dark slot canyon. However, it is not technically polished, which makes the image useless for me. The exposure is spot on, the composition is good, and the feeling I get from the image is very representitive of the location.  I used my 150mm SW wide angle lens on my 8×10 camera. I used a little bit of tilt to make sure that I can maintain a sharp foreground. However, that small amount of tilt was enough to make the top of the image a bit soft. I was unable to tell on the ground glass that this would happen. It was simply too dark to use a depth of field preview. This is something that I just need to chalk up to experience. When I make the return trip, I will stop the lens down more, and use a bit less tilt.

6) Film Choice On the return trip, I will likely use mostly Velvia 100, or Provia 100. I very much prefer the lessened reciprocity failure issues of these films.  I might also bring along some black and white film to take the same exposures on B&W.  Typically, I have not been a strong advocate of B&W, but I think it might be interesting to try. If the shot is already set up, it is not all that difficult to shoot a sheet of B&W film as well.

After reading these posts, some people might consider my trip to be a failure.  The prospect of walking away from a week long trip without a single shot that I am willing to print may sound discouraging. However, I do not see it that way at all. I will be returning to many of these locations in early November to reshoot the photos that I am not currently satisfied with.  When I return, the conditions should be better from a photographic point of view. I will go into the next trip with the knowledge that I have gained from this trip.  I look forward to heading out there again on November 1st.  I plan to stay through the 11th, and visit some other locations as well. Even if I return from the second trip with a single image that I am proud of, I will be very happy.

I enjoy the process of photography. Tripping the shutter on a large format field camera is a very addictive process for me. I do not think that it is possible to know everything about photography.  It is a constant state of learning.  In my opinion, those who claim to be a master photographer are just kidding themselves.  If you truly master photography, there is nothing left to learn.  If that is the case, what is the point of taking photos anymore?

2 Responses to “A Trip of Learning (Part IV)”

  1. Dan Cross Says:

    Ben, I enjoy reading these posts and have been following this blog since you first posted it on FM. I like the detail you put in your writing and find most of the information very solid.

    I have found that I am a perfectionist like you, but that sometimes it hinders my output. A lot of times, I don’t find my work good enough to print. The one hting that I have witnessed in your work over the years, is your creativity. I think you bring a unique style to all genres that you shoot. That’s why I like your sports stuff. You bring a different flavor than the same old static shot.

    Keep up with the blog, as I enjoy the content!

    Viva La Film

    Dan Cross

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Great to hear from you Dan! One of the things that greatly solved my own issues of trying to be a perfectionist was my switch back to film. Since it takes so long to visualize a shot, set it up, and get everything ready for the actual exposure, I find that I am much more happy with the final result. In the year since I switched to large format, I have produced more images that I am satisfied with than any other year that I have been taking photos.

      I have found that being limited by my equipment, combined with a lot of time to think through the composition, has really helped me. This can be done just as easily with digital. I think it is an issue of creating your own limitations. Working with just one prime lens could be what it takes. My switch to large format has had me rediscover my love for photography all over again. I attribute that to the inherent limitations.

      I still might end up shooting the Holiday Bowl this year, but that is not set in stone yet. I temporarily have a 1DIII for that purpose, but I just need to get myself some long glass. It has been so long since since I’ve shot sports that I think it might be fun to give another shot at. Thanks for the kind words, and it’s great to see some of the FMers showing up here to read my daily photographic blabbering. 🙂

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