Colorado Plateau Trip: Day 1

Sunday May 2, 2010

Earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to visit Death Valley for 10 days.  I walked away from that trip with a couple shots in particular that I was very happy with.  How could I one-up that trip?  Easy — make the next trip 11 days.  My destination for this trip would be very familiar.  Each location is one that I have visited before — but not during the month of May.  I wanted to return to some of my favorite, and most productive photographic locations. I did not have a concrete itinerary for this trip.  That would depend on the weather, and my own judgment.

When I packed my truck the day before the trip, I made sure all of my photographic equipment was there.  My 4×5 camera, 8×10 camera, panoramic camera, and all the lenses were packed and ready to go. I had an ice chest full of film, all the necessary camping gear, and plenty of food and water.

There was something missing.  For whatever reason, I did not feel the inspiration to shoot.  Often times, I will visit a location with a preconceived image in my mind. This image becomes my goal for the trip. For this trip, my mind was blank — the “carrot on a string” was not dangling in front of me. I know why this was the case.  The previous days/weeks/months were spent preparing for ArtWalk.  I did not have the time to think about this trip, my goals, and what I wanted to walk away with.  That would be left for me to think about once I arrived.

I left San Diego at 3:20AM.  Although it is not necessary to leave this early, I prefer an early start.  It makes the drive seem shorter.  Also, it’s nice to drive through the inland empire of Los Angeles under the veil of darkness. I fueled up in Vegas, then continued though St George toward my destination: Toroweap.

You can’t go wrong with Toroweap.  The views are amazing.  Where else can you drive to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and have an unobstructed view of the river below?  Many of the other Grand Canyon viewpoints have only limited views of the river below.  Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Toroweap is that you can easily hear the rapids several thousand feet below you.  Not only that, but occasionally you will hear a shout from the white water rafters.  You can’t really make out the people, but the rafts are clearly visible.

This would be my forth trip to Toroweap. During my previous 3 visits, I came close to capturing a photo that I liked — but I was never 100% satisfied.  I attribute this to two factors.  First, it’s a stunningly beautiful location.  Such locations are difficult to do photographic justice.  Secondly, the best shooting locations are inches from the edge of a multi-thousand foot sheer drop. We’re talking about tripod legs an inch or less from the edge of a cliff.  One kick of the tripod, and bye-bye camera. The tedious experience of working on the edge of a cliff caused me to make compromised decisions in the past.  Sure, the composition would be a bit better if I could move a hair forward — but that pesky cliff keeps getting in the way.

Although Toroweap is great for both sunrise and sunset, I prefer to shoot sunrises here.  The eastern view is very simple, and structured.  Shooting sunrise at this location also involves a very high contrast scene.  Part of the image (the cliff face) will be in full sun, and canyon in the background will appear in full shade.  As a way to lessen the contrast, my plan was to try a double exposure. I would take half the exposure before sunrise, and the second half after sunrise.  Hopefully, this would provide sufficient detail in both the shadows and the highlights.  I would try this technique in addition to a standard exposure.

I spent the afternoon scouting the area east of Toroweap in search of interesting vantage points. I didn’t find anything all that amazing, but it was great to stretch my legs after the long drive.  It was VERY windy. I would estimate that gusts were in the 30+MPH range.

Even though my goal was a morning shot at Toroweap, I did not plan on taking a photo that next morning.  I didn’t know where the sun would rise on the horizon, or if there would be any other issues.  My plan was to get up early the next morning, watch a sunrise, then formulate a plan on how to shoot it.   I watched the sunset, made dinner, then went to sleep.   It was a long day.

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