Colorado Plateau Trip: Day 6 (Part II)

Friday May 7, 2010

My preparations paid off. After 3 days of wandering around Buckskin Gulch, I had captured a grand scale glow. Because of the bracketed exposure, I was confident that I got the shot. Honestly though, I never take it for granted. I have found far too many ways to mess up a shot.

After taking the photo, I often think to myself “Sure hope this ones turns out…”

There is no way of knowing until I get the film back from the lab.

I second guess my decisions all the time. Did I set the shutter right? How about the aperture? Did I remember to stop it down? Did I lock down the focus so it wouldn’t shift if I bump the camera? These are all the thoughts that go through my mind.

I now have a ritual of re-metering the scene, and confirming all of the settings after I take the photo. That way, I can have peace of mind.

After exiting the canyon, I hiked back to my truck and made lunch.

It was time to head back to the campground and pack up my itty-bitty-one-man-tent. I love that tent. It sets up and breaks down in less than a minute. Despite it’s tiny size, I have the most comfortable sleep in it. Unless it is raining or very windy, I keep the rainfly off for a wonderful view of the stars.

During my trip to Death Valley in February, this little tent proved its ability in the rain. This thing was submerged in over 3 inches of flowing water, and not a drop got inside.

I was heading to White Pocket — this was to be my third trip. I wish I could spend more than one night there, but this was only a quick side trip.  After spending the past 3 days in Buckskin, I wanted a change of scenery, and was looking forward to the drive.

I love to drive.  I don’t care if it’s a day long drive to a shooting destination, or just a trip to the store.  The novelty of driving had never worn off for me.

The drive to White pocket is a study of reverse road evolution. You start on a wide gravelized road — well maintained and even suitable for a low rider.  Next up is a narrower, though still well maintained gravelized road.  At this point, things begin to deteriorate quickly.  The road narrows to a single lane, and eventually two tracks.  The road weaves through juniper groves, over rock ledges, and through deep sand.

As a preventative measure, I air my tires down to about 16PSI just as the road gets bad.  This allows me to float over the sand, and gives a smooth ride when driving over the rocky ledges.

There are 2 areas in particular that require careful attention.  As you drive through Poverty Flat, there deep sand within the maze of roads.  Pick a road that aims toward the water tower on the hill.  Just keep moving, and you’ll get there.  All the roads end up there.  Near the windmill in particular, you’ll find some deep stuff.

Beyond that, there is an additional sand trap.  It’s the final hill you climb as you near White Pocket.  It’s not a steep hill, but the uphill stretch combined with possible deep sand. The first time I visited White Pocket, I lost some traction on this stretch, but still had enough momentum to avoid getting stuck.

During this trip, that hill was not a problem.  There was definitely some deep sand in the roadway, but it was only on the lower part, not on the hill itself.  This is depicted in the video at the bottom of this post.

It was mid afternoon when I arrived.  There was not a single cloud in the sky.  This would have been a source of contention had I been planning on shooting the sunset.  My intention was to experiment with some star trail shots using my Fuji 6×17 panoramic camera.

I’m still not very comfortable with this camera.  As much as I absolutely love using it, I have a hard time adapting my photographic vision to the 6×17 format.

Darth Vader Camera

I scouted out my subject, some simple white sandstone hills.  The backdrop was the northern sky, so I knew the center of star rotation would be just above the composition that I chose.  As I setup the camera, I knew that I would be faced with some obstacles.

First, it would be windy.  I needed to weigh down my camera to ensure a stable shot.  I retrieved a black trash bag from my car, filled it with sand, and tied it to the bottom of my tripod.  Done.

Secondly, the lens on my 6×17 camera is not terribly fast.  I chose a roll of Provia 100 because of the good response to long exposures.  At ISO 100, and f/8  (the best my lens can do), I had my doubts about the exposure.  I removed the center filter to give myself a slight edge in light gathering.

Rather than setup camp near my car, and hike out to the camera several times to start and stop the exposure, I opted to sleep under the stars next to my camera.

I began the first exposure an hour after sunset, and set my alarm clock for about 1AM. That would give me nearly 5 hours for the first exposure.  This exposure would be during a moon-less sky.  I settled in for the night, and had a brilliant view of the stars.

Just as promised, I awoke to the sound of a quacking duck at 1AM.  It was 30 degrees.

I shimmied out of my warm sleeping bag, and wandering over to my camera.  My reflexes weren’t very good, and it was difficult walking across the round rocks.  I stopped the exposure, then proceeded to advance through the remaining 3 shots, and somehow finished the roll of film.

When it’s below freezing, my mind isn’t so sharp.  Combine that with 1AM, and I’m borderline retarded.

On a roll of 120 medium format film, I am suppose to get 4 shots with this panoramic camera. With medium format film, you cannot simply wind it back through again.  Once the roll is done, you need to start another roll.  I’m not concerned with the cost of film and processing — it’s very inexpensive.

The problem was that I had only one roll of film with me.  I wasn’t planning on being an idiot that night. Strike one.

In my uncoordinated semi-awakened state, I lumbered through the dark over strangely shaped rocks and deep sand back to my truck.  I retreived a roll of Fuji Astia.  This was not my first choice for star trails, but it was certainly better than the roll of Kodak Ektar.  I’ve seen that Ektar goes green with long exposures — not the Prius driving, recycling kind of way — the image is literally green.

My camera was easy to spot on the way back.  The string I used to hold the sandbag has reflective fibers woven into it.  As I scanned the cold, dark, rocky horizon with my headlamp, the camera lit up like a beacon.  I’d like to think I planned it this way, but it was just a happy accident.

I loaded the film with my cold fingers, cocked the shutter, and started the second exposure.  By now, the partially lit moon had risen in the Eastern sky.  By doing two exposures, one with the moon, and one without, I would have two separate shots.

I reset my alarm for an hour before sunrise, and crawled back into my down-filled cocoon.

More ducks — the alarm again.  I got up, stopped the exposure, then went back to sleep.

4 Responses to “Colorado Plateau Trip: Day 6 (Part II)”

  1. Jose Says:

    Great tent! Really enjoyed the video as usual. I went through two FourRunners in sequence then I went to big stuff – Navigators – went through two of them as well. The Navi’s were a lot better off road because of the traction control system. You never got wheel spin, traction transfered from one wheel to the next – pretty cool. They are really heavy so they sink really quick, even in gravel – had them up to the rims – but they kept going. Now I’m driving a 450GL AWD. Even better than the Navi because I can raise it 6-inches or so by pushing a button – but not a lot of bottom end torque – they compensate with a 7-speed tranny but still not good enough. My next will be the new Honda Pilot -better gas milage and same amenities as the 450GL. I miss the Navis -best vehicles I’ve ever owned – just too much dam premium fuel.

    617 is a whole different animal, and I suspect that beings you like intimate compositions, this presents an even bigger hurdle. I think the best thing is to look at what other people do with them – it’s a lot quicker learning curve to see what is possible rather then experimenting – ah, the wisdom of the net🙂. I’ll send you some links.

    Best,

    Jose

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Much of the work I’ve seen on the 6×17 focuses on distant subjects — mountain ridges, horizons, etc. I think there is a lot of potential here and I plan on exploring it for a while. It definitely does not fit my typical style though.

      I do enjoy being able to take the viewfinder with me while scouting, and the ability to shoot a sunrise without setting up the camera a day in advance. The great thing about this camera is that it will hold its value in the event that I decide to sell it. I must say that I feel more at home shooting a panoramic on my 8×10, and cropping afterward.

      If anything ever happened to my 4runner, I’d likely get another. I really don’t have any complaints. It’s perfect for deep sand in AZ, as well as the daily commute.

  2. Ron Richins Says:

    Great video. Thanks for going to the time and effort to set up the shots. There’s some good information for those of us with little off roading experience.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      The videos are a fun thing for me on the trip. In addition to taking the shots on film, planning ahead for the videos gives me one more thing to think about. When I’m out there on the shooting trips, there is *plenty* of time to work with.

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