Monday, November 1, 2010
My alarm sounded several hours before sunrise. With exception of the rolling breeze, the campground was silent.
This time of year, subway never sees direct sunlight. The best shooting times are in the late afternoon, so a pre-dawn start is not truly necessary. However, with an 8×10 camera, I need time to scout a location, and decide on a composition. The last thing I need is to feel pressured when setting up my camera.
My goal was to be the first to arrive at Subway proper. I did not plan on shooting any other photos that day.
I arrived at the trail head with just over an hour until sunrise. I checked over my gear, ate a quick breakfast, then hit the trail.
If you have never hiked subway before, I would not recommend starting the hike before sunrise. The trail is hard to find in the dark — even with a headlamp. This was my forth time hiking subway, so I was very familiar with the trail.
The weather forecast was ideal for subway — clear skies with only a slight breeze.
On this trip, clouds are the enemy. In order to get the beautiful reflected light I was after, even a thin layer of high clouds will snuff out the good light.
My first glimpse into the canyon confirmed my best estimates on the fall color. Most of the cottonwoods were showing prime color. The younger trees were still green, but the older and stressed trees formed a procession of neon yellow torches.
I have heard from many people that fall color was a week behind schedule this year. This proved ideal for my trip. In past years, the stunning maples were well beyond peak color by the time I reached Zion. This year, I threaded the needle with my timing. The maples were amazing.
Several miles up stream, I encountered a beautiful maple grove. Each crimson leaf was held delicately in place.
Such scenes are amazing to witness in person, but difficult to photograph. Upon seeing this tree, I was inspired to find and photograph a perfect maple grove in Zion. It was certainly a high order, but I had time to properly scout the park. On a side note, I find it somewhat amusing that none of my photos have trees in them — seriously, check out my gallery — not a single tree.
After several hours, and many miles, I reached my destination.
Upon arrival, I took a moment to study subway. My goal was to shoot a horizontal photo of this location. A horizontal composition helps give a sense of peace and tranquility. I felt that was very fitting for subway.
Unlike a SLR where you have a bright viewfinder, the ground glass on an 8×10 is VERY difficult to see in such low light conditions. Setting the focus is not easy, but composition is the biggest problem. it’s difficult to see the entire composition at one time. Imagine shining a flashlight through the forest at night. You can see the trees overhead, or the ground at your feet, but not at the same time.
My camera is an Ebony RW810, and I brought two lenses with me: Nikkor 150mm (wide angle) and a Nikkor 300mm (normal). The advantage of the 300mm is that it has a “fast” 5.6 aperture. This allows me to see the image much better on the ground glass. My wide angle is f/8 lens, which becomes very difficult to see in low light.
I mounted the 150mm, and tried out a few compositions — nothing seemed to click. When I shot horizontal, there was too much dead space in the composition. When I switched to vertical, there was far too much foreground.
The deep pools of water, and the slippery sandstone don’t allow for very creative tripod placement in subway. I am convinced that an ideal horizontal composition is possible, but I simply could not find it.
I switched to my normal lens, and tried to find a composition.
When I still had my Canon gear, I often shot with an ultra wide angle lens. My philosophy was to get close, and shoot wide. Upon switching to large format film, I had the same shooting habits. With time, I have learned that a higher perspective is very useful. Rather than having my tripod mere inches above the subject, I have learned to seek a higher perspective.
I’ve heard that Ansel Adams shot many photos from the roof of his vehicle. I never understood why, until I took up large format. A higher perspective places more emphasis on the mid-ground, which further strengthens a composition. The elements of a composition often fit better when you include more mid-ground.
I’ve also known that many large format photographers tend to shoot with a normal lens. With my Canon setup, a 50mm lens was “boring” when used for grand vista shots. The use of rear movements on large format transforms a normal lens into an abnormal lens. You can change the size of the foreground relative to the background. This allows me to “fit” a subject onto the ground glass. Background too big? I can make it smaller. Foreground too small? I can make it bigger.
Pay close attention to the rear piece of wood on my camera in the below photo. See how it is angled forward? The top of the rear standard represents the bottom of the photo, and the bottom represents the top of the photo. By angling it this way, I am effectively enlarging the background.
The front standard (where the lens is located) is angled in a similar fashion to the rear standard. If you look very close though, you’ll see it’s not quite the same angle. That allows me to change the angle of the plane of focus. I have the front tilted so that the plane of focus extends from the bottom edge of the photo to the top edge of the photo. This allows me to get everything sharp. You can do the same thing with a tilt shift lens on a digital SLR.
I settled on a vertical composition with my normal lens with a higher than usual perspective.
I’m still a bit bummed about not finding a horizontal composition — maybe next time.
After setting up my camera, I was joined by 4 other photographers. For most of them, this was their first visit to subway. I let them know that the best light would be in the afternoon.
Just as the light was getting good, a group of top-downers rappelled into subway. They had come the longer top-down route which is technical hike that includes 3 rappel points.
The calmness of subway was very much disturbed by their arrival. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has the right to be there. That being said, it is good karma to be considerate toward others.
The group spoke with an accent that I could not place — perhaps they were visitors from abroad. Of the 4 people that clunked into subway, there was only 1 that caused a problem.
A woman wearing a wetsuit appeared to be the ring leader of the group.
Imagine this — 5 photographers lined up, working very hard to photograph a scene. We were not milling around and making small talk. Each photographer was standing behind their respective camera, actively looking through the viewfinder and shooting.
My tripod was about 3 feet from the wall, which gave very good access for people entering or leaving subway. I made sure to provide this space, and be considerate toward others.
The woman plunked here equipment down inches from my tripod leg, then laboriously snapped several photos of subway with her point and shoot and built in flash. She was doing this, seemingly interwoven with my tripod legs. I politely told her to be careful of my tripod legs and not to bump them.
She snapped back “Well… It’s in my way!”
I guess my 3 foot gap was not nearly enough for her. Strange. Her statement would become more ironic as the events unfolded.
The woman then asked if I would take her photo. I was literally speechless. As I struggled for words, one of the other photographers volunteered to take her photo.
It gets better.
Unconvinced that the photo was enough, the woman was determined for something better. She handed the camera to her friend, and told them to record video.
She proceeded to sit down next to my tripod, push off, then slide down into the pristine emerald green pool.
I exchanged glances with the 4 other photographers beside me. We all had the same expression on our faces.
I can understand if the woman politely asked if she could be silly, and slide down into the pool — but no notice was given and her actions were impulsive. I guess she didn’t realize that we were taking photos.
After the slide, she checked the camera, and decided it was not good enough
Commence slide #2! With a loud echoing splash, waves of water spilled outside the pool, and the water became murky.
Nope, still not good enough!
Commense slide #3! The murky silt further clogged the pool.
We watched at she continued to slide into the pool over and over — seemingly unaware of the cameras pointed at her. How can someone be some oblivious? I really wish I could have recoded this on video, but I was very concerned that she was going to knock over my tripod.
As the group made their way around the corner, a sense of calm was restored to subway.
Several hours later, here is what it looked like with an even stronger glow:
Am I happy with this shot? I don’t know. I think I’ll have to sit on it for a while. I’m bummed that I wasn’t able to get the horizontal composition I was after, but I made good use of a leading line from the lower right, and I did a good job balancing the foreground pool with the background glow. I used rear movements on the camera to enlarge the rear glow in relation to the foreground pool. You would never notice this had I not mentioned it, but it’s just one of those tricks that is possible.
After taking my shots, I packed up my gear and hit the trail. I was treated to a great show of color on the hike back to the trail head.