Zion 2010: Day 4 (The Narrows II)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On shooting trips, it is impossible for me to sleep in. Don’t get me wrong, I still set an alarm clock — but it’s seldom needed. I often wake up several minutes before the alarm sounds. Today was no exception.

At dark o’clock, I woke up, and preempted my alarm clock.

Initially, I was going to join Jeffrey for a morning of shooting at the east end of the park. Upon checking the weather forecast on my iphone, I saw high clouds in the forecast for the rest of the week. If this weather report proved accurate, today was my last guranteed day of clear skies.

Remember, clouds are the enemy when shooting in canyon country. Even a thin layer of cirrus clouds will greatly impact reflected light.

I decided to head back to the Narrows, and take advantage of the sunny day.

I drove to the Temple of Sinawava parking lot, and changed into my river hiking gear.

This time of year, the Virgin River is very cold. Although I have seen some (miserable) people hike the narrows in shorts, most people prefer dry pants. Rather than renting my equipment from the outfitters in town, I own a pair of dry pants. I purchased them before my fall 2009 trip to Zion.

Under the dry pants, I wear fleece long underwear as insulation. I use my regular hiking boots with neoprene socks to keep my feet warm.

Though I feel overdressed on the one mile hike to the rivers edge, I am very comfortable in the water.

Photographing the Narrows often involves standing or kneeling in the river for an extended periods of time. It is during these times that I am grateful for the dry pants and thermal layer. Rather than thinking about my numb legs, I can concentrate on the shot.

My scouting trip on Day 3 provided me with important information for the coming days. I developed a shot list based on my detailed notes.

Today, I planned on shooting a location I refer to as “The Vortex.” This gentle bend in the canyon yields beautiful reflected light for a one hour window. Even though the glow lasts a long time, the best light only lasts 15 minutes. It was important to arrive at this location well ahead of schedule so I could find an ideal composition.

I brought my 6×17 panoramic camera along with 3 rolls of 120 film — two rolls of Velvia 50, and a single roll of Provia 100.

I was the first (crazy) person into the Narrows today. It was an amazing experience having this location all to myself. The towering sandstone cliffs make anyone — anything, seem insignificant.

I arrived at The Vortex several hours early. This allowed me to further scout the scene, and find an ideal composition.

I carefully setup my Fuji GX617 panoramic camera, and used the ground glass back to ensure accurate focus and composition.

The shot looked very good — with one exception. The lower left corner lacked a foreground anchor. I needed something in that part of the composition to balance the cascade on the right side of the image.

I stumbled around the river until I found an ideal rock.  This was a big rock — I could hardly move it.  It took me a half hour to finesse the rock into position.  The water was over a foot deep in this area, so I used several other rocks to prop it up out of the water. By the tine I was done, the my hands were numb.

Some people seem to have a problem with moving rocks or other elements in the scene. I don’t see the big deal. Every year, large flash floods tear through this canyon and the river is in a constant state of change.  Moving one rock is not going to make a difference.

The Vortex | Fuji GX617 w/ 105mm | 5 minutes @ f/32 | Velvia 50 120

This was a very difficult scene to expose for, but I nailed it. The highlights were metered at +2 on my Sekonic spot meter, and the darkest shadows were metered at -2. Although the flatbed scan did not pull out the dark shadows, I am still holding detail.

The 5 minute exposure is well beyond what Velvia 50 is rated for. I gave an extra stop of exposure to account for reciprocity failure.  I’ve found that Velvia 50 does well with long exposures in these situation.

I packed up my gear, and headed back to the trailhead. Along the way, I found another scene with amazing reflected light. I quickly setup my camera, and shot an entire roll of Velvia 50 with bracketed exposures.

The scene looked cool on my 6×17, but I knew it would be even better on my 8×10.  With my  8×10 camera and a normal lens, I knew I could show much more of the reflected light in the background. I made plans to return the following day.

The Grand Corridor | Fuji GX617 w/ 105mm | Fuji Velvia 50 120


Note: For Best Video Quality at this size, please select 360p instead of 240p

16 Responses to “Zion 2010: Day 4 (The Narrows II)”

  1. Ron Carroll Says:

    Ben, you really nailed it with the video this time; they just keep getting better and they’re a real treat to watch, so thanks again for putting them together. And before I forget… The photos are pretty good too. 🙂 I loved the shot of the Vortex.

    One the nice things about your posts is that they give everyone an in-depth understanding of what goes into the production of such a great shot, starting with rising before dawn. And on a more subliminal level, perhaps, it can give a casual viewer the motivation to venture off the paved roads a bit. Thanks much.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks Ron. I enjoy taking blog viewers along for the ride. It’s great to have so much time to dedicate toward photography, and these amazing locations tend to lend themselves to video quite well.

      The song for this one is “The Long Road Ahead” by Kevin Macleod. Kevin produces royalty free music that is great for youtube. Nearly all the other music out there is forbidden from use because of copyright issues. I’ve found quite a few songs from Kevin that are very fitting for these videos. Here is the website: http://incompetech.com/

  2. Ron Carroll Says:

    Meant to ask earlier… Could you include the song title with the music credits?

  3. Jose Suro Says:

    Hi Ben,

    You did nail the Vortex indeed. Beautiful image. And moving a rock is a lot better than having to take a couple of cans out of a scene! I love the 617 format. This will make a GRAND 30×90 mural.



    • Ben Horne Says:


      I’m still learning to “see” in 6×17. My favorite photo from this trip has yet to come, but it too was shot on the 6×17. I absolutely love the feel of shots taken on that format — especially when printed large. I have a hard time using that camera here in San Diego for ocean shooting, but it works wonders in Zion because of the terrain. It really seems to shine in situations where there is a lot of chaos — as you’ll see with some of the other photos that I shot on this trip.

  4. Jeremy Calow Says:

    Hey Ben,
    Great shots with the 6×17. I have been contemplating getting one for a long time but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. These may just push me in the right direction hehe.

    Great shooting.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I bought mine on ebay almost a year ago. It has taken me a while to get comfortable with it though. The camera is easy to operate and fun to use, but it took me a while before I could recognize which scenes work well on the 6×17. I would recommend the ground glass back to ensure an accurate composition though. Otherwise, the range finder isn’t super accurate.

  5. Ron Richins Says:

    Your videos are very well done. You seem to have taken them to a new level. I’m envisioning a different career path for you.

    I love your take on the “Grand Corridor”. I’ve never thought of shooting it from that perspective.

    I think it’s great that you placed an object to balance a scene. There are old shots I have that could of been helped if I’d have loosened my artistic garter as a beginner.

    Finally, as far as equipment for wading the narrows. I find a nice pair of light weight fishing waders are great. They keep you dry and warm. However, the one piece of equipment I HIGHLY recommend is to purchase some wading boots. They have felt on the bottom. Amazingly they grip slippery rocks very well. Fly fishermen use them to wade river bottoms. I take them in the Subway with me too. I can’t tell you how many people I see fall on that hill in the subway. The boots make it very easy and safe to get up it. The last time I was there, one of the photographers slipped and fell, nearly breaking his arm. Go to your local fishing store and ask about them.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I have to say that I really enjoyed thinking through the process of planning the videos on this trip. I was picturing what I wanted to capture, then set out to capture all the clips. I want more control over the audio, so I’ll be using a different video camera for my next trip. I’m getting a 3 chip Panasonic HD video camera — one of the very compact ones, but it allows external mics, and more control on the video side of things.

      I have a shot of the grand corridor image on 8×10 film, but I don’t have that one back from the lab yet. It shows much more of the glow in a more traditional perspective. That film is still at the lab though (thus the delay for not posting Day 5 yet).

      I really like the suggestions on the felt bottom boots. I see how that would provide a lot of grip in the slippery areas. On my first trip into Subway, I wear wearing some old boots that lacked tread. When I got back into the subway area, I just took off the boots and walked around in the neoprene socks. In a similar fashion to the felt bottom boots, the socks gave me very good grip on the slippery stuff.

  6. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    Hi Ben, haven’t visit yuor blog for a couple of weeks and what a pleasant surprise. The video is just great, a lot of beautiful flowing images and light.
    I’ve been playing a bit with a 6×9 back for my 4×5 and found the roll film to be a joy to scan (even with a flatbed) and print, your footage of the Fuji finder is really tempting, looks like a very comfortable setup to frame and work.
    Anyway, great updates and wonderful imagery as usual.

  7. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    One silly question I forgot to ask, how do you manage to focus your canon camera on you when you walk? Or is it just a DOF matter?

    • Ben Horne Says:

      The roll film back is such a convenience isn’t it? — especially when you want to quickly bracket your exposures for a scene. I don’t do anything fancy for my flatbed scans of the roll film. I just leave it in the protective plastic sleeve, and tape it to the glass. I’m not looking to get a super high res, high quality scan, I just plan on using it like a digital loupe to make sure the film is sharp. I have yet to drum scan any of the 6×17 stuff, but I did get a pretty killer shot later in this trip that might do well as a print.

      With the G12, the focus is fixed during video. Wherever you focus the video when you start is where it will stay during the course of that video. I plug a cable release into the camera, and hold it away from me on a monopod. When I half press the button on the cable release, I make sure I’m more or less in hte middle of the frame. At that point, I can press fully, and I know that I am focused. Every now and then, I’ll mess up and have a clip that’s slightly out of focus. The clip with me mounting the 6×17 camera in this video is out of focus.

      The G12 did a fantastic job for the video, but I will be using a different setup for my next trip — an actual HD video camera. I had so much fun with the G12 on this trip that I have decided to take it to another level to give me some more control.

      • Nicolas Belokurov Says:

        The back is a great piece of equipment to own, although I guess that in terms of weight vs. end result and convenience, a 6×12 back might be the perfect match for a compact 4×5 setup.
        Wouldn’t a compact HD filming DSLR like the T2i or 7D serve you better than a dedicated HD video camera? I’ve seen a lot of clips on vimeo made with photo lenses and the results look totally cinematographic. A filming DSLR can be used as a backup or for all the routine shots.

      • Ben Horne Says:

        A video enabled DSLR would definitely get the job done, but it’s a matter of bulk for me. I do plan on jumping back into dSLRs at some point for quick shots, but I need something that is ultra compact. Also, I have been very impressed with the way that normal video cameras handle motion and panning. The rolling shutter of dSLRs makes panning a bit more difficult. Also, my style of video involves holding the camera out on a monopod, and hiking while it is filming me. The weight of a dSLR would be a bit limiting.

        I might end up with a 5DIII whenever that comes out, but it won’t be my primary camera.

  8. Laura Says:

    I’m catching up on last year’s trip, and I have to say that I’m one of those who has a problem with altering the scene, i.e. moving a rock, etc. My view is that you’re photographing nature as it was created by natural forces, and by altering the scene you’re introducing a man made element. I remember in another post you said you enjoy the limitations of the large format camera and the challenge of working within those limitations. My argument is the exact same for not altering a scene: the challenge is to frame it within the limitations of what you have before you, not essentially take the easy way out and move things around. Anyway, just my opinion. The shots are beautiful, altered or not. ;o)

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I don’t believe we always need to photograph nature exactly as it appears. There is something to be said about the photographer having an impact on the scene — as an artist. I definitely don’t support permanent chances such as disturbing/killing plant life, or other things along those lines, but if there is a piece of dead wood in the scene, I have no problem moving it out of a shot. The placement of rocks in a flash flood zone are temporary at best. With the next flood, those rocks will be quite a ways downstream. There are artists who are known specifically for rearranging elements in nature. Check out the work of Andy Goldsworthy. There is something to be said about the hand of man.

      Though it is great to come across a scene that is perfect, this is seldom the case in nature. If it needs a little help to give the viewer a proper viewing experience, I don’t have a problem with it.

      I seldom photograph scenes of arranged leaves on the ground — not because of any moral objections, but because I’m not very good at it. The shots I’ve tried in the past have always looked contrived. Perhaps I should hire a stylist. 🙂

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