Zion 2010: Day 6 (The Narrows IV)

Friday, November 5, 2010

It is now my routine to get up before dawn, then hike into the narrows with only the light from my headlamp. As each day passes, I set out to capture a photo on my shot list. This highly structured shooting method allows me to shoot at least one photo every day.

Today’s shot is a mid-day glow located a good ways up the Narrows. I know exactly what time to be there, and when the light is best.

I am taking my 8×10 camera back into the narrows, along with a normal lens. When hiking into a location for a shot, prefer to bring at least two sheets of film with me. Today is the exception. Since I shot a single photo yesterday, I am left with a half-used film holder. Rather than load another sheet of film, I decided that the single remaining sheet of Velvia 50 would be sufficient.

The photo must be executed with absolute precision — I only have one chance.

Upon reaching my shooting destination, I spent time studying the composition.

At this bend in the river, a narrow slot opens into a larger canyon. In the foreground, the river rounds a gentle bend, and passes a small stand of young cottonwoods.  During mid afternoon, the rear canyon wall glows like a furnace. Peak color for this glow is a mere 20 minutes.

I decided on a vertical composition to emphasize the towering background glow. To place the viewer in the scene, I included the entire river.

Often times, I can tell when a composition “clicks” in place when viewing the ground glass. In this case, I couldn’t tell if I liked the composition or not. I included all of the elements I wanted, and excluded those that I didn’t want. Despite viewing it on the ground glass, I didn’t know what to think.

Ebony RW810 w/ Nikkor 300mm shifted upward

I decided that this composition was the best I could do, and dedicated to it for the shot.

When the light was at its strongest, and the scene was clear of people, I started my exposure. According to my light meter, I needed to use a 1 minute exposure. This was on Velvia 50 @ f/40. Also, I used a polarizer to help control stray reflections.

Velvia 50 suffers from reciprocity failure when using long exposures. To compensate, I added one full stop of compensation. This doubled my one minute exposure to two minutes.

Gateway to Zion

On the note of exposure, this is a difficult to expose scene. If it wasn’t for my Sekonic 558 spot meter, I would be lost.

For the photo geeks out there, the highlights near the top of the glow are metered at +2, and the darkest shadows along that same slot are metered at -3.5. Fuji Velvia 50, along with most slide films, will hold detail in the highlights up until about +2.  Anything below -2 will be nearly pure black. In short, I made the decision to keep the highlights as bright as possible, but maintain detail. To do this, I sacrificed the darkest shadow regions. However, I can attest that those areas along the side of the glow REALLY were black. With my eyes, I was not able to see discernible detail in that region.

Even though I captured the photo that I set out to shoot, I’m not very attached to it. From a technical standpoint, it’s sharp, and it has a good exposure — but it doesn’t have the impact that I hoped it would have. In any case, it was a good exercise in proper exposure.

And now the embarrassing part.  Even though I clearly remember looking at the ground glass when adjusting the lens hood, I somehow managed to chop off the top of the composition. I wonder if I somehow bumped it when cocking the shutter? In any case, I have reconfigured my lee hood setup so this will not happen in the future.  It makes me wonder if that added 10% of photo up top would have placed further emphasis on the glow, and make the composition click even more?  I’ll never know.

I packed up my gear, and headed back.

Along the way, I found a very interesting area of reflected light. It was an upstream view complete with trees, a good section of river, and wonderful reflected light.  I made a note of the time and the location so I could return in the coming days.

Tomorrow, I am making a return trip to Subway — this time with fellow photographer Bob Ross. Clouds are in the forecast, and nearly all of Subway’s permits have been issued. Both of these factors could prove disastrous when shooting subway — but I’m up for a challenge.

Note: For best video quality, please select 360p instead of 240p

8 Responses to “Zion 2010: Day 6 (The Narrows IV)”

  1. Jose Suro Says:

    I love the contrasts here Ben. Great colors and framing as well. Drum scanned and printed huge it will look superb!

    As to the exposure, reciprocity works against the shadows much more than against the highlights because film reacts faster to highlights under reciprocity. It was a difficult one and you pretty much nailed it. I do find though that Velvia 50 is pretty benign to overexposed highlights, much better than digital and they look more natural. It looks like you still had a little bit of room left on the highlights. That said, I’m much more conservative than you are :). I try to stay within -1.5 to +1.5 stops! I also switch to Velvia 100F if exposures get over a minute. It’s a flatter film contrast wise but still has the Velvia punch. Flatter is a good thing in higher contrast situations and more importantly, the lack of reciprocity works better for the shadows.

    Great stuff!

    Best,

    Jose

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I’ve heard a few other photographers comment about Velvia 100F. I might need to try that one as well. I’ve been able to make normal Velvia 100 work for me in certain situations such as slot canyons, but I’m not a big fan of it for seascape work.

      I have some shots where the highlights are metered at +2.2 to +2.3, and I’m still holding sufficient detail on a drum scan. Just like you said, the highlights are quite graceful on Velvia 50 compared to digital. I often tend to shoot a hair overexposed because I know I can control those highlights on the scan — however, a black area is destined to be just that — black.

  2. Dave Says:

    Beautiful pics Ben! Really nice.

    I was also wondering – have you been up the Narrows recently? I’ve never been to Southern Utah in the winter before, but since I’ve got got no family in the Southern California area with whom to spend Thanksgiving, I’m considering a drive out to Zion. Aside from being a little chilly, is it do-able this time of year?

    Thanks again for the pics and blog-post!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I’ve been following the weather lately, and it looks like it will definitely be chilly in Zion. The color is long gone, but it could certainly make for some good shots. I’ve never done the narrows in December, January, Februrary, or any of the other months that receive winter weather. I’ve seen photos of the narrows when it’s snowing through. That time of year would likely call for a dry suit just in case!

      • Dave Says:

        It was cold, indeed. I didn’t take any photos, unfortunately. I ended up becoming too obsessed with getting as far into the canyon as possible and never took the time to undo my pack and get my camera out of my waterproof bag. Great hike though – but it was cold.

      • Ben Horne Says:

        On my iPhone, I follow the weather for some of my favorite locations. I kept an eye on Zion this past week when you were there. It definitely was cold! I want to head there during the winter at some point as well. I can’t imagine you ran into many other people on the hike.

  3. Mark Says:

    Ben, Really enjoy your blog and all the photo details. Great job on this trip, and thanks for the videos. Zion is one of my favorite places.

    On a side note, I would love to know more about the background music you’ve incorporated into this video. Love it, and the mix with the stream audio.

    Mark

    • Ben Horne Says:

      The music on this one is from Kevin Macleod. He produces royalty free music that can be used on Youtube without fear of copyright infringement issues. This song is called “Bathed in Light.” I downloaded a bunch of his songs, and work them into the videos when appropriate. Since the straight audio on the video clips are a bit monotonous (rushing water), I found that a bit of music helps to unify the cliffs and convey the mood. Here is Kevin’s website: http://www.incompetech.com/

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