Zion 2010: Day 7 (Subway II)

Subway in Full Glow (Velvia 100 8x10)

For those who have been following my blog, this is a familiar photo.  It’s very similar to the photo I posted from Day 2. I took 3 photos on Velvia 100 that afternoon.

The first two exposures were a bracketed sequence taken before the main glow appeared. They were safety shots just to make sure I walked away with something. This third shot was taken during peak glow. Note how light is skimming across the rear wall, and the glow is even stronger than the photo I posted on day 2.

So what’s my excuse for posting a Day 2 photo on Day 7?

Two reasons:

  • Day 7 was my second hike to Subway on this trip
  • Perhaps the more practical answer: I just received this sheet of film from the lab

One of the benefits of shooting large format is the ability develop film one exposure at a time.  Let’s say I take two photos of the same scene with identical exposures. I can send shot “A” for developing and see how it turns out. If the exposure needs adjustment, I can request that the lab push or pull process shot “B” to fine tune the exposure. This method depends on careful note-taking to account for every sheet of film.

I was happy with the exposure on the first two sheets of film from subway, so I requested normal processing on this exposure.

Now on to Day 7…

Saturday, Novemeber 6, 2010

A whistle sounded in the distance.

I sat up and tried to make sense of the situation. It was dark and the campground was silent.

The muffled whistle was my GPS alarm clock, buried under a jacket in the corner of my tent.

When camping on a photo trip, my dreams are rooted in reality. I will dream about a shot I took that day, or my plans for the coming day. The dreams are vivid and real. My mind is in photo mode, and won’t shut off.

If I need to shoot a sunrise the next morning, I will often dream about oversleeping, and missing the shot. You can imagine the relief when I awake to a dark tent. Moments later, my alarm will sound.

Back in May, I dreamt I was hiking through Buckskin Gulch one afternoon, and I became tired. I decided to take a nap within the canyon. When I awoke from the nap, it was night. My short nap lasted through sunset, and I was trapped within the dark confines of Buckskin Gulch. Since I hadn’t planned on staying into the evening, I did not have a headlamp.

In pitch black conditions, I felt around for my equipment. This proved futile, so I used my iPhone as a flash light. I swept this dim light across the canyon until I spotted my pack. It was sitting on a rock — near a television. Strange. As I continued the search for my belongings, the dim light illuminated many bowling ball sized rocks that dotted the floor of this wash.

In the distance, I saw a light. It was dim, blue, and very foreign in shape. I stared at this dim light — unable to discern what it was, or how large it was. As I looked to my left, I saw another strange light source. As if by magic, these strange light sources morphed into something very familiar to me — my bedroom windows.

The canyon walls became bedroom walls, and the rocks on the floor became piles of colors and whites ready for laundry the next day. The iphone was real, the television was real, and the pack was real. While half asleep, I somehow grabbed my iPhone off the night stand. You can imagine my confusion when objects in the dream morphed into reality.

Within this context, I am now suspicious when I awake before sunrise and find myself in a tent. Is it real? You sure?

I always use the same alarm chime on my GPS.  I only use it on photo trips, so it assures me that this is not a cruel dream-hoax.

I laced my boots, gathered my gear, and drove to the Subway trailhead.

It was over an hour until sunrise, but the trailhead was bustling with people. There were 5 cars in the lot, and people were busy unloading gear. Many of these people were top-downers. A group of at least two people would park car “A” at the exit of the one way trail, then pile into car “B” and drive to the trailhead. At the end of a long day of hiking, they end up at car “A” and then use it to retrieve car “B.”  The top down approach involves 3 rappels, as well as several stretches of swimming through cold water.

Most photographers prefer the bottom up approach. This non-technical approach makes it possible to carry bulky camera equipment — something that I apparently love to do.

The parking lot soon quieted down, and half the cars left as the top-downers drove to their start point.

I put on my neoprene socks, boots, and had some breakfast.

Today, I am meeting with photographer Bob Ross for the hike.

We knew ahead of time that today was not ideal for subway. At least 60 (and possibly more) of the 80 possible permits were issued for subway today. This means it would be crowded. Secondly, the forecast called for clouds.

As you know based on my blog — clouds are the enemy when shooting reflected light. Even a thin veil of high clouds can kill reflected light. Today, the forecast called for a thick layer of high clouds.

The beautiful reflected light of subway might not be possible, but there are many other scenes to shoot along the way. When the sky is overcast, it is best to shoot subjects at your feet. Why not take advantage of the giant overhead softbox?

Bob and I hit the trail early, and were the first to arrive at Arch Angel Falls. This waterfall is frequently photographed, and for good reason. It is beautiful! Nearby trees showcases peak fall color, and the soft overcast light was okay for shooting waterfalls. This waterfall is best shot in the morning when the canyon is in shade, and the rear canyon wall is bathed in reflected light. Today, the reflected light was not present.

Since today’s weather forecast was not ideal, and there would be many other people on this hike, I brought my 4×5 camera. This camera is faster, smaller, and lighter than my 8×10 setup. Without the pressure of having to shoot a perfect photo on this trip, I was free to scout for compositions with the 4×5.

I have two lenses for the 4×5, 75mm wide angle (around 24mm on 35mm) 210mm low telephoto (around 70mm on 35mm). I am very happy with the shots I can get from just these two focal lengths. When I purchased the 8×10 setup, I purchased two lenses, 150mm and 450mm. These two lenses give nearly the same angle of view as my 4×5. As a result, I can use the 4×5 for scouting compositions. If I see a great composition, I can shoot nearly the same shot on my bigger camera.

I knew that today would be a day of scouting rather than shooting. the 4×5 allowed me to experiment with composition on Arch Angel Falls — a waterfall I have hiked past on many occasions, but I have never photographed.

I setup my Toyo 45AII 4×5 camera and the wide angle lens at the base of the waterfall. Intrigued by the zig-zagging flow of water, I settled on a vertical composition.

Initially, I setup the camera very low to the ground. This provided a very in-your-face view of the waterfall. Something wasn’t quite right with the composition though. Although the foreground was bold, and the background also looked good, I was missing the middle ground. I elevated my tripod, and used a higher perspective to show the complete path of the water.

I waited for the best background glow, and made an exposure.

This is a situation where I have to ignore my incident meter, and use only the spot. I’m not sure why this is the case, but relying on the incident meter will give a very underexposed image. I set my meter to spot, and created an average meter reading between the brightest highlights and the deepest shadows.

The slick red sandstone is very dark, so it is important to maintain detail. The white water at the base of the falls was metered at between +2.5 and+2.7, so I knew it would be very bright. The red sandstone was metered at -1.5, and the yellow trees in the background were metered at a little over +1.5. I don’t recall the shutter speed, but I’m sure it was around 30 seconds @ f/22. I also used a Hoya polarizer to help control the reflections.

Arch Angel Falls | Nikkor 75mm | ~30 sec @ f/22 | Velvia 50 | Polarizer

As I composed this shot, I had mixed feelings about the extreme foreground. I wasn’t sure if I should include the broken rock ledge in the lower left corner, or move the camera slightly forward to exclude it from the composition. I decided to play it safe and include it. It’s easy enough to crop it afterward.

Now that I am viewing it on a computer, I can see how that corner distracts from the rest of the composition. Overall, I’m happy with the exposure, and the composition does flow well. When I return with my 8×10, I can pursue other composition ideas.

After shooting Arch Angel, Bob and I made our way past the crack toward subway. Just as expected, the light was flat, and the glow was minimal at best. I took off my pack, and decided to visit the upper portion of Subway.

Usually, this area is off limits. Without a rope, it is not possible to climb the slick 15 foot rock wall that stands between lower and upper subway. On this occasion, a rope was left behind by top-downers. I climbed the rope, crossed a log over a waterfall, and wandered through upper subway.

This is the location of Michael Fatali’s famous “North Pole” photo of a pine log wedged within the canyon.

It was now mid-afternoon, and there was no sign of a break in the clouds. I rejoined Bob down in subway proper, and we made our way back past the crack, toward a wonderful maple grove. The color was fantastic, but it was just too chaotic to photograph.

With limited photographic potential due to the conditions, we decided to hike back to the trailhead. This also spared us from hiking out of there in the dark.

Today’s video focuses mostly on the sights and sounds along the way. For best video play back on my blog, please select 360p rather than 240p.

3 Responses to “Zion 2010: Day 7 (Subway II)”

  1. Sharon Van Lieu Says:

    The subway shot at the top is just gorgeous, Ben. You did a great job.


  2. Photography trip to Zion National Park | i am indisposed Says:

    […] The trail to the Subway wanders through the forrest, then drops steeply down to North Creek. From there you bushwack and cross the river a million times for 4 miles or so. It’s a long, rough, strenuous hike. While the Narrows hike is portrayed as a big deal, and with the potential for flash flooding, It’s not that big a deal really. But the Subway trail is rough. We didn’t have any problem with it, we’re hard core. So was the dude who lugged a 90 pound pack with an 8 x 10 film camera up the trail. [Just found out that this guy was So Cal FILM Photographer, Ben Horne. This is his report from that day.] […]

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