Zion 2010: Day 9 (Rainy Day)

Monday, November 8, 2010

I awoke to the sound of light rain falling on my tent. It was a gentle, cleansing rain.  The forecast called for rain all morning, with partially cloudy skies by afternoon.

As a large format shooter, these days are difficult.  An approaching storm at sunrise was bound to bring amazing color. Quite simply, this is something I am not prepared to shoot.  By the time I set up my 4×5 (forget the 8×10!), the light will be gone. You would think I would be bummed about this.

Quite the contrary.

These shots are outside the limitations of my equipment — so I simply enjoy the moment. Since many of you are photographers, think back to the time before you had a camera. What did you do when you saw an amazing, inspirational sunrise? Did you worry about which f/stop you were using, or having the proper ISO setting?  Were you searching for the perfect foreground?  Of course not. You simply enjoyed the show.

This is a valuable lesson that I have learned from shooting large format. You can’t get every shot — so why try? Don’t get stressed. Sometimes, it’s best just to enjoy the show.

Poor weather raises other concerns when shooting large format. Although rain is an issue, wind is the big concern with large format. Even a small gust can shake the camera. This leaves my Fuji GX617 panoramic camera. It is rock solid, even in high wind.

My plan is to shoot a maple grove that I scouted a few days before. Ever since seeing the beautiful maples along the Left Fork on Day 2, I was determined to shoot a pristine maple grove in peak color.

I left the campground well before sunrise, and drove into the main canyon. It was cold and stormy. Wind gusts sent leaves dancing across the road. As I rounded a bend in the road, I caught a glimpse of color in the sky. During this stormy, and otherwise bleak morning, a fast moving band of clouds was illuminated by the first rays of sunlight.

I pulled over, and setup my G12 to record video. Many photographers throughout the canyon were positioned to shoot this sunrise. Although short lived, it was a beauty. I was under no pressure to shoot this sunrise — my G12 quietly recoded video as I sipped some warm tea. Perfection.

A steady rain began to fall.

I gathered my gear, and hiked to my chosen maple grove. I was surrounded by color, chaos, and beauty. I was at peace — overcome by the calm perfection that surrounded me.

With each gust of wind, I was showered with maple leaves. If I wasn’t able to find a composition today, I would be left with very few leaves after the storm passed.

I was now a mere 40 feet from the base of the cliff that towered above me.  With most of the maple forest below me, and I was engulfed by their colorful canopy. Their delicate leaves danced in the rain.

In the distance, I heard a strange sound. I can only describe it as a pickup truck driving down the freeway with a plastic wrapped mattress in the back.  Think of the flapping sound the plastic makes at this speed.

This was bizarre — it was an unnatural, unhuman noise. The road was far away, so that couldn’t possibly be the source.

As each second passed, the noise become louder.


I jerked my head to the left, and caught a frightening sight. A large piece of rock smashed into the ground some 50 yards away. Upon impact, it shattered, sending sandstone shrapnel into the forest.

My heart raced.

That ominous sound was a rock falling more than a thousand feet. The wind and rain must have loosened it.

As the dust settled, serenity was restored. I went back to work.

I’m glad I brought the panoramic camera with me — otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to find a clean composition. The Panoramic 6×17 format is an excellent way to photograph chaos — something that is very difficult with my 4×5 or my 8×10 cameras.

I found an amazing group of maples that ranged in color from orange to yellow. The foreground was clean, and their whimsical trunks seemed to dance.

I setup my camera, and waited for calm conditions. This proved difficult.

Since I was using Velvia 50 film and the camera has a 1 stop center filter, I was effectively shooting at ISO 25. My base exposure was in the 15 to 20 second range. After accounting for reciprocity failure, I was left with an exposure time of about 30 seconds.

The forest was at peace as the rain fell. It was clam, still, and serene. As each band of rain passed, wind returned. With a 30 second exposure, I didn’t stand a chance if there was much wind. I waited for the rain to fall again, and took several exposures.

Maple Dreamland | Fuji GX617 w/ 105mm | Fuji Velvia 50 | 30s @ f/32

I shot 2 full rolls of Velvia 50. I made sure to bracket my exposures for peace of mind.  My first instinct for exposure was spot on. I metered the dark trunks at -2, and the brightest highlights at +2.  The scene was within the latitude of Velvia.  I captured a several photos with very calm leaves.  Only a few leaves show motion blur, but that is acceptable when photographing a maple forest in the rain with a slow film.

Feeling satisfied with my photos from this location, I hiked back to my truck.

After a quick lunch, I drove to the east end of the park. The rolling hills of sandstone are a blast to enjoy. It was windy, cold, and wet, but I felt like a kid in a playground. Although I did not locate any new shooting locations, it was well worth the effort.

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

4 Responses to “Zion 2010: Day 9 (Rainy Day)”

  1. Avuncular Ron Says:

    Those must be dancing boots you were wearing.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Brand new pair of dancin’ boots actually. 🙂 Every once in a while, I throw a few outtakes in there just for fun.

  2. Ron Richins Says:

    I loved your transition to the east side of the park in the video. However, judging by the end of the video, I’d say the rain may have started to drive you crazy. 🙂

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I think there’s definitely something to be said about that. 🙂 It’d hard not to have fun when you’re out there on the east end of the park.

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