Colorado Plateau 2011: Recap

I trust my fiancee’s judgment, especially when it comes to art. Several weeks ago, I asked her to choose her favorite, and least favorite photos from my website. As her favorite, she chose Genesis, a photo I shot this past January in Death Valley.

Genesis: January 2011 (Velvia 50 | Nikkor 150mm | Ebony RW810)

Her least favorite? That was Vertigo, a photo I shot in May of 2010 in the Colorado Plateau.

Vertigo: May 2010 (Velvia 100 | Nikkor 300mm | Ebony RW810)

Though she thoughtfully explained why Vertigo was her least favorite — I think there was another reason. The thought of her husband-to-be leaning over a 3000 foot precipice certainly doesn’t leave warm and fuzzy feelings.

These photos have one thing in common — they were entirely previsualized.

I visited Toroweap (the location of Vertigo) countless times, but never could find a composition I liked. In May of 2010, I returned with the objective of shooting a well-balanced horizontal composition. I purchased a 300mm Nikkor lens specifically for that photo.

Likewise, Genesis was also a well planned shot. I sought to capture a south-facing photo of the flooded salt flats. I hoped for submerged salt cracks in the foreground, and a soft gradient in the background.

On June 12 when I set out on my trip to the Colorado Plateau, I didn’t have a shot in mind. My only goal was to capture a photo better than Luminosity, a glow shot I captured on my 4×5 in May of 2010.

I can honestly say I tried my best. I hiked countless miles under the hot desert sun, formulated a plan to scout the canyon, and stuck to it.

Even though I did not walk away from this trip with a portfolio shot, it was a great experience. I learned how best to deal with extreme temperature — and even used a solar panel to refrigerate my film. I took only 3 photos — none of which I like — but my exposure was dead nuts on all of them.

This November, I will be returning to Zion National Park — one of my favorite shooting location. Unlike my June trip to the Colorado Plateau, I have at least 2 previsualized photos that I am determined to capture. I have goals, objectives, and aspiration.

So where does this put me for next spring? The Colorado Plateau has been great to me, but I won’t be returning next spring. I’ll focus my attention on another region — scenic North Dakota.

Or maybe not. But in all seriousness, it’s okay to make fun of North Dakota. According to my web stats, I haven’t had a visitor from North Dakota in 3 years —  they’re not reading this. Mississippi, you’re not far behind.

One thing is for certain though — wherever I end up, I’m bringing my video camera to take you guys along for the ride. I’m sure you’ll see more of my (poor) dancing. Better yet, maybe I’ll even take a photo.

Oh, and maybe I should explain my video from Day 9. Did anyone think I was honestly shooting two 8×10 view cameras at the same time? Here’s the real story.

On the morning of Day 9, I ran into a friend at the Wire Pass trailhead. It was a complete coincidence.

He owns the exact same Ebony 8×10 camera (RW810) that I use. We hiked into the canyon, and checked out an area I named “The Dragon’s Lair.”

With two identical 8×10 cameras in the canyon, we decided to have some fun. Want to call my bluff?  Look at my eyes as I try to explain why I’m shooting two cameras. They shift to the right — a clear sign that I’m making it all up. I’m horrible at poker.

I didn’t have a closing video for that day, so I setup a tent in my bedroom, and threw on a headlamp. I have a hard time being serious with this stuff, so I chose to use the video clip where I was interrupted by the neighbor’s motorcycle. Good times.  🙂

12 Responses to “Colorado Plateau 2011: Recap”

  1. Iluminado Delgado Says:

    Ben, you think we can see the pictures?


  2. Laura Says:

    Thanks for sharing the experience with us. Previsualization is a new concept for me, and glad to see I’m not the only one who goes out searching for photos and comes up empty handed. I’m going to Utah in 5 1/2 weeks and will try previsualizing, as opposed to frantically driving/hiking around knowing the elusive shot is around here SOMEWHERE. BTW, eyes to the right indicates truthfulness, eyes to the left indicate deception. Had it tested on me by a Border Patrol agent!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      With regard to the direction of the eyes, is the direction determined by the observer, or by the person’s point of view? They were to my left, but the viewer’s right. I usually look up and to the right when thinking, and to my left if I’m trying to bluff. If I am indeed backwards of the normal, I should really take up poker!

      Though I walked away empty handed this time, I learned a LOT about the location. I’m not bummed about it because I enjoy the entire process. Taking a photo is just icing on the cake.

      Another well known photographer uses the motto “light first, subject second” … indicating that a mediocre subject with good light is better than a awesome subject in mediocre light. Though this is certainly true, it also gives the appearance that one must scramble around and try to find a composition at the last minute when the light is really awesome.

      My philosophy is a bit different. I find a good subject, ask myself when it will be best to shoot, then wait for that moment. That way, I have a great subject AND great light. This is a key part in my process of previsualization.

      By visiting a location several times, it’s easier to know what to expect, and to plan for a particular shot. I like having goals… it makes the job so much easier.

      Even though you may walk away from a trip empty handed, you will have gathered so much more information about an area. Maybe you found another place along the way? Maybe you explored a road you had never been down. Crossing an area off your list because it’s not a suitable subject is just as important as taking a photo. It allows you to better find a photo next time when the light really is good.

      • Laura Says:

        Light first subject second will be my mantra when I’m in Utah in October (that, and any day out here is better than a day at work). And will enjoy the exploration process. Even bad/mediocre photos are valuable learning experiences, I’m starting to realize. And again, can’t go wrong hiking on a trail in Utah, photos or not. Re: eyes, most people look to their own right when being truthful, to the left when being deceptive. Now you know where to look in a poker game!

        Thanks again for sharing this experience, I learned a ton. Looking forward to the Zion adventure in November.
        p.s. my guide friend is taking me to a canyon in Zion he says not many know about….will October ever come???

  3. Steve Perry Says:

    Hey, maybe we’ll cross paths in Zion. We’re shooting for an early November trip.

    As for not getting a shot you like, just remember, a bad day out shooting beats a great day at the office anytime!


    • Ben Horne Says:

      I think it’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ll cross paths in Zion. I plan on being there for nearly two weeks. Just look for my big blue backpack!

      I remember last November when I was hiking into subway. I looked at the time on my GPS, and realized that if I was not on this shooting trip, I’d be hopping in my car, and fighting traffic on my way to work. It’s moments like that that gives me all the appreciation I need to spend time in the great outdoors!

      • Steve Perry Says:

        Sounds cool – I’ll keep an eye out. I’ll be the guy stepping into your frame juuussst as you start your exposure (kidding).

        Hope to see you there.


  4. Shane Dignum Says:

    That was a great series Ben, I had a plenty of good laughs. Thanks!

    Don’t worry about the photographs, I’ve had plenty of trips where I ended up empty handed. That trip I met you on I was gone for 21 days and only ended up with 2 shots. Large format is certainly a commitment but well worth it. Seems like you had a good time though which is really what matters.

    Zion this November will be fun, I plan on being there from the 1st-14th. Give me a call or email if you want to meet up. I originally had a group of about 6 friends going and somehow everyone couldn’t get out of work so I’ll be solo.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Hey, great to hear from you man! I was going to send you a message telling you I posted day 9, but it seems you beat me to it. 🙂

      Though I don’t get as much of a chance to hit the road as you, I love every minute of being out there. Photo or no photo, it’s definitely all about the experience, and the learning along the way.

      I’ll definitely look you up when I’m in Zion. I have a good feeling that neither of us will be hard to spot!

  5. Peyton Says:

    Regardless of the lack of photos this trip, there was some great commentary! I think myself and a few others will be in Zion the beginning of the 3rd week in Nov…hopefully not too late to catch the end of some good color…

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks man. It sure is fun to get out there regardless of photography. The third week of zion will certainly be a bit late for the prime fall color, but you should still be able to find some. Last year, a friend of mine ended up visiting around that time, and was treated to some snow among all the red rock. One thing is clear though, ANY season in Zion is beautiful. I just love that place.

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