Craft Matters

The Beautiful Chaos

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Beautiful Chaos - Ilfochrome Print

Over the years I’ve familiarized myself photographically with the geography of Zion National Park, particularly its elevations. At higher elevation there is a general zone I like to call “The Beautiful Chaos”. Here the Navajo Sandstone is colored pink and white, its geographic inhabitants random and chaotic. Stones, striations, potholes, weathered tree trunks and springs “litter” the landscape in a visual feast I never tire of exploring.

The image here, a recent Ilfochrome print from my darkroom, captures 5 gently illuminated stones at dusk. I imagine these miniature boulders have a name but I’ve yet to discover it. They consist of harder, more stable sandstone deposited in layers of fragile sandstone, eventually uncovered by erosion. I suspect they inevitably succumb to gravity, rolling downhill, and, in ideal scenarios, splitting neatly apart. The split ones remind me of cinnamon rolls, one of my “culinary weaknesses”. Whatever the forces at work, I find them exceptional and an excellent example of the beautiful chaos present in Zion and throughout the Desert Southwest.

New Ilfochrome – Maples at Twilight

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Ilfochrome Print - Maples at Twilight

I’ve spent much of my free time the last week in the darkroom working on some new Ilfochrome prints. This iPhone photo shows a new print, Maples at Twilight, which I made during my recent trip to Zion National Park.

I was hiking out a side canyon on the Upper East Side near sunset and saw these maples at their peak of color, glowing in the soft light. With darkness coming it was something of a mad scramble to find the desired composition. The needed position was high of a slippery slope, my own feet and tripod legs dug deep into sand to prevent any camera movement. Once set up, the exposure with appropriate depth-of-field was ~15 seconds. But a gentle persistent wind was blowing and by the time it began to settle, my exposure had increased to 45 seconds. Frustrated, with my legs hurting from the awkward position I was in, I managed 3 exposures holding my breath each time hoping the wind would take a cue. The first exposure was abandoned after 20 seconds because of a sudden gust. The next two exposures suffered only minor whispers, and while there is some movement in the leaves in the print, it feels an acceptable tradeoff against the strong sharp lines of the tree trunks and branches. And, of course, the wonderful palette of color.

Very few people associate my fall color images with Zion and I’m just fine with that.

Aspen Reflections

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Aspen Reflections

Water reflections have recently become a favorite subject of mine. I’ve found that the best time to photograph them is often the middle of the day when light is strongest on the reflecting objects — not ideal for most other types of landscape photography. The water should be in shade to help “cool down” the reflected hot tonalities. With the right balance of conditions, the light and color are simply gorgeous.

The image is post processed with black and white point adjustments to increase overall contrast plus some light vibrance. No saturation increase at all. Subtle dodging and burning balance the overall tonalities for a rich even feel throughout the final print.

Happy Fall Equinox

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Fall Trees, Zion National Park

You can feel it in the air. Warm days but a slight chill in the evening. My favorite time of year. Every Fall, I make a sojourn to Zion National Park. Zion has been my photographic muse of the last 17 years, certainly giving me more than I’ve been able to give back. So it seemed fitting to celebrate the 2012 Fall Equinox (September 22, 14:49 UTC) with an image from last year’s trip.

Painted Hills

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Painted Hills, Oregon taken with D800e

My daughter and I took a side diversion to the Painted Hills unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I’ve always wanted to photograph the area and its painterly qualities. We arrived about an hour before sunset and I wandered the main trail considering the different hills and possible compositions. The image here, for me, balanced the myriad of color and forms present including the process or erosion that has revealed these hills over the millennia.

The San Juan at Goosenecks

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Virgin River with D800E

East of Monument Valley just past Mexican Hat, a side diversion of a few miles lands you at Goosenecks State Park. Here the San Juan River lazily meanders its way through the Desert Southwest completing a number of 180 degree turns in a very short distance.

I spent the evening of the 4th of July photographing at Goosenecks and, as it got dark, the hope for possible thunderstorms prompted the decision to spend the night there in the back camper of my truck. Distant flashes held promise but their persistence in almost identical position made me realize they were just fireworks. I fell asleep to a gentle wind that turned to a howling gale around 3 am shaking the truck so hard I awoke thinking there was an earthquake. The wind was followed by a 15 minute rain and then everything calmed down again.

I woke to calm cloudy skies and dampened earth that helped give some definition to the striated rock along the ledges leading down to the river. My favorite photograph is shown here with the sedimentary layers paralleling the lovely winding flow of the river 1,000 feet below.

The D800E and my 18 year old 35-70mm 2.8 Nikkor lens are getting along quite well together. A 16 x 20 print off my Epson 4880 is wickedly sharp and I find I can actually back off the level of sharpening I’m used to as part of my digital printing workflow.