Photographing in and around the Southwest’s Four Corners

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some "big" views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. © Kit Frost

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some “big” views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. The “yellow, green, tone is the outcome of the coal fired generating station. Nuf said. © Kit Frost

The drive from Durango to Page is beautiful, through some great locations for Southwest Photography.  the Four Corners Monument, Petroglyph Panel at Sand Island Campground, Comb Ridge, Monument Valley and Tsegi Canyon are all along the way.

Comb Ridge at Sunset, with frozen pond. ©Kit Frost

Comb Ridge at Sunset, with frozen pond. ©Kit Frost

I’ve driven the Comb Ridge Road from Bluff to Blanding, Utah many times, but this was the first time I encountered a frozen pond.  I love to play with reflections and this location proved to be lots of fun.  The challenge is to hold detail in the exposure of the well lit walls of Comb Ridge, while at the same time properly exposing for the reflection.

I underexposed this reflection by a value of -.7 or 2/3 darker.  In post-production I used my favorite tool, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and opened up the shadows using fill light (LR3) or shadows (LR4).  It helps to pre-visualize what you want the final image to look like at the location, so that you capture all the detail possible.

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some "big" views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. © Kit Frost

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some “big” views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. © Kit Frost

My plan was to spend a night in Page (about 3.5 hours west of Bluff Utah) continue west to the Arizona strip near Lee’s Ferry and Marble Canyon, hike in and around the area, explore the Vermillion Cliffs and see the Grand Canyon from Marble canyon.

At Marble Canyon, the Colorado River flows past a red rock mesa.  The "put-in" for 25 day Grand Canyon River Trips.  ©Kit Frost

At Marble Canyon, the Colorado River flows past a red rock mesa. The “put-in” for 25 day Grand Canyon River Trips. ©Kit Frost

Seeing the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry is awesome.  Its powerful and runs clean.  This images was taken about 20 miles southwest of the Glen Canyon dam, so at this point you can see the water running clear, instead of it’s usual red color from the silt and sediment in the river.

The view from Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon. ©Kit Frost

The view from Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon. There is a group of boaters at the curve.  The bridge I’m standing on is their last touch of civilization until they reach Phantom Ranch in 9 days. Awesome, jealous. ©Kit Frost

I was hesitant to hike into Cathedral Wash solo, wanting to see the drop off into the Grand Canyon, but I got over my fear and started hiking at around 1pm. The wash is beautiful, and the warm light of each curve in the canyon was seductive. I enjoyed lots of photography, and was grateful for the LCD to check my exposures.  I took my time, creating many new images.

The range of tones was broad, and I underexposed frequently. I was using matrix metering and did not carry my graduated neutral density filter (Tiffen, glass 0.6, 2 stop). I planned to bring up the shadow values that were underexposed using Lightroom. I reached the thirty foot drop in about two hours, traveling less than one mile, stopping frequently for photography, lunch and to enjoy the solitude. At the pour-over I hesitated to go it alone. Remembering Aaron Ralston’s solo hike and fall I always let my “go to” friends know where I plan to be and if injured by a fall or delayed for any reason.  We plan a call at the end of each of my solo adventures.

In canyons with frequent pour-overs and benches to navigate and when hiking solo the possibility of a fall is real,  so I spent some time above the 30 foot pour-over, making videos and photos, rather than risking a cold night in a canyon.

I was disappointed, felt old, but later was glad I made the right decision not to hike any further than was safe. I left the canyon making many more images in the sweeter light of late winter afternoon, returning to the trailhead and car at around 4pm. The drive home was sweet while the sun set, but dark from west of Kayenta all the way home. I got home at around 10pm and checked in with a text. I later realized that if i had gone further into the wash and reached the last pour-over in Cathedral Wash and the view of the Grand Canyon I would have driven home much later. And almost 6 hours of driving in the dark is very tiring.  There’s always another day, and another time.  I think I will get one of the SPOT location devices so my “go to” person knows exactly where I am in each canyon I explore.

Self Portrait in the Wash. ©Kit Frost

Self Portrait in the Wash. ©Kit Frost

Hiking in Shadow and Light, Cathedral Wash, Arizona Strip ©Kit Frost

Hiking in Shadow and Light, Cathedral Wash, Arizona Strip ©Kit Frost

Shadow and lIght, from Cathedral Wash ©Kit Frost

Shadow and lIght, from Cathedral Wash ©Kit Frost

What I learned:

  1. When I asked the Ranger about the canyon, and she mentioned just the one difficult spot, the next question should have been to ask her to explain the difficulties.
  2. In the winter the days are short so get going earlier. Even though the sweet light will elude me.
  3. Carry essentials for emergency. Warm clothes, whistle, mirror, phone, Buy SPOT
  4. Carry extra water and gloves, a power bar or two, and warm hat. Just thinking here if there was a solo emergency.
  5. Thinking of Aaron Ralston here too.

For Photography:

I carried my Nikon D5100, my favorite hiking camera, lightweight, with the 16-85mm lens.  I love that lens, versatile, good wide angle and short zoom.

Carry the Graduated ND .06, especially on bright sunny days as the range of tones in the canyon is great.  Underexposing helps generally in landscape, and specifically at times when the sky is in the composition.

Because of the range of tones between shadow and light, for many photographs I completely eliminate the sky, while in others I like to minimize it.  Later, in Lightroom I subtract Luminance from the sky.

In many of my “shadow and light” images, I make a decision as to how much detail I want to see in the shadow (dark) areas and expose for those areas.  In these examples you can see that I choose a bit of detail in the Hiking in Shadow and Light, Cathedral Wash, Arizona Strip, while letting the shadows create a silhouette in Shadow and light, from Cathedral Wash.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Photographing in and around the Southwest’s Four Corners

Please let me know what you think about this post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s