John B. Crane is a photographer, illustrator and 3D animator living and working in Fort Collins, Colorado. When John isn't sitting in front of the computer creating complex technical and industrial 3D animation projects for clients around the world, he may be found roaming the Rocky Mountain West in his Subaru, old film cameras in hand, refocusing his eyes, enjoying the solitude and beauty the West has to offer. To view a complete catalog of images please visit http://www.johnbcrane.com.
For the past few months I’ve been working on scanning/archiving slides for my family. It’s a big job – many hundreds of a mixture of very old (late 1950’s) to just sort of old – made in the last few decades.
Several reoccurring thoughts travel my mind as I sit before the screen, inserting slides, waiting for focus, scanning the slides, and naming them in some orderly fashion so we’re actually able to find them once scanned.
One is, I’m sure glad we have these images. They are the closest thing to a time machine I’m aware of. The other night I was looking at photographs of the Zurmatt Curling Club in Switzerland, circa 1957. Wow… talk about a blast from the past. My father took a trip to Europe after getting out of the army in the late 50’s. He and his Kodak Retina documented the countryside well and now, 60 years later, I’m seeing what he saw. That’s pretty cool.
Another is, as I inspect each slide, many are made on Ektachrome and carry a rather red bias. Thank goodness for the sophisticated software we have available today to bring the very best out of even these ancient (by photographic terms) slides.
I wonder how much longer the film will continue to carry an image? The slides have been stored properly and meticulously labeled providing ample information to name and describe them. Though these images have remained intact for many years, there will come a time they’ll fade away to nothing. Everything has a life span and nothing lasts forever. Digitally archiving them while they’re still viable is a good use of time and energy.
I’m grateful for on-line sharing services like zenfolio, of which I’ve been a part of since 2007, allowing such easy archiving and custom, private sharing of these and other images with select audiences. Sharing these images with family members across the globe with a few clicks is easy, cost-effective and painless. And the delight it brings those is real.
I think about how there are really no shortcuts. To get the most out of each frame, the image needs to be scanned, optimized, color adjusted and cropped at a decent enough resolution to cover what might be asked of them in the future. I’ve decided on a modest resolution of about 2,700 px on the longest dimension, rather than the full 5,000+ to save some time – and also predicting not many (if any) images will ever be enlarged great than 8″ x 10″.
I purchased my Nikon Super CoolScan 5000 some time around 2008. I remember driving to Denver in a snow storm and buying – new – the last one on the shelf at Wolf Camera for something like $1,000. The kids in the store looked at me like I was nuts. “Don’t you know about digital cameras?” their smirking eyes said as I walked out the door with my prize. I’ve seen LS-5000’s at auction for upwards of $2K. It’s a great scanner – providing you use the right software with it. But that’s another post.
I’m grateful for this moment in time where we as photographers have the ability to choose from the affordable overabundance of such exquisite high-end picture making gear what tools to work with. I’m grateful for the advanced technology available today to get the absolute most out of every frame shot – from scanning software to post-processing editing tools, Digital Asset Management tools and on-line sharing tools. I’m grateful for long-stored analog film in the freezer as well as all-new emulsions rolling off the production lines of Kodak and others.
With the question of what camera to trust finally settled on once and for all, I’m grateful for my F6, which I fully expect to be clicking away many years from now, its corners and rubber grip worn, with a roll-count well into the thousands.
The attributes of film endure, providing us with the ability to – 60 years from now – look at the world through the lens at this great time to be a film photographer.
This past February I returned to New Mexico’s Bisti Wilderness in search of dramatic skies. Armed with the F6, a freshly repaired 645 ProTL (thanks to Dave at Key Camera in Longmont) and lots of Velvia I was in search of drama. Watching the weather for two weeks before had my imagination racing. There was a big system due to hit the Rockies from the Pacific northwest and it looked like either the trip would be scrubbed – or – it was going to be perfect.
Enter the iPhone’s numerous weather App’s. My friend Dan turned me on to Dark Sky, and easy-to-use, paid app providing weather and satellite updates through a great UI. According to the satellite it looked like the southern tip of the storm would camp out just north of Farmington, New Mexico. The Bisti is about 40 miles south, making views of the storm great – but hopefully dodging the mud caused by excessive rain. You don’t want to get stuck in the mud in the Bisti Wilderness.
As the weather picture solidified so did my plans and things looked good. At the last minute my buddy Mark offered up his new Rokinon 14mm. Now, you have to understand I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to gear. I’m not proud of that; it’s just the way its been. So my first inclination was to say “thanks but no thanks.” I’d mostly planned on putting the Mamiya through its paces and wasn’t that interested in adding more stuff to the already full bag. Then I reconsidered, remembering one road and one shot in particular that might really benefit from it (the shot atop this page; Rio Chama just below Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico). We were there a few years ago and I just couldn’t get the composition I was trying for with my already wide 17-35 (Nikkor).
Because the weather was rapidly changing the decision was made to push up departure a day early. The Rokinon hadn’t arrived via UPS and I was a little torn… Then – literally at the last minute as I was backing out of the driveway – the big, brown truck turned up the street and I was handed the package. I was all set.
I didn’t open the box until two days later in the parking area at the Bisti. My first impression of the lens was “holy cow!” I think I even said that out loud. It’s a very impressive piece of engineering. Well built, solid and tight. It’s attractive too – if that means anything to you. But the most impressive feature is the GIGANTIC bulbous front element emerging from the front of the lens. Right away I knew I was fortunate to have it with me, but man – I was little nervous about doing anything to that perfect, HUGE front element. Fortunately the lens has a solid, molded butterfly hood build around it and an equally solid, plastic lens cup (not a cap per say, but more of a cup) which fits snuggly over it all to keep it protected.
Overall I would rank the lens an incredible value at the listed $320. But when you compare it to Nikon’s equivalent 14mm lens at over $1,800 – it’s a no brainer. To be fair, I haven’t shot the Nikon 14mm to do a head-to-head comparison. All I have are the images made with the Rokinon. It’s manual focus and is chipped to indicate when the shot is in focus, as well as pass info through to EXIF. The Rokinon is not a G-style lens, meaning it has an aperture ring so you can use it on film cameras older than the F5, and it does have some vignetting, but it’s easily correctable. I’ve read some reviews indicating sharpness varies copy to copy, but my experience was extremely good. I’ll let the pixel peepers debate things like edge sharpness and let you decide if the image quality is good enough or not. I’m pretty sure of this: when the time comes for me to go ultra wide with 14mm I’m saving the $1,500 and going with the Rokinon.
Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit Chicago again. Growing up in the suburbs I’d never had occasion to overnight in the city, with home being only 30 miles away. This trip we decided it was time we changed that.
One of the wonderful things about spending the night in the city is – the night! Chicago, as many other cities, is so active at night, with so much light that it’s easy to photograph hand held with the right setup.
In anticipation of various low-light scenarios on this trip I stocked up on Ilford HP5+. In the past I’ve shot it at rated 400 with success. One goal for this trip was to simply drift about the city at night to see what I could see. Pushing HP5 was an excellent way to avoid a tripod and open the experience up to simple creative experimentation. This outing was shot with the Nikkor 17-35 f2.8 ED (remind me to tell the story of how I stumbled upon this incredible lens some time…) at ISO1600, off the hand, just having fun. Processed in Ilford DDX at 71° for 12 minutes.
The only thing really notable in working with the F6 for these shots was taking advantage of the ENORMOUS viewfinder. To this day I’ve never seen anything like it in any other camera.* It’s huge and bright, allowing easy composition in poorly lit situations. One of the other benefits of the F6 I covered in another posts Custom Setting B5, Extended Shutter Speeds. Though shutter speeds were high enough for this roll to hand-hold, I always have Custom Setting B5 enabled on the F6.
The creative liberty of shooting film, then processing your own film to desired tastes, is what film photography is all about. With what seems to be a true resurgence interest in film, there’s no better time to dive in. With a camera like the F6 that is truly flexible, truly dependable and truly durable for the rest of your natural life – you’ll have a great time trying to exceed its capabilities.
*A big thank you to Chris, our Canadian F6 Project reader, for pointing out he felt the Olympus OM-2 and Pentax ME Super actually have larger, brighter viewfinders than the F6. What a great time to be a film photographer, with so many wonderful tools accessible to work with.
Above: From left to right: Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain and Chief’s Head Peak. At center-right you can see the very tip top of the Spear Head, a triangular slab of granite jutting up through the clouds from the valley floor beneath. Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (2017). [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm; 1/250 @ f7.1]
Flying commercially isn’t my typical MO, preferring instead to drive through places rather than fly over them at 30,000′ and 600 mph. So when a skilled pilot offers to take you flying low and slow over the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain’s High Country simply for the sake of the experience – just say yes – please, and thank you. A few weeks ago I had the privilege with my son and a few good friends to see this country I love so much from a completely different point of view, and make a few photographs for those of you who may never get to see it.
We’d been planning the flight for several weeks but as is sometimes the case at the last minute weather decided not to cooperate. When morning came for the scheduled flight, rain from the day before left the cloud ceiling too low and visibility wasn’t happening. Texts flew to and fro debating logistics and eventually one party fell on their sword, letting go of their seats because of an afternoon commitment. This opened the door for an afternoon flight if weather cleared.
Because the opportunity to fly low over Colorado’s High Country doesn’t happen often I wanted to make the most of it. Considering how to approach it photographically briefly included going digital. A few years ago I was in another Cessna and appreciated the flexibility shooting digitally provided. Instead, I spent some time going through my previous shots looking at ISO, shutter speeds, lens choice and aperture and decided The F6 + some recently acquired Ektachrome 100VS was the winning combination. As a back up I had the F5 + Portra 400 in case light became an issue.
Camera nerd: focal length, shutter speeds and aperture info is provided for anyone interested in such things; some day you may have opportunity for such a flight and this could provide a head start setting up. Shutter speeds were typically between 1/400 and 1/250 at f7.1. The plane was traveling about 200 miles an hour but the ground was so far away the overall impression through the camera’s lens was that it passed slowly below. Most of the time the lens was zoomed to about 70mm. I also had the 70-200 with me but it was unnecessary – and too large and unwieldy in the small cockpit.
I wasn’t sure what plane we’d be flying and held my breath as we walked across the runway. Beggars can’t be choosers. To my delight it was a Cessna Centurion II, a high wing aircraft with retractable landing gear and no wing struts; the perfect plane for aerial photography. Wing struts and extended landing gear have a habit of creeping into the frame when you’re pointing the camera towards the ground.
We enjoyed a brief introduction to the plane and flying in small aircraft then climbed aboard, donning headsets and fastening seatbelts.
Beginning in Loveland, Colorado the first leg of the flight was into the afternoon sun. Clouds along the Front Range had dissipated and skies cleared allowing navigation by site and gorgeous views below. Given the angle of the sun, even with the large hood of the Nikkor 28-70 flare was a problem. We zig-zagged and spiraled our way up and over the unbelievable terrain of Rocky Mountain National Park accompanied only by sound the single turboprop spinning at 2,500 RPM’s (the miracle of flight, right?). Every once in a while a robotic, female voice broke the silence with, “warning, terrain… warning, terrain.” At one point – as casually as I could fake – I asked our pilot if that was anything we needed to be worried about. He assured me it was not. In less than an hour we were in Kremmling. It would have taken me three hours by car.
We refueled in Kremmling and decided to make our way back the way we came. After take off I put the camera down and flew the plane for a bit, my first time flying. But when we approached the big mountains I handed the wheel back to the pilot and it was time to get to work. The light was perfect, skies were clear and the views were, well…
F6 Nerd Stuff: As each roll finished we were flying over something else I just didn’t want to miss. Fortunately the F6 rewinds and reloads fast (Custom Setting D:2 set to ‘Auto’ automatically rewinds the roll at the end of the the last frame. Custom Setting D:3 tells the camera to leave the leader out rather than sucking it all the way back into the canister, and Custom Setting D:4 tells the camera when to rewind the film – at frame 35, 36 or whenever the end of the roll is detected). Auto rewind pulled the film back into its canister in mere seconds, the new roll was put in place and the leader pulled out to the red line. The back snapped shut and just like that I was shooting again.
For this flight, focus mode was set to Group Dynamic auto focus (the little diamond icon on the focus selector switch). I also re-coupled auto focus with the shutter release button (Custom Setting A4: AF Activation Release/AF-On). Plane cockpits are small and making my thumb do the autofocusing on the AF-On button required swinging my arm up a little higher as I turned my body at an already awkward position in the seat, trying to avoid the wings and adjust to whatever reflections and glare were coming in through the window. It’s amazing how one little tweak can simplify shooting – something the designers of the F6 well understood and planned for. There was no need for selective focus as the camera quickly and accurately acquired whatever ground it was pointed at.
Keeping horizons level can be a challenge in flight. Between composing quickly, a shifting horizon line out the window and dodging reflections in the window, often times you get as close as you can and rely on straightening in post production. If you’re close in the original shot you’re not throwing a lot of image away when you straighten the frame.
Often I found myself simply gazing out the window in silence, trying to imagine standing at that line where the shadow begins. I’ve been there many times; experiencing the mountains as warm, inviting, beautiful friends basking in the glow of afternoon sun. When the sun sinks and that shadow line rises they become cold, foreboding places leaving one feeling vulnerable and alone. These Rocky Mountains are a treasure and deserve our utmost respect.
At the end of the flight we glided gently back to the Loveland-Fort Collins airport as our pilot stuck a perfect landing. He smiled as he said, “you guys don’t know how lucky we were on this flight… it’s never like this.” Afternoon flights are prone to a lot of upheaval from warming air, sending the plane into various lurches and making for a bumpy ride. Our flight was smooth as glass making shooting that much easier and more enjoyable.
A big thanks to my good friend Kole, an awesome pilot and generous guy allowing the use of his Cessna Centurion II for the flight.
Those who’ve followed the F6 Project know I started developing my black and white film again in early 2016. I’d developed film many years ago but it had been a while. Fortunately it’s just like riding a bike and once I got around all the stuff again – with a little help from my friends – remembered what to do.
This year I decided it was time to develop my own color film. I’ve never developed color film before, instead choosing the convenience of sending it to a local lab. What I’ve re-realized developing black and white is that processing my own film has become a matter of creative liberation – and convenience. Working with the medium from start to finish without relying on external variables or influence contributes to the authentic artistic experience. Keeping it all in house. Less of a ‘control freak’ thing and more of a ‘control enthusiast’ thing.
Ive also grown impatient with even the most expeditious labs (I don’t know what it is exactly I resist when it comes to mailing my films…). And then of course there’s the cost savings. With shipping, this kit came in at about $40 and will do 20 rolls. That’s north of $200 at the lab. But perhaps the most compelling reason to develop one’s own film is, some of you may simply not have another option. What good is even the best film camera if you can’t process your film?
There are a few key differences between developing color vs. black and white films at home – most notably – temperature control. Black and white film is much less sensitive to minor variations in temperatures. Temperature matters – but in the ball park is usually good enough. Color is different. Minor variations in development time and temperatures can dramatically swing an image’s color one way or another. This is what always held me up. And, wanting it to be simple, inexpensive and of course reliable. I’m all for experimentation and the whole lomo experience as a means of having fun and trying new things. But if I’m going through the time and expense of shooting color film I need to be able to depend on what comes out the other side. I care a lot about color and I want it to be right. Just on the other side of that though is, if you scan your color images (as I do), correcting minor color shifts in Photoshop or Lightroom isn’t a big deal.
I found the CineStill Cs41 video on line:
It looked pretty straight forward – and they even had the solution for heating water to the correct temperature. Unfortunately my experience with the footbath heating solution was unsuccessful. Water took too long to heat and when it did, the maximum temperature listed in the literature was 95° – not the 103° expected. So I have a new, in my opinion better option for heating chemicals. TRU makes a triple slow cooker, each bay with 2 quart capacity and individual three-level heat settings. The low setting seems to top out about 100° to 101°, so just under the recommended 102°. The medium and high settings exceed the recommended temperature, so working tap water and the dials on the crockpots to maintain temps isn’t difficult. Remember too that during development you need to keep the temp consistent at 102° for 3 and half minutes. That’s not a long time and you can put your tank in the tub between agitation to keep temps consistent. During the blix phase temp is less important and a few degrees either way isn’t going to matter. Again – you can put the tank in the 2-quart containers of water to keep the temp up between agitations. The TRU triple slow cooker ran about $40 at KOHL’s. And – we can use it at Thanksgiving to keep the stuffing warm.
One reader commented on a bit of misinformation in the video above: Stabilizer is not optional. “B&W film has silver in it that prevents fungal growth, but colour film doesn’t have enough silver. The stabilizer contains an anti-fungal as well as a wetting agent, and if you don’t want to find your negatives mouldy in a couple of years you must use it.” Thanks to Chris from Ca!
The Cs41 quart kit cost $24.95 and with shipping it’s more like $40 (you get free shipping with orders over $75, but one thing at a time… I want to make sure things actually turn out before spending more money). After the order processed the kit didn’t ship for 3 weeks, but it finally showed up and I was excited to dive in.
I opened the box and found instructions – printed in 5 point text, folded up on a 8.5″ x 11″ single piece of paper. I found my reading glasses and started to work through what it took to actually use the Cs41 kit. It’s called “Cs41 “Color Simplified” Quart Kit for Color Processing at Home.” There is also a short-cut card provided with all the times and temperatures you need.
Once the chemicals are mixed it’s pretty straight forward. If you use the recommended developer temperature of 102°, development time is short – only 3:30. The Blix and rinse cycles are longer, at 8 minutes and 5 minutes respectively. You can use the same tanks and reels you use for black and white.
I took a deep breath and did two rolls; a roll of Ektar with some mixed lighting situations and a roll of Portra 160 with all daylight exposures. The Cs41 kit handled both with ease. Color emerged natural and unbiased.
I few things I learned on my first batch:
It takes a while to get the chemicals heated to the recommended 102° so start the heating well before you want to begin processing.
I’m unclear what the shelf life of the mixed chemicals is, but understand it’s finite. To maximize chemical’s effectiveness a good strategy seems to be to mix a batch of chemicals once you have a large batch of film to process.
The instructions list a pre-rinse as optional. I elected to do so, and judging by the amount of gook that poured out of the tank afterwards I’d recommend the same to anyone. If you don’t pre-rinse, all that gook makes its way into your developer. Because you re-use the developer I can imagine the cumulative effect not helping maintain color as the roll count climbs.
The Cs41 kit ships with a small Push/Pull Processing & Variable Temperature Development Chart. This is hugely valuable because it concisely provides all the information on time and temps you need. Though 102° is listed as the target developer temperature, the chart provides optional times for lower temperatures – all longer than the 3:30 suggested at 102°. If you’re not in a hurry and want to experiment with lower temps you have the info needed.
The stabilizer left some pretty harsh residue on the film. Though I’m certain I mixed the dilution properly, after speaking with a colleague he recommended I dilute it even more. I’ll try this next round. I’m also going to try a squeegee to trim excess liquid from the roll rather than allow it to simply drip-dry for an hour. I’m not a big fan of water spots and residual nasties on the film once dried.
Something new to me – but not those who’ve developed C41 before: unlike black and white, you can mix different film speeds in the same tank. C41 development times remain the same regardless of ISO speed, unless you push or pull. So you can run a ISO800 film with your ISO100 film.
Pay attention to recommended agitation. It’s not a ‘more is better’ scenario. According to the instructions, “variation in agitation may result in slight color shifts. Insufficient agitation shifts words red/excessive agitation shifts towards cyan. In hind site, I probably leaned a little toward the excessive agitation on these first two rolls.
As a friend of mine once said, “if you can bake a cake, you can develop your own film.” I’d expand that for the culinary challenged and suggest even if you can’t bake a cake, you can successfully develop your own black and white and color film. It just takes the right tools, a little time and the desire to learn something new. My bottom line is, I’ll be ordering more Cs41 from Cinestill soon.
Out of the box the F6 is set to display possible shutter speeds from 1/8,000 of a second to 30 seconds. After 30 seconds the camera has the customary “bulb” setting, allowing you to trip the shutter manually (with something like the MC-30 cable release) for as long an exposure as you can hold the shutter release down for.
Custom setting B5 in the CSM provides the capability to extend shutter speeds beyond the default 30 seconds, unlocking extended shutter speeds before reaching the Bulb setting. When this option is enabled, after 30 seconds, you’ll see 40 seconds, then 50 seconds, etc. all the way up to 30 minutes before you reach “bulb.”
For some photographers this is an advantage if you do a lot of night shooting, for example, and exposures typically run between 30 seconds and 30 minutes. For others that use the bulb setting frequently, it’s a disadvantage because you have a lot more spinning of the main command dial to do until you get to bulb. But at that point you’re not relying on the camera’s recommended exposure and instead, winging it.
I see it as an advantage because the meter on the camera is capable of resolving exposure well beyond 30 seconds. For the above exposures the longer times weren’t necessary for the final shot because between f8 and f11 the correct exposure came in between 10 and 20 seconds. But- having the ability to dial down the aperture and lengthen the shutter speed and get an accurate meter reading was helpful determining the final exposure.
Film: Ilford HP5+, developed in Ilford DDX.
Below are are a few more from the trip. Not wishing to carry a tripod around the city, these were shot hand-held by pushing HP5+ to ISO1600, and developed in DDX.
I’ve wanted to do a CLS write up for a while and finally had a nicely suited project to use. When the warm weather ends I clean out the shop from summer projects and get ready for some indoor fun through winter. This almost always turns up something interesting I forgot I had. This time it was this antique STANLEY Thermos, complete with frayed, knit sock. I thought it would be an appropriate entry to my Shop Series. So I’ll use the Thermos shot to introduce a few CLS components and how to work with them. You’ll see it’s pretty simple, but without a “quick start” it’s easy to file CLS into the “I’ll get around to it some day” bin.
One of the key attributes of the F6 is the circuitry it contains to run Nikon’s Creative Lighting System, or CLS. No other Nikon film SLR has this ability. If you’re not using your F6 + CLS you’re missing out on one of the features making it unique. There are two components (besides the camera) you’ll need to run CLS on your F6:
a) The SU-800 Commander head. Because the F6 does not have a built-in flash, access to the CLS control is through the SU-800 mounted on the camera’s hot shoe. The SU-800 looks a little like flash but doesn’t actually contain a strobe unit. This is the brain, so to speak. You could also use a CLS capable speed light like the SB-800. This also has a “Commander” mode allowing access to the same functionality.
b) At least one CLS-compatible flash, which means anything after the Nikon SB-300 and up. For this shot I’ll be using the SU-800, SB-800 Speedlight and the diminutive SB-R200 Speedlight.
To reinforce how simple CLS is to use I’ll keep it brief. The concept is simple: the SU-800 commander head communicates wirelessly with the other flashes and tells them when – and how bright to fire. The other flashes are simply set to “REMOTE” mode – ready to receive instructions from the Commander.
Because I’m going through the trouble to do this on film – film is cheap and I’m going to make the most of the opportunity. I devoted a full roll of Ilford FP4+ to bracket flash output and depth of field. Another nice thing about having plenty of images to choose from is if film acquires some imperfections in processing such as water spots or scratches there are plenty of other frames to choose from. Sometimes those analog anomalies add to “the look,” other times they don’t.
Here is a sample of the EXIF data generated from the chosen frame:
07, 2″, F13, 105, F2.8, Color matrix, M, Front curtain sync, 0.0, +0.2, 0.0, non-TTL auto flash/Optional speedlight/Multiple flash, None, AE Unlock, VR off, 2016/11/06,17:09
You can see there’s no specific flash power output; i.e., what the flash on Channel 1A was set to vs. 1B. Keeping notes on such things helps in future projects. The PhotoMemo Photographer’s Memo Book below (picked up from Mike Padua’s shootfilmco.com web site) came in handy to record the different steps – things that weren’t recorded in EXIF data.
After shooting, developing (Ilford DDX at 1:4 for 10 minutes) and scanning (Nikon LS-5000), Meta35 was used to marry the EXIF data with each frame.
The final result was the frame I felt best balanced light levels, depth of field and overall look and feel. To state the obvious – yes, it would have been easier to do this digitally. But for my creative goals there was no substitute for representing this vintage item in anything other than black and white film. I was particularly interested in how film rendered the different textures and imperfections in the smooth but aged metal finish of the thermos, the shiny metal cap and of course that beautiful knit sock complete with frayed threads dangling. From the moment I saw it – it had to be film.
If questions come to mind as you explore CLS shoot me a note on our newly re-vamped contact page. I’d love to see anyone with a F6 look into Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. It’s a unique feature and will change your photography for the better.
I first visited the northern region of the Escalante Staircase area years ago after reading an article on the Burr Trail -but that’s another story. More recently (back in 2007) I hit it from the south, having come up one night from Flagstaff and checked into a hotel in Page, Arizona just off Hwy 89. There was a large canvas hanging on the wall of the lobby and I asked the woman behind the desk where it was from. “Just up the road,” she said, “about 20 miles. It’s not marked or anything, you just pull over the start walking.” So that next day we did just that and what do you know – we found it.
This past trip to Page we thought we’d try to find it again. One late afternoon we set out armed with just a memory and full tank of gas. Soon the land began to change into what I vaguely remembered from 10 years prior and I was hopeful. Then, there on the right hand side of the road was the parking area and it all came back to me. It’s more developed now; a half dozen cars at the trail head and a sign informing would-be hikers what they’re about to see. It’s the Grand Staircase, part of the enormous Escalante National Monument.
Different than a National Park, National Monuments have different structures, different protocols. The Escalante National Monument is a truly vast, wild expanse of land sweeping through central Utah. There’s no single entry point per say, but numerous portals from which to enter. Camping is allowed and exploration is encouraged. It is a able-bodied photographer’s dream come true.
So what does this have to do with the F6? Nothing, really – other than it’s just another place it was with me to record. Ten years ago before purchasing the F6 I was shooting a D2oo. The difference between the two cameras is startling. My friend Dan looked through the F6’s super bright, clear viewfinder and – in comparison to the D750 he was shooting – commented how he wished the D750 had that viewfinder. Funny how we grow accustomed to things and can take them for granted. The viewfinder is one of the features of the F6 I’ve come to rely on most. I’m actually able to see well enough for tasks such as manually focusing and low-light shooting. And compared to the F5, because the focus points light up in red instead of remaining a monotone gray when activated makes everything easier and less distracting when shooting. Yet another reason to love the F6.
To read more about Utah’s Escalante National Monument and Grand Staircase, visit the VisitUtah web site.
One of the things I’ve looked forward to each year since – forever – is my fall trip. This year it was down to the Four Corners area of the US and covered territory in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah then back in Colorado. We visited a handful of awe-inspiring destinations – some for the first time, others back for another go.
You can do your best to plan a trip well but at the end of the day the ability to roll with whatever is presented yields a better overall experience. Weather, light, crowds and other unforeseen circumstances like car trouble can either crater your objective – or – present opportunities to rise and meet challenges.
When it comes to putting time, money and energy into visiting a specific place with specific goals, there’s one clear choice for me and that’s the F6. In the past I’ve shot a good bit of color at some of these destinations. This year I felt like switching it up a bit and decided to shoot black and white film between rolls of Velvia. Velvia is great stuff – but bright, sun-lit days are not what I’d consider ideal conditions to get the most from it, even with a warming filter.
The first destination on our stop was the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in north western New Mexico. There are two primary washes, or drainages in the Bisti; a north and a south. The northern wash is referred to as Hunter Wash, the southern as the Gateway or Alamo Wash. The main, visible (but primitive) parking area is adjacent to the southern wash. The northern wash takes a little route finding to access but nothing too arduous. Both are fascinating and provide explorers plenty to see with minimal elevation gain. The area is pretty flat – which is a new (and welcome) difference compared to so many other areas requiring a lot of strenuous climbing. It’s almost as if you’re simply going for a walk once you cross the Wilderness Area boundary. To scamper up the hills and ravines is a relatively easy task.
One of the things I realized in my research of the area was how difficult it was to attain a sense of scale while viewing images. I’d see a geological feature and wonder if it were 10 feet tall or a hundred. I’ll leave the mystery to you as well as you view the images. I will say that despite ominous warnings and perceptions that accompany such a remote, designated wilderness such as the Bisti I was pleasantly surprised how accessible and friendly it felt.
The general layout of the area is these large primary washes run southwest, with many of the interesting features residing in the off-shoot canyons and drainages feeding the main washes. We were a little nervous about getting lost, having read several accounts of people doing so resulting in cold nights spent in the badlands. I found, however, that with basic navigation and orienteering skills getting lost wouldn’t be a problem. We did use the GPS feature of our iPhones as a back up. There’s no cell signal but the GPS functionality of the device works perfectly without it. Yet another reason to love smart phones.
It was cold that first night and the next morning before dawn we woke at 5am, donned head lamps and headed into the unknown Alamo Wash in the dark looking for a good place to catch first light. The light is the most difficult part of visiting the Bisti, or other badlands areas blessed (?) with so much sun. Harsh bright light and harsh shadows have the photographer praying for cloud cover. Alas – sometimes there’s simply none to be found.
There were nearly a dozen cars at the trail head by the time we returned from the morning hike. After grabbing a quick bite and watering up we headed into the northern wash searching for the Wings. More to come…
Post Scrip: after this first trip I found a great weather resource that will help plan additional trips. The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a unique and special place worthy of more time and attention.