Wall Street: Bryce Canyon

Hiking down into the Wall Street section of Bryce Canyon is a lesson in how much your perspective changes as you descend. It’s also a demonstration of how much harder it is to climb UP out of a canyon, compared to the walk down, especially at 8,000 feet elevation. This series of five photos illustrates those changing perspectives during descent.

You can find “Wall Street,” a slot canyon so named for its extremely steep walls, at Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah — which is, ironically, a great place to photograph sunrise and then begin a morning hike. This first photograph show you the vista looking southeast around 9:30am in early November. Wall Street is in the shadows in the center of the photo, in the lower third of the image. Its 200 foot high walls block the sun all the time, except for midday.

Here is more of a close-up that allows you to appreciate how steep those limestone walls are, formed by erosion. Bryce experiences an average of 200 days of frost-wedging each year. In the warmer months, monsoon rains wash away the gravel.

Here is the switchback path that leads you into the slot canyon. The climbers in the photo give scale to the scene.

On nature hikes in many regions, I am amazed at how much plants and animals resemble one another. For example, alligators floating in the water, sometimes resemble a fallen trunk of a palm tree. This remnant of a bristlecone pine tree gave me a double take on the switchback path. I knew that rattlesnakes inhabit this region.

Here at the base of the canyon, a half dozen pine trees stand tall. It is impossible to take one photo from the ground, up to the top of Wall Street, but here is one vertical view looking out of the slot canyon from the base. The base of a slot canyon is very dangerous in a rain storm, since flash floods form quickly and sometimes bring new boulders with them.

One last image today, to complete your tour. The Nikon D700, mounted on a Really Right Stuff tripod, points skyward toward Sunset Point.

Gardens with Latitude

It’s a rainy day in Naples, Florida. It has to rain _sometime_ in the tropics. And the weather is keeping me off the beach and indoors with my computer to review some of the recent photos I shot at the Naples Botanical Garden. The Garden’s slogan is “Gardens with Latitude,” making reference to the tropical plants it features.

Tropical water lilies, a butterfly garden and a variety of palms, grasses and succulents will keep you and your camera busy when you visit. Today, I will share with you three colorful plants that attracted my eye with their striking color and shapes. I shot these photos with my new Nikon D800, a 75mm lens and my Really Right Stuff tripod. I composed each frame by isolating the colorful bloom and taking note of the directional lines within the frame. Since I was close-up and the blooms were three dimensional, I used a high f-stop in order to keep each outreaching arm of the plant in focus. Working in the shade, yet wanting to maximize clarity and minimize grain, so I chose the ISO 200. Use of the tripod was very important, since the low light of the shade, low ISO and high f-stop will give me a … you guessed it, a longer exposure than you can successfully hand hold: from 1/8 second to 1/20 second. (You don’t want to hand hold a shot under 1/125, unless you have a Vibration Reduction lens. Even then, 1/60 may be your threshold.)

Here are my three images. When I learn the name of each plant, I will return to the blog and add them:

Thanks for sharing your time with me. Keep an eye out for a new blog post each week, now that the hectic holiday season has past.

Virgin River in Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah will astonish you with its extremely tall cliffs, carved over the ages by the (sometimes) gentle Virgin River.  In the first week of November when the last of the yellow foliage remained, I photographed locations in the Park that included sunrises on the mountain peaks as well as pastures full of deer and turkeys, and at dusk, the Virgin River cutting its path through the valley floor. Most of the photographs that included the sky included a very wide range of contrast from the bright sky and sunlit mountainsides to the shadowed parts of the canyon and the foliage in the shadows. I used the tripod to take five bracketed exposures of these scenes, so that I could process these images together with layer masks to create a perfect print, with no under or over exposure. I have some work to do!

This week I am living in my Naples FL home where I can only work on a laptop. The processing of five images into one with good contrast will have to wait until December. However, I can share with you two sweet images of the Virgin River looking quite creamy — thanks to the long exposure I used in photographing the scene.

How do you make running water, tripping over rocks and waterfalls looks smooth and creamy ? First, you need a steady tripod, like my Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head. Find a composition. I climbed on top of a boulder for this viewpoint. Focus carefully. I set the ISO on my camera (the new Nikon D800 with improved dynamic range) to 100. This low setting will give me very crisp detail and no grain. I closed the lens way down to a tiny opening of f/22; this setting will also give me depth of field throughout the foreground to the background. Last, I needed to find the proper exposure, checking the histogram to see if the highlights and shadows are balanced and not clipping. Here is the close-up with the lens zoomed to 120mm at 2.o seconds.

Working the scene, I tried some other compositions. This next image shows more of the scene with the impressive canyon wall and the yellow tree.  My lens was 28 mm for this image, and was open for 3.0 seconds. Of course, this image only worked well because the wind was not blowing. A gust of wind would have blurred the tree! If you look carefully, you can see the two rocks in the close-up in the foreground of the scene.

I look forward to sharing more photographs with you soon. If you wish to visit Zion National Park for some amazing hikes, you only need to drive 2.5 hours northeast of the Las Vegas, Nevada airport (LAS). Just arrive well rested and ready for strenuous exercise!

Natural Arch: Bryce Canyon

Since returning from Bryce and Zion National Parks in Utah last week, my friends have been asking to see my photos. It has taken me a week to begin selecting and processing some favorite images — partly because I have been ill, and I wanted to have my full faculties when I tackled this task. But when I sat down this morning to review the images, I was overwhelmed. The canyons are so vast and varied and awe-inspiring, and I hardly knew where to begin. I finally began with an undisputed favorite: Natural Arch about 20 miles inside of Bryce Canyon. Our workshop group of 13 had stopped there early Tuesday morning in 10 degree cold with high winds to boot. Fingers and toes were frozen, and knobs on both the tripod and camera were hard to manipulate. I got bogged down that morning and broke my remote trigger cord, and had the wrong ISO set on the camera from the night before. We all make these mistakes, while we’d prefer not to admit them.

Later that day we shot in a new location (same bitter cold and wind), and the next morning took us to a new sunrise location. After breakfast and two cups of hot coffee, I packed up my room for checkout, loaded the car and returned by myself to Natural Arch. I choose a composition that showed the whole arch and allowed the viewer to see through it, set the ISO correctly at 100, shaded the lens correctly, even set the f-stop at 22 and shutter at one quarter of a second to get maximum depth of field and a perfect histogram. And I captured a few images I can be proud of.

We had snow and these bitter cold temperatures in early November because Bryce Canyon is high altitude, over 8,000 feet. You can feel the thin air when you hike and have to take frequent breaks to catch your breath. Here’s evidence.

After this private shoot, I drove 2.5 hours south to Zion National Park, a completely different landscape at lower elevation.  I will have lots more to come from Bryce and Zion Canyons in the coming weeks. They are national treasures and well worth a visit. I definitely plan to go back and take family next time!

On the road again

Departing Saturday morning, November 2 for Bryce Canyon, UT. Cold weather has hit Bryce, and snow is predicted Monday, so get ready for some cool (freezing?) images next week. Night time lows are forecast to be 12, and we will be up before sunrise. Brrrr.

I know it has been a quiet time on the blog; I have been traveling quite a bit in the past few weeks. Last weekend, I was in Naples, FL watching the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, these are fall colors, but they are found in the clouds.

Prior to the long weekend in Florida, I traveled to New York City to meet some very dear friends from Milan, Italy — the Sangregorio family. Our families have been friends since 1964 when my parents met Alberto and Graciella Sangregorion on the ship Christoforo Colombo on a transatlantic crossing. Since 1964, we have met each other and renewed our friendship in cities in Europe and America. My husband and I have met Alberto in Athens, Helsinki, Florence, Dublin, as well as Baltimore on our wedding day. Alberto’s son Antonio met me (with his parents) in Villars, Switzerland and Florence. His daughter Paola, met us in Paris, Venice and New York. Here is a photo of Antonio and his wife Silvana with his two children Paola and Alberto Jr. We met at the beautiful restaurant Robert above Columbus Circle. (When Antonio and I met in Villars, our parents took us to Chamonix and Mont Blanc. He was 14, and I was 19!) I am so thankful that our family friendship has endured.

After our luncheon and reunion, I walked to Rockefeller Center to see the ice rink open for the winter season. I took this photograph of Promethius, using the stone wall as my tripod. This image was much sharper that the ones I handheld. This image would be nice on a coaster/tile.

I best get to bed to be ready for my early flight to Las Vegas and the four hour drive to Bryce Canyon. Got my ski jacket and many layers along with gloves,hat and scarf and lots of cameras, lenses and filters — ready for the adventure. Check back soon!

Red Rock Canyon

A short drive outside Las Vegas is a beautiful nature conservation area called Red Rock Canyon. Next time you find yourself in Vegas with an appetite for reality, rent a car and venture out there for a day hike. My husband and I did not pack hiking clothes, but we welcomed the adventure. (We loved the restaurants and the Cirque de Soleil show at the Bellagio, but we are not gamblers.) On advice from the visitor’s center, we set out on a 2.5 mile hike called Calico Tanks. My husband carried my smaller camera in his pocket and the water in his hand. I carried the DSLR, so we each had a hand free for rock scrambling. The weather was very hot, but dry. We needed the water!

Here is a panorama of the starting location:

From the trail’s end, looking back to the start, you can admire the “calico” rock colors: The “tanks” refers to the puddles left by rainwater; there is no other source of water.

Here is the prize: the view of Las Vegas in the far distance (near horizon to the left). We made friends instantly with the other hikers at the lookout, so we could all go home with photos of ourselves in the scene.

Here is one last favorite photo. After the hike, we drove around the desert landscape. I was intrigued by these cacti, so we found just the right one to serve as a foreground in my photo.

Cats of Croatia

While you trek around the stone villages of Croatia, the cats are watching you. They nap where they please, and observe you from the window. They tiptoe around and silently own their neighborhood. I enjoyed photographing them, as they add a spot of life to the scene and some color and texture as well. Here is one kitty, waking up from a nap on a stone pathway in Sibenik.

This cat in Montenegro (just south of Croatia, on the Dalmation coast) was comfortable napping on a higher perch.

While walking in Pula, Croatia, I admired the billowing flower boxes along this winding uphill lane.

Notice the details: there is a cat watching us from the upper right window.