Shooting Zion

Despite all the celluloid and digital records I’ve made of Zion National Park since 1980, I’ve never had a moment where I could say that’s a keeper. I believe that is because all attempts to replicate fail on so many levels compared to Zion’s contextual impact on just being there. For me there’s little point in pulling out a print to look at Watchman, the Narrows, or Angels’ Landing when the real thing is a short drive away. But that doesn’t stop me from photographing it.

I’ve shot 5×7, 2×2, 6×4.5, 35mm and many digital formats, leaving my work wanting until I realized that photographing Zion was not a product of my camera, it was a product of my eye and how I see into contrast.

The depth of the canyon, up to three thousand feet (over 900 meters), and its north-south orientation make exposures within the canyon that include any kind of vista or sky difficult because of the exposure range. So I’ve caved in from my purist point of view of not using any altering filtration and picked up a set of ND and ND grad glass (G.ND), 2, 4, 8, and 16 of each.

I shoot a Fujifilm X-M1 mirrorless digital camera with a 16MP X-Trans CMOS APS-C sensor and EXR Processor II. I wish I could tell you what all that means. I know I like what I see. It also shoots video in 1080i. The glass I use includes its default short zoom, a Fujinon 16-50mm, two old Minolta MD lenses from my late father’s kit – a wonderful 53mm f/1.4, and a 135mm f/2. Both lenses mount with a Fotasy adapter. The focal lengths of these 35mm lenses is increased by about 1.5x due to the X-m1’s sensor size. The last addition to the kit is a Rokinon 14mm f/2 wide angle.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob   24mm-f/22-1 second

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and The Throne were shot with the 14mm. An ND8 was stacked on the lens with a G.ND2 inverted and a G.ND4. The grad filters were combined to pull more highlight out of the middle of the compositions, allowing me to see into contrast, while increasing exposure time for the water movement. These frames were shot from mid morning to mid afternoon, with high clouds.

The Throne
The Throne   24mm-f22-1.5 seconds
I processed the images in iPhoto, decreasing the magenta induced by the NDs, punched the definition, and pushed the shadows to create a look reminiscent of old Kodachrome with a hint of high dynamic range. I’m shooting for a 1960’s era feel of National Park Service posters, a project I’ll continue in shooting from the floor of the park.


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