Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chris Moore returned from his week in Zion National Park with even more keepers than he planned for.

Plans to photograph this year's fall colors in Utah's Zion National Park were stirring in Chris Moore's mind months ahead of the one-week trip in November. "I was definitely there at the right time. Although much of my trip was spent photographing the more iconic locations, I was able to get off the beaten path a bit as well. One particular spot that I returned to each morning of my trip was the Court of the Patriarchs on the banks of the Virgin River. It was not until my last and final attempt that I was blessed with a spectacular sunrise which -- for just a few moments -- gave a beautiful glow to the sky and sandstone. I used a combination of my LB Warming Polarizer to cut the glare from the river, and a Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter to properly expose the sky.

"One of the highlights of my time there was hiking the Subway in the Zion backcountry. It was a personal goal of mine to make this hike through a very unique landscape. We set out an hour or two before dawn, making the steep descent into the canyon guided by headlamps. The sun began to rise as we trekked up the canyon and the magic of the Subway began to come to life. The first three miles are monotonous, relatively speaking of course; there really is no monotony in Zion backcountry. Four miles in, we came to a series of sandstone cascades, and stopped briefly to photograph them (since we were the only car in the parking lot, we were ahead of everyone else and stood to have the Subway to ourselves as long as we didn't spend too much time here). The most iconic of the cascades, Archangel Falls, was phenomenal. I spent about 30 minutes photographing the flowing water with various compositions. I used my Vari-N-Duo for the polarization and extended exposure time I needed to capture this image of the water cascading over the sandstone.

I will say that seeing the Subway in person is nothing like the Subway in photographs. You actually have to walk through it, turn around, and then you see the familiar iconic shot looking back on the entrance. I also had envisioned it as a small area cut through the sandstone, with little room for more than just a couple of photogs. In reality, it's anything but a restrictive space. The ceiling opens up into the canyon above and most of it is open air (the opening at the top is usually left out of photographs for exposure reasons). The emerald pools of water are very inviting. I had to stop myself a couple of times from putting my gear down and jumping in. The pools just looked so refreshing. The rocks are slippery, oh yes they are. I saw several people bite it as they lost their footing. I just took baby steps and used my tripod as a crutch. This image was taken with the Vari-N-Duo to reduce the glare and bring out the emerald colors of the pools, and also give me a 30-second exposure for the leaf swirls which I combined in post processing with a second that I had exposed for the surroundings.

During the trip we also ventured out of the park as well. Early one morning, we drove to northern Arizona. We stopped at sunrise at an interesting hoodoo formation. As the sun rose, both the shadows on the leading lines of the sandstone and the warm glow of the hoodoo really popped when I placed my LB Warming Polarizer on the lens. Thanks to the filter, this image required very little post processing.

The final afternoon we trekked out to Toroweap, a remote overlook of the Grand Canyon which can be reached on a 60-mile drive on unpaved road, which gets very muddy and slippery with even the slightest amount of rain. I learned this as I had to abandon my car about halfway in and catch a ride in an FJ Cruiser the rest of the way. The satellite suggested that the rain would subside around 3pm, which it did, and I had my fingers crossed for a nice sunset. I took scouting shots for about an hour, had a nice dinner, and set up my tripod facing directly west as that appeared to be where the sunset light would be best.

Toroweap has sweeping views of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River 3000 feet below. It's a stressful experience to photograph for someone like me who is afraid of heights. The compositions require setting up a tripod just a few feet from the edge, with a very scary drop off... straight down.

As the clouds rolled in unexpectedly, my hopes for a gorgeous sunset faded when the western sky turned mainly gray with a few red casts on the underlit clouds. Just as I was about to pack up, I turned and looked behind me to the east, where I saw gorgeous fiery clouds. I grabbed my gear and sprinted as fast as I could across the canyon, setting my camera to autofocus and had just enough time to make one exposure with autometering before the color disappeared. Fortunately I was able to capture the entire tonal range of the landscape with one exposure using my 3-stop soft-step ND Grad filter. Seems like a 'likely story,' but it's entirely true. And I made it back that night in one piece."

Chris is a Florida-based landscape photographer who enjoys capturing the beauty of nature any time and anywhere he can. His next project will be a trip to the Southwest, including Arizona desert, and to northern Oregon and Washington. To see more of his newest fine-art images, visit his recently up-graded website and blog.