Clouds, Mountains, Snow and Ilford PanF50 Plus

Clouds, Mountains, Snow and Ilford PanF50 Plus

Lava Cliffs Triptych, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photographed with the venerable Nikkor 180mm ƒ2.8 AI-S prime lens.

Not long ago I decided to spend some focused time shooting Ilford’s PanF 50 Plus. In an effort to minimize variables the decision was made to focus on 35mm using the trusted and favored F6. The F6’s venerable meter virtually eliminates exposure error, and I really wanted to dial in +/-EV, development time, agitation, grain, scanning, wet-printing, etc. The decision was also made to use exclusively Ilford’s DDX developer. What follows are the results. The executive summary: I have ordered lots more Ilford PanF50 Plus film for an upcoming trip to Santa Fe where I’ll look forward to continuing this ‘experiment,’ though I now feel quite comfortable that PanF is all I could hope for in a 35mm film.

frame 22: Laval Cliffs, RMNP, Colorado. 180mm f2.8 Ai-S, PanF50+, DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

I’m not really a numbers guy. I mean – I am – but don’t perseverate over them. I like to use numbers as a starting point; get things figured out, then use that knowledge to extrapolate as I shoot. I’m not one of these people that tweaks and tracks every variable just to reconstruct later. Ilford made recommendations on their film based on good authority. I’m not one to second guess. My interest in numbers is really searching for a baseline – then (rather unscientifically) adjusting exposure based on the scene. If in doubt, bracket (but I hate wasting film). If I think it’s going to be an especially worthwhile shot I’ll bracket – but usually trust in the flexibility of film and the F6’s infallible meter.

Mammatus Cumulus Clouds, Fort Collins, Colorado. June 18, 2018. Ilford PanF50 shot at ISO50, 50mm ƒ1.4D @ƒ5.6, 1/125 sec. Nikkor Y48 Yellow Filter. Development: DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Mammatus Cumulus Clouds, Fort Collins, Colorado. June 18, 2018. Ilford PanF50 shot at ISO50, 50mm ƒ1.4D @ƒ5.6, 1/125 sec. Nikkor Y48 Yellow Filter. Development: DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Something I have been doing a lot lately is working with filters. Yellow, orange and a couple different reds. Being a Nikkor devotee (and making no apologies for it) – I have a nice assortment of vintage 52mm Nikkor filters I use use regularly – especially when shooting my old pre Ai, Ai and Ai-S lenses. More and more I’m prone to favoring these smaller, lighter primes over hauling around the big-barreled, gold-ringed f2.8 zooms with 77mm filter threads I was infatuated with with in my ‘earlier years.’ I also have a nice set of 58mm B+W F-Pro’s for the Mamiya 645 rig I’ll use with a step-up ring if needed. Usually one of the 52mm Nikkor filters does the trick though.

Where I was experiencing some interesting results was using the deep red B+W F-Pro filter. It’s super dark – darker than the Nikkor R60 Red. Here’s what Schneider says about it on their site: “Compared to the lighter 090 red filter, this one even darkens the reds near the yellow tones in the spectrum, as its transparency only begins in the orange-red region. It produces dramatic effects and extreme tonal separation for graphic effects. That accounts for the large filter factor of appr. 8.” It’s so dark, focusing is sometimes made difficult. And when you shoot a ISO50 film you’re really needing a tripod to get an aperture that’ll provide adequate Depth Of Field. But the real ‘problem’ (if you want to call it that) is, it darkens any greenish vegetation to the near black range. This isn’t something I’m typically after. Enter the Nikkor Y48 Yellow. Especially when working off the hand, I find it just right to deepen tones in the sky and increase separation, but leave other elements largely as is. A bump to deepen midtones, minimal light loss and a relatively unchanged TTL experience.

Lava Cliffs, no.5, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Lava Cliffs, no.5, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 180mm f2.8Ai-S, Ilford Pan F50, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Not long ago I acquired the lovely, ancient 180mm f2,8 AI-s. I have long been a fan of shooting landscapes with telephoto lenses – but upon close inspection, anything shot with the 70-200VR has been somewhat disappointing. Not to mention its size and weight being a deterrent. The 180 f2.8 solves all those issues and then some. Mounted on the F6, this ancient lens benefits from the F6’s ability to dial in Non-CPU Lenses. Doing so while working with the lens allows the correct shooting information to be recorded in the shooting data for that frame. The 180 has no tripod socket because it doesn’t need one. The L-bracket on the camera is more than sufficient to hold its relatively light weight. The one negative is I’m not about to invest in a set of 72mm filters for it and have to carry them around too. So when I’m shooting the 180 I’m going so with the rectangular front-slide-in filters.

Unnamed trail above treeline, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Unnamed trail above treeline, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

Snow, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Snow, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

Alpine Ridge Trail, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Alpine Ridge Trail, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

and a few PanF50 Plus shots from the past to show a little more diversity:

San Luis, Colorado

San Luis, Colorado. Nikon F2, Nikkor 50mm 1.2 Ai-S. DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

Bisti Wings, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. Ilford Pan F50, 70-200VRI @200mm. DDX by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

Bisti Wings, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. Ilford Pan F50, 28-70 f2.8ED @70mm, f7.1@1/60 sec. (-0.2EV) DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah. 28-70 f2.8ED @42mm, 1/1.6 sec @ f16 (+1.7EV). DDX by the book: 1:4, 68° for 8 minutes.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah. 28-70 f2.8ED @42mm, 1/1.6 sec @ f16 (+1.7EV). DDX by the book: 1:4, 68° for 8 minutes. Something else I routinely love about the F6 is the ability to go back and review shooting data. In the above shot, for example, I was amazed to realize the frame was made at +1.7EV.

The amount of detail and resolution PanF50 holds is remarkable. Without moving to my medium format system, PanF50 provides all I need when exposed, processed and scanned properly. Like other ‘high performance’ films, it’s not as flexible as say a TriX. But getting to know and understand it is well worth the time. I’ve ordered a bunch more for an upcoming trip to New Mexico in July.

Pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600 with the Nikon F6

Pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600 with the Nikon F6

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.

Harry Caray's, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

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.

The City at Night, Dearborn St. Bridge over Chicago River; River North District at Night, Chicago, Illinois

The City at Night, Dearborn St. Bridge over Chicago River; River North District at Night, Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

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.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois

The only thing really notable working with the F6 for these shots was taking advantage of the ENORMOUS viewfinder. To this day I’ve never seen anything like it.* It’s huge and bright, allowing easy composition in poorly lit situations. One of the other benefits of the F6 covered in another post is 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.

House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

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 flexible, dependable and durable for the rest of your natural life – it’ll be a robust adventure attempting to exceed its creative 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.

Night Vision (sort of); or Custom Setting B5 (Extended Shutter Speeds)

Night Vision (sort of); or Custom Setting B5 (Extended Shutter Speeds)

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.

Upper Wacker and Dearborn, Chicago, Illinois (2016). (exif data: 10″, F11, 24(17-35), F2.8, Color matrix, M, Front curtain sync, 0.0, -1.0,0.0, non-TTL auto flash, Multiple exposure, AE Unlock, VR off, 2016/12/28,19:59; Ilford HP5+)

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.

Upper Wacker and the Chicago River, December 2016 (exif data: 02,20″,F8,20(17-35),F2.8,Color matrix,M,Front curtain sync,0.0,-0.3,0.0,non-TTL auto flash,None,AE Unlock,VR off,2016/12/28,19:42, Ilford HP5+)

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.

Chicago at Night, Harry Carry’s, Chicago. Nikon F6 + HP5+@ISO1600, developed in Ilford DDX

Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois. Nikon F6 + HP5+@ISO1600, developed in Ilford DDX

Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois. Nikon F6 + HP5+@ISO1600, developed in Ilford DDX

Nikon F6 + CLS (Creative Lighting System)

Nikon F6 + CLS (Creative Lighting System)

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.

Film photography with off-camera flash using Nikon's CLS is one of the truly great things about shooting film with the Nikon F6.

STANLEY Thermos Project – black and white: Film photography with off-camera flash using Nikon’s CLS is one of the truly great things about shooting film with the Nikon F6.

The setup: The F6 with the Nikon SU-800 Commander head mounted in the hot shoe; the Nikon SB-800 Speed Light (at left behind the diffusion panel) and the Nikon SU-R200 Speed Light at right with the white diffusion panel in front of it.

The setup: The F6 with the Nikon SU-800 Commander head mounted in the hot shoe; the Nikon SB-800 Speed Light (at left behind the diffusion panel) and the Nikon SB-R200 Speed Light at right with the white diffusion panel in front of it.

Stanely Thermos Project - color. Nikon F6 + Kodak Ektar, developed in Cs41 color developing kit.

Stanley Thermos Project – color. Nikon F6 + Kodak Ektar, developed in Cs41 color developing kit.

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.

Nikon F6 with the Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800. At first glance it looks like a flash - but there's no strobe unit.

Nikon F6 and Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800. At first glance it looks like a flash – but there’s no strobe unit. The red center emits a beam allowing focus assist in low-light conditions. The SU-800 retails for about $250 and uses 1 3-volt CR123 battery – the same battery as the F6 without the grip.

Nikon SU-800 Commander flash head, required to access the F6's CLS functions.

Nikon SU-800 Commander flash head, required to access the F6’s CLS functions. The letters and numbers visible in  the SU-800 display indicate the Channels each flash can use for individual control. Light levels are set on the Commander head and wirelessly communicated to remote Speed Lights. Pretty slick.

The SU-800 Commander head allows control over each "remote" flash via the menu. Here the SB-800 on left is shown in Group A; the SB-R200 on right is shown in Group B. Each group allows independent control of power levels.

The SU-800 Commander head (center) allows control over each “remote” flash via the menu. Here the SB-800 (left) is shown in Group A; the SB-R200 (right) is shown in Group B. Each group allows independent control of power levels.

Nikon SB-800: the long-time workhorse of the Creative Lighting System. The SB-800 menu system is a little more cryptic than the newer SB-900 series, but not prone to shut off due to overheating issues like the 900 is.

Nikon SB-800: the long-time workhorse of the Creative Lighting System. The SB-800 menu system is a little more cryptic than the newer SB-900 series, but not prone to shut off due to overheating issues like the 900 is.

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.

SU-R200 Speedlight, part of the Nikon's R1C1 Macro Kit. I use these little guys all the time. They're small, portable, just enough power to breathe life into - but not over power the scene.

SB-R200 Speedlight, part of the Nikon’s R1C1 Macro Kit. I use these flexible little guys for all kinds of things. They’re small, portable, just enough power to breathe life into – but not overpower – the scene.

The SB-800 set to "REMOTE." Interacting with flash settings is accomplished from the Commander head.

The SB-800 set to “REMOTE.” Interacting with flash settings is accomplished from the Commander head.

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.

Using Nikon's Creative Lighting System with black and white film.

Shop Series: STANLEY Thermos, Fort Collins, Colorado (2016)

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.

Photographer's PhotoMemo book from shootfilmco.com. Inexpensive, well thought out and easy to have with you in a shirt pocket.

Photographer’s PhotoMemo book from shootfilmco.com. Inexpensive, well thought out and easy to have with you in a shirt pocket.

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.

Road Trip: Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah

Road Trip: Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah

~ Desert Rat ~
(lyrics by Michael Martin Murphy)

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016)

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 17-35mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO50. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

She sits on the front porch
(Of) the old house that stands scorched
Under the sun stroke of a desert day that choked
Her old man who fell in the sun.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah 92016)

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm 1:2.8G ED + Green filter + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED. /em>

With rattle snakes and keep sakes
Old boxes of Corn Flakes
Grammar phones and gem stones
And three unclaimed door frames
And bleached bones and rocks by the ton.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO50. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

Good by ol’ desert rat
Ya half crazy wild cat
You knew where it was at
What life’s all about.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO50. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED. Color in the top 4 images is not a faux sepia tone – it’s what happens when the scanning software scans black and white films as color. My fixer was getting a little old so there’s a slight cast to the negatives. I left it for these top images thinking it added something to the overall feel.

Ya saver of catalogs, king of the prairie dogs
Success is survival and you toughed it out,
You toughed it out.

Old Bridge and San Juan River, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)

Old Bridge and San Juan River, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

The old loud mouth rock hound
He kept the kids spellbound
Half crazy and sun baked
Ya eared your own grubstake
By breakin’ your back all day long

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

With junk art and dunk carts
Old Model T parts, frustrated, outdated and uneducated
At eighty you still wrote good songs.

Montezuma Creek, Utah 92016)

Montezuma Creek, Utah (2016). Niikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

So goodbye of Ol’ Desert Rat
Ya half crazy wild cat
You knew where it was at
What life’s all about.

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

All ya savers of “Whole Earth” catalogs
Kings of the prairie dogs
Success is survival
We’ll all tough it out

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

Yes, we’ll all tough it out.

Old Bridge Bar and Grille, Mexican Hat, Utah

Old Bridge Bar and Grille, Mexican Hat, Utah. iPhone 6 panorama.

This map shows the entire route. Photographs on this page were made within the white circle.

This map shows the route of our fall trip. The photographs on this page were made within the white circle. Google maps.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico (2016)

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico (2016)

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.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico

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.

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

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.

 

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, Hunter Wash, New Mexico (2016)

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, Hunter Wash, New Mexico (2016)

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.

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

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.

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

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.