Photographing Chicago at night with New Kodak Ektachrome100

Photographing Chicago at night with New Kodak Ektachrome100

This past week, after much anticipation, I received back my first rolls of the new Kodak Ektachrome 100, exposed in Chicago over the Christmas holiday (thanks to Denver Digital Imaging Center). After all the hype and fanfare surrounding Kodak releasing a new chrome film this far into the alleged afterlife of film I was excited to see the results. Spoiler alert: the wait was worth it. You’re going to love the new Ektachrome 100, as I did when I saw the first frames come on screen.

Jewelers Building, Chicago, Illinois (2018)

Jewelers Building, Chicago, Illinois (2018). Manual Matrix Metered 25 sec. @f8 = +0.7EV

Color is what I’d consider to be fairly natural, with a definite warm bias – especially when contrasted to my (expired) rolls of the older Ektachrome 100G, which the new Ektachrome was reportedly based on. Grain is super fine – for all practical purposes, if you want to process the photograph so it’s grain free it doesn’t take much. It’s a very sharp, contrasty and punchy film but not like Velvia, or the more vivid, Ektachrome 100VS. The new Ektachrome is just right. Remembering you can always punch contrast up in Photoshop – it’s nice to have a more ‘normal’ base line starting point.

Reciprocity Failure: honestly, I didn’t do a whole lot of math here – I just bracketed. Here’s a link to Kodak Alaris data sheet for Ektachrome 100. If the frame metered at 10 seconds, I bracketed three shots. Typically the longer exposure was better – but it’s not an exact science. Exposure times and +/-EV is listed for each image. You can see the F6’s meter – once again – did an excellent job resolving the scene. Always manual, always mirror-up with cable release.

Upper Wacker and Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois (2018).

Upper Wacker and Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois (2018).Manual Matrix Metered 8 sec. @f8, = +0.8EV

When I bought my F6 I’d already been familiar with the advantages of L-brackets, having them mounted on most of my other contemporary cameras (they’re not available for my older Nikons and consequently I find I don’t use them as much for this type of shooting). At first what I liked was the additional element of protection for the camera – against bumps and shocks, setting it down on a wet surface, etc. So outfitting the F6 with an L-bracket straight away was a natural thing to do. At the time I didn’t think, “now that I have an L-bracket I’ll shoot a lot more verticals.” But that is in fact what has happened.

Shooting verticals with an L-bracket is a snap. You simply mount the camera upright and shoot. Simple. And with a ball head and spirit level, it’s a snap getting the frame perfectly level too. There’s no contorting the stem of the mounting platform into the groove, and wondering if it’s really vertical because that’s as far as it will go.

TRUMP Tower, Chicago, Illinois (2018)

TRUMP Tower, Chicago, Illinois (2018). Manual Matrix Metered 8 sec. @ f8, = +0.3EV

Another thing that just occurred to me… I’ve been trying to figure out instagram (show of hands.. anyone else?) and realized something important – at least in regard to viewing social media on your smart phone. Verticals are good again – better than horizontals. For the same reason people shoot video vertically (which drives me nuts) – when you look at social media on your smart phone there’s a pretty good chance you’re holding your phone upright – instead of on its side. When you look at images on your computer screen you’re most likely looking at them horizontally. But in social media, on your phone – it’s almost always vertical. This makes vertical photographs ‘in’ again.

These images were made with the famed Nikkor 35mm f1.4 AI-S manual focus lens, shot from the Penthouse of the Wyndham Grand Chicago River Hotel. Late one night I headed up the elevator to the Penthouse hoping there wasn’t any kind of event scheduled for the large, wide open room with windows all around and stunning views of the city. With the room found empty, the next challenge was trying to compose shots that didn’t include the few, random interior lights that I couldn’t find switches to turn off. At first I was composing frames that minimized reflected distractions, but it was getting in the way. Putting on my Macgyver hat I scoured the room for a solution and spotted a black table cloth. I found that by standing on a chair behind the camera and holding up this black table cloth the reflections in the windows were eliminated – the glass reflecting only black – which of course worked for the subject matter surrounded by night sky.

Make sure when you use any non-CPU lens with the F6 you set the profile up in camera. There will be a blog post about this in the near future. There was minor barrel distortion/pincushioning with these frames, but (very) minor and easily corrected using Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter and dialing in manual settings in the 2-4 realm. So not much at all.

If you’re looking at possibly shooting some of Kodak Alaris’ new Ektachrome,  you’ll be pleased. It’s a great film and I’m super excited to have fresh film stock now available. Thank you Kodak Alaris. And if you’re going to shoot in a city at night and reflections are a problem – pack a big, black table cloth in your tripod bag next to your cable release. You’ll be glad you did. And don’t worry too much about reciprocity failure unless you’re getting really crazy long exposures (longer than 2 minutes). Just use a good meter and bracket if in doubt. And get an L-bracket for your camera to make shooting verticals easier. Your social media followers will like you for it. If you’re a chrome film shooter wondering who to send your film to, look no further than Denver Digital Imaging Center. They’re friendly, reliable, fast and do great work. And finally, if you’re an F6 shooter, learn Custom Setting B5: Extended Shutter Speeds. It opens up new avenues shooting in dimly lit, long exposure situations.

Thanks for reading

When You’re Really Trying…

When You’re Really Trying…

Sunset, Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

OK, so maybe I jumped the gun a little. Maybe I still do have something to say regarding the F6. Allow me to explain.

Over the past several years I’ve enjoyed shooting with a variety of cameras, including all the Nikon single-digits F-series, as well as a few medium format Mamiyas. Anyone who has more than one or two cameras can surely identify with the conundrum of which camera to grab when you’re heading out the door. You can only carry and shoot so much in any given outing, so you need to make some decisions. Whether the decisions are made at home before heading out – or – while standing at the back of the car on site plowing through all your junk (because you wouldn’t or couldn’t make that decision at home). So in a very democratic way I decided to use them all for a while, just to spread the love.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I’ve also been shooting a good bit of black and white over the past several years – for reasons previously laid out here, and enjoying the heck out of it. Process your own film, printing in the darkroom, working with filters, the smell of fixer on your fingers… all wonderful stuff. Because of that – I’ve grown accustomed to, let’s say – alternative metering solutions to what the F6 employs. Sunny 16, early Nikon center-weighted metering heads, iPhone app’s, totally winging it see how close I can guess… anything goes. After all, with film, as long as you’re within a stop or so things are pretty flexible. And until you have comparison data points, it’s sometimes tough to evaluate just how well something else performs.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

So last month I was heading home from Illinois to Colorado the long way, through South Dakota. Before leaving for this trip a few weeks prior I was disciplined enough to make decisions regarding kit. It would be all F6, with a new F3T thrown in for some black and white work. I gathered the remaining rolls of Velvia 50 from the fridge along with a smattering of C-41 and called it good. I’d always wanted to visit Badlands National Park and hoped timing allowed on the return leg. If so I’d be prepared.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

As things worked out, by the time I hit Badlands Junction, South Dakota the day was shaping up nicely for some photography. Light was superb after a bit of recent rain refreshed and cleared the sky. Autumn grasses were bright green and played nicely against the ochres and crimsons of natural Badlands coloring. There was an active sky – plenty of cloud cover mixed with plenty of a beautiful cobalt blue. When the time came to shoot I loaded one of the few remaining rolls of Velvia in the F6. The reason this is important is because at nearly $17 a roll, Velvia is pretty pricey stuff, as is the new Kodak Ektachrome at $13/roll. But more importantly, the opportunity before me wasn’t something that came along every day: a beautiful location I’m visiting for the first time (there’s nothing that can match the thrill of discovering a place for the first time), perfect conditions, plenty of time to explore… rolling the dice when it comes time to make the most out of each shutter release isn’t a good approach. Here’s where the F6 really proves superior over all its (charming, old) predecessors. Specifically, it’s metering, features and reliability. No way I’d trust my (wonderful) old cameras to shoot chrome films in changing light on this rare opportunity.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I almost always use a tripod for work like this. I know some people don’t, but honestly – aside from laziness – can’t understand why one would approach shooting anything they’re really trying to get the most from any other way. Slow film in fading light at f8-f11 means shutter speeds hovering around the 1/2 second mark or slower. A tripod, Mirror-Up and the MC-30 cable release, turning off VR on your lens, even using the DR-5 to aid focusing are standard operating procedure.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I won’t drag this out – hoping you get the idea. All these other cameras are wonderful, really. Each has its own personality and allure and I’m happy to have them. But when the time comes to shoot; to really try to get the most from each frame – the Nikon F6 has no equal. As much as I appreciate my other F’s – the F6 is King of the Hill.

The F6 shooting Devils Tower, Wyoming (2018). S.O.P. when I’m really trying to get the most out of a frame of 35mm film. (Nikon F3T, 35mm f1.4 AI-S + Velvia 100).

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

This is pretty exciting… (rather then re-hashing the same information, this post was lifted from DPReview)

Kodak first announced the rebirth of Ektachrome way back in January at CES. Along with Kodak Alaris—who will distribute the 35mm Kodak Professional Ektachrome film for stills shooters—the company said it would bring back Ektachrome by the end of 2017… and then promptly stopped talking about it.

But if you were worried that Kodak had given up on the idea, fear not: in a new episode of the Kodakery podcast, a few of Kodak’s higher ups (including Marketing and Product Manager Diane Carroll-Yacoby) updated the world on the progress of the Ektachrome reboot, how they’re making it, and what testing still stand between your hands and a fresh 36-shot roll of the stuff.

You can listen to the entire Kodakery podcast update below:

The first half of the podcast is mostly a photography and history lesson: discussing the origins of Ektachrome, its ‘characteristics’ (read: limitations), and how Kodak has managed to bring it back to life after discontinuing it in 2013. But if you want to get into the “how and when” of the matter, you’ll want to skip to the 22 minute mark.

That’s where we get to learn about how difficult it is to bring back a film like Ektachrome—which is made up of 80 ingredients, some of them no longer available to purchase—and how Kodak is making the economics of Ektachrome work by creating it in smaller, more sustainable batches.

You’ll want to listen to the discussion to really get the details of how the film is made, but here are a few of the most interesting tidbits about the revival process (for us anyway):

  • Kodak has managed to either find or manufacture all 80 ingredients required to make Ektachrome.
  • Much of the process so far has involved retooling the formula so it will work on the machines available to them, because they no longer have all of the equipment they had when Ektachrome was being developed previously.
  • They’ve already produced some ‘pilot coatings’ that they are testing to ensure they’re ready to mass produce Ektachrome that’s up to snuff.
  • When they’re ready to go, they will be making rolls using a coater that produces the film on sheets that are 4 feet wide and 6,000 feet long. The first of these ‘wide’ rolls will be produced before the end of 2017, and will be used for internal testing.
  • Kodak will be making a single (4ft x 6,000ft) roll for the first production run, so they don’t have to hold on to too much inventory at one time.
  • Kodak Ektachrome’s market release is planned for 2018.

Eastman Kodak itself will produce all of the film and plans to distribute the Super 8 cinema version of Ektachrome, while Kodak Alaris will distribute the 35mm slide film for stills shooters. For now, we still don’t know exactly when Ektachrome is coming back in 2018, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know so you can mark your calendars.

Scanning with Nikon LS-5000 Time Machine

Scanning with Nikon LS-5000 Time Machine

Champs Elysees, France 1957

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.

Gornergrat, Switzerland 1957

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.

Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1957

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.

Goat Cart and Children, Paris, 1957

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.

Madeline Church, Paris, 1957

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.

View of Paris from Arc de Triomphe, 1957

View of Paris from Arc de Triomphe, 1957

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.

Horses and Sleigh, Zermatt, Switzerland, 1957

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″.

Arc de Triomphe, France, 1957

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.

Subway Poster, Paris, 1957

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.

Lowe Pro Commercial AW loaded and ready to roll. Having everything in one bag that can just be grabbed when it's time to go ensures you'll have what you need when the time comes.

Asked and answered: moving forward, the F6 is king.

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.

Statue of Liberty, NY on Kodachrome. Date unknown.

Statue of Liberty, NY on Kodachrome. Date unknown.

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.

Aerial Photography of Rocky Mountain National Park

Aerial Photography of Rocky Mountain National Park

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]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Poking their massive, craggy heads above the clouds to say hello; 14,259′ Longs Peak and 13,911′ Mount Meeker. Having stood atop both of these mountains, I appreciate this view from above all the more. [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.

Aerial photographs of Colorado; western slope, Kremmling area

Coming in to Kremmling, Colorado; west of Rocky Mountain National Park, between the park’s western border and Hot Sulphur Springs along Highway 40. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 38mm; 1/250 @ f5.6]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm, 1/200 @ f7.1.]

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.

Aerial photography of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Over Weld County in a Cessna Skyhawk, 2011. Landing gear and wing struts are facts of life shooting from the air. As much as you want them on the plane for obvious reasons – they can be tough to shoot around.

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.

Ypsilon Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A favorite from the day: 13,520′ Ypsilon Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park. Light is everything. The direction and angle of the plane determines the shots. With no way to roll the window down, shooting through it is the only option, introducing the challenge of reflections and glare entering from the opposite side of the aircraft. Having a skilled pilot maneuver to the desired point of view is crucial to frame things up properly. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 45mm; 1/250 @ f7.1].

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.

Aerial photographs of western Colorado.

The Colorado River just east of Kremmling, Colorado along Highway 40. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm; 1/160 @ f5.6].

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

A sea of dense, puffy clouds blanketed the Rockies this beautiful afernoon, with the occasional granite beheamoth poking its craggy head up through for a breath of crisp, high-altitude, Colorado air. The Mountains seemed to wave hello to our little craft as we passed above, reminding me of humpback whales breaching in Alaska. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm; 1/250 @ f7.1]

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.

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Earlier in the afternoon flying into the sun (west) the light was a little more harsh; shadows more pronounced, and fighting glare and reflections off the windows was a challenge. Despite this – it’s just tough to make a bad photograph when this is what’s before you. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 34mm; 1/800 @ f5.6]

Refueling in Kremmling, Colorado (2017)

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…

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Nothing but Colorado’s magnificent high country filled the view in front of the plane. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm, 1/320 @ f7.1.]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National, Colorado.

Coming home over Rocky Mountain National Park in perfect conditions. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm; 1/400 @ f7.1]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 60mm; 1/400 @ f7.1]

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.

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm; 1/320 @ f5.6]

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.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

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.

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Never Summer Range, western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 50mm; 1/500 @ f5.6]

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.

Flight Crew, Kremmling, Colorado (2017)

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.

Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah

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.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument signage along Hwy 89 North out of Page, Arizona.

Small, un-obvious ‘Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’ sign marking the trail head along Hwy 89 North out of Page, Arizona.

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.

Toad Stools, Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah. This was the obvious shot presented at the approach to the area. Light was hitting it beautifully and the features were prominently and nicely presented. I walked by it at first knowing I’d return. Thankfully I did return before the shadows at bottom left of the frame swallowed up the grass – which I thought was a quite beautiful green to compliment the rest of the scene’s earthen colors. Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 17-35mm 1:2.8D + Velvia 50

 

Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah (2016). The “staircase” feature of the Escalante Staircase is series of risers, or elevated plateau regions ranging from the Grand Canyon way south in Arizona to the the 9,000′ edge of Utah’s high plateaus. The ‘steps’ include prominent geologic regions such as Shinarump Cliffs, the Vermilion Cliffs, the White Cliffs, the Gray Cliffs, and the Pink Cliffs. In this shot you can see some of that transition, showing the comparatively whitish layers between the Carmel Formation (in shadow) and the Entrada Sandstone layer ignited by the setting sun. Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 17-35mm 1:2.8D + Velvia 50.

Toad Stools, Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Toad Stools, Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah. Much of the area seems to be in some transition between dirt and rock. Cryptobiotic soil (organic matter that takes many years to grow) is everywhere. Sadly, boot prints trample these hearty organisms constantly, forcing them to start the regeneration process over regularly.

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.

In 2007 we called this area “Rim Rocks.” I’m not sure why, or where the name came from. Now it’s part of the Escalante National Monument’s Grand Staircase area. Nikon D200.