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Thread: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

  1. #1
    Ramblinman's Avatar
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    Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    I will be going on vacation to Southwest Utah and Arizona (Zion Nat'l Park, Bryce Canyon and possibly Antelope Canyon) at the end of August.

    I was wondering if there were any tips to follow for shooting the desert/rocky landscape. I have made it a habit to over-expose 1/3 to 2/3 stops for all of my pictures. Does the same apply to the desert landscape?

    In my arsenal, I have a crappy but light weight tripod, remote shutter release, ciruclar polarizer filters, ND filters and ND Grad filters. What else would I need for this trip?

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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    I would usually under expose, if I had the option. Highlights which are over exposed are lost. Under exposed highlights can be brought out in the darkroom.

    You will usually have either extreme light, with very dark shadows or very dark shadows with extreme light. The SouthWest canyons at this time of year lend themselves to B&W very well, so don't limit yourself. I have found that slide film gives me the best results. Don't be afraid to use the telephoto lens to isolate some of the structure. Not all landscape has to be done with wide angle lenses.

    Take a look at Cedar Breaks, while you are looking at Google Earth. That was one of my very favorite places for photographing, when I lived down there.

    If you are a fan of the old Western movies, you might think about taking a look at Cathedral Gorge, over in Nevada. You will recognise many of the scenes you saw in those movies.

    Pops

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    Ramblinman's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    What color filters are appropriate for B&W photos? I know certain colored filters enhance the tones of other colors.

    Yellow works well with the blue sky. What color works well with the red canyons?

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    A CPL is essential for SW photography but, a UV filter may help protect the lens from the very prevalent blowing dust and grit. I also carry an OPTECH Rainsleeve for each camera. This low cost rain shield also protects the camera/lens from blowing dust and grit. I always carry a small soft paint brush and a dry piece of soft cloth (old tee shirt material is great) in a plastic baggie for cleaning dust and grit off the camera and lens (just the metal and plasic parts - not the optics).

    Distances are great between SW shooting venues. Don't try to cover too much in any one time period. I was originally from the East Coast and the distances of the desert Southwest blew my mind. Often the distance between one SW photo venue to another would cover several states in the Eastern USA.

    Time is critical in SW photography. Often a vista which may be bland at one time of the day is spectacular at other times.

    These vistas were bland at mid-day but perked up quite a bit in the late afternoon light.

    Red Canyon Utah, near Bryce Canyon National Park
    Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    Near entrance to Zion National Park
    Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    The "Photographing the Southwest" by Laurent Martres can be indispensible in planning a photo trip.
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss...125_259&fsc=-1

    I recommend bracketing exposures. My Canon cameras will shoot three bracketed exposures and then stop if Auto Exposure bracketing (AEB) and burst mode is selected. Usually one of the three exposures will be spot on, but you can always composite a HDR image from the three exposures, even when hand held.

    Have plenty of memory with you... The Southwest abounds with photogenic opportunities...

    Don't worry about colored filters when shooting... The effects can always be added in post processing.

    A tripod is a great addition to any landscape photography. Often smaller and lighter tripods will work better if you don't extend the center column. Bending over is a pain but. your camera support will be steadier. Using an inexpensive eBay right angle finder will reduce your need to bend.

    SOME QUICK SAFETY TIPS:

    Wear a brimmed hat and sun screen. Baseball caps are O.K. but a hat with a brim all around will protect your vulnerable neck. The sun in the higher elevations of the SW is mercilous so also wear a good pair of sunglasses. Be careful of footing at the edges of canyons because the edges will often be trecherous and crumble beneath your feet. Always carry water and drink a lot. Be careful when walking in undeveloped areas. Shuffling your feet will often warn rattlesnakes of your approach and will allow them to get out of your way. They don't want a facedown with you anymore than you with them.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 2nd August 2010 at 10:57 PM.

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    Ramblinman's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    Thanks Richard for the link and tips. Ill try to pick up the book tomorrow.

    This has been a trip I've been looking forward to for over a year now. Ever since I went to Arizona 3 years ago, I fell in love with the desert landscape. There is something about the towering red canons and desolateness that draws me to it. I'm spending 9 days in Utah and hope to make the best of every day that I'm there. We simply dont have these landscapes in the Northeast.

    I have most of the gear already, with the exception of the camera armor. I have a 16GB and 8GB flash card, but I'm thinking for the amount of traveling I am doing, it wont be enough, so I'll probably buy another flash card along with a good pair of hiking boots, hat and other items.

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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    This will sound strange, but it is my experience, gained in growing up in Southern Nevada and wandering about in the desert.

    Long pants.
    Long sleeved shirt
    Thick soled boots
    Good socks
    Sock liners
    Foot powder
    Brimmed hat
    Sunglasses
    Water
    Monopod
    Water
    Light jacket
    Water

    Long pants and sleeves to protect you from the sun and various snagging, grabbing, biting plants found in the desert.
    Thick soled boots will keep the hot ground from burning your feet. When the sand and rocks are out in 120* heat all day, they can reach temperatures of 130* to 140*
    Brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect you from the sun.
    Monopod for balance when tripping the light fandango about in the rocks.
    A light jacket which can be scrunched up into your day pack. Once the sun drops below the horizon, it can get very cold, very quickly. Because you have been broiling in the sun most of the day, it is even more noticeable.

    You will need about 3 to 5 times the amount of water you normally consume at home. You won't feel the sweat because it will be evaporating as fast as you can produce it. Drink when you are thirsty and then drink when you are not thirsty. Your body can dehydrate faster than the thirst reflex can catch up. WATER, not coffee, tea or milk. Carbonated water, such as the clear sparkling waters are very good for this because they contain some sodium and the carbonation entices you to drink more. Go easy on or bypass the gatoraides and such like drinks, unless you consume them on a regular basis at home.

    Now, a comment on sock liners. If you buy military surplus or outdoors sports ones, they will cost about $6.00 per pair and you need at least 4 pair. Or, you can go to the part of the store which is off limits to men (women's department ) and get knee-high nylons at about $6.00 for 10. Before you snicker too loudly, I learned that from the SAS, Force Recon and Seal folks. I wear wool socks with knee-highs year around. I don't like sweaty, blistered feet. Powder your feet after you shower in the evening and again before you put your socks on in the morning. Any GI surplus or over the counter foot powder is just fine.

    I've lived and hiked in the Southwest desert and I've lived and hiked above the Arctic Circle. The desert will kill you faster and in more different ways than the Arctic. It is also much more beautiful and captivating.

    Now, in closing, I have only one more thing to say:
    PICTURES!

    Pops

  7. #7
    Peter Ryan's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    Hi Paul,

    I concur with everything said here, particularly Pops full assessment of the situation. I have done a lot of travelling in Central Australia, which sounds similar climatic conditions, and he is spot on with his advice – particularly about drinking fluids and the right fluids.

    I have found the light in Central Australia so bright it often fools the camera’s light meter to underexposing by up to 0.7EV. If you are not going to do a lot of post production work I would let this occur as the slight under-exposure saturates the colours and gives your images a real zing.

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    PopsPhotos's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    I have found the light in Central Australia so bright it often fools the camera’s light meter to underexposing by up to 0.7EV. If you are not going to do a lot of post production work I would let this occur as the slight under-exposure saturates the colours and gives your images a real zing.
    There is a trick I learned from Bill Belknap, when we were using hand-held light meters. Shade the light meter from the sun, using your hand or hat. You can shade the lens of your camera, if you are using the in-camera meter. Lens hoods help, but it won't hurt to shade the lens with a hat or hand.

    Sometimes, if you are shooting over water, you have to shade the meter from both the sun and the reflection from the water. This can get tricky, unless you have more hands than do I.

    Pops

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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    If you are going to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, you will probably leave Zion through the eastern entrance and then take route 89 north towards Bryce. You will then turn right (east) on route 12 (between Hatch and Panguich) towards Bryce Canyon. If you can make it before about 9 or 10 AM you will be treated to lovely vistas almost as soon as you cross the Virgen River. That is the Red Canyon area. Most people just drive straight through but, you should stop in several of the cut-outs because the red rock cliffs of the canyon are really beautiful. If you cannot make it in the morning, late afternoon is almost (but, not quite) as fantastic.

    If you drive past the turn-off for Bryce canyon for 25 or 30 miles, you come to the Kodachrome Basin Utah State Park. It was named Kodachrome Basin by the National Geographic Photographers who "discovered" it because of the lovely colors of the rock formations. This is a lovely area but has virtually no ammenities. However, early mornings or late afternoons is really the only time to shoot this area...
    http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&r...w=1054&bih=450

    By the way, an exception to the "no shoot at noon" rule is within some of the canyons along the Virgen River in Zion National Park. Noon is the only time the light hits some of these deep canyons.

    If you are going to leave paved highways (on foot or by car) have a compass and know how to use it. It can be easy to get turned around hiking in some canyons or driving on some unimproved roads or trails.. As always, water, water and more water is essential.

    As far as photo equipment equipment goes, make certain that you have a lens hood for each lens with which you will shoot. Hoods are absolutely essential in the Desert South West (and any where else).

    A sturdy monopod can often substitute as a walking stick.

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    Ramblinman's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for Shooting in the American South West

    I also plan on going to Antelope Canyon if time permits.

    It sounds like there will be alot of trial and error during the trip. Thanks for the tips!

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