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New Work: Sequoia National Park – Part 1

Sequoia National Park in winter Tree Trunks, Sequoia National Park, CA
Mamiya RZ67 on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/2 at f/16

- Click Any Image for a Larger View - 

I spent the first weekend in March in the beautiful Sequoia National Park to try my hand at photographing these majestic trees. Nestled on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, this region played an important role in the creation of the national park system as we know it today.

It was in the shadow of these giant trees that naturalist John Muir and the great president Theodore Roosevelt slept under the stars after sneaking away from the president's cavalcade of security and advisors. Roosevelt wanted to spend time in the woods that Muir's writings made famous (along with Yosemite Valley) to see for himself what made them national treasures worth protecting. He wanted the solitary experiences that Muir described, unspoiled by his staff and modern amenities.

After several days in the wild with Muir, Roosevelt's passion for protecting these treasures, like the Sequoias, burned with an intensity like never before. This single experience served as a catalyst for an already growing national movement for environmental protection and began a series of historic events as Roosevelt set aside more and more land for public appreciation and recreation.

When you're amongst these giant Sequoias, it's plain to see how they could have such a profound impact on Muir and Roosevelt. They are truly amazing organisms. One can't help but feel like little more than an insignificant blip in the history of this planet when standing with these enormous trees. They sprouted long before you arrived, and they will stand long after you're gone.

Sequoia Trees in Sequoia National Park in winterBig Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 second at f/40 - Red #23A filter with 1-stop split ND
(See the bench at the foot of the tree?)

I planned this trip with hopes of photographing them in fresh snowfall. But as all nature photographers know, getting the weather to coincide with your hotel reservations is the biggest challenge of it all.

Although I arrived to plentiful snow on the ground, it was old, dirty snow that just didn't highlight the beauty of this place like I'd hoped. I tried my best using my large format and medium format cameras with black and white film, but it was tough to capture what I envisioned. If only the clouds would have granted me a gift of just a few fresh inches of snow...but alas, it was not meant to be.

Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, CAKaweah River, Sequoia National Park, CA
Mamiya RZ67 on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/8 at f/16 - Polarizer and Red #23A filter

Big Tree Trail in Sequoia National Park, CABig Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 minute at f/22 - Red #23A filter

I managed only a few photos in the snowy areas that I'm proud of. I worked hard to find spots with clean, uncluttered and un-trampled snow, but there just weren't many areas that worked. Plus, with the majority of roads closed for the season, I was quite limited on where I could go.

After all was said and done, I found my favorite compositions at a beautiful overlook called Beetle Rock. Those pictures will come in Part 2 of this post. So stay tuned!

New Work: First Sunset of 2013

Sunset at Heisler Park - Laguna Beach, CASunset at Heisler Park, Laguna Beach, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/4 at f/25 - Lee 2-Stop Split ND
Click Image for Larger Version

Seems to be a tradition around these parts that the first sunset of a new year is quite stunning. Not sure why. Maybe it's just Mother Nature ringing it in the best way she knows how. It's her way of soothing the aching heads of hungover party goers all around Orange County. One of the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen was on a New Year's Day several years ago.

Shen-Hao HZX-45IIaThe first sunset of 2013 was no exception. We had a great cloud cover to pick up the sunset light. And so with my large format camera in hand, I visited the local beach at Heisler Park to photograph it.

Photographing the beach with a large format camera is no easy task, as I've said before. It takes 5+ minutes to set up a single shot on this type of camera. If a wave comes in and sinks your tripod, you practically have to start over. It's about finding the perfect spot where the water will come up close enough to look interesting in the photo without ever actually touching the tripod legs. And that's not to mention the quickly changing light, which is difficult to keep up with.

But luckily, I've made enough mistakes to know what not to do on this night, so things went off without a hitch. I managed to fire off a couple horizontal compositions and a couple vertical compositions, the best 2 of which you see here.

I made both images with my Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa camera and a Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens (that's a wide angle on this type of camera). I used Fuji Provia 100F film because I had a bunch of it on hand and it's a little cheaper than my favorite film, Fuji Velvia. Provia is a little less saturated than Velvia, but it still managed to record some decent color. Plus I think it actually worked out for the best here because Provia has a warmer color balance to it than Velvia 100. Velvia 100 is very blue compared to Provia - can be great for mountain scenes, but not so much for beach sunsets like this.

I used a Lee 2-stop split ND filter on both of these photos so as to preserve color in both the sky and foreground.

Sunset at Heisler Park - Laguna Beach, CASunset at Heisler Park, Laguna Beach, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/4 at f/22 - Lee 2-Stop Split ND
Click Image for Larger Version

Corona Del Mar in B&W

It's been my dream for years to shoot 6x17 panoramas. 6x17 is a film format in which the negative measures 6cm tall by 17cm wide. It's a huge negative. Almost 7" wide! This means ultra-high detail and resolution in a beautiful wide format. Scanned at high resolution, you're looking 300+ megapixels.

Arch Rock, Corona Del Mar, CAArch Rock at Little Corona, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5
Ilford Delta 100, 18" at f/45 - 3-Stop Split ND & 3-stop full-field ND
Click Image for Larger Version

The only problem is that dedicated 6x17 cameras are heavy, rare, and ultra expensive. The gold-standard Fuji GX617 camera with one lens runs about $4,000...used. But man oh man would I love to shoot some true panoramas. No stitching digital files, no Photoshop, just good, pure panorama negatives.

But good news for me. Shen-Hao makes an attachment for their 4x5 field cameras that converts the standard 4x5 back into a 6x17 roll film back, just like the Fuji but for only $600 or so. I get to use my current large format lenses and I can even use camera movements like rise, shift, and tilt - something the Fuji can't do. That means I can keep vertical trees looking vertical and control distortion in a way only large format cameras can.

So I bought it last year as a Christmas gift to myself.

I'll be honest, the thing is difficult to use. There are a lot of things you can forget to do. It's all manual, it's slow, it's heavy. No fun for hiking and there's lots of room for error. But with some practice, I've become very adept at using it. And I'm addicted. I've been shooting 6x17 like crazy - black and white, color, beaches, forests...it's just plain fun.

For my first attempt at some serious 6x17 work, I went down to the local beach "Little Corona Del Mar." There's a great archway off the coast that I figured would be good practice. I decided to shoot B&W partly because I thought it would look good, but largely because it's cheap and I could develop the results that night.

I started with a horizontal pano. A simple composition with soft water and carefully placed rocks. Then as the night wrapped up, I tried a vertical pano that would highlight the distance between the near rocks and the far archway.

But other than that, I'll let the pictures tell their own story. Please click each for a larger version.

Arch Rock, Little Corona Del Mar, CAArch Rock at Little Corona, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor W 150mm f/5.6
Ilford Delta 100, 8" at f/32 - 2-Stop Split ND & Polarizer
Click Image for Larger Version

And all in all, I'm pretty happy with the results. It was a first attempt, so they're not perfect, but I think it's the start of a long love affair with 6x17.