THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST

 

 

SHAWN’S AMERICAN SOUTHWEST JOURNAL – DAY 1

 

As it generally does, our journey into the American Southwest began at the check-in counter at the airport. When travelling with a lot of photography equipment there is one thing to always keep in mind: do not check your gear. Check all of your personal items and carry-on as much as possible. And more importantly, prioritize what gets carried on. Carry-ons should always include camera bodies, lenses, lithium batteries and anything related to data storage. If your luggage gets lost or stolen you must still a) be able to shoot and b) have your hard-earned photographs come home with you.

 

Upon arrival in Las Vegas, the crew and I immediately picked up our rental car and drove east into the desert. Our journey was supposed to take about four and a half hours but Jan, our cinematographer on this episode, has a habit of shooting lots, so it was more like eight hours.

We arrived just in time for sunset to make the 20 minute walk from the parking lot of Horseshoe Bend down to the edge of the canyon. As you hike up over the initial hill and begin your descent to the canyon’s edge it becomes apparent that you are not alone. At sunset, Horseshoe Bend often has dozens and sometimes hundreds of onlookers and photographers. As you get closer, trying to eye up a good vantage point to shoot from, you become thankful that many people are afraid of heights. A few photographers are perched perilously close to the 1000 foot sheer cliff but most others are back several feet. This convenient gap often allows you to find the perfect spot where the Colorado River is equally visible on both sides of the canyon and where you can sneak in close to the cliff’s edge. But be careful! Many people have died here over the years as a result of loose rock breaking away.

Every time I come to Horseshoe Bend I am always amazed by how many people will pack up their gear and begin hiking out at the moment the sun dips below the horizon. On this particular day, amazingly, I was the only photographer that remained after sunset. And what happened next was spectacular.

If there are a few scattered clouds in the sky, the best time to photograph Horseshoe Bend is after sunset. The sun, from below the horizon, illuminates the clouds overhead and often results in a stunning palette of colors. That is exactly what happened on this particular evening and I was lucky enough to capture the moment in all its glory.

SPECS  f/16, 4 second exposure, ISO 50, 14mm lens        LOCATION  36.879801, -111.509922

SHAWN’S AMERICAN SOUTHWEST JOURNAL – DAY 2

The next morning the crew and I picked up some kayaks from Kayak Lake Powell (www.kayakpowell.com). They were kind enough to give us some pointers and help get our kayaks on to the roof of our rental vehicle. Off we went to the water entry here:

We loaded our kayaks into the water and paddled our way to the mouth of Lower Antelope Canyon.

As we kayaked through Lower Antelope Canyon the walls got narrower and narrower the deeper we got up into the canyon.

Eventually we reached dry land, beached the kayaks and then hiked the rest of the way in. Clearly a flash flood had come through the canyon recently which left many pools of water and mud that we needed to cross. A short distance into the canyon the land becomes owned by the Navajo Nation and requires a permit to enter. Eventually, after roughly one hour of hiking, we reached “the wall” at the end of the canyon. We were told ahead of time about this wall and that it would only be passable if we had proper rock climbing equipment with us. We went in with hopes that we would be able to scale the rock face without ropes but it became immediately obvious that this was not going to be possible. We captured some photographs in this area, took in the beautiful scenery and then began to make our way back out of the canyon.

SHAWN’S AMERICAN SOUTHWEST JOURNAL – DAY 3

Rather than climb up and over the wall at the lower end of Lower Antelope Canyon, we entered the most photogenic part of the canyon through the tourist entrance here:

At the entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon is a sign memorializing the deaths of 11 individuals who were stranded in Lower Antelope Canyon during a flash flood on August 12, 1997. It is an important reminder of the ever-present danger of flash floods in the region. Rainfall miles away can collect within the canyons walls and will come rushing through, carrying anything that it has picked up in its path (logs, branches, garbage, etc).

Just the simple act of entering Lower Antelope Canyon is interesting. The entrance is a small crack in earth that would barely be noticeable even if you were standing 5 feet away from it. After squeezing through the small entry suddenly the cavernous space opens up below you and overcome with a sense of awe. As you descend deeper in the canyon the spectrum of colors changes from yellow to orange to red to eventually a deep blue at the deepest point.

SPECS  f/16, 10 second exposure, ISO 50, 46mm lens        LOCATION  36.902245, -111.412224

One of the most fascinating aspects of Antelope Canyon is how the rushing sand and water has carved different shapes out of the sandstone. It has also created the most amazing textures and striations that make for infinite possibilities of photographic compositions. Part of the reason that I continue to return to Antelope Canyon year after year is because with the changing light and changing seasons, there is always an opportunity capture something unique and interesting.

SPECS  f/16, 6 second exposure, ISO 50, 70mm lens

LOCATION  36.902245, -111.412224

SPECS  f/22, 13 second exposure, ISO 50, 73mm lens

LOCATION  36.902245, -111.412224

I want to share with you some tips and tricks for making the most out of your photography in Antelope Canyon:

 

- if you wish to enter Lower Antelope Canyon without a guide you will require a tripod and an SLR camera to obtain a photographer's pass.

 

- always use your tripod. Set your aperture up around f/11 or f/16 and slow down your shutter speed to compensate.

 

- use a wide angle zoom lens such as a 16mm-35mm. The canyon is very dusty so you will want to avoid changing lenses to prevent sand from getting on your camera's CCD.

 

- to capture shafts of light entering the canyon you will need to be in the canyon midday during summer months when the sun is at the highest point in the sky.

 

- try different white balance settings to capture different types of color. For example, set your camera to tungsten to get deep blue tones. Set your camera to daylight to get warm tones.

SHAWN’S AMERICAN SOUTHWEST JOURNAL – DAY 4

On our final day in the American Southwest we embarked on a swelteringly hot four-hour hike beginning in Utah and ultimately ending up in Arizona. The destination was a very special and unique place known as "The Wave." This geological freak of nature was created due to the erosion of sandstone during the Jurassic period. In fact, dinosaur prints can be found within the sandstone throughout this region.

SPECS  f/16, 1/100 second exposure, ISO 100, 16mm lens        LOCATION  36.995856, -112.006178

Once you have received a permit from the Bureau of Land Management to enter this park you will be provided with a map to find The Wave. Even with GPS coordinates, The Wave can be a very difficult place to locate without proper directions due to the steep topography and trackless paths.

After hiking out of The Wave we continued our journey west into Nevada. There were plenty of adventures still to come in the American Southwest...