What I found behind me …

Delicate Arch under Alpenglow

Those who have followed by blog might remember “Hey … turn around!”.  Like most I forget to look behind me often, despite my bringing it up all the time.  In an attempt to liven up my blog a little bit (and make it worth checking into more often), when ever I come across this circumstance I may put it up as an example.

Last summer I ventured to Moab, and while I’ve been there several times I’ve never been there to capture images. Why would a purported landscape photographer living in Utah and only a few hours away from Moab,  Utah not go there at least occasionally to shoot? Or other locations in Utah for that matter … one of the best places for any landscape photographer to venture to?

(warning … a melancholy moment just hit me, so while this might be interesting to some, if you aren’t one of them skip to the next purple text, as this as nothing to do with the point of my article.)

 I started out as a portrait and wedding photographer, so while I enjoyed shooting landscapes I never really worked at them much.  I didn’t make much money, and keeping food on the table and gas in the car for my wife and family was the priority. It was pretty easy to find portrait work relative to trying to sell landscapes, and even easier to find clients for the photo lab I started a few years later.  Over time my company grew large enough that I no longer did much shooting at all, and other interests distracted me. I wrote software for my company, tried to stay on top of a rapidly growing enterprise, became pretty passionate about golf, so I just didn’t shoot much.

One reason I became less and less involved in shooting is an ingrained trait of doing everything myself.  Rather than having someone else or some company do anything for me, I would instead figure out how to do it myself.  Budget constraints often meant being quite creative because I also wanted it to be as good as if someone else did it.

An example of that is I’ve always printed most of my own prints, be it personally or by the lab which I started in 1980.  It started with a slide projector converted to an enlarger, shortly followed by a tube processor for color prints.  The tube held a single 16×20 or 20×24 sheet of color photo paper, and had a cap which allowed chemicals to be poured in and poured out without letting light in.  Once the print was in the tube and the caps on, it was light tight so you could turn the lights on.  The tube could be placed in it’s container tray which was full of water and it would float. The water was recycled via a pump through a heater to maintain the correct temperature.  The chemistry was measured into containers and also placed into the water bath to maintain correct temperature.  The tube had a device in the middle which worked sort of like a water mill. You would process the paper by pouring in the developer, which was held in a cup inside the lid, and then lay the tube down in the water bath where it would float.  As you laid the tube down the chemicals would be released across the print, and the pump directed a stream of water against the device on the tube, thus constantly turning it. The turning did two things, kept the chemistry moving across the surface of the print, and also meant you only needed a few ounces of chemistry … the print didn’t need to be immersed in chemistry.  When you were done, you would pick the tube up, and the chemistry inside would flow out the bottom cap while you filled the top cap with bleach/fix, and again laid the tube down in the water bath. Once the bleach/fix was done, the print could be removed and placed in a standard development tray to be washed. I guess the point of this was while rewarding, it was laborious.  This was the days of EP-2 chemicals which meant about a 12 minutes for each individual print (not counting the time to expose the paper with the enlarger).  Then you waited till the print was dry to see if the color was even close … which it usually wasn’t.  This meant switching out some filters in the enlarger head to modify the color of the light source, and trying it again. The process took hours, so it wasn’t long until I installed a Kreonite processor automating that entire process, and by 1981 had a full scale lab operation including c-41 processing, proofing and package printing.

Printing in the darkroom was rewarding, but really wasn’t “fun”.  It was time consuming, involved countless iterations of trial and error to get the color right along with any other techniques such as dodging or burning.  What bothered me the most was I never felt like I could get the perfect print … just not enough control – an example was it was extremely difficult to modify the contrast, requiring a rather technical process of “contrast masking”. (something which is a snap to duplicate in Photoshop). Over the years I just sort of tired of everything, and after about 1990 I didn’t find myself shooting much.

Digital changed everything, and I began exploring new ways to capture images that interested me.  The big change was when I purchased a Kodak DCS Digital back, followed a couple of years later with a Phase One p25 and new Hasselblad H1 camera system.  Since then I’ve found myself more involved with landscape shooting and have become pretty passionate about it.  The digital darkroom is far more rewarding, and digital printing on inkjet or photo printers much simpler and much higher quality.  I still print all of my own prints, either with the latest Epson printers or with laser or LED based silver halide photo printers.

(OK, done with the digression, back to the point …)

So now you know why this was my first photoshoot in Moab (those that read all that). The first evening my friend Randy Collier and I made the hike to Delicate Arch to shoot the traditional angle from the top – have to get that one off the bucket list.  By the time we arrived at the arch we were beat.  No water (smart), it’s pretty warm out (June 2oth) so we’re pretty “damp”, and – OK I’ll leave it at that. This is Utah’s most iconic location, so I assumed someone had figured an easy way in for all the tourists who want to see it, but believe me this isn’t a 5 minute walk from the car. Being 58 and overweight (working on that hard right now) it was a workout to get there. Randy immediately found  a rock that’s sculpted out sort of like a chair and laid claim to it.  I set up next to him … this is the first trip so I decide to do the traditional view, and look around for angles for a future trip.  The clouds over the LaSalle mountains in the background look promising, but sure enough they begin to fade, so it looks like we’re in for a bald sky.  All this time and energy invested for what appeared to be a pretty mediocre opportunity, although waiting till well after sunset (and all the other photographers had left) actually resulted in a decent image.  As sunset drew near and the light began to get interesting, he said “hey, look behind us”.  The sky was amazing, so we went up to the edge, and there we found this ….

Delicate Arch Overlook

Yep … the best picture of the evening wasn’t of Delicate Arch.  In fact I consider this the best picture of my trip to Moab. As landscape photographers, all the elements combine to play a role in the success of what we are shooting, and you just never know what opportunities will (or will not) be there.  It’s important to pay attention to everything around you and if the goal of your shoot isn’t looking good, be patient (which resulted in the shot of the arch at the top of the page), but look around.  There might be something else behind you which you’re missing.

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2 Responses to “What I found behind me …”

  1. Paul Eby says:

    Interesting similarities in our photographic lives. I also started as a wedding/portrait photographer. Also started developing my own colour prints in a tube processor. Also then moved on to a full retail lab (still operating) Then discovered that digital gave new life to my photography and I now make more income from my scenic images than portraiture.

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