I recently returned from our quick trip to Utah. While there, I spent several hours in the middle of the night doing some Milky Way shots at Devils Garden in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (a fantastic place that I love and that my so-called President is trying to take away). I arrived at the Devils Garden parking lot at about 1:30 am on a weekday morning. I obviously wasn’t the only one with the idea of shooting there that night, as the parking lot had five other cars parked (by comparison, I took Tanya and our friends Jim and Kris back there later in the morning – around 10 am – and there were only two other cars there).
Devils Garden is a fairly small area filled with wonderful hoodoos and several arches. And I was a bit surprised by the number of photographers there there, but figured if everyone was polite with their lights, we could all get along. I headed toward one particular set of four hoodoos shaped like heads from Easter Island that I thought would look great with the Milky Way and some light painting. However, there was a group of people already working there. So instead, I went to Metate Arch and shot the image above. I did my light painting with a LED headlamp covered with an orange gel. I was pretty happy with the result, and hoped the other folks had moved on to another spot so I could capture the “Easter Island” hoodoos. But no, they were still there.
I talked briefly with another photographer, asking him if my light painting had hindered him, but he said no. He was not with the group by the Easter Island hoodoos also wished they would move. He had been photographing some hoodoos near Metate Arch, and we traded places. I had some trouble shooting this spot, the group down by the Easter Island hoodoos was in the corner of my composition and they rarely turned off their lights. Further the photographer now at Metate Arch was occasionally using his light, and that was partly in my shot as well. Between the two, I took five shots, none without some light from the other photographers – especially the group by the Easter Island hoodoos – whom it seemed when they finished with light painted, turned on red lights and keep them on until they started light painting again (for those who don’t know, when out doing night photography, using a red light helps keep your night vision). Rarely did they have both their normal and red lights off. The image shown here is the best of the lot I took – there is some red light from the photographer by Metate Arch (lower center) and the light on the Easter Island hoodoos (down in the lower left corner) isn’t too bad. I was able to use Photoshop to fix the image (see below), getting totally rid of the red light in the center, removing the light spot in the lower left, and dimming the rest of the light in the lower left (I thought it looked better with a little light there rather than making it totally dark). I am happy with the result, but by now I was starting to get a bit mad at the rudeness of the group down by the Easter Island hoodoos, who almost always had one light or another on.
I ended up photographing three other spots, two of which are shown below, in total spending about two hours at Devils Garden. I never did make it to the Easter Island hoodoos as the light-happy group of photographers there never left the spot. And frankly, even now, days later, I’m still a bit peeved at that selfish and rude group.
Aside: rant directed at that group of photographers: seriously people, would you sit in the front row of a movie theater and talk on your cell phone for the entire movie? Do you enjoy shining your flashlight in other people’s eyes at night? Do you never turn off you high beams when other cars approach on the highway? And it’s not just the lights. It’s hogging the spot. It’s one thing to arrive early and setup at a preferred spot for sunrise – sunrise only last 10 or 15 minutes. But honestly, 2 hours without moving at a place that has dozens of potential shots? Have you no creativity? Obviously not! How many shots of the same set of hoodoos do you need? I suppose you never learned to share your toys when you were a kid either.
With the capabilities of today’s digital cameras, night photography is continually growing in popularity, and you will often find other photographers out with you at the same time as many sites, such as Devils Garden. Such situations beg for politeness and etiquette. If you find yourself out with other photographers at night, please be respectful and use your light sparingly. In places such as Devils Garden, where there are multiple subjects, try not to hog one spot. Nighttime photography is much more difficult than daytime work, it is more difficult to control the camera, more difficult to focus the lens, more difficult to get a composition, and demands long shutter speeds. It is difficult enough that you shouldn’t have to also battle light pollution from other photographers.
We finally had a decent summer weekend. It was sure a long time coming this year. And where was I when the weather finally reached over 80 degrees? Up in the mountains photographing wildflowers and snowfields? Photographing tidepools in Olympic National Park at Ruby Beach or Kalaloch? Or even enjoying a family picnic sans camera? No, no, and no. I was stuck inside my studio most the weekend working on processing portrait shots. It’s not that I hate processing photos, in fact I like it; for me, processing is part of the art of photography. I like taking a RAW image and turning it into a thing of beauty (though repeating the same enhancements over and over again on a series of portraits can get a bit tedious). But when the weather is nice, I should be out shooting!
Alas, the portrait work needed doing, regardless of the weather. So I slaved over the computer most the weekend (and am actually happy with the amount of work I got done). However, I couldn’t help be dream of being outside, taking photographs in a beautiful landscape. With that, my day dreams turned to my pending vacation. Late next month Tanya and I hope to drive down to southern Utah and northern New Mexico. We are planning to go to some spots I’ve never been before, and I’m excited about the photographic opportunities.
I love the American Southwest. In part, I think, it is due to my formal training as a geologist. I like seeing all the bare rocks – no soil, trees or other vegetation covering their colors and patterns. And as a travel and landscape photographer, I can’t think of a more photogenic area. I like the American Southwest so much I named my photography company after a character, Seldom Seen Smith, in the Edward Abbey novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. For awhile, I had been visiting southern Utah about every other year. But now it’s been about four years and I’m itching to go again. Seeing some of New Mexico will be great too. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, not since my Texas A&M grad school days when I was a teaching assistant on a geology field camp. I imagine it has changed much in that quarter century.
Now on Monday, the rain has returned to Tacoma, and dreaming of a vacation in the Southwest has only gotten stronger. In support of my vacation dreams, I’m posting these shots from some of my previous trips to Utah. These are images I haven’t much shown before. I hope you enjoy them.