Yesterday, I had opportunity to spend a full day at one of our favorite hiking locations, West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona. I’ve been to this idyllic location many times, both for family hikes and for photography excursions.
NIKON D300,f/16 @ 28 mm, 1/60, ISO 200
Yesterday’s solo trip was a first for me, however, as I had ample time and the weather was agreeable for a deeper foray into Oak Creek Canyon, specifically into an area only accessible by river wading. In my past visits, the creek water was too cold or it was too late in the day to venture into this secluded area, located about 3.5 or 4 miles from the West Fork trail head.
The photographic opportunities on the West Fork Trail are endless, ranging from soaring “red rock” canyon walls to quiet wildflowers somehow thriving in a bed of rocks. That said, lighting conditions along this trail pose quite a challenge, with extreme lighting contrast between the brightly sunlit canyon walls and large areas of pitch black shadow. Following are a few photography strategies which I tried yesterday during this late Spring trek, admittedly with mixed results:
· Although I generally favor broad perspective landscapes captured with a wide angle lens, some of my favorite images from the West Fork hike were more narrowly framed using a medium lens (Nikkor 28 – 80 mm). This approach helped in limiting the high contrast situations created by the steep canyon walls, while also forcing me to more closely “focus” on some of the more unique aspect of the Oak Creek ecosystem.
· I made extensive use of a circular polarizer filter to reduce glare on the rocks and the surface of the water.
NIKON D300,f/8 @ 70 mm, 1/160, ISO 400
· Graduated neutral density filters (.6 and .9) were helpful in darkening the sky for some photographs, but this approach was not always workable given the high canyon walls which run often extend from the bottom to the top of the picture frame.
· Use of a lens hood is imperative to prevent lens flare and uneven exposures. Even with the use of deep lens hoods, I found it necessary to cup my hand to the side of the lens to block the sunlight in several images. Despite these efforts, several of my images proved to be unusable due to extensive lens flare.
· Bracketing of photographs and reading of histogram information are a must in the canyon, because of the extreme lighting conditions at Oak Creek Canyon. Also, given the intense sunlight in open areas, it’s hard to accurately view and judge image exposures on the camera display in the field.
While yesterday’s hike was a total joy, I was a bit nervous about carrying my camera into the river areas and the thought of slipping on the slick moss covered rocks was foremost in my mind. As tedious as it seems, I found it best to totally pack up my camera when moving down river, not only to protect the gear but also for my peace of mind. This proved so true when I took a very hard fall on a seemingly simple creek crossing near the end of the hike. My wrist, knee and tripod slammed into the wet rocks with tremendous force. While my ego was momentarily bruised, my camera gear rested safely sans a drop of water, in my camera backpack.
This morning, I’m a bit sore and tired, but grateful for a day on the West Fork Trail - this time a bit further into Oak Creek Canyon.
NIKON D300,f/22 @ 19 mm, 1/5, ISO 200
Closing out yesterday’s trip, today I’ll be posting a few of my favorite images from West Fork Trail hike for the Capture My Arizona’s Springtime photography contest.
For an Autumn view of West Fork trail and discussion about a "hyper focus" using Helicon Software, see West Fork Trail, Sedona, Arizona: Part 2 - Autumn.
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.