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Lake Powell
A Luminous Landscape Master Class

NewThis subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of  The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.

The Master Class

In early April, 2001 five experienced nature photographers from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. met in Las Vegas to begin a week-long photographic adventure. We were joined by two colleagues who would support and record the trip. 

We were headed for Lake Powell and a Master Class which I had begun planning quite a number of months before. Instead of my usual Spring landscape workshop the concept was to assemble a group of experienced nature photographers and to spend a week or so together in an exotic location. Instead of the classes and instruction of the usual workshop environment, there would be discussions and sharing of ideas and experiences among seasoned pros.

A houseboat on Lake Powell appeared to be an ideal venue for a photographic adventure. I'd been to the shores of Lake Powell several times when visiting Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon, but had never explored its exquisite canyons and rivers.

A typical canyon where we would beach each night — Jonathan Sachs.

Lake Powell can make one cry with its beauty as well as tragic history. It was formed in the early 1960's when the Colorado River just below Glen Canyon was dammed. Glen Canyon is reputed to have been one of the most lovely places on Earth, rivaling in its beauty the valleys that are now protected as Yosemite and Zion National Parks. (Eliot Porter's famous photographic book "The Place No One Knew" is a testament to Glen Canyons' splendor and tragic loss). But it's now gone, and fortunately what replaced it, Lake Powell, has much to recommend it.  

Glen Canyon offers dozens of canyons and literally hundreds of hiking trails to be explored. A lifetime would hardly be enough to see them all, let alone become familiar with them. For photographers and lovers of unspoiled nature the potential rewards are many. While the splendor of Glen Canyon has been lost for all time due to the damming of the river, some of the side canyons, like Bowns Canyon, display something of the beauty of what was lost, though on a somewhat smaller scale. In partial consolation Lake Powell does make accessing these areas somewhat easier for the non-dedicated backpacker than it otherwise would be.

Planning

Planning the logistics for a 9-day, 7-photographer trip required some extensive preparations. We were to cover some 900 miles by road through southern Utah as well as 6 days on a houseboat in unfamiliar territory on the Escalante River arm of Lake Powell.

We had decided to launch from Bullfrog Marina. This is a more remote location than Waweap Marina near Page, AZ though this is already pretty far from anywhere. But we wanted to be as close as possible to the Escalante River arm which we understood to offer the best canyon hiking. Getting there requires a 400 miles drive from Las Vegas though Zion, Bryce and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks. We could have taken a week to do the drive each way, but a day and a half was all we could afford at either end.

The vehicle arrangement was the most awkward, as we needed to transport seven people, suitcases, camera bags, tripods, and food supplies for 6 days on the houseboat. We ended up renting a 15 passenger Club Van, which just managed to hold us all, along with our gear.

The Group

The members of our workshop were... 

CC Lockwood — a widely published professional nature photographer from Baton Rouge, LA

Ian Lyons — one of the Net's leading experts on colour management as well as Epson inkjet printing. Ian is an Electrical Engineer from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  

Ian's portfolio and write-up from the trip can be seen here.

Jonathan Sachs — president of Digital Light & Color, and author of the image processing program  Picture Window. Jonathan is from Boston, MA.  

Jonathan's portfolio and write-up from the trip can be seen here.

Milton Woolley — a long-time friend and experienced outdoorsman, who though a non-photographer, accompanied the trip and provided much needed logistical support. Milton is a business consultant from Petaluma CA.

Steve Kossack — a widely traveled full-time nature and landscape photographer with extensive knowledge of the Colorado Plateau. Steve is from Cottonwood, AZ.

Chris Sanderson — a cinematographer who films and produces The Luminous Landscape Video Journal. Chris is a commercial film director and lives in Toronto, Canada.

Michael Reichmann — landscape and nature photographer, teacher, contributing editor to Photo Techniques magazine, and the publisher of this site. Michael lives in Toronto, Canada.

CC Lockwood / Chris Sanderson / Milton Woolley / Michael Reichmann /Steve Kossack / Ian Lyons / Jonathan Sachs

Among the photographers, Steve shot 35mm — Canon EOS, as did Ian, who also used a digital EOS D30. CC shot with his usual Nikon F gear while Jonathan shot with his Pentax 67 II. I mostly used the Mamiya 7 II.

Equipment & Failures

Regular readers will know that since 1997 for my serious landscape work I have primarily used the Rollei 6008 system. It has proven to be totally reliable and one of the most productive and competent camera system's I've used in more than 35 years as a photographer. Until this trip.

I had my full Rollei system with me, including 40mm, 90mm, 180mm and 300mm Schneider lenses. On the first day out I went to take a shot with the 180mm lens and found that the shutter was non-functional. I had dropped the lens 6 months before on a shoot in Great Smoky NP and had sent it to Marflex for repair. It seemed OK when it came back, but clearly hadn't been repaired properly.

I next went to use the 40mm. I took a few frames but the meter readings seemed weird. A little testing showed that the lens thought that it had a maximum aperture of f/2.0 instead of an f/3.5. Down to just a macro-normal and a long tele lens, ordinarily I would have been pretty much sunk. But, I had recently purchased a Mamiya 7 II with 43mm, 65mm and 150mm lenses for use when hiking, had brought them with me, and they ended up saving the day. Because of the Rollei failures I ended up doing some 90% of the shooting on this trip with the Mamiya and am very happy with the results. You can read more about my first field experience with the Mamiya 7 here.

The Trip

Bullfrog Bay Sunset, Utah — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens

We arrived at Bullfrog Marina the night before our planned departure, but the boat was ready and so were we, so instead of a night in the marina's motel we departed just before sunset. We found a mooring just around the bay at a place called Sandy Beach. Happy to finally be underway a couple of us stood on the roof of the houseboat with a glass of wine in hand, and our cameras on tripods in front of us while watching the fading light of our first evening on the lake.

Bowns Canyon Hillside, Lake Powell AZ — April 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 150mm f/4.5 lens 

Our first day out, as we headed toward the Escalante arm we stopped at Bowns Canyon. It had been recommended to us as having an attractive waterfall and a pleasant hike. The waterfall was a dud, but the hike was excellent. What particularly caught my attention was this tallis slope covered in grass and trees. It looked like a sculptured Japanese garden.

I must admit that I've altered the colours in this image. The red-rock cliff was so over-the-top hot and brilliant that it looked totally garish. I decided to try for subtlety — more in keeping with the mood of the trees.

Iceberg Canyon Natural Dam, Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 43mm f/4.5 lens

On one of the arms of Iceberg Canyon there is a rock fall which has created a natural dam and created a small lake. It's quite a scramble over some pretty large rocks, but the view from the upper slope was lovely.

Shooting on the natural dam's rock fall — CC Lockwood working while being filmed by Chris Sanderson

The inlet to Iceberg Canyon is quite narrow and affords but a single mooring spot for a houseboat. This photograph was taken from the roof of the houseboat in the late afternoon as we sat waiting for sunset.

Iceberg Canyon Flooded Trees, Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens

Water Spot, Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens

One of a number of lovely small water cascades that we saw in the various canyons. A polarizing filter was very useful in taming the reflections from the water.

Flaming Cliff — Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 150mm f/4.5 lens 

Whether cruising the main lake, or the narrow canyons, the fascinating patterns and colours of the cliff walls always were a challenge to photograph. This is one of the more interesting examples. The scale is hard to appreciate, but is likely 30-40 feet across the horizontal and 20' high in this shot. 

Bullfrog Bay Moonrise, Lake Powell AZ — April 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens 

All other things being equal, I usually plan my trips for the time of month when there will be a full moon. It can add quite a dramatic element to landscape images. On this trip, because we were always camped overnight in narrow canyons, we never got to shoot the full moon rising at sunset, or setting at sunrise — as it is wont to do once each month.

On our last morning, at about 8am, as we motored the houseboat from our campsite at Moqui Canyon, I went up on the roof of the houseboat for one last moment alone with the beauty of the lake and the cold crisp air of sunrise. As we emerged from the canyon into the open lake in front of Bullfrog Bay the moon emerged from behind some clouds and a receding cliff edge. I had the Mamiya and 65mm lens over my shoulder and I managed to take a few hand-held frames before the moment was lost.

Bryce Sunrise #1 — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 43mm f/4.5 lens

Active weather followed us everywhere, and by the time we got to Bryce Canyon National Park several inches of snow had fallen. We did a sunset and a sunrise shoot. the latter was bitterly cold. We stood at Sunset Point (yes, I know it's called Sunset Point, but it's a better location for sunrise at this time of year than it is for sunset — if you get what I mean), awaiting the dawn and nearly got frostbite, we were so cold. None of us were prepared for arctic-like shooting conditions, and even 4 layers of sweaters and thermal fleeces wasn't enough.

Storm Over Mt. Hillers, Utah — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens

On the morning of the second-to-last day of the trip, as we we preparing to leave Bullfrog Marina, we were advised that a snowstorm was coming through and would likely dump a significant amount of snow in the mountains. This meant that we had to abandon plans to drive the Burr Trail through the Waterpocket Fold and instead undertake a 135 mile detour up State Road 276. 

The good news was that this would take us through the top end of Capital Reef National Park, and we looked forward to this, if not the extra driving. But, we hadn't driven more than 15 miles or so from the marina before we came upon this scene — Mt. Hillers shrouded in a developing storm, with the foreground sand and sage still in brilliant sunlight.

I took a number of frames but the first one was the best, with the sun still almost visible behind the writhing clouds. Within minutes the clouds had thickened, the dramatic light had flattened and the magic was lost. F/8 and be there, as the saying goes.

Zion Overlook, Utah — April, 2001

Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 43mm f/4.5 lens

We shot in Zion twice on this trip — going to and coming back from Lake Powell. As you drive north out of Zion National Park through the tunnel, immediately as you exit into daylight is a turnout with a few parking spots. If you're lucky enough to get one, and are up for about a 30 minute moderate hike along the Canyon Overlook Trail, you'll come to a ledge overlooking part of Zion valley. One of the great panoramic vistas in the western United States.

Virgin Mountains, Arizona — April 2001

Photographed with a Rollei 6008 and 300mm f/5.6 Schneider lens 

Driving south toward Las Vegas on Interstate 15 after an afternoon shooting in Zion we were feeling satiated after 12 days of high-stimulation landscapes and photography. As we entered Arizona, with the Virgin Mountains on our left, the clouds became increasingly dramatic as sunset approached, and I couldn't resist pulling off at a truck turn-out and firing off a few frames.

I'm always captivated by the drama of cloudscapes in the Southwest and this one provided a wealth of texture and subtlety.

Heading Home

This Master Class was considered a success by all participants. It was both challenging and rewarding to shoot with a half-dozen other top-notch photographers. We were shooting from before dawn till after sunset each day. We had fun, and lots of laughs, but we also learned a lot from our discussions, especially those with Ian and Jonathan who are both recognized experts in digital image processing. 

Traveling, living and working in such close proximity with others for 10 days could have been a real test of friendships, let alone a group where most people were meeting for the first time. Through everyone's humour and hard work we succeeded, and new and likely long-lasting friendships were formed — not to mention the creation of some exciting photographs.

All photographs on this page were shot on Provia 100F 
and scanned with an Imacon Photo scanner at 3200 dpi.

NewThis subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of  The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.


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Concepts: Colorado Plateau, Utah, Lake Powell, Zion National Park, Kane County, Utah, Colorado River, Grand Canyon, National Park Service

Entities: Las Vegas, Cottonwood, Toronto, Petaluma, Boston, Belfast, Mamiya 7 II, Nikon, Canada, United States, U.K., Northern Ireland, subtlety, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Parks., Bullfrog Marina, Sunset Point, Zion National Park, image processing, Lake Powell, Moqui Canyon, Iceberg Canyon, Colorado River, Antelope Canyon, Bowns Canyon, Grand Canyon, Escalante River, Canyon Hillside, Virgin Mountains, Bullfrog Marina, Michael Reichmann, April, Lake Powell, Bowns Canyon, an Electrical Engineer, Jonathan, Hillers, Jonathan Sachs, Chris Sanderson, Glen Canyons, Steve, Eliot Porter, Ian Lyons, Milton Woolley, Steve Kossack, Schneider, Southwest, Utah, Arizona, Colorado

Tags: Lake Powell, canyon, Mamiya, trip, national park, Lake Powell AZ, glen canyon, Iceberg Canyon, houseboat, Las Vegas, nature photographer, natural dam, Zion, zion national park, Luminous Landscape Video, experienced nature photographers, Escalante River arm, Landscape Video Journal, marina, Jonathan Sachs, Master Class, Chris Sanderson, Bowns Canyon Hillside, Bryce Canyon National Park, photographic adventure, narrow canyons, image processing, Canyon Natural Dam, consolation lake powell, Rollei, Canyon Flooded Trees, Bullfrog, sunrise, rock fall, Virgin Mountains, Canyon Overlook Trail, typical canyon, long tele lens, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon