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Leaves on a Precipice, Zion National Park, Utah

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 12 November 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

I'm back from two weeks in Yosemite and Southern Utah (Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Zion National Parks). Since the end of September I've done five workshops, starting with my Yosemite and Eastern Sierra workshops (two each) and wrapping up last week with Don Smith's Arches/Canyonlands workshop.

I love everything about conducting photo workshops--the great people I meet, the world-class locations I visit, and teaching and guiding enthusiastic photographers--but I'm afraid I'm not a terribly productive photographer on these trips. My focus is on the group, not my own photography, and while I usually come home with images that please me, I don't really get to shoot what makes me happiest. So after saying goodbye to Don's group Sunday morning, Don and I headed out for a couple of days of personal shooting in Bryce and Zion National Parks. Despite the fact that I was approaching two weeks on the road (first Yosemite, then straight to Utah), I was really looking forward to having my own quality photography time.

Happy photography for me is not duplicating scenes others have already captured, it's chasing the light, uncovering the essence of a scene, and trying to find a way to make it uniquely mine. Achieving this requires something I call being in "the zone," a place where it's just me, my camera, and Mother Nature. I don't necessarily need to be alone (on this trip there simply wasn't enough time on this detour to get very far off the beaten path), but I do need to be able to focus entirely on my world, take my time, and shut out all distractions.

After days of sunrise to sunset (and sometimes longer) workshop shooting and many miles on the road, Don and I were pretty exhausted when we rolled into Zion on the penultimate day of our trip. Our exhaustion quickly faded when we realized we'd hit peak of this year's fall color in the park. The deep red canyon walls, enriched by a light rain, were decorated with a variety of glistening yellow trees and shrubs emphatically punctuated by vivid crimson maples.

Our plan was to walk up the Virgin River to the Narrows. Driving up Zion Canyon, we found it impossible not to photograph at virtually every bend; we finally pulled into the trailhead parking lot with about four hours of quality light remaining (courtesy of the rain and persistent overcast). There, beneath the colorful canopy, the forest floor was carpeted with color, while ephemeral splashes of red and yellow darted among the rapids.

After agreeing to meet back at the car at 5:30, Don and I parted to seek our own images. For a few minutes I played with compositions near the parking area, then set off up the trail, still trying to get in synch with this beautiful and unique location. The overcast sky, tangled branches overhead, and narrow sandstones walls made the canyon very dark and I was grateful that the wind ranged from gentle to calm. It didn't take long for the zone to settle in, and with it an energizing euphoria that erased the remaining vestiges of fatigue. It seemed as if every step revealed something new and it took me three hours to cover one mile (which was just as well, as the rain had swollen the river, making it impossible to advance up the Narrows). I congratulated myself for having the foresight to bring an extra CF card, something I almost never need.

I won't pretend that this image breaks new ground, but I'm relatively confident that I'm the only person with this shot. It's the kind of composition that usually eludes me when I'm working with a workshop group. I found these leaves resting on a rock 30 vertical feet above the river and was particularly drawn to the juxtaposition of the resting leaves against the rushing river. Incongruous relationships like this convey a tension that's important in the inherently static world of a photograph. Strong diagonals like the rock boundary separating the leaves from the river generate a sense of visual motion. With my camera off my tripod I scanned the scene for the composition that best combined these elements, finally arriving at this vertical orientation that broke the frame into thirds (rock/leaves, tree, river), cutting it diagonally into a foreground of leaves on the rock against a background of rushing rapids and colorful tree.

Returning my camera to the tripod, I refined the composition, taking care not to merge the frame's three components. It took a while to position myself and tweak the focal length to avoid cutting off the leaves and river rocks, and to eliminate distractions (extraneous objects that pull the eye) at the edge of the frame. I stopped down to f16 to ensure that all the foreground leaves would be sharp from front to back, focusing on the most distant edge of the rock to maximize background sharpness. The leaves on the tree swayed unpredictably, so I bumped up to ISO 400 to increase my shutter speed. A polarizer cut color-robbing glare on the leaves and water.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

The colors and the textures are very interesting Gary, very nice work ! Have a lovely day :)

12 Nov 2010 12:54pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

I love this kind of image, Gary. Just a small piece of nature that I might walk right past, and never see if not for someone with open eyes taking the time to really stop and look. I love the compositions that are made by Mother Nature, and I know that this scene is just the way you found it.....those little leaves were just waiting for you to find them!
I think in the end, this is my favorite kind of images to make, too....Photography a journey and I am taking it one baby step at a time, but this kind of view is where my heart is. I absolutely love it!

12 Nov 2010 3:21pm

Barbara Lee from Oakland, United States

Great image Gary, and lovely description of the way you slowed down on that walk to find this. It would work better for me (just IMHO) if the bottom and left hand edge were vignetted a bit in PS to keep my focus where you want it, on the yellow tree and the water. I tend to slide off at the bottom a bit while I look. Anyway, it is a pretty terrific shot.

12 Nov 2010 3:37pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

lovely contrasts in color.

12 Nov 2010 3:51pm

Cherished Keepsake Photography from Chapmanville, United States

outstanding shot.

13 Nov 2010 3:49am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

the composition is indeed unique and very good! it shows you can see a scene from different angles and perspectives and wonderful attention to detail as well!

14 Nov 2010 8:16am

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

HI Gary - Your words are so appreciated here and always... thank you! As for the image, I feel as though I am in a "low crawl" position on this rock, looking down at the leaves 6 inches from my face and then on down more to the rocks and finally the water other words, this image literally PUTS me in this scene...very, very few images really do that, but yours has. Your detailed and caring efforts always pay off so wonderfully. I feel privelaged to be one who can see this beautiful scene that you have so wonderfully composed. Thank you so much for this beautiful image!

15 Nov 2010 12:54am

✿ Anina ✿ from Auckland, New Zealand

This is so very beautiful. I love the autumn colours and textures. As always I just loved reading your words. Thanks for sharing it.

15 Nov 2010 4:36am

¨‘°ºO Dutçh Oº°‘¨ from Neverwhere, United States

Very simple and because of that it has a very zen feeling to me. There is balance.. everywhere you look.

16 Nov 2010 12:30am

Marie from FRESNES, France

très beau détail.

19 Nov 2010 11:17pm