Images from the Film Archives — 2002
This photo is from one of those trips out west that began in 1999, and wasn’t chosen for any particular reason other than it hasn’t seen the light of day for almost 20 years, as will most of the others that follow in this series. It was taken in the fall of 2002 in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I pulled over into a small parking area off Utah’s famous Scenic Byway Route 12, just north of the Escalante River, looking down at the riparian growth along Calf Creek. I was there to hike the roughly two miles along the creek, through this lush canyon to Calf Creek Falls, one of the most beautiful falls in the desert I’ve seen. The growth in that canyon was stunning, and being early morning, it was in the shade of the surrounding cliffs and completely still. Much of the growth in the high desert is juniper and sage, which are a bit turquoise themselves, but being in the shade made the color even more intense because of the clear sky above. I noticed a singular tree that seemed different from any of the others in the area, having almost bleached leaves, while some others had already put on their fall colors.
I used the polarizing filter on a 210mm lens (about 130mm in a full frame), and angled my position so that the autumn leaves caressed the solitary tree. Since there was no metadata attached to any of these film photos, I’m pretty sure I used something between f/22 and f/32 for maximum depth of field, and probably a 4-second exposure. There was never any problem with softness in the resulting chromes from using small apertures; everything was always tack sharp. The one thing that I thought about when taking the shot, was to mentally crop the image into a square, and placed the “square” on the right hand side of the frame to have easy instructions for a printing lab to crop. I did eventually have a 16-inch print made from a lab in California, and of course I have no idea where it is now. But I suppose I could print it on my own if I cared to. One thing about the lab; they offered me an additional digital print for free as a sample of something that was “new” asking for feedback compared to the “normal” methods they used.
On that morning, there were plenty of compositions to be gleaned from that small vantage point above the canyon, and I spent quite a bit of time there eventually capturing the photo above, which really illustrates the wide variety of plant life and color at that time of year. And again, being in the shade in the early morning, the film picked up quite a bit of blue color to enhance the already blue tones in many of the bushes. It was always my belief, true or not, that the longer the exposure time, the more densely the color was recorded on the film. Since the whole area was completely still, I used 4-second exposures when I could, since 4-seconds was the longest for the camera without using the Bulb setting and my wrist watch second hand. Longer than that, the film began to suffer from reciprocity failure, and shutter speeds needed to be lengthened to compensate for that failure.
In 2014, during a month long trip out west with the newer digital equipment, I revisited the area again, pulling over at the same small dirt area, hoping to find that tree and see how it might have grown during the intervening years. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found. In fact, I couldn’t even frame a worthy photograph there even though conditions were identical to 12 years earlier. I hiked to the falls again, and just as in 2002, I arrived too late for the water to be in complete shade, and never got a decent shot of the falls. But while hiking back out, I marveled at the reflected light throughout the canyon and photographed some young trees in front of a desert varnished, orange cliff. In other areas, the autumn colors of the canyon were backlit up by the sun. The polarizer made a world of difference to remove the glare and reveal all the varied, intense colors using the normal 80mm lens. Blues, reds, yellows, oranges and greens all illuminated in a wonderful display. Something I won’t forget.