Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Slot Canyon Photography
How to prepare for shooting excursions to these iconic features of the Southwest’s Colorado Plateau
The trek to a slot canyon is half the fun. Some you can drive almost to the entrance, while others may require hiking several miles each way. A four-wheel-drive vehicle can be quite helpful and, at times, it's a necessity, depending on the area the slot canyon is located in. Prior research of the area of travel is necessary and can mean a successful trip versus a trip that will have to be postponed. Weather certainly also can be a deciding factor, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, as sandstone can quickly become "slick rock" after a good rain.
Make sure you carry enough drinking water for the distance and time you'll be hiking. Water not only is important in the summer months due to high temps, but the fall can zap your fluids, as well. Various high-protein snacks are useful while hiking, too. We carry a handheld GPS to guide us to the canyon we're searching for, and it safely gets us back to our vehicle should it be dark upon our return. Reptiles and especially rattlesnakes are often encountered, so the need for a small first-aid kit is essential.
As mentioned, always check the current weather conditions for the day of your trek into a slot canyon. Be prepared and know the weather conditions, as rains as far as 50 miles away can come rushing down a slot canyon and will sweep away anything in its path. Never enter a slot canyon if rain is forecast in the area. Your life may depend on it!
We both carry a wide variety, but compact amount of equipment when exploring and photographing slot canyons. We each use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR with quality zooms and wide-angle lenses for unique shots. Several filters, such as a circular polarizer, warming, color enhancing and graduated ND filters, can be useful. A sturdy tripod is a necessity, and a remote is helpful in low light where longer exposures are necessary. You can often wedge the tripod legs against the walls to provide a steady support for those stunning longer exposure images. You also can boost the ISO, but beware of going too high or you'll lose the smooth look in the rock striations because of the increased noise (graininess). Know your camera's limitations and set your ISO accordingly.
A good cleaning kit is of utmost importance because your lens and sensor will get dirty in a slot canyon due to wind blowing dust and sand. Try to change lenses as little as possible, and protect your camera when you do change lenses. If you avoid changing lenses entirely, you can prevent a dirty sensor, but there's no way to keep dust off your lens or filter. Sand and dirt are abrasive, so never use a terry cloth or an old T-shirt to clean your lenses and filters. Always blow them off before applying any cleaning material to prevent scratching.
Photography In Slot Canyons
Here's what you've been waiting and working for! Finally, after the preparation and the hike, you're here, inside the slot and ready for photography. There are many different features in a slot canyon that are worthy to photograph. The important thing is to look around, letting your eyes adjust to the various colors that are present, but may not be so easily picked up with the naked eye. The canyon walls will expose their colors readily once you've taken that first shot. It's from that moment on that you'll become inspired to look for the depth of colors and how they interact with the canyon walls and light from above.
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