Trip to Grand Canyon and Zion National Park

Terry and I left for the first two weeks in November for this trip. This is a good time to avoid the crowds and still get in before winter. We stayed at a Bright Angel cabin at the Grand Canyon which was basic but fine. At the Zion National Park in Utah we stayed a the park lodge in a cabin which was much better than Bright Angel.

Overall, the Grand Canyon was spectacular and not to be missed on any bucket list. From my photography point of view Zion was more interesting because it has a more varied but still spectacular scenery. You may not see this as I did. Some photos (click for larger):

This is the Virgin River in Zion. Click for larger view. Very long exposure to get glass-like water. Minor tweaking in Photoshop. The next photo is this image with "digital painting" effects. Which one is better?

One of the many great rock faces in Zion. Colours range from almost bright red to white. This site is where the canyon begins to narrow not far from the Zion lodge where we stayed.

On the way we spent some time in Sedona Arizona. Oak Creek, which follows the road up to Flagstaff is full of many beautiful photo opportunities.

This viewpoint of the Grand Canyon is at the eastern end of the developed roads (a very small portion of this large canyon). In the distance you will see the painted desert area which I find very bleak but beautiful at the same time.

Mount Woodside Views

These three images were taken yesterday on Mount Woodside in Harrison Mills about 2 hours east if Vancouver. Some great view points and worth the trip. A truck or 4X4 is best but a regular car can make it up most of the road if you are careful and don't go when there is a lot of snow.

This fabulous view (click on to see larger) can be found at the launch site of the West Coast Soaring Club ( Paragliders launch from the ramp you can see on the bottom left of the photo with the wind vane flying. It looks directly over the Harrison Mills area where Kilby Beach can be found. You see where the Harrison River joins the Fraser River. The furthest mountain on the left is Sumas mountain and the city of Abbotford lies behind it. My next trip here will be early in the morning because the light will be better for the big panorama.

These colours were not brightened in photoshop. This HDR image pretty much looks like what I saw. Amazing BC winter colours.

3 Views of "Reality"

Some people believe that using Photoshop to change a photograph is altering what is real into something that does not exist. The truth is that every exposure in your camera is only a partial interpretation of what you are seeing. And of course, you know if you have studied perception, that what you are seeing is only a small bit of what is really there. I'd like to explore this using three pictures taken the same day of the same landscape.

Heres the first one taken and processed in Lightroom (click on for larger view):

I underexposed this to hold the cloud detail then used the curves adjustment to brighten the rock and trees the best I could. Sharpened and added clarity as normal. This does not really look like what I saw that day because the camera simply can't capture the range of tones my eye and brain were seeing.

The next photo show the same scene but I've put a 10X neutral (actually slightly warm) density filter on the lens and exposed on manual for about 60 seconds. This has the effect of smoothing out the water and losing detail from the sky. The bonus is that the rock seems to almost float even though it is very grounded. So is this version less real that the first one? Again what I saw didn't look like this because I can't effectively merge images I see over 60 seconds into one.

The last example looks closest to what I saw and is a HDR image made merging three images (light, medium, dark) in the app Photomatix then sharpening and adjusting in lightroom. As you see we have good detail in the clouds, reflection and the rock. This is the kind of result that Ansel Adams tried for by dodging and burning in his darkroom before digital capture was invented. If he were alive today, I don't think he would hesitate for a moment to use any tool that helped him achieve his vision.

3 Fall BC Photos

This first image (click for larger view) comes from the annual Sockeye salmon run at Weaver Creak British Columbia. These beautiful fish come up the creek to lay eggs that begin life then they die. A life and death act. The second image, Devil's Lake, is just another small hidden away lake full of trout if you want to fish. I shot this image with a special long exposure technique to get the glassy surface look. The last image is a hidden swamp gem that can be found all over BC if you go looking. These places have a special look and beauty that may not be obvious at first glance.


New Mandala: Myra Trestle

Near Kelowna BC Canada in the Okanagon area is the spectacular Myra Canyon through which ran a famous railroad with numerous trestles (Kettle Valley Railroad). This old railroad bed has been transformed into a fantastic hiking/biking experience and goes for many many miles throughout mid-southern British Columbia Canada. Recently a fire destroyed many of the Myra Valley trestles but they are now restored. This mandala image celebrates the return of the trestle. Click on image to see large view.




The Way I Create a Mandala

I first go to a location and photograph a particular setting extensively. Mostly this is near home (beautiful British Columbia) but, once or twice a year I'll get away to other places like Louisiana swamps or Jousua Tree National Park. I shoot not only standard landscapes but do macro textures as well; trying to captures both big, medium and small scale images of the landscape. I'm hoping to capture some of the spirit of the location. After this process, if I feel I have enough good material, I start to create a mandala.

I use some mandala shapes inspired by the wonderful Tibetian mandalas and others are based purely on my geometric constructs. Despite the wonders of the digital age, it is certain that I will never match the mandala artistry of the Tibetian tradition.




I do a drawing, like shown here but much larger, that provides the basic shapes that will contain photographic imagery. I then begin the exciting creative process of cutting photo images to fit the shapes looking for a compelling composition. This part, done in PhotoShop, is defintely a labour of love. 

The manadala shapes themselves, especially those of tradition such as the Tibetians, bring a certain harmony and unexpected delight when exploring photographic combinations. When successfull, I (in concert with the inherent power of the mandala) not only create something beautiful, but also, in the case of some of my mandalas, an image that captures the essence of a particular location.

You can see these mandalas in the mandala gallery. 

Digital Painting

I started a mandala series of images in 2004 based on digital camera images. I used the camera images as “paint” to fill-in the mandala drawings. Now I’m doing something similar with landscapes I discover here in Canada, and around the world. Since what I do is clearly not photography in the classic sense, I simply call it digital painting. Often this term is used to describe the process of using a "computer brush" such as found in the Corel Painter program to create digital artwork with a traditional painterly look. I'm using the digital painting term in a much broader way.

There are areas of photography such as photo journalism, documentary and scientific where it is considered bad practice, even unethical, to manipulate digital photos except in small ways. The idea is to capture reality "as it is" and so this has some merit. However, the truth is that the camera captures only one version of reality and so has its own limitations for the "purist" photographer. Certainly I feel free to do whatever I want with digital data because for me it is just another art form. Ansel Adams, perhaps the most famous landscape photographer, spent many hours in his darkroom burning and dodging his prints to alter what the camera exposed to match his own vision. If living today, I have no doubt he would be an avid photoshop user and experimentalist.