Monday, June 29, 2009

Moon Utah Camping Reviewed in the Salt Lake Tribune

The guidebook I wrote, Moon Utah Camping got a quick write-up in Travel Section of the Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday, June 28th. You'll find it on page H-4 in the Away/Travel and Outdoors Section. If you're interested in learning more about the book here's the link to our site and the Moon Outdoors website promoting the book. You can also order it here off the Matson Adventure Media blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Moving Fast

Its been raining a lot in Salt Lake City lately. Which is weird. Because it never really rains here. Up in the Wasatch its been even soggier than down in the valley, which hasn't been great for outdoor recreation, or outdoor photography for that matter. So last weekend, when there was a small break in the clouds, I employed an old strategy I used to use a lot in the Cascades, when I was trying to squeeze in a few good frames during occasional breaks in the clouds.

The strategy, in a nutshell, is moving fast. Sounds simple really, but I don't think it gets talked about much in the world of outdoor photography. The late, great Galen Rowell used to preach it in his Outdoor Photographer column and in his books, but I think its worth revisiting.

If you're into landscape photography at all, you know that light - the quality of light - is everything. Which means you want to be shooting at the magic hour. Plain and simple. Problem is, the magic hour only happens at the edge of the day, twice a day, at dawn and dusk. Its difficult to be on location, deep in the backcountry, at the magic hour on regular basis. In fact, unless you're out camping or backpacking, chances are, you're hardly ever at the best locations when the light is really going off. Which makes it hard to take great landscape photographs. And the reality is that most people don't have enough free time to go backpacking every time they want to make a nice picture.

Which brings us back to moving fast. The other day when the clouds parted at about 6:30 in the evening, I grabbed my camera, two lenses, a small tri-pod, and my headlamp and headed for the hills. My goal was somewhere close, but wild, so I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the S-curve parking lot for Lake Blanche. By 7:15 I was on the trail and moving fast. I knew I had about two hours 'till the light would be really good.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a big fan of trail running. Running is one of my least favorite ways to get exercise. But sometimes it can be a very effective way to travel. I figured I had about 90 minutes to go a little less than 4 miles, which even for me, isn't hard to do. With a small, light pack I easily half walked, half jogged to the lake by the time the sun was setting.

I spent an hour at the lake, working the shoreline for reflection images and watching the thunderheads move through. When I was satisfied that the best light was gone, I re-packed my bag and headed for the car. On the hike down I was surprised to see another headlamp working its way up the trail. As we passed each other, I noticed the other hiker's Lowe-Pro camera bag strapped to his chest...someone else out there moving fast.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Main Salmon River - Photo Gear for the River (Trip Video)

Last week I was lucky enough to get the chance to go down the Main Salmon River in central Idaho with Jared Hopkinson's Sawtooth Adventure Company. We rafted 82 miles through the wilderness on BIG water and only saw two other parties in five days. It was truly special to have the river all to ourselves - to see the place at its best! Here's a quick video documenting the trip! Thanks to everyone who made this trip happen - I really appreciate being able to tag along. If you'd like to look at the still photos I've posted them on my flickr photostream.

Since this is a blog about photography I thought it would be fun to talk about the equipment I used to shoot video and photograph the trip. This trip was unique to shoot for a couple of reasons. First of all, we were going down a river. A big river. The flow levels for the trip oscillated between 60,000 and 80,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) while were on the water. For anyone unfamiliar with river running, that's HUGE water. For a little perspective compare it to the Colorado River where it flows through Cataract Canyon - considered to be one of the ultimate big water rafting trip in North America - "The Colorado River reached its peak flow for 2009 in Utah's Cataract Canyon on May 26. The river was flowing at a raging 52,000 cfs. Cataract Canyon is known for it's exciting rapids and "when the river reaches flows over 50,000 cfs the rapids are awe inspiring" says veteran rafting guide Walker Mackay."

Catch that? The Colorado was at 52,000 - we were at 60,000 - 80,000. We were going down the Main Salmon the same week, but at even higher flows. So, I needed a strategy to keep my camera gear dry. My solution was a multi-camera approach. I ended up taking three cameras in total. I took my trusty Nikon D200. The D200 is my main body that I shoot almost everything with. It's a great camera and I know it very well. If it was waterproof and shot video it would be all I needed. Unfortunately, it is not. And its expensive, so dunking it in the drink wasn't an option. If a boat flipped, or I swam with it in my hand I would be out a huge chunk of change. But I wanted to capture the action of whitewater, so I needed a camera I could take risks with. I pulled out my old film camera, the N90. The N90 is an awesome, lightweight, relatively inexpensive camera that I hardly ever use anymore because digital has become the medium of choice. I also threw in my "fun" camera, an Olympus SP550UZ. This camera is not great as a still camera, but it takes decent video, and it was free (so I wasn't real worried about it getting wet).

To keep everything dry when I wasn't using it I used a Pelican 1450 dry box. The 1450 is great size for cameras, fits both my bodies, a couple lenses with a little room left over for goodies like memory cards, cords, etc. It's still small enough to move around easily and can be strapped to the top of an oar frame on a raft, or even onto a center tube on a paddle boat if you want. I also brought along a variety of dry bags for little stuff that wouldn't fit in my Pelican case.

To keep my film camera and video camera dry while I shot out of the boats I used a little splash guard made by KATA (E-690). I was very impressed with this little gadget. You can slip your hand in the right side to access your camera controls and things still stay very dry. We splashed through some pretty big waves and my cameras came out dry.

While I handheld my camera a lot of the time I brought along a small light tri-pod, the Velbon CX470. Its nothing special, but its light, very ridged and I've been banging it around for about 5 years (there's something comforting about using gear that jI have used a lot in the backcountry). I also took a the Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp. If you're into action sports photography or just finding new angles and unique perspective for your photographs check these things out. I read about them on the Strobist blog by David Hobby and you can buy them from Midwest Photo Exchange. Check 'em out, they're awesome!

So, that's about it. Sounds like a lot to lug around on a backcountry trip. But rafting is a pretty luxurious way to travel through the wilderness. And aside from the Pelican case, I could have carried it all in a small backpack. No problem.