Monday, April 27, 2015

Into the Wild

This weekend was rather special for me, as I joined a group of fellow photographers from my club and had a day taking a Jeep tour into Canyon De Chelly. Wiki tells us that “Canyon de Chelly (də·shā′) National Monument was established on April 1, 1931 as a unit of the National Park Service. It is located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, it preserves ruins of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples (also called Anasazi) and Navajo. The monument covers 83,840 acres (131.0 sq mi; 339.3 km2) and encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. These canyons were cut by streams with headwaters in the Chuska mountains just to the east of the monument.

Canyon de Chelly is entirely owned by the Navajo Tribal Trust of the Navajo Nation. It is the only National Park Service unit that is owned and cooperatively managed in this manner. Approximately 40 Navajo families live in the park. Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to travel in the canyons only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide. In 2009 Canyon de Chelly National Monument was recognized as one of the most-visited national monuments in the United States.”

Our group went, on convoy, through the park using the Navajo owned Beauty Way Jeep Tours - which I can recommend. Also, and nothing to do with photography, make sure you ride in a Jeep, and not ‘just’ a four-wheeled drive SUV. On the Canyon floor, especially going through the many, steep banked, streams, you need a Jeep. Here is a telling image of a trusty Jeep pulling a stuck 4-wheeler out of trouble:
From a photography perspective, I decided to travel pretty lean and try out a few new things.

First, I used my Bad Elf data logger, set to 0.1Hz refresh. Although it was running all day (0800-1600) it worked flawlessly throughout the Canyon, and had plenty of battery to spare. The .gpx file was simply emailed from my iPad, which Bad Elf uses as the interface to the real world, and brought into Lightroom.

BTW, I am using LR-CC now, and apart from some GPU concerns, LR-CC seems to be working fine.
I took two cameras with me, my 5DIII and my IR converted 50D. Both running my personal tweak of ML, ie with the depth of field info accounting for diffraction. As for lenses, I stuck with two on the 5DIII, my trusty 24-105 F/L and my ultra wide 12-24 Sigma. On my 50D I used my 10-20mm Sigma. Also on the 5DIII I used Auto-ETTR and Dual-ISO on every shot; and hand held every image.

To increase my agility, eg getting in and out of the Jeep and clambering over rocks, I used my Cotton Carrier vest for carrying my 5DIII, which meant my 5DIII was always available when I needed it and was securely locked on my chest when I was moving around, ie no swinging from a strap around my neck.
This was the first time I had used the Cotton Carrier in earnest and I can report it was a great success. I will be using the CC in the future, especially when I need my hands free and wish to know my camera is safe... and when I don’t mind looking ‘nerdy’ :-)

Because I was using Dual-ISO on the 5DIII, I had the additional post-processing step of converting the Dual-ISO RAWs into 16-bit TIFFs. Some may find this a bind; however, I think it’s worth the processing cost to get a 3Ev boost in dynamic range. As I’ve said in other posts: the 5DIII with ML ETTR and Dual-ISO is a killer combination, ie I rarely bracket on a tripod these days, unless there is a clear need, ie focus bracketing or a very high contrast scene, eg in a church.

Another experiment I carried out, without a tripod to slow me down, was to see how well I could do with hand-held panos. I’m now using and sold on AutoPano Giga 4 pano stitching software. It simply handles anything I throw at it. As an example, I took a 9-shot hand held pano of the ‘group’ looking at some Navajo rock art. Here is one of the 24mm single image captures (a TIFF processed from the Dual-ISO capture):
And here is the (highly reduced & scaled by 80%, JPEGed to the lowest I could get it) stitched 9-image pano (the AutoPano Giga file was a 318Mb, 9053 x 12309 image):
Generally, because I was ultra wide, ie 12mm rectilinear on my 5DIII full frame, compositionally I tried to ensure something was always in the near field. The ML (diffraction) tweaked Depth of Field is a fantastic boon for me. All I need do is set the focus by looking at the LV data, ie not even pointing the lens at the subject in the field. Once I know, for example, my DoF is, say, Xcm to Infinity, all I need to do is adjust my composition to account for that focus, eg ensure my near field object is at least Xcm away from me. I then set the ETTR exposure via the SET button and take my ‘perfect’ capture. Life is good with Magic Lantern :-)

Finally, here are a couple of Canyon De Chelly images from the 5DIII: I’ll write about my IR shots in another post.

Bottom line: You can take as many ‘practice’ shots as you like in your own home (as I do), but nothing beats getting out into the real (wild) world!

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