Posts Tagged ‘utah’

Desert Southwest Trip Report

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Last Fall myself and a handful of my Photo Cascadia peeps headed down to the desert southwest region. I had only been down that way a couple times before, the only longish trip before I had the knowledge and desire to create art like I do today. Needless to say I was very eager for the trip not only to travel with great friends but also in hopes coming home with a few images for the portfolio and experiences to last a lifetime.

Although this time of year normally consists of chasing scenes with yellow, red and other similar hues that are planted in the ground, this was not that trip. In fact I came home after 9 days with over 2,300 files and no fall color in any of them. Beyond that it was likely one of my most productive trips of this length that I can recall. What I have in this post is a healthy dose from that trip yet it’s a series of folders I will dive into periodically to find more nuggets to process for years to come.

Day 1
David Cobb and I touch down in Las Vegas. Grabbed the rental car and headed to eat. I am always hungry for those that don’t know me well. David tells me if we were stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean he would throw me over before he started to look like my next meal. I can’t blame him. We scarfed down lunch sitting outside right next to the sports car race track. Damn those cars are loud in this setting. After raising our voices just to talk over lunch we get on the highway, we leave behind Vegas in search of tranquil nature scenes.

We meet up with Chip Phillips and Zack Schnepf as they were just wrapping up a couple days in Zion National Park. After a quick pit stop for supplies in St George we decided to make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We planned to camp on the back roads outside the park yet seeing many of the backroads with head lights for the likes of hunting season, we opted for the modern day comforts of a hotel. We will camp this trip, just not here.

Day 2
We head out before day break because well that is what we are here for. It’s a long haul from where we lodged to the rim but sunrise doesn’t disappoint. We stand along the edge at Cape Royal. I don’t really care how amazing the sky is or isn’t, it’s simply a great feeling to stand here. The warm light hitting the rocks and first time in over a decade to the area was a reminder why it was worth coming back to. After the sunrises we stop in a turn out along the road and eat a tailgating breakfast of champions.

After a few hours back at the hotel we cruise back to Cape Royal for sunset. This is a beautiful spot and conditions prime that evening with dappled light and showers rolling through. Complete with colorful rainbow and moody storm clouds, and of course among great friends. The light fades away into darkness; the photos will be here to keep the memories in the light.

Day 3
I am thankful for this time of year with less daylight and more opportunities for zzz’s between sunset and sunrise. This morning we head to Point Imperial. We pull in to a quiet parking lot. We are the only cars here. Any noise we hear is us and a gentle breeze.

As we setup the sky and steep jagged cliffs glow every shade of red I can remember seeing in nature over the years. We tell stories, we shoot, and we laugh. We shoot some more and more laughs. You don’t want it to end. Until for some reason while I am packing up I open my wallet and realize I am missing my credit card. Doh!

I didn’t mention it earlier but we are here for the last few days the North Rim is open for the season. The droves of tourists have long departed and the visitor center’s shelves look like a department store that had long been out of business, empty. It’s the right time to be here for photography, except the warm monsoon summer season which is too warm for me.

When we get back Zack walks out from the restaurant holding my credit card in the air. Whew! I had left it at the restaurant the night before. The cars are packed and it’s time to head to the next location.

After a decent drive we make it to a location of Grand Staircase Escalante that we had hoped to get to. There were a couple water crossings that fortunately were running low for David’s new favorite vehicle in the whole world could make it through, our rental Jeep Compass. And to think it didn’t even have a compass. Huh.

We do some scouting and find a good place to put our tents down to call home for the next couple nights. All we see is openness and desert cliffs from camp. It’s a great place to park it.
The next couple days here are an all you can eat buffet of scrumptious light, flavorful skies and delicious scenes. I told you my mind can revolve around food.

Day 4
This day brings more good times, good shots and good camp food. By the afternoon we see a trail of dust off in the distance slowly barreling our way. Erin has joined us for a few days of this desert adventure.

Day 5
We leave Grand Staircase Escalante behind for a bit to check out another spot. The Coal Mine. With no camping nearby we find a hotel to crash at after visting the location for sunset. We cross the street for dinner. Here we learn time is an hour forward from where we stood across the street. What?! It’s hard enough that Arizona doesn’t change their clocks for daylight savings yet some reservations do recognize it while others don’t. In this case the restaurant was on the reservation land and the hotel was not. We almost missed sunrise one day having our heads flopping back in this mini time warp.

Day 6
After peaceful and majestic sunrise at the Coal Mine, back at the hotel we say good-by to Chip and Zack who start their journey back to the Pacific Northwest. David and I had a few more days before heading back home via Sin City.

Erin, David and I make our way to one of many slot canyon options in Grand Staircase Escalante. The day is late and we know better than to hike miles upstream and come out in the dark. We explore enough to know it’s worth a full day.

Day 7
We come back to the same canyon from the prior day. We arrive just after sunrise. Spending all day exploring, photographing and crisscrossing the water with my water logged boots. We hike out and make back to the car just after sunset. The dim light almost calling for a headlamp, I enjoy dusk and let my eyes adjust instead.

Day 8
Erin needs to start her long drive back this morning. We part ways and now it’s down to David and me for the final couple days. Being in Page this day we decided to visit this little known place called Horseshoe Bend. Besides visiting The Grand Canyon during the off season with few people around, we have tried to avoid iconic landmarks. I don’t mind photographing them, and I will, yet I don’t seek out trips that I am simply trophy hunting. To me there is no fun in that. A sense of exploring places with few others around is part of the thrill of nature photography.

As you can imagine Horseshoe Bend was not a quiet spot. Mind you I have never been here and I show up in the dark before sunrise. I find what looks like a decent spot (can’t really tell) and setup more to enjoy the scene but do plan to take a photo or two. As dawn breaks on a gray day as if I brought it with me from Oregon, I hear another couple photographers pass behind me on the trail. One of them says “That guy is in my spot” and I turn to realize the only person he can be talking about is me since no one is next to me. Really!? This solidified why I am not drawn to visit the icons on a regular basis.

As I pack up David and I connect again. I realize I lost one of the feet on my Gitzo tripod. I was sure I had it on when I was photographing that morning. I have no extras this trip and thankful we are near the end and I can make do. Hiking the ~1 mile trail out about half way up I just happen to look down and I see a dark object. I bend down and pick it up. It’s a foot that fits my tripod perfectly! Whether it truly fell off my tripod or I picked up someone else’s I can’t say for certain. Either ways it worked out.

David and I start our trek back in the morning. We settle on the last night camping at Valley of Fire. We make it there in time for some brief photography before the ranger comes barreling down the road at dusk ensuring everyone is out.

Day 9
Up at sunrise we head back into the prime area of the park that is closed at night. We photograph The Wave while exploring other areas until the light is harsh and photography at this point is small scenes requiring the use of my t-shirt as diffuser. It’s November and for my Pacific Northwest body is downright hot outside. How folks living down here deal with this in the summer I have no idea. I love it down here yet my body prefers cold over hot. It’s easier to layer up; you can only remove so many layers before it’s an issue in multiple ways.

We enjoy our nice little camping spot for the morning and head into the city that never sleeps. I know David as our main driver was sad to say goodbye to our gutless and compass-less Jeep Compass.


Leaving I already make plans in my head when I want to return, both for a family trip and photography. I can’t wait another decade without a decent trip down here. If you have not been and wonder why, just try reading the work of Edward Abbey or newer work from Guy Tal. There is much to ponder, dream and explore in this area to fill a lifetime.

“In my mind these experiences are a kind of retirement savings – the moments and memories I will someday recall with the same bittersweet joy and immense gratitude I felt experiencing them, and I will know that I truly lived”
– Guy Tal, More Than A Rock

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Book Review: More Than A Rock, review by David Cobb

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

 Rocky Nook Book resize 2

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.” –Soren Kierkegaard

Guy Tal is not most men; his photography is deliberate and so is his writing. In his new book More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life (2015 Rocky Nook Inc.), Tal conveys his thoughts of being an artist through a series of essays. If you’re familiar with his blog you’ll find Tal’s signature style of writing here; if you’re not familiar then get ready for your creative mind to expand. Tal is a deep thinker, intellectual, artist, and critic with the logic of a lawyer. Citing influences such as Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White, (perhaps he is photography’s new Minor White or art’s new John Ruskin) with some of his “artist as critic” themes. More Than a Rock isn’t a “how-to” book on photography with a list of tips and tricks – far from it. This is a book on photography learned through reading, thinking, creating, or osmosis.

His essays are broken into four parts: Art, Craft, Experiences, and Meditations–with the section on Art being the most interesting and well thought out. In his essay “Contemporary Oligarchy,” Tal sometimes takes on the Sisyphean task of dragging one-by-one (not pushing) those in the “landscape photography is not art” camp into the “landscape photography is art camp.” He writes that art’s elite is “placing too much power in the hands of the few, and so I believe the time is nigh for another (peaceful, intellectual, and creative) revolution.” I’m not sure what that revolution might entail, but it did inspire me to pick up Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and give that scathing satire of art a read.

Along the way, Tal refers to familiar master writers of the desert southwest such as Wallace Stegner, Joseph Wood Krutch, John Wesley Powell, Edward Abbey, and Charles Bowden. Tal lives in Utah’s Colorado Plateau, and like writers Wendell Berry or Rick Bass, his writing provides the reader with a lay of the land, a sense of place-home. He alludes to and quotes from some of the deep thinkers of the last two-centuries too, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Thomas Merton. Not something you encounter in most books about photography out there today. He’s also not a fan of the derivative, the trophy hunters, or those out to “get the shot.” In his essay “Finding the Needle,” Tal believes that next level of self-expression is much more complex than that. And whether you agree with him or not, you’ll admire his conviction.

During the reading of this well-written and beautifully photographed book, I thought more deliberately about what my photography, art, life, and purpose in this world means. I also thought more about my sense of place living in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, in that transitional land between the Pacific’s wetter clime and that of the high desert of the Great Basin. My photography takes me to a lot of different places, but I’m looking anew at that region I call “home.”

Let There Be Night

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Let There Be Night

By David Cobb

Night photography is nothing new; the technique has been around for as long as there’s been a camera to produce it. With advancements in digital photography however, night photography has taken on new possibilities for nature photographers. On still evenings, I’ve pulled some interesting and vibrant colors out of shooting digital. Water tends to get bluer and warm tones tend to become richer and warmer. I took the following photo just below Whitehorse Falls in southern Oregon, and you aren’t likely to be able to tell that it was almost pitch black outside. The added side effect to taking this image at night is the cobalt blue color of the Whitehorse River that my daytime images never had. This plays well with the surrounding warmer fall color. If it had been taken in the daytime this image would look much different, and I prefer the nighttime effects it has here.

A few tips about nighttime nature photography:

  • I usually use an aperture around f11 to f5.6 to cut down on the shutter speed
  • I turn on my noise control in-camera to cut down on the noise, so a freshly charged battery is a good idea
  • I don’t use a polarizer at night, since I find it helps little towards the photograph’s finished product
  • A sturdy tripod and cable release is required


The image of Fall Creek Falls below was recently taken while visiting Mt. Rainier National Park. I didn’t get to this falls until well after dark, but there was still some light bouncing off the atmosphere above. I kept the shutter open for 30 seconds at f11, and to my surprise this nighttime shot took on the look of daytime. As usual, the water went a bit blue, and I warmed up the surrounding landscape to play off the blue hue. I also like the highlighted tips of evergreen when I photograph in a forest at night; they almost glow in comparison with the rest of the tree. I would normally use a polarizer on a waterfall to cut down on distracting reflections, but again, at night I don’t find that necessary.

Of course there is always light painting for the nature photographer. The image below is made up of two shots. One taken at 1600 ISO and 30 seconds to capture the starlight without movement, and with the other I light painted the Utah Rocks for 30 seconds while shooting at 100 ISO. The two images were later blended for the effect. The “painting” wasn’t applied directly to the rock, but flashlight bursts were shot around the rock and into the night sky. A similar technique was used for the Bandon, Oregon sea stacks, but in this case I only needed one image since the lights of town lit the stacks for a nice effect.

City landscapes are always fun to photograph at night. They’re certainly not “nature photography,” but hey “when in Rome…” Actually, the image taken below was in Dubrovnik, and when I noticed they polished their streets every morning I couldn’t wait until night to capture the hustle-and-bustle of city life. This image was taken at f5.6 for .6 seconds, to capture the movement that lends to the lively atmosphere.

Night possibilities for the nature photographer are endless, from star trails to moonbows. And once you get used to keeping the camera out in the dark, by sunrise you might be thinking “now what am I going to do?”

Human Scale in Landscape Photography

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

As a person that loves the beauty of nature and photographing all it has to offer without the presence of man or man-made items. There are many times I have learned over the years that incorporating those elements in certain images turns out to be a must have for without these additional elements the images feel like they would be missing something.

You might create a great final image of a location that has a lot of offer but leaves the viewer a little short in determining the true sense of scale of the area. Common locations for this are rock canyons yet there are other instances this comes into play. Take a look at these photos and see how much more the images offer with man and man-made subjects.

Below friend and fellow photographer Kevin McNeal stands on a large rock inside Devil’s Punch bowl showing how gigantic this space truly is. He is facing a large opening that is a couple stories tall, an element in this image that you hardly notice.

"Inside" - Devil's Punchbowl, Oregon

Here several hikers stand for a rest near a junction inside a canyon in Zion National Park. It’s hard to spot them at first glance as they kind of blend into the environment, you will see them in the center. Immediately you can understand how tall and narrow the walls are.

"Deep Passage" - Zion National Park, Utah

Of course it does not need to be limited to canyon and rock caverns. Large open spaces with sky can be enhanced with a person placed in it to help provide scale. Here my wife Molly stands on a rock ledge over looking the valley below on a hike in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains.

"Spotted Light" - Chugach Mountains, Alaska


We do not limit this to humans. Below is an image of Napli Coastline with a 60ft catamaran showing not much more than a white dot in the ocean, thus you can see just how immense this landscape is.

"Na Pali Day Dream" - Na Pali Coast, Kauai

And then there are scenes the opposite can be true. Not having a sense of scale can actually enhance the image and leave the viewer with their own interpretation, especially for more intimate abstract views. Below are several examples.

The width of these diagonal channels is not easily known. Would you say they would be measured in feet or inches? If you are curious these are actually over 2 feet wide.

"Natural Spacing" - Northern Oregon Coast

Here we are really are not sure if it’s the side of a larger rock wall or what. Actually it’s zoomed in texture of a rock captured with a telephoto at close range.

"Desert Lizard" - Zion National Park, Utah

Lastly we have color reflected on water. This could be a wide angle take or a telephoto or somewhere in between. It has an absence of scale not making it very easy to determine. Yet does that really matter here? I would say no.

"Liquid Zion" - Zion National Park, Utah

On your next photography excursion think about scale and how it relates to what you are trying to show in your final work. It is a key element where exclusion or inclusion can make for vastly different pieces of work.