Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon | Beebower Productions

Through the Rocks

The Navajo call it Tse’ bighanilini or “the place where water runs through the rocks”. Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona draws thousands of visitors each year. The unusual sandstone rock formations allow shafts of light to stream in illuminating ripples and waves that look like an impressionistic painting.

Thousands of years of flash floods rushing through the canyon sculpted the amazing walls of sandstone. And thousands of people have toured the canyon since the Navajo Nation decided to open the land to the public in 1997. In fact, the only way to see Antelope Canyon, located near the border of Arizona and Utah, is to join a Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation approved tour.

Dad wasted no time getting on a tour truck. Packed like sardines, He, Mom and the other tourists were driven out to the desert. When the truck stopped the only clue they were in the right spot were groups of people who seemingly disappeared into the ground. 

Capturing the Cathedral

The entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon is a narrow, winding slit only a few feet wide. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary dry wash in the desert. But once inside, the magical canyon comes to life.

The elder Navajos consider the canyon a cathedral where one should stop and prepare to be in touch spiritually. While Dad was in awe of the slot canyon’s grandeur, it was hard to be in sync with Mother Nature due to the sheer number of tourists running to and fro. 

The mass of humanity stretched through the entire quarter mile canyon. Dad realized it was going to be mighty tricky to capture a descent photo without folks stepping into his picture.

One thing was right about this trip, though. Dad visited during summer when the shafts of light that sneak down into the canyon are best seen. Lighting is the key to creating a memorable photo. Other than the shafts of light, the canyon is rather dim. Plus the streaming light also enriches the color of the walls. 

All Dad had to do was to navigate through the crowded tour to find a unique angle with a great shaft of light. Then he had keep people out of the photo long enough to get a good exposure and still keep up with his tour guide who was adamant that no one was lingering behind. He was, as Dad likes to say, sweating bullets to get this photo.

Just In Time

During the last 10 minutes of his tour Dad finally found the shot. He quickly turned his tripod into a monopod so no one would trip over it, braced himself against one canyon wall and waited for a break in the steady stream of people.

He managed to snap this one photo before the tour guide hustled everyone out of the canyon. A storm was coming and she was worried about flash floods. People have died in the canyon during flash floods, so it seemed like a reasonable thing to care about in the grand scheme of things. 

Dad, however, breathed a sigh of relief. While under the gun, he managed to produce a really nice photo under really bad circumstances.  One photo. Sometimes photography is like that. You’re lucky to get one great photo. Maybe he’ll get another one when he returns this fall to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. He’s just hoping to see fewer people and feel less like a sardine.

The Great Gallery

The Great Gallery | Beebower Productions

Problems and Plagues

Two minor problems plagued Dad on this photo quest:  getting there and capturing the image.    He ventured to Horseshoe Canyon, a remote location two and a half hours from Moab, Utah, where The Great Gallery tells the story of people who lived there thousands of years ago. 

Ancient artists chose well on the location for their masterpiece.  Few have the fortitude to travel to Horseshoe Canyon.  To see The Great Gallery, visitors must first traverse 34 miles down a hazardous dirt road filled with roving sand dunes and equally wandering cattle.

Dad’s visit in May coincided with a 30-year epic windstorm that pushed whole sand dunes all over the road.  Local ranchers rescued car after car full of unwitting tourists stuck in the roving dunes. 

Dad came prepared.  His 4-wheel drive vehicle and years of practice in Pennsylvania blizzards helped him safely navigate to the parking lot, otherwise known as a plot of desert sand, at the end of the road.  No rescues needed. 

Next problem on tap, the extreme heat.  Even in the early morning, temperatures hovered near 100 degrees.  In fact, the National Park Service closes the canyon during certain times of the year due to heat.  On this day, it would only get hotter on the trail to the rock art.

Dad, his bags loaded with gear and plenty of water, along with Mom descended almost 750 feet down into the abyss, part of Canyonlands National Park, to view The Great Gallery.  Going down was a piece of cake.  Getting out would be challenging.

The 7-mile, round-trip trail led them through a dry, sandy creek bed.  They quickly began seeing small pieces of rock art along the way.  Their anticipation grew as they got closer to the Gallery. 

The canyon that holds the Gallery is a steep, narrow space.  As he descended into the deep a gargantuan 10-foot tall, evil demon-like figure stared down at Dad from the canyon wall.  A closer look revealed an endless array of faces that popped off the stone for at least 200 feet.

Strange Findings

His first thought:  This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.  But it’s pretty darn cool. 

Many of the figures looked like mummies.  Others appeared to be animals like dogs or goats.  All were painted in a red pigment. 

After admiring the artwork, the photographer in Dad got busy creating a photo plan.  The sheer size of the art posed a problem. Some of the figures in The Great Gallery are at least five to ten feet tall and the panel stretches over a long space.  It’s a significant piece of history that wouldn’t fit into one camera shot. 

The entire panel also was in the shade.  It wasn’t necessarily a problem, but it was another factor to consider.  After some contemplation Dad photographed the entire scene in chunks and then back in the office merged the panels in Photoshop to create a panoramic image with great detail.  Mission accomplished.  Now for the fun part.

Getting out of the canyon proved to be the real adventure.  The sandy streambed became a hamster wheel for Mom and Dad.  There was a lot of walking but little progress upward as the sand tried to suck them back down into the canyon.  To make matters worse all of that water they’d packed seemed to have disappeared.  By this time the temperature soared well over 106 degrees.

After a grueling workout, Mom and Dad finally made it to the “parking lot”.  Dad felt great about the images he’d captured.  Mom felt great that an air-conditioned hotel room would be waiting for them. And wouldn’t you know, the bottled water they’d craved on that long hike up had been hiding under some equipment in the camera bag all along.

If you enjoyed Dad’s photo from Horseshoe Canyon, you’ll like these photos too:

Antelope Canyon | Beebower Productions

Zion Moonrise | Beebower Productions

House on Fire | Beebower Productions

Evening Stage

Evening Stage | Beebower Productions

The 1939 movie “Stagecoach” gave Dad the idea for this Old West photo.  He envisioned a silhouetted stagecoach with the mountains in the background.  It sounds simple, but it required an enormous amount of planning.

Dad relied on his friend Red Wolverton for the stagecoach and horses.  Red is well known in the photo and movie industry.  He, his family, his horses and stagecoach all appeared in the 1993 movie “Tombstone”, among many other Westerns.  With the utmost confidence Dad chose Red to supply and drive the stagecoach for this shot.

Red brought the coach and team to Mendoza Canyon, Arizona early in the morning the day of the photo shoot.  Not too long after arriving, the sky opened up and a gully washer let loose above the canyon.  Water filled he sandy wash, normally bone dry, and it rose so high Red couldn’t navigate the stagecoach across it to the photo shoot location.  Everyone cooled their heels for an hour or two waiting for things to settle down.  Red even did a little cowboy cooking while he waited.

Once conditions improved, the whole crew crossed the wash and got ready for the photo. Dad chose the location for the mountains in the background, not because it was a well-used road.  So Red set up practice runs with the horses to get them used to the newly created path they were going to travel.

Right before the shoot started, Dad and his assistant tied cheesecloth bags loaded with Fuller’s Earth to the wheels of the stagecoach.  Prop masters and special effects folks frequently use Fuller’s Earth in the movies because of its nice tan color.   It sure looks like natural dirt. 

For our shoot, each time the wheel made a turn, it would hit the bags of dirt and release dust.  In addition to the wheel bags, Dad spread Fuller’s over the path the horses would travel.  The flying dust reflected the sunlight, helping to make light beams visible for the naked eye.

After a long, sometimes frustrating day, everything finally came together for the shoot. The sun moved lower in the sky.  Dad got his cameras ready for stagecoach action.  He used two Nikon FTN camera rigs for this session.  One camera sported a 50mm lens and the other used a 85mm lens.  Dad ensconced both cameras in plastic bags to protect them from the dust.

In the end, Dad only had three passes of the stagecoach to get the action and the light just right. The final image pleased him, though.  He successfully took the photo he envisioned and turned it into a real Old West photo.

He was so happy with the shoot, he didn’t mind when back at Red’s ranch his assistant hosed a thick brown layer of grime off his clothes with a garden hose.  Even then, the clothes didn’t look so great, but he didn’t really care.  He had more Old West photos to create.

If you enjoyed reading about the Evening Stage, check out these images from our Old West gallery.

Horses and Chuckwagon | Beebower Productions

Heading Home | Beebower Productions

Buckboard Cowboy | Beebower Productions

10 Items in Dad’s Wildlife Camera Bag

Osprey with Fish | Beebower Productions

When hunting wildlife, a photographer needs a variety of weapons at his disposal.  Dad’s arsenal contains ten basic pieces that allow him to photograph everything from birds to bears:

1. Canon EOS-ID Mark IV camera body

This camera really gets the job done.  At a powerful ten frames a second, Dad easily captures moving subjects and sees great detail.  The Mark IV also has a stunning ISO range from 100 to 12800 making low-light shooting possible.

Egret Flying | Beebower Productions

2. Canon 70-200mm/F2.8L IS USM

Egret Flying | Beebower Productions, Inc.

A mid-range lens, the 70-200mm is an incredibly sharp and fast lens.  When the wildlife allows it, Dad can get closer to the subject and still fill the frame.  Thanks to this lens, Dad was able to capture an unexpected egret photo when the bird flew directly overhead.

Great Blue Heron Soaring | Beebower Productions

3. Canon 400mm/F2.8L IS USM lens with Cannon EF 1.4X III and Cannon EF 2x III extenders

Dad loves the combination of a long lens with either or both of these extenders.  It doubles his focal length without the cost of a 800mm lens.  That means he can back off from the wildlife and still fill the frame.  He even uses this combo when shooting diminutive hummingbirds.  The speed and sharpness of the lens can’t be beat.  Be warned, however, this lens can get heavy.  Dad uses either a monopod or tripod with a Wimberly Gimbal head when shooting with the 400mm.  This combo allows the camera to move smoothly when tracking a moving subject, thus expanding the uses for a 400mm with extenders.

Cormorant | Beebower  Productions

4. Sekonic L508 Zoom Master exposure meter

OK.  So it’s a bit outdated.  It still works.  Dad’s exposure meter really is from his Rochester Institute of Technology days in the 1970s.  In the field, Dad needs accurate exposure readings on subjects that might be pure white to jet-black.  The camera’s meter, in such situations, often gives deceptive readings resulting in an over or under exposed image because it reads only one section of the image.  The Sekonic gives Dad accurate exposures because it turns all light into 18% grey.  The meter doesn’t read single spots but overall light.  The result is correct f-stops and shutter speeds.

Cormorant | Beebower  Productions

5. Two Canon Speedlite 580EX II flashes with Visual Echoes FX-3 “Better Beamer” Flash Extender

Dad uses one of two flashes depending on his distance from a subject.  The plain flash does a great job of illuminating subjects that are relatively close.  The Speedlite offers automatic and manual settings with a flexible head.  When Dad needs to use a long lens like the 400mm for a far-off bird, he uses the flash with an extender.  The extender takes the light and compresses it into a strong beam that works at great distances.

Pintail Duo | Beebower  Productions

6. Wimberly Head Version II  WH-200

The Wimberly Gimbal head, as mentioned in #3, fits on a tripod and allows for fluid movement of large, heavy lenses.  It’s easy to smoothly track running elk, flying birds or stampeding horses.

Bald Eagle | Beebower  Productions

7. Gitzo G-1327 Mountaineer tripod

In the ever-changing world of photo accessories, Dad’s tripod isn’t even available now.  But Gitzo has an outstanding collection of new tripods that will do just as good of a job as Dad’s tripod.  This carbon fiber tripod is lightweight and very strong, a critical point when hauling giant lenses and other gear long distances in search of wildlife.  The Wimberly head fits nicely on top doubling the value of this tool.

Kauai Rooster | Beebower  Productions

8. Gitzo Series 2 Carbon 6X monopod

Sometimes you don’t need a wieldy tripod, but you’d like something to steady your lens.  The Gitzo carbon fiber monopod does the job.  Like their tripod, Gitzo’s monopod is lightweight yet very strong.  It too can handle the Wimberly head.

Black Chinned Hummingbird at Cuphea Bloom| Beebower  Productions

9. Phottix Strato II Multi Radio receivers and senders

Dad loves his wireless flash triggers, especially when he’s shooting hummingbirds using eight flashes.  Phottix’s amazing product works without fail even when sending signals through walls and around corners.  This gives Dad freedom from wires and great confidence he’ll be able to nail the hummingbird photo he’s waited all day to take.

Roadrunner Breakfast | Beebower  Productions

10. The Vested Interest photo vest

Dad’s custom-fitted vest allows him to distribute weight evenly around his body.  He can carry lots of gear long distances without tiring, leaving more energy to focus on the wildlife.

What are your favorite pieces of gear to bring along on a wildlife shoot? 

Bugaboo Falls

Bugaboo Mountain Falls | Beebower Productions

The wheels were turning in his mind.  Spectacular waterfalls.  Cascading streams of water.  Powerful torrents pounding the rocks below.  Dad could see it in his mind.  Now he just had to find it.

From the minute that Dad learned advertising executives were looking for a spectacular waterfall as part of their new ad campaign, he began researching potential spots even though the advertising execs hadn’t decided which photographer would win the assignment. 

Undeterred by this minor detail, Dad flew to Canada, a place his research confirmed had many spectacular waterfalls, to hunt for the perfect one.   First stop on his quest–the remote Bugaboo Falls in British Columbia, Canada. 

To reach the waterfall, he and his assistant zoomed down 50 miles of rutted, rough logging roads in their rented truck. The duo then hiked down into the river valley lugging camera gear (which meant they hiked back up hill too) for Dad to get this shot. 

This photo could have been taken with any number of cameras.  Dad chose the Horseman SW-612 for several reasons.  The waterfall was quite wide.  Since this was taken in the days of film and Photoshop was in its infancy, shooting the picture correctly was of primary importance.  A panoramic camera would allow Dad to show the full width of the falls without distracting distortions that could happen with a regular 35mm camera and wide-angle lens.

The Horseman is a lightweight camera compared to other medium format rigs.  Since Dad was hiking to the falls, every ounce counted. 

The camera also had a viewing lens on top along with masks to fit three different size lenses.  It was almost like using a view camera, a tool that many landscape photographers routinely used.  A view camera is a heavier and more expensive option than the Horseman.

Finally, the size of the film played in Dad’s favor.  Knowing that the advertising execs would blow the image up to billboard size, Dad chose the Horseman because he could use 120 roll film as opposed to 35mm.  The large size of the 120 roll film provided more detail and resolution, something you definitely wanted if a photo of epic proportions would be greeting you along the highway.

To create that epic photo Dad got up very early one morning waded knee-deep into the water at the base of the falls and set up his heavy-duty Gitzo tripod in the swirling, churning waters.  He shot for about two hours, choosing a slow shutter speed to create the foamy streams of water cascading over the rocks.

All of that hiking and shooting created a big appetite.  Once the shoot was in the can, Dad scrambled out of the river and exchanged his muddy duds for clean jeans.  He and his assistant headed up river for some goodies at the ski resort along the creek. 

They didn’t stay long, though, because a giant storm was pressing down on the area.  They needed to get off the logging road before it turned into a muddy monster that could suck a small truck into its depths.  The pair made it safely back to Radium Hot Springs before the worst of the storm hit.  Despite the quick exit, it had been a successful day at the waterfall.

Upon his return to Dallas, Dad learned that the advertising folks did want him to shoot the ad.  He showed them the Bugaboo Falls photo along with several other locations and then waited on their decision.  He waited.  And waited.  And waited. 

The advertising team finally decided they wanted to use the Bugaboo location, but it was December and the range was buried under 30 feet of snow.  (That wasn’t a typo.  They really get at least 30 feet of snow in the winter.)  That extreme weather also freezes the waterfall during wintertime.  So Bugaboo Falls was a no-go for this particular ad campaign.

Luckily Dad knew how ad agencies worked.  He already had a “Plan B” ready for the ad folks in case they took too long deciding on Bugaboo.  He would piece together three different photographs from Canada and Colorado to create the perfect backdrop for beer sales.  At one point, he would find himself dangling over a half-frozen creek to get “a part” of the shot.  You can read all about that adventure here.

While the advertising folks weren’t going to use the Bugaboo photograph, Dad realized he had a very nice image to add to his portfolio.  Plus he had a great story on the lengths he’d go to make his clients happy. 

 

If you like this photo, check out some more fun Outdoor Art!

Canadian Mountain Wilderness |
Beebower Productions

High Country Fly Fishing |
Beebower Productions

Packhorse Rider Fog | Beebower Productions

Keyhole Arch | Beebower Productions

Waterfall People | Beebower Productions

The E-Kit To The Rescue

E-Kit | Beebower Productions

For as long as I can remember it held a place of honor in the van.  It overflowed with tools, gadgets and a lot of zip ties.  That sucker easily weighed a ton.  However, we gave much honor and respect to the monstrous, gigantic, blue E-Kit.

My Dad’s emergency kit often saved the day when photographic disasters reared their ugly heads.  The calamities ranged from an unruly tree branch encroaching on a photo to an urgent need for a homemade flag. 

On our photo shoot at Madera Canyon in Arizona the sun shifted dramatically throughout the day.  We combated the pesky rays of light hitting our hummingbird set by placing multiple flags on light stands to block the light.  Eventually we ran out of flags. 

Broad-Billed Hummingbord at Mexican Cigar Bloom | Beebower Productions

The E-Kit rode to the rescue.  Within a few minutes I’d whipped up a solution to the problem by duct taping a cereal box to a light stand’s arm.  Dad got some great photos thanks to that little flag.

Dad’s photo shoots often took place in remote locations like ranches in the Rocky Mountains or the deserts of Arizona.  Stores and help were far, far away.  So Dad took everything he could imagine needing in the E-Kit.

“Sometimes a ‘fix’ from the E-Kit didn’t play a major part in a photo but we couldn’t have found the stuff on location,” Dad said.

Cherry Cobbler | Beebower Productions

The kit saved “Cherry Cobbler”.  Dad created this mouthwatering picture for his book “Legends of a Range Cook”.   To get an authentic feel to the photo he went on location and set up the campfire with the Dutch ovens and tools.  However, the wind kept blowing the tools around so Dad dug into the E-Kit and used some wire to lash them in place.

When Dad and his brother Gordon ran their commercial advertising studio, they had to deliver fantastic photos no matter what went wrong.   Both their reputation with art directors and their income rode on delivering despite what obstacles lurked around the corner.  After a short time in the business they became highly motivated to anticipate problems.  It required, however, becoming a jack-of-all-trades with a working knowledge of all sorts of tools.

Dad said, “You don’t know what’s going to go wrong and what you’ll need to fix it.  Basically you’re trying to make something be what it’s not to get the photo. But if you’ve done it right no one will be able to tell what you did either to fix the problem or put it back like you found it once you’ve got the photo.”

Stealing a Great Idea

My Uncle Gordon got the idea for the E-Kit at his first post-college job working for another professional photographer.  He observed this photographer not only used an E-Kit, he also bought bags for light stands, arms and other things in the commercial photo studio.  This made going on location a breeze because gear didn’t get tangled up in transport. 

Uncle Gordon talked to Dad and they decided to swipe both of these ideas.  As former Boy Scouts both guys loved the motto “Always Be Prepared”. 

Their first E-Kit was significantly smaller than the monstrosity I grew up knowing (and secretly hating when I had to try to pick it up). It proved to be inadequate for the amount of stuff they routinely needed on location shoots.

Meanwhile Dad observed one of the worker bees at another studio creating bags of all sorts using an industrial sewing machine and heavy-duty tarpaulin.  The material came in several thicknesses, all with bonded coating to make them waterproof.  Even better, the material wouldn’t rip.  You literally had to cut it to create a break in the fabric.

So Dad purchased an industrial sewing machine, tracked down the fabric and got started on a long career of bag making.  He designed the E-Kit bag with inner and outer pockets to make finding smaller items easier.  He left a large center well open well for items like staple guns and saber saws.  He also added heavy-duty straps for carrying the whole shebang. 

Heavy Duty Rottweiler

Problem solved.  Well, mostly.  As I mentioned the bag weighed about as much as a hearty, full grown Rottweiler.  Perhaps I exaggerated a bit.  Nope.  Now that I think of it, I’m certain it was in Rottweiler range. 

Back in the day it took two people to pick up the thing.  Dad, however, could heft it around by himself. Now Dad’s paired down the bag a bit since his commercial photography days are over, but it still weighs in at a chunky 40 pounds. 

Because the bag weighed so much, it mostly stayed in the van on location shoots.  If he needed something, Dad would send an assistant back to the vehicle to rummage through the E-Kit. 

When he was shooting “Evening Stage” he did send an assistant back to the van to get wire.  Dad needed to fasten flour sacks filled with Fuller’s earth to the backside of the stagecoach.   Each time a wheel made a rotation, it hit the bags releasing some of the stuffing and creating dust that made the sun’s rays really stand out. 

Evening Stage | Beebower Productions

Dad came up with this special effect on the fly.  Thanks to the E-Kit and a friend who had the flour sacks, everything came together to make one very believable piece of Old West art.

In making Western pictures like the stagecoach, Dad often sketched out his ideas before heading out to shoot.  One time he envisioned a winter photo in the corral at his friends’ ranch, but he knew he’d need extra lighting.  While still at the studio, he built a light with a strobe head inside to illuminate the model.  Then he headed to Colorado for the frigid photo session. 

Winter Pack Trip | Beebower Productions

Once on site, Dad secured the light to the fence with a drill.   Since this was a regular item in the E-Kit, Dad didn’t give the drill a second thought.  The photo turned out great and the ranch returned to normal by the end of the day.  Everyone was happy.

So a well-designed E-Kit can make or break a photo shoot.  It even helped Dad be a more creative artist as well as a problem solver.  He crafted “Buckboard Cowboy” by combining multiple photographs to make one Old West photo.  After shooting the cowboy driving the buckboard, Dad realized he’d need to add more dust coming up from the horses’ hooves to make it believable. 

Buckboard Cowboy B&W | Beebower Productions

While on location, Dad took a 2×4 from the E-Kit, wrapped it in blue screen fabric and stapled the fabric to the wood.  Then my mother hit the sand repeatedly while he shot the resulting “dust”.  The blue screen fabric allowed him to seamlessly cut out the dust in Photoshop and add it to the big picture composite.  It may have been a small part of the overall photo but that attention to detail combined with the other elements made a realistic photo for the viewers.

Blue Bag O’ Tricks

So you might be wondering what Dad keeps in that magic blue bag of tricks.  We’re going to tell you.  In fact, we’ve provided a complete list for you.  Just enter your email address and then download the list.

But first, one additional note.  Each time Dad goes on a shoot, he evaluates what he thinks he might need.  Anything not on the original list gets added to the bag.  For example, he’ll throw in a few garbage bags if the forecast looks especially wet.  He’ll add a shovel for super snowy locations.  You get the idea.  This is a list of basic supplies.  Tweak it to fit your individual situation.

 

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