Lunchtime Photo

I mentioned on Wednesday that last week’s trip to northern Arizona was mainly about photographing the famous slot canyons near Page. You may or may not know what a slot canyon is, but you’ll recognize one when you see a picture. So here’s a picture:

I’ve been admiring pictures in galleries of the slot canyons for the past couple of decades, and I’ve been meaning to go see them that entire time. Last year I finally decided to do it, and my timing couldn’t have been worse. It turns out that the slot canyon tours have become overwhelmed with tourists in the Instagram age, so the Navajo tribes that run them decided to eliminate photo tours a couple of ago. The photo tours are more expensive, but they’re limited to a few people and you’re allowed more time in the canyons. Both of these things are crucial to getting decent quality shots.

So I looked around and discovered that although the two most famous canyons no longer offered photo tours, you can still book a photo tour of Slot Canyon X, which is not as well known. So I did. And it was great. The guys in the picture above are two of the other photographers who were on my tour, and they are desperately trying to frame their shots through their viewfinders while their cameras are pointed straight up. This is why I will never buy a camera without an articulating LCD screen. I was able to frame my shots far faster, and I followed the secret advice of pros when it comes to lining up shots: don’t bother. Just take lots of pictures instead. In the digital age, there’s no reason not to.

This was the first time that I seriously used the HDR function on my camera. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which means the camera can get good pictures even when there are deep shadows and bright highlights. It does this by taking three separate exposures and then merging them together, which is why the photographers above are blurry. The camera could merge the background, which stayed still, but obviously couldn’t merge separate shots of a moving person.

If you’re wondering why these guys were shooting straight up, it’s to get shots of the canyon openings up top, which sport a beautiful golden glow in bright sunlight. Here’s an example:

This is a panorama shot. I took four separate pictures and then Photoshop merged them together. Without this, I could have gotten the top quarter or the bottom quarter, but I couldn’t show the entire thing. A wide angle lens would have improved matters a little, but not much, and there’s no way to move further back since I was already against a wall. The merge function is a minor miracle, and it’s perfectly suited for situations like this.

Here’s one more:

January 27, 2020 — Navajo Nation, Highway 98, Arizona

This is a lovely shot of the canyon walls, and yet another demonstration of what Photoshop can do. Even with HDR, the rightmost piece of this photo was jet black when it came out of the camera, and that ruined the entire shot. But Photoshop pulled up the shadows well enough to show some color over there, and that turned it into a really nice picture.

I won’t torture you with every single slot canyon picture I took. I’ve got about three dozen. But you’ll definitely be seeing a bunch more of them over the course of the year. You’ll also be seeing pictures of starry nights, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Hoover Dam, and much more. It was, as I said last week, a stunningly beautiful trip.

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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