Monument Valley

Right on the border between Arizona and Utah, lies a vast region with a plethora of sandstone rock formations, known as Monument Valley. The scenery is easily identifiable – the movie set for many Hollywood western productions and blockbusters such as Back to the Future III and Forrest Gump. Today, this region is inhabited in majority by the Navajo Native Indian tribe. This tribe made history in World War II, as the Navajo language (due to its uniqueness and complexity) was adopted for radio communication by the US forces.

The Valley was the first overnight stay on our 2-week US roadtrip. Naively, we did not make any hotel reservations, thinking perhaps that there would have been plenty of last-minute accommodation available in the area. Much to our surprise this wasn’t the case; in fact, we realised at 11pm that not a single room was available within a 2-hour driving radius! After many failed attempts talking to Booking.com operators and researching online, the front-office manager at the Hampton Inn felt sorry for us and suggested that a friend of hers might have a room for the night at her B&B home.

In a scene that resembled nothing less than a move thriller, we drove to the Navajo reservation camp at midnight, in the middle of a rain storm. Looking back through the rear-view mirror, I could see the sign of worry drawn on everyone’s faces, as we drove in muddy roads through a bunch of old trailers and makeshift shacks.

Worry turned quickly into a smile and a sigh of relief, once we were greeted by a friendly Navajo lady, who welcomed us in her pyjamas to her recently renovated home. After giving us a short tour, she mentioned that she had to leave early in the morning to go to work. Worried not to wake us up, she politely asked us to leave the money on her kitchen table and lock the door behind us on our way out. She had known us for less than a few minutes, yet she was kind and courteous enough to treat us like family – a trait that one doesn’t come by often and a gesture that I will never forget.

Monument Valley - 1920c

Shot with my tripod mounted Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F8.0, at 1.6 sec, exposed at (-2/0/+2).

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Animals of Yellowstone

Nature photography has always intrigued me. There is something liberating about being alone with your camera outdoors, capturing birds and animals in their natural habitat. When capturing wild animals however, it is best to keep your distance – both for your safety and theirs. It is therefore not surprising that pro photographers specializing in this type of photography, choose to carry long telephoto lenses that look nothing short of giant bazookas.

Purchasing a 500mm+ lens is fairly low on my Amazon wish list, as a fast F2.8 one usually retails upwards of €3000. Renting one for my road trip was also not a convenient option, so I decided to take along my workhorse lens – the Sigma 18-200 F3.5-6.3 OS. Paired with the crop sensor on my Canon 60D, I effectively had a 320mm lens in my hands. Not the fastest of all lenses but with luck on my side, my aim was to capture a decent picture of a wild animal while touring Yellowstone Park.

Luck was indeed on my side, as while we were driving around the park on our second day there, a wild Bull Elk decided to cross the road. Swarms of tourists decided to abandon their cars for a chance to take a snapshot of this beautiful animal. The only one crazy enough however to chase it deep into the forest was yours truly! Yep, I completely defied the little voice in me that kept screaming “You Are Crazy” and decided to follow the Elk into the bushes, keeping a safe distance so as not to scare it away. At some point the Elk must have noticed me and looked back to see who was following him. Luckily I was there, finger on the trigger and quickly managed to capture the shot below. An exhilarating experience, one that I definitely will not forget!

Bull Elk - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 800, F7.1 at 1/500 sec.

Yellowstone Park

Growing up as a kid, one of my favorite cartoon characters was Yogi Bear and his picnic basket stealing escapades at Jellystone Park. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Jellystone is an actual take-off on Yellowstone National Park, a park that spans almost 9,000 sq Km in the state of Wyoming. After researching what this place was all about, I was quickly convinced that it had to be added to my bucket list. It was therefore no coincidence that when we started planning for our road trip, no matter how we planned to cross the continental US, all routes led us through Yellowstone.

One cannot fathom how large this park is until you start driving through it. It took us about 2 hours to cross it the first day we got there, and subsequently 2 full days of driving just to visit some of the major sights. What you bear witness to however is truly remarkable, as the park has a plethora of lakes, canyons and rivers, home to hundreds of species of mammals, fish and reptiles, some of which are considered endangered. The park also sits on an active volcano, so there is an abundance of hot springs and geysers. I’ve managed to take a few pictures of the landscape, animals and other sights and will dedicate the next few blog posts to share these with everyone.

Starting off though, this is the picture of the Lower Yellowstone Falls, one of the highlight features of the park, standing at 94m tall – nearly twice the height of the Niagara Falls.

Yellowstone Falls2 - 1920c

Taken with my tripod-mounted Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens, at ISO 100, F8.0 and 15 sec exposure (using my B+W ND 3.0 solid filter).

Silhouette Trees

Any nature photographer will attest that the “golden hour” is the best time to go out and photograph. Also known as the “magic hour”, this is roughly the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. The reason for that is because during that time of day the sun is fairly low on the horizon, producing more diffuse and flattering light, as opposed to the hard shadows cast during midday.

Travelling however with company, gives you little flexibility to being in a particular spot during those times. That was the case when we visited the Arches National Park, home of 2000 or so sandstone arches in eastern Utah near the small town of Moab. A simple image search, will bring up hundreds of images, some depicting the sun casting a beautiful orange glow on the rock formations, others showing the sun rising or setting while being framed within the sandstone arches.

Unfortunately we arrived there just before lunch time, when the hot scorching sun was already high up in the sky. I felt disappointed because there was no way for me to take the particular picture that I had in mind. Just as I was about to give up, I noticed a bunch of dried up trees that had a very compelling shape. I veered away from my friends and started working the scene, trying to take a snapshot that would tie together the deep blue sky, the sun and the shape of the trees. After trying out multiple exposures from different angles and varying backgrounds, I ended up with the following picture, which surprisingly didn’t turn out that bad!

Tree Silluette - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F18, at 1/80th of a second.