“Sedona Reflections"

On my trip early this fall to Sedona, I hiked to the same spot three or four times over as many days, before capturing the cover image here. I’m not claiming that this one qualifies for a Limited Edition designation. Still, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs discussing it, because I think there are lessons to be learned for photographers willing to up their game.

I found this spot quite by accident. I had gone to a different spot, hoping to catch the iconic Sedona image of Cathedral Mountain reflected in a slow-moving river. Trouble was that the river was in flood stage, with brown and red mud making reflections a distant dream. However, while there, I met a local woman who told us to take a hike! Literally.

We drove a few miles to the place she recommended and promptly got lost. The sun was setting and with reports tarantulas and rattlesnakes in the vicinity, I decided prudence was in order. I returned the next night, found the right spot, and then came back for a few nights after that.

Obviously, the first lesson, perhaps the most important for any photographer, is patience. Sometimes it takes repeated visits to a spot you like before you understand it well enough to capture its essence.

Due to the recent rains, what is usually a barren slice of rock was now dotted with small pools of water. Good, so far, but trouble was brewing in the form of strong winds. As the sun was on its last legs, I photographed half-heartedly, because I knew I was not nailing the scene that I wanted. That sometimes happens to me when I’m confronted with a complex scene in a strange spot.

The next afternoon, about an hour before sunset, I was back. I spent time walking around, hiking to a little rise to see if there was a good vantage point there. No good. I walked side to side on the plateau, but could not see the photograph I wanted. The skies were overcast, so I did not feel pressure to shoot. It was my wife, an oil paint fine artist with a fantastic eye, who called my attention to a prime spot. I crouched down and - voila! - there it was!

The next afternoon I came back. Once I got set up next to the cactus I began to shoot, but complexities emerged. The prickly pear cactus was so close and Cathedral Mountain so far away. I didn’t want to capture the scene with my Nikkor 14-24, because the mountain would look like minuscule and the reflections in the water wouldn’t work.

What I decided to do was photograph it with my Nikkor 45mm F2.8 Tilt-Shift lens. I own all three T-S lenses. I mostly use the 24mm and only once in a while the 85mm. But in this case I felt the 45mm was perfect. Using the T-S, one can get crisp focus near to far, just by using the tilt function.

The only trouble was that at 45mm, I could not capture the entire mountain, which was now bathed in sweet waning light.

So, I decided to do a 3 shot pano. Enter the shift function. All I needed to do was shift the lens left, center and right and I had a simple 3-shot pano that fit the bill.

Here’s a shot of me setting up (photo courtesy Leslie Picker).

I do wish there were clouds in the sky. As the sun bathed the mountain in a more golden light a few minutes later, the wind kicked up and the reflection disappeared. Frustrating, but you learn to smile and still feel grateful for just being out there.

Here are the technical specs: Nikon D800, Nikkor 45mm Tilt-Shift , 1/60 second at f11, ISO 200. I was set up on a Gitzo 3541 tripod with a Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-55 ballhead on a RRS leveling base and using a cable release.

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