Alain Briot Workshop “Antelope Canyons” / by Alain Zarinelli

I attended Alain Briot's "Antelope Canyons" field workshop in the spring of 2017...

Day 1 — Off to Wiggins, CO…

For this workshop and photo tour, I decided to use our class C ‘recreational vehicle,’ pulling my Wrangler Rubicon as my base of operations. On my way West, I like to overnight at the CODOT rest area in Wiggins.

Pretty uneventful day. Very monotonous, especially I-80 through Nebraska. As usual during the spring, the wind was brutal; killed my gas mileage, and had to stop about 70 miles before my usual refuel spot…

Stopped around 1PM at a rest area near York to eat a sandwich.

Then on to — as mentioned above — refuel in North Platte, NE instead of Big Springs, NE. From there, I continue fighting the winds until I get onto I-76 toward Denver. Finally a bit of a reprieve — the wind is no longer a straight crosswind, but rather a quartering tailwind; making better time now.

Finally arrive at the Wiggins rest area exit, where I’ll spend the night. As usual, I pull into the Sinclair station to top off the tank, and the next pump over looks like this…

Gas up and get moving! Guess somebody just had to finish that cigarette while pumping…???!!! :)

Pull into the rest area and park for the night. Sunset will be in about 45 minutes, and I plan on getting some sleep as soon as it’s down. Up early tomorrow morning to beat the Denver rush hour traffic, and get through the mountains before noon.

At least I-70 looks good.

Day 2 — On for the long haul; Wiggins — Page

Get up around 2:40AM and ready to take off by 3:15 or thereabouts. I like driving at night, into the sunrise. Lots less traffic, and the only other people on the roads are professionals — semi drivers.

This photo was taken a little bit before sunset on day one; when I got up, all the spots in that row were taken up with big rigs; another reason not to extend the slides when parking with semis!

Since it was pitch black when I left, there are no photos of that, or the drive through Denver and over the Continental divide. The GPS said it’d take me 11h 37' to drive from Wiggins to Page. Well, it pretty much did — although with some stops. I arrive in Page around 1310MST (Arizona does not observe DST…), so that’s real close.

Not much to report, other than driving an RV up to the passes in the Rockies is a pain (45–50mph…); and the roads in Arizona suck. Bumpy as heck — this is a PITA, when driving around in a vehicle with everything, including the kitchen sink… And loose/wild animals galore. had a pack of sheep and goats cross the road in front of me, as well as two wild horses. Fortunately saw them early on, so no harm done.

Here’s just a quick set of photos from a protein bar stop in Arizona.

‘Residing’ at the Page Lake Powell Campground in Page.

Day 3 — Briot Workshop (1)

Taking it easy today. After two days of sitting and driving, I am walking around Page for a bit; also exploring around the Lake Powell area (Jeep…)

Meeting Alain and Natalie Briot, as well the other eleven workshop participants at 1600MST for a meet and greet, followed by a sunset shoot.

For the sunset shoot, the prediction doesn’t look too promising — but we’ll see what the actual thing looks like; if the subject is great, and the light is good, the “fire in the sky” is merely icing on the cake…

Skyfire Prediction for Sunset
Skyfire Prediction for Sunset

Tomorrow morning it will be sunrise at Horseshoe Bend. We’ll meet bright and early at around 0515MST and take the 3/4-mile hike to the overlook as a group. Sunrise is around 0602MST. I went out there today to scout the location and snapped a couple of iPhone photos.

This is the hike toward the overlook, as seen from the bend. The shelter on top of the hill is about the halfway point… It is in situations like this I really like that I don’t have to lug around my Nikon gear — even my landscape gear with 2 cameras (A7Rii & A7Sii) and 4 prime lenses (Laowa Zero-D 12mm f/2.8, Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8, Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2.0, Zeiss Batis 35mm f/1.4,) plus accessories and two tripods, I’m traveling so much lighter these days. Transferred the cameras, accessories, tripods, and lenses from my travel/car Pelican case into my ThinkTank Airport Antidote for easy carrying to and from places. The rest of the gear stays in the Jeep.

The hiking trail...
The hiking trail…

From the hiking trail looking toward the bend — almost looks connected from this distance.

Horseshoe Bend - From a Distance
Horseshoe Bend — From a Distance

Finally, from right at the edge of the ridge. Obviously, not the greatest light — which is why we’ll get there bright and early tomorrow morning. The bend will be front-lit with a warm reddish-to-yellow light by the rising sun.

The famous Horshoe Bend Shot
The famous Horshoe Bend Shot

Day 4 — Briot Workshop (2)

Yesterday’s sunset shoot was held at the “teepees” near Page, AZ. Every attendee got some personal Briot time, while composing the shot for the sunset over these particular rock formations. Here’s a quick edit of one of my shots…

Bright and early rise today for the Horseshoe bend sunrise shoot. Got up at 4AM and met everybody in the parking area at 5:15AM. Trekked out to the overlook as a group and set up our cameras waiting for the best light…

Uneventful shoot, with some good advice and critique from Mr Briot.

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon was interesting, and I did get some really amazing looking shots, but the whole thing was a logistical nightmare. Tons (TONS!!!) of people in a very confined space; way overpriced at $128 per person, and quite limiting due to the speed with which the photos need to be composed, setup, camera settings adjusted, etc. And then there is the sand — both my camera gear and I were covered in it. A real PITA! Definitely not something I’ll repeat anytime soon. If you want to visit Antelope, make sure you only take the camera(s) with lens(es) (forget changing a lens in that sandy environment;) and leave your bag and tripod in the car. You might need to go up to ISO6400 in some spots, but the canyon gets so narrow and the amount of people make it very difficult to carry a bag and tripod.

Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon

After Antelope, we broke for lunch and then met as a group for a print critique. Each workshop participant brought along 4–6 printouts of their work, and Mr Briot critiqued each, including tips for improvement and general advice — some of mine was “Stop using a crappy lab, using JPEGs in sRGB, and get a good printer to start printing your own work!” After all, Mr Briot opined, folks want to purchase a fine art print made by you — the whole way; not printed by some Joe Schmoe… Point taken.

After this, we drove to a ridge outside Page for a sunset shoot of some hoodoos. Again, one on one time with Mr Briot, and an uneventful shoot…

Hoodoos
Hoodoos

That’s it for today. No sunrise shoot tomorrow, but we’ll be hiking to another (less known) slot canyon. Will put to good use the things I learned in Antelope today!

Day 5 — Briot Workshop (3)

Not quite as early a rise today — no sunrise shoot, but we met at 7AM sharp for an out 40 minute hike to a different slot canyon. Lugging around camera gear in a crappy (but still expensive ThinkTank photo backpack) is not fun — especially through very sandy terrain.

The slot canyon was much less crowded than Antelope, and much less expensive as well ($15.) Didn’t quite have the depth of Antelope, but gave everybody an opportunity to setup and compose in peace, without time or composition constraints…

Water Hole Canyon
Water Hole Canyon

After the canyon shoot and lunch, it was back to print critiques, and Mr Briot went over the role printing plays in fine art. He also explained his approach to printing, his successes and failures, and why printing one’s own art is so important — guess I have a couple of items on my shopping list now…

Mr Briot’s wife then showed some examples of Briot prints available for sale, and he went over how he made them.

We broke after that and met again near the sunset shoot location. After an approximately 1-mile hike, we arrived, and everyday got ready to shoot the sunset. As usual, Mr Briot made the rounds and gave tips on composition and what and how to shoot (artistic, not technical — you are supposed to know how to manipulate and use your camera.)

After sunset we all headed back to town; some of us straight home to get some rest before tomorrow’s sunrise shoot (early rise…), some to grab some dinner.

Day 6 — Briot Workshop (4)

Early morning again — sunrise shoot over Lake Powell. Rise and shine around 4AM; meeting everybody at 5:15AM, and then off as a group to the shooting location…

Shot some distant buttes silhouetted against the sunrise colors; a rare tele opportunity in landscape…

Sunrise
Sunrise

Afterwards breakfast and then on to Lower Antelope Canyon. Unfortunately, the folks running lower Antelope aren’t as accommodating as the folks from upper — we only have one hour, and are not allowed a tripod. Challenges are there to be overcome, aren’t they! On the other hand, the Navajo guide, Quintana (a.k.a. ‘Tana’) was very knowledgeable about photography, and clearly understood what type of shots we were looking for…

From above the Canyon (iPhone)
From above the Canyon (iPhone)

Speaking of challenges. Some of the other workshop participants have no concept of space; I stopped counting the times where somebody just walked into my composition, or where somebody just had to plant themselves and their tripod in a spot where it was obvious they’d interfere with the others’ shooting. Oh well. Learning how to deal with tourists is part of being a photographer.

Lined Up to catch the Moonrise
Lined Up to catch the Moonrise

After the canyon, we gathered for a Q&A session, and then a presentation by Mr Briot on composition, including examples of his own photographs.

To end the day, sunset and moonrise shoot in Utah, then dinner with the group.

Before Sunset - Utah (iPhone)
Before Sunset — Utah (iPhone)

Tomorrow morning, we meet again at 5:30AM to shoot the sunrise and moonset. After that, breakfast with the group, which will officially conclude the workshop.

Day 7 — Briot Workshop (5)

Sunrise shoot; we were hoping for a full moon rise shot as well, but nature didn’t play along and gave us haze and clouds… The teepees — yes, these are the same we shot for sunset on day one of the workshop — lid up nicely in the morning light though.

Teepees at Sunrise (iPhone)
Teepees at Sunrise (iPhone)

After capturing the sunrise, the group had breakfast together, wich was the “official” conclusion of the workshop.

Now for some rest today, before I continue to Monument Valley tomorrow for 2 full days of shooting there.

Day 8 — Page to Monument Valley

Rote from Page to Monument Valley (Screen grab)
Rote from Page to Monument Valley (Screen grab)

Drove from Page Arizona to Gouldings RV park/campground in Monument Valley on Wednesday, followed by two full days of shooting before moving on to Monticello Utah to photograph Canyonlands National Park…

Left Page around 10:00 MST (local time,) and arrived at the Gouldings Campground in Monument Valley around 13:15pm local time, i.e. MDT (being in Utah now, DST is observed,) so it took me a bit longer than Google Maps predicted — and I know exactly why: refueling at the Chevron in Kayenta, I had 3 church vans in front of me, and they filed up, and the whole friggin congregation went into the gas station to buy junk food. I was stuck there (no backing up when pulling 4-down :( ) for at least 20 minutes before they got back and moved the vans out of my way…

In any case, made it to the campground and set up.

Home Base for the Monument Valley shoot... (iPhone)
Home Base for the Monument Valley shoot… (iPhone)

Afterwards ran into the Navajo-run Monument Valley park ($20 gets you a 4 day entry ‘pass’ — I.e. you just show your dated receipt and they’ll let you in for 4 consecutive days…) They of course don’t honor my National Park pass! Checked out locations quickly (the loop was already closed to non-tour vehicles), snapped a couple of quick iPhone shots for reference, and looked at sunrise and sunset times, azimuths etc. Tomorrow will be a day spent in the park!

Returning from the park, I figured I’d have dinner at the Gouldings Lodge Restaurant — wasn’t awful, but nothing to write home about either. I recommend finding other eateries if you’re ever in these necks of the woods!

Day 9 — Monument Valley Sunset

The Usual Monument Valley Shot - Mittens and Merrick Butte (iPhone)
The Usual Monument Valley Shot — Mittens and Merrick Butte (iPhone)

Started out by driving around the outside of the park on the 163-loop, to see if there are any interesting angles to be had “from the outside.” Unfortunately, there is a rather high barbed wire fence around much of the land overlooking the interesting formations, so I had to get ‘inventive,’ since the tripod didn’t allow me to keep the fence out of the frame. While handheld would have been an option, I opted for the Really Right Stuff clamp, fixed to a fence post to get me around that limitation.

RRS Clamp on Fence Post (iPhone)
RRS Clamp on Fence Post (iPhone)

Being in the “off season,” i.e. before May 1st, the park closes at 1630MDT. After closing, only the tour operators are allowed to drive through any more, unless you entered before closing, then you can drive out. So today, I plan on driving around the area to see if there are interesting things to photograph outside the park, then enter after 1500MDT for a sunset shoot.

Made it to the park in ample time and drove the loop multiple times, stopping at the various sites and exploring the changing light. Fortunately, it was cloudy in the beginning, so the light wasn’t too harsh; later on it cleared, though, and it got really contrasty.

Sunset Mittens (iPhone)
Sunset Mittens (iPhone)

In the end, I chose the East, West Mittens and Merrick Butte for the ‘signature’ sunset shot- albeit with a twist :)…

Mittens Shot Setup (iPhone)
Mittens Shot Setup (iPhone)

Day 10 — Natural Bridges and Monument Valley Sunset Redux

Drove a little over an hour from Monument Valley to Natural Bridges National Monument. Did the loop and hiked to the first (Sigapu) and last (Owachomo) bridge, skipping the middle one (Kachina) due to time constraints.

Owachomo Bridge (iPhone)
Owachomo Bridge (iPhone)

Made it back to Monument Valley about 2 hours before sunset and had dinner at the Tribal Park restaurant. (Note to those unaware: The Navajo Nation is a “dry nation, i.e. no alcohol sold on tribal land; that includes restaurants: I stuck with water with my meals…) Then headed back into the valley for another “Mittens and Butte” shot — this time for a bit more ‘experimental’ compositions :).

Restaurant View (iPhone)
Restaurant View (iPhone)
Different Compositions (iPhone)
Different Compositions (iPhone)

Tomorrow morning it’s pack up and leave time — on to Monticello for 3 full days of Canyonlands shooting.

Day 11 — Drive from Monument Valley to Monticello

Packed and left Gouldings around 10MDT. Short drive up 163, then 191 via Blanding to Monticello. Staying there at the Mountain View RV Park until the 19th.

Had my scare for the trip: Getting to Monticello, I couldn’t find the RV keys (not the driving key, but the dead bolt and door keys.) Looked all over the place, but I just couldn’t figure out where I put it. Was almost convinced I lost it in Monument Valley. Set up everything but the water and sewer connections. When I put the slides out, I found the keys under the driver’s side slide. Got the water and sewer hoses, connected them et voilà. Phew!

After setup, I take the Jeep into the park (Needles District) to get a map and scout locations to shoot for the next 3 days. Then dinner and a movie at the RV.

Easter Saturday Traffic in Canyonlands (iPhone)
Easter Saturday Traffic in Canyonlands (iPhone)

Day 12 — Canyonlands, ‘Needles District’

Easter Sunday. I sleep in and, after some coffee, I start post-processing some of the earlier photos. I am quite happy with the results, although there’s still a ways to go before they are print ready… There is just no substitute for a big screen and appropriately-lit room to post-process photos; cannot easily be replicated inside an RV and on a 13” laptop.

"Dancing Ghost" (Upper Antelope Canyon, 2017; iPhone screenshot)
“Dancing Ghost” (Upper Antelope Canyon, 2017; iPhone screenshot)

Take off for Canyonlands in mid-afternoon to hike the 3 miles to Elephant Canyon for a sunset shoot. Will be a late evening tonight!

Parked at the Elephant Hill parking lot and started hiking up the trail to pick a good location for the evening shoot; easy to follow in daylight, a bit more difficult to see the cairns in the dark. Especially the last portion of the trail is quite steep; fortunately I had my hiking poles, which help a lot!

Canyonlands Sunset Shoot (iPhone)
Canyonlands Sunset Shoot (iPhone)

Day 13 — Canyonlands, ‘Island in the Sky’

After a ‘late’ evening return from yesterday’s Needles sunset shoot, I decided to take it easy today and plan my ‘Island in the Sky’ visit carefully to make the most out of the 1h 45’ drive it takes from the RV…

Path back to the Car in Blue Hour Light (iPhone)
Path back to the Car in Blue Hour Light (iPhone)

Plan

I have decided to rest during the day, relax, and cull the obvious duds (not sharp, severely over- or underexposed,…) from the Capture One Session (the ‘originals’ will stay on my 2 backups,) and catch up with some sleep before heading up North this afternoon.

The plan is then to get to the park about 2h before sunset, and make some pre-sunset golden hour (1924MDT — sunset) photos on the Grand View Point trail, then head to the “false Kiva” for sunset/golden & blue hour (1959MDT, resp. Sunset — 2016MDT.)

After that, head on over to the Mesa Arch, hike the less-than-1/2-mile to the arch and set up a star trails shot with the A7Sii to start after the end of astronomical twilight (2135MDT,) but before moonrise (0146MDT,) skies permitting.

While the A7Sii shoots away, I’ll set up the A7Rii near the arch to capture the moonrise at 0146MDT, and then the sunrise at 0639MDT. Taking some hot coffee, a blanket, my chair, and my iPhone (music :) ) out there, and probably nap some in between.

After this, possibly a quick run to Dead Horse Point Overlook to photograph the Colorado river bend during Golden hour, time permitting (I give this a 35%-50% chance.)

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s update to see how the “plan” and reality compare :)

Day 14 & 15 — Canyonlands, ‘Island in the Sky’

Reality

Dead Horse Point Outlook (Screengrab from Google Street View)
Dead Horse Point Outlook (Screengrab from Google Street View)

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

As a landscape and fine art photographer, at the end of the day, we submit to nature… yesterday/last night is no exception :)

I made it to ‘Island in the Sky’ by around 1700MDT and took the Grand View Point Road to the far end overlook. From there, I took the rim hiking trail and started photographing the vast expanse of canyons roughly to the South, including the Needles district from afar.

Here are some iPhone #BTS snaps from that shoot…

Why it's called Canyonlands (iPhone)
Why it’s called Canyonlands (iPhone)
Canyonlands (iPhone)
Canyonlands (iPhone)

I then walked to the other side of the ridge, overlooking the Colorado River valley. I was a bit early, so the light wasn’t great. Decided to skip (for now.)

Drove to false kiva and quickly hiked there. I quickly decided the mood and light wouldn’t be right at sunset (for me,) so I quickly U-turned and went back to Grand View Point and hiked to theColorado River valley spot I left earlier. Now the light was getting there…

Colorado river valley (iPhone)
Colorado river valley (iPhone)
Colorado River Valley #BTS (iPhone)
Colorado River Valley #BTS (iPhone)

While photographing the sunset, I realized that what makes for great sunsets, typically ruins night sky shoots — clouds

I packed and drove over to the Mesa Arch, which by now was deserted. Quickly hiked to the arch to scout locations, and try to ascertain which lens(es) to use for the various projects this night. I also realized that the sky did not look promising in the direction of the Galactic Center and moonrise. Too early to tell for sunrise. Still hopeful the clouds might dissipate after dark, I walked back to the Jeep and took a quick nap.

Woke up around 2315MDT-2330MDT, gathered my gear and hiked to the arch in the pitch black. Thank God for my iPhone with Gaia GPS, to which I downloaded the topographic hiking maps locally onto the phone. The maps show the official/published hiking trails, and even without service can be used for backcountry navigation (usually as a backup to map & compass; for short hikes like these, I just use the maps and GPS as general guidance.

Found the ideal spot close to the rim, which will allow me to capture the full width of the arch, including “floor” and “ceiling.” Set up my tripod and camera (lowest aperture, focus locked to ∞, res. the stars, ISO 3200–6400. I chose the Laowa f/2.8 12mm Zero-D for this task.

Now it was a ‘waiting game.’ Around 0100MDT, I started scanning the Southern sky for the stars of the Milky Way, but — alas — the weather Gods didn’t acquiesce: a low overcast layer was obstructing the very point where my Photopills app showed the Galactic Center to be :( …

Next on the timetable was the moonrise — low and behold, there was a tiny hole in the cloud cover the moon was able to peak through when it rose; too short to capture a #BTS at this time, but I shot this one a couple of hours later.

Moon over Mesa Arch (iPhone)
Moon over Mesa Arch (iPhone)

After the all too short moonrise opportunity, it was time to settle in for the long wait for sunrise — it was now around 0215MDT, the sun would not rise until 0639MDT. While I waited, I walked around a bit to keep warm, shot some moon-lit scenes through the arch, and just ‘hung around.’

Finally, 0500MDT came around, and I started to set the camera up for the blue hour shots astronomical, nautical, civil, which would be gradually adjusted (f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO) for sunrise. At 0530MDT, the first photographers arrived. All very nice and courteous — I helped them get situated, showed them where the sun would rise, and where my camera was setup. All found their spots and in no time there were probably close 15 other photographers eagerly awaiting the sun to rise.

At around 0615MDT (24 minutes before sunrise!) a tour bus of (what appeared to be) Japanese tourists arrived. They were a loud crowd — and a light polluting one. As they descended towards the arch, their chatter grew louder, and more excited or maybe aggravated?! They started talking amongst each other, and their flashlights illuminated the arch to the point it would be impossible to capture any good shots.

Just when I was ready to say something, a man walked around all the assembled photographers standing in line, tripods and cameras ready, and proceeded to tell us he was the “tour guide” and that very nice photos could be made by all of us just backing up and making room for his group to also shoot. The arch didn’t need to be captured in its entirety, and iPhone photos were great, he opined.

We basically explained this was a public location, and photos would be made on a first come, first served basis. They could shoot from behind the line of photographers… He wasn’t pleased and the hectic chattering continued — as did the light painting on the arch. Finally we told them to just put their darned flashlights out — through the tour guide. It took a while, but they finally complied. As the sun started rising, we all started shooting; including the tourists — with their smartphones, and doing selfies…

After the good light was gone, did the first line photographers start packing up their tripods and cameras, and other tourists started crowding the area. My clue to get the heck out of Dodge…

#BTS Arch Sunrise Shoot (iPhone)
#BTS Arch Sunrise Shoot (iPhone)

I chose to drive straight home, instead of checking out Dead Horse Point overlook. I was simply too tired — and I missed the turn :)

Wrap-Up — Spring 2017 Worshop and Photo Tour

April 18 was my last day of shooting in Utah.

Once back home, the arduous and slow task of moving the session from my MacBook Pro to my iMac, the two backups I created on the road to their respective locations on the home network — and start the upload process to Amazon Cloud for all the raw files (my off-site backup solution.) Then the tough final culling, finding the select candidates, and deciding which photos are good enough for social media, and which ones will be printed and offered for sale starts…

I will also create small, low quality JPEGs of the whole shoot (again, every last capture, warts and all :) ,) ZIP them into one big file, and register their copyright with the US Copyright Office. Only then will I be able to share actual captures from the shoot (instead of ‘stand-in’ iPhone photos) on the blog and social media. Unfortunately, registering copyright for already published photographs is much more difficult (and expensive,) and so I choose not to share actual work on social media (i.e. “publish”,) unless I have decided beforehand to forego formal registration (and enforceable protection.)

It’s actually very easy, can be done online, and costs only $55 per submission; regardless if there are 5 photos or 5000 photos… (Note: I am referring to the US process here!)

Sample α7Rii processed photo from the morning shoot at Horseshoe Bend…

Horseshor Bend (2017)
Horseshoe Bend (2017)