A quick post to share some thoughts about my recent trip to photograph Monument Valley.
I went down with three purposes:
- To hook up with my buddy Ian Whitehead. Ian is a fantastic fine art photographer who specializes in the Southwest (and California). He’s based in Sedona so he knows the area inside and out. When I was first starting out, I took a workshop of his to Sedona and Antelope Canyon and we’ve remained friends ever since.
- Ian offered to show me the ropes with his large format gear. He shoots all LF color for his fine art work. I’ve always been curious about it, especially with the amount of control that’s available to change perspective.
- To build out my portfolio with photos from locations in the area.
Seeing Ian again was great. He’s like me in that he doesn’t get caught up in all the latest gadgets – he just loves to talk photography, especially composition, locations, etc. Some of the best moments were all of the discussions we had while putting many miles on his pickup truck.
About Monument Valley
Monument Valley is a large and very remote area straddling the Arizona/Utah border. There just isn’t a lot of infrastructure around. There is the one hotel at the visitor’s center but it’s rather expensive due to its prime views of “The Mittens” (shown above). We based ourselves at the fun & funky San Juan Inn in Mexican Hat Utah, about 20 minutes away from MV. Reasonable prices, clean rooms and close to both MV and other locations north of MV such as Cedar Mesa.
If you’re going to shoot MV, there are two great views to shoot from: The first is from the deck or parking lot of the visitor’s center. You’ll see many photographers lined up here. A “secret” place that in my opinion has an even better view is the campground just prior to the visitor’s center. I use the term “campground” loosely as it’s really just a dirt area that they call a “primitive facility”. You’ll see a small dirt road just prior to the parking lot for the visitor’s center – turn left on that and you’ll see it.
Other areas we visited were Cedar Mesa, Muley Point, the Goosenecks, Flaming House ruins and a couple other locations that we’ll keep secret for now.
I shot primarily with my Holga, despite wanting to do quite a bit of work with Ian’s Ebony large format gear. My time with the large format gear ended up being limited due to the wind. Man, it was windy. Walking along cliff edges, dealing with blowing sand, 50 MPH winds made things challenging sometimes. The 4×5 can turn into a kite and I in no way wanted that beautiful Ebony to blow off a cliff as I was using it. I did get some weird looks using the Holga (as usual) while others at the sites fired away at 5FPS with their Canon or Nikon, but I’m used to that. We had one encounter at one of the Anasazi ruins where the other photographers couldn’t believe we hadn’t even taken one photo yet with the 4×5 because we were still setting it up.
I did learn a couple of things about shooting the 4×5. First, it’s much quicker to set up when focusing at infinity than I anticipated. I could go from backpack to shooting in about 10 minutes. If you need to use many of the movements though, it’s another ballgame requiring much more precision. That was a net positive. What I found most challenging was using a wide angle lens on the 4×5. The ground glass severely vignettes which makes focusing very difficult. Overall I liked the methodical nature of shooting with it but worry about the portability when traveling around the world.
Think Tank bag review
Think Tank Photo kindly sent me one of their new small travel pouches for review. I found that this was the perfect bag for storing film. As you can see below, I was able to fit 6 rolls of 120 film, a 25 sheet box of 4×5 film, plus 4 loaded 4×5 film holders in it! It may look small but it holds quite a bit. This is a very handy accessory, especially for film shooters, as most companies don’t consider film at all anymore. Despite its small size, it’s still built to Think Tank’s pro quality standards. If you’ve never checked out Think Tank camera bags and gear, I can heartily recommend them.
So where are the photos? I’m traveling all next week, so it will be a week and a half or so until I develop the film. I have no idea what I’ll get with the Holga as I was shooting in situations that I haven’t encountered before. Should be fun!
P.S. If you ever want to shoot the American Southwest, I highly recommend doing it with Ian Whitehead. He runs Southwest Photo Workshops all around the area and they’re extremely affordable. Compare what you get with others and you’ll immediately see the value in his workshops. He offers both group workshops and private ones customized to what you want to shoot. If you want to learn about composition and taking your photo skills to the next level while seeing some of the most beautiful areas of the country (including secret ones only the locals know about), he’s the guy.