Flash floods moving through slot canyons can be amazing phenomena. At some point, one or more flash floods deposited these small boulders (each heavier than I can certainly lift) into this random corner of Water Holes Canyon in Northern Arizona. The light in this scene is coming from reflected sunlight bouncing off the canyon wall to the upper left of this scene (the edge of the sunbeam was just outside the framing of this scene).
The making of this image was an exercise in making lemon-aid from lemons. The equipment I had with me for this hike through the canyon was my Fuji GFX 50S camera, the Fuji 63mm f/2.8 lens, and the Fuji 120mm f/4 macro lens. The 63mm lens decided to die on me during the hike (that’s the lemons in this analogy), leaving me with just the 120mm lens.
When I noticed this area, with the boulders piled up in an area where the canyon curves just a bit, I had to decide how to capture the scene with the equipment I had available. As Waterholes Canyon is a slot canyon, there wasn’t enough room for me to back up and capture the scene in one image, so I set up the camera on a tripod and planned out how to get everything I wanted in the scene using the technique of compositing (also called stitching) multiple images together. With the camera positioned as far back as I could get it, I worked out that it would take a two-row composite with two images per row to capture the scene.
Then I started to consider how much depth of field I would need for the image. From the area of sand in the foreground to the wall in the background, the total depth of field was about 3 feet or so. However, the distance to the foreground from my camera was only about 5 feet. I have a couple of apps on my phone to help out with depth-of-field calculations, plus the GFX 50S camera can show a depth-of-field bar on a distance scale in manual focus mode. Using both techniques, I realized that I would not be able to capture the full depth-of-field in a single image (as even at f/32, the depth-of-field of the 120mm lens was only about 1.5 feet). I would need to shoot three images at each position (you need some overlap in the focus areas!), use the technique of focus stacking in post processing to combine the 3 images into one, and I had to do that 4 times (as I needed 4 images for the collage), then use the resulting 4 focus-stacked images to create the panorama stitch. Whew!
I think the hardest part of doing something like this while on a trip that takes you far from home is that you don’t really have the time to do the post-processing while in the field and by the time you get home, you really have to think about what you shot and what you meant to do with all those images. It honestly took me a while to figure out what each image was for (and think “Oh, OK, that’s the foreground focus image for the lower-left quadrant…”) and what to do with the whole group of images. I need to get in the habit of taking notes in the field so I don’t have to rely on my memory quite so much!
In all, it wasn’t until about 6 weeks after my trip that I finally got around to completing this image. But I like the result and the hard work that went into it just makes that lemon-aid taste all the sweeter.
Technical information: 12 images in a 2×2 collage, 3 images per quadrant used for focus stacking, taken with a Fuji GFX 50S camera and a Fuji 120mm f/4 macro lens. Exposures were 1/4 second @ f/32, ISO 400.
So that’s the How; how about the Why? What drew me to go so far to capture this scene instead of looking for one more aligned to the working equipment I had at my disposal? I loved the color of the rocks and the textures and lines in the wall. I loved the curves present throughout the image and how some rocks seemed to be mirrors of others. And I loved the circular shapes of the foreground complimented by the lines of the wall. Also, knowing this is a slot canyon formed by water and violence strong enough to drag boulders of such size and deposit them here in this slight curve in the wall, the presence of vegetation peaking out among the rocks has a lot to say about persistence and the promise of the future.