Lake powell master class

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

NewThis subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.

The Master Class

In early April, 2001 five experienced nature photographers from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. met in Las Vegas to begin a week-long photographic adventure. We were joined by two colleagues who would support and record the trip. 

We were headed forLake Powelland aMaster Classwhich I had begun planning quite a number of months before. Instead of my usual Spring landscape workshop the concept was to assemble a group of experienced nature photographers and to spend a week or so together in an exotic location. Instead of the classes and instruction of the usual workshop environment, there would be discussions and sharing of ideas and experiences among seasoned pros.

A houseboat on Lake Powell appeared to be an ideal venue for a photographic adventure. I’d been to the shores ofLake Powellseveral times when visitingAntelope Canyonand theGrand Canyon, but had never explored its exquisite canyons and rivers.

A typical canyon where we would beach each night — Jonathan Sachs.

Lake Powell can make one cry with its beauty as well as tragic history. It was formed in the early 1960’s when theColorado Riverjust belowGlen Canyonwas dammed. Glen Canyon is reputed to have been one of the most lovely places on Earth, rivaling in its beauty the valleys that are now protected asYosemiteandZionNational Parks. (Eliot Porter’sfamous photographic book "The Place No One Knew" is a testament to Glen Canyons’ splendor and tragic loss). But it’s now gone, and fortunately what replaced it, Lake Powell, has much to recommend it.  

Glen Canyon offers dozens of canyons and literally hundreds of hiking trails to be explored. A lifetime would hardly be enough to see them all, let alone become familiar with them. For photographers and lovers of unspoiled nature the potential rewards are many. While the splendor of Glen Canyon has been lost for all time due to the damming of the river, some of the side canyons, likeBowns Canyon, display something of the beauty of what was lost, though on a somewhat smaller scale. In partial consolation Lake Powell does make accessing these areas somewhat easier for the non-dedicated backpacker than it otherwise would be.


Planning the logistics for a 9-day, 7-photographer trip required some extensive preparations. We were to cover some 900 miles by road through southern Utah as well as 6 days on a houseboat in unfamiliar territory on theEscalante Riverarm of Lake Powell.

We had decided to launch fromBullfrog Marina. This is a more remote location thanWaweap MarinanearPage, AZthough this is already pretty far from anywhere. But we wanted to be as close as possible to theEscalante Riverarm which we understood to offer the best canyon hiking. Getting there requires a 400 miles drive fromLas VegasthoughZion,BryceandGrand Staircase EscalanteNational Parks. We could have taken a week to do the drive each way, but a day and a half was all we could afford at either end.

The vehicle arrangement was the most awkward, as we needed to transport seven people, suitcases, camera bags, tripods, and food supplies for 6 days on the houseboat. We ended up renting a 15 passengerClub Van, whichjustmanaged to hold us all, along with our gear.

The Group

The members of our workshop were… 

CC Lockwood— a widely published professional nature photographer from Baton Rouge, LA

Ian Lyons— one of the Net’s leading experts on colour management as well asEpsoninkjet printing. Ian is an Electrical Engineer from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  

Ian’s portfolio and write-up from the trip can be seenhere.

Jonathan Sachs— president ofDigital Light & Color, and author of the image processing program Picture Window. Jonathan is from Boston, MA.  

Jonathan’s portfolio and write-up from the trip can be seenhere.

Milton Woolley— a long-time friend and experienced outdoorsman, who though a non-photographer, accompanied the trip and provided much needed logistical support. Milton is a business consultant from Petaluma CA.

Steve Kossack— a widely traveled full-time nature and landscape photographer with extensive knowledge of the Colorado Plateau. Steve is from Cottonwood, AZ.

Chris Sanderson— a cinematographer who films and producesThe Luminous Landscape Video Journal. Chris is a commercial film director and lives in Toronto, Canada.

Michael Reichmann— landscape and nature photographer, teacher, contributing editor toPhoto Techniquesmagazine, and the publisher of this site. Michael lives in Toronto, Canada.

CC Lockwood / Chris Sanderson / Milton Woolley / Michael Reichmann /Steve Kossack / Ian Lyons / Jonathan SachsAmong the photographers,Steveshot 35mm —Canon EOS, as didIan, who also used a digitalEOS D30.CCshot with his usualNikon Fgear whileJonathanshot with hisPentax 67 II. I mostly used theMamiya 7 II.

Equipment & Failures

Regular readers will know that since 1997 for my serious landscape work I have primarily used theRollei 6008system. It has proven to be totally reliable and one of the most productive and competent camera system’s I’ve used in more than 35 years as a photographer. Until this trip.

I had my full Rollei system with me, including 40mm, 90mm, 180mm and 300mm Schneider lenses. On the first day out I went to take a shot with the 180mm lens and found that the shutter was non-functional. I had dropped the lens 6 months before on a shoot inGreat Smoky NPand had sent it toMarflexfor repair. It seemed OK when it came back, but clearly hadn’t been repaired properly.

I next went to use the 40mm. I took a few frames but the meter readings seemed weird. A little testing showed that the lens thought that it had a maximum aperture of f/2.0 instead of an f/3.5. Down to just a macro-normal and a long tele lens, ordinarily I would have been pretty much sunk. But, I had recently purchased aMamiya 7 IIwith 43mm, 65mm and 150mm lenses for use when hiking, had brought them with me, and they ended up saving the day. Because of the Rollei failures I ended up doing some 90% of the shooting on this trip with the Mamiya and am very happy with the results. You can read more about my first field experience with the Mamiya 7here.

The Trip

Bullfrog Bay Sunset, Utah — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lensWe arrived atBullfrog Marinathe night before our planned departure, but the boat was ready and so were we, so instead of a night in the marina’s motel we departed just before sunset. We found a mooring just around the bay at a place calledSandy Beach. Happy to finally be underway a couple of us stood on the roof of the houseboat with a glass of wine in hand, and our cameras on tripods in front of us while watching the fading light of our first evening on the lake.

Bowns Canyon Hillside, Lake Powell AZ — April 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 150mm f/4.5 lens Our first day out, as we headed toward theEscalantearm we stopped atBowns Canyon. It had been recommended to us as having an attractive waterfall and a pleasant hike. The waterfall was a dud, but the hike was excellent. What particularly caught my attention was this tallis slope covered in grass and trees. It looked like a sculptured Japanese garden. I must admit that I’ve altered the colours in this image. The red-rock cliff was so over-the-top hot and brilliant that it looked totally garish. I decided to try for subtlety — more in keeping with the mood of the trees.

Iceberg Canyon Natural Dam, Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 43mm f/4.5 lensOn one of the arms ofIceberg Canyonthere is a rock fall which has created a natural dam and created a small lake. It’s quite a scramble over some pretty large rocks, but the view from the upper slope was lovely.Shooting on the natural dam’s rock fall — CC Lockwood working while being filmed by Chris SandersonThe inlet to Iceberg Canyon is quite narrow and affords but a single mooring spot for a houseboat. This photograph was taken from the roof of the houseboat in the late afternoon as we sat waiting for sunset.Iceberg Canyon Flooded Trees, Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens

Water Spot, Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lensOne of a number of lovely small water cascades that we saw in the various canyons. Apolarizing filterwas very useful in taming the reflections from the water.

Flaming Cliff — Lake Powell AZ — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 150mm f/4.5 lens Whether cruising the main lake, or the narrow canyons, the fascinating patterns and colours of the cliff walls always were a challenge to photograph. This is one of the more interesting examples. The scale is hard to appreciate, but is likely 30-40 feet across the horizontal and 20′ high in this shot. 

Bullfrog Bay Moonrise, Lake Powell AZ — April 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lens All other things being equal, I usually plan my trips for the time of month when there will be a full moon. It can add quite a dramatic element to landscape images. On this trip, because we were always camped overnight in narrow canyons, we never got to shoot the full moon rising at sunset, or setting at sunrise — as it is wont to do once each month. On our last morning, at about 8am, as we motored the houseboat from our campsite atMoqui Canyon,I went up on the roof of the houseboat for one last moment alone with the beauty of the lake and the cold crisp air of sunrise. As we emerged from the canyon into the open lake in front ofBullfrog Baythe moon emerged from behind some clouds and a receding cliff edge. I had the Mamiya and 65mm lens over my shoulder and I managed to take a few hand-held frames before the moment was lost.

Bryce Sunrise #1 — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 43mm f/4.5 lensActive weather followed us everywhere, and by the time we got toBryce Canyon National Parkseveral inches of snow had fallen. We did a sunset and a sunrise shoot. the latter was bitterly cold. We stood atSunset Point(yes, I know it’s called Sunset Point, but it’s a better location for sunrise at this time of year than it is for sunset — if you get what I mean),awaiting the dawn and nearly got frostbite, we were so cold. None of us were prepared for arctic-like shooting conditions, and even 4 layers of sweaters and thermal fleeces wasn’t enough.

Storm Over Mt. Hillers, Utah — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 65mm f/4 lensOn the morning of the second-to-last day of the trip, as we we preparing to leaveBullfrog Marina, we were advised that a snowstorm was coming through and would likely dump a significant amount of snow in the mountains. This meant that we had to abandon plans to drive theBurr Trailthrough theWaterpocket Foldand instead undertake a 135 mile detour up State Road 276.  The good news was that this would take us through the top end ofCapital Reef National Park, and we looked forward to this, if not the extra driving. But, we hadn’t driven more than 15 miles or so from the marina before we came upon this scene —Mt. Hillersshrouded in a developing storm, with the foreground sand and sage still in brilliant sunlight. I took a number of frames but the first one was the best, with the sun still almost visible behind the writhing clouds. Within minutes the clouds had thickened, the dramatic light had flattened and the magic was lost.F/8 and be there, as the saying goes.

Zion Overlook, Utah — April, 2001Photographed with a Mamiya 7 II and 43mm f/4.5 lensWe shot in Zion twice on this trip — going to and coming back from Lake Powell. As you drive north out ofZion National Parkthrough the tunnel, immediately as you exit into daylight is a turnout with a few parking spots. If you’re lucky enough to get one, and are up for about a 30 minute moderate hike along theCanyon Overlook Trail, you’ll come to a ledge overlooking part of Zion valley. One of the great panoramic vistas in the western United States.

Virgin Mountains, Arizona — April 2001Photographed with a Rollei 6008 and 300mm f/5.6 Schneider lens Driving south towardLas VegasonInterstate 15after an afternoon shooting inZionwe were feeling satiated after 12 days of high-stimulation landscapes and photography. As we enteredArizona,with theVirgin Mountainson our left, the clouds became increasingly dramatic as sunset approached, and I couldn’t resist pulling off at a truck turn-out and firing off a few frames. I’m always captivated by the drama of cloudscapes in the Southwest and this one provided a wealth of texture and subtlety.

Heading Home

ThisMaster Classwas considered a success by all participants. It was both challenging and rewarding to shoot with a half-dozen other top-notch photographers. We were shooting from before dawn till after sunset each day. We had fun, and lots of laughs, but we also learned a lot from our discussions, especially those with Ian and Jonathan who are both recognized experts in digital image processing.  Traveling, living and working in such close proximity with others for 10 days could have been a real test of friendships, let alone a group where most people were meeting for the first time. Through everyone’s humour and hard work we succeeded, and new and likely long-lasting friendships were formed — not to mention the creation of some exciting photographs.

All photographs on this page were shot onProvia 100F 
and scanned with anImacon Photoscanner at 3200 dpi.

NewThis subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.

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Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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