Archive for Arizona

Featured Photo – Blue Canyon Star Trails

Posted in Featured Photos with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2010 by macdanzig

Technical Data:

Camera:   Canon 1Ds MkIII

Lens:   Canon EF 17mm TS-E

Aperture:   f/4

Exposure:  1357 seconds (approx 22 min)

ISO:  200

About the photograph:

“Blue Canyon” is another one of the amazing and remote gems in the Southwest that has an incredible array of rock formations which are extremely delicate.   The name is a bit of a misnomer, as there isn’t anything “blue” about it.   During the same photography trip that eventually included White Pockets, my good friend and I headed to this, another part of Arizona seldom seen.   With some extremely helpful information from a great local photographer, we easily found this canyon after a few hours of driving through the highways and back roads of Arizona. – Just in time for sunset.   Unfortunately, the sky was flat and boring, just as it was during much of that week in the Southwest.    Fortunately for me, my friend is a night time long-exposure fanatic like I am, so we hung out for about 90 minutes after dusk and began composing some star trail shots…   Like I often do with star trails, I located Polaris (the north star) and composed my foreground to work with it, thus creating a spiral-like effect over the long exposure.

Normally, I like to shoot star trails under a new moon (that’s no moon at all) or at least during a time when something less than a half-moon has already set below the horizon.  This helps me achieve a very long exposure time without the sky getting blown-out or overexposed…    This time, I shot under a 25% moon which was really great because there was no need to light-paint with an artificial source.   At the same time, I was restricted to a sub-30 minute exposure, but as I am learning- the need to expose for an extremely long time isn’t as important as the other elements involved in  capturing a perfect star trail shot.  The longer trails from 1 or 2-hour long shots aren’t even always that aesthetically pleasing, in my opinion.

While we were there, I also took some moonscape shots with higher ISOs.  I will be posting some of them soon.   In the end, I was very happy with the way this shot turned out.  The need for post-processing was very minimal as well.

One thing I must touch on again is how incredibly delicate these structures are.  This isn’t a place that will hold up to many human visits and because of that, I am not ever going to publish directions to this area.  Unfortunately someone eventually will, and unless the local Navajo council (which governs the land that Blue Canyon is on) does something to regulate visits, we may see a similar situation as what happened in Fantasy Canyon in 2006.   For now, the remoteness of the area and relatively unknown terrain will keep most people away.  But if you do go there, please watch where you step and tread lightly.  This will help ensure the physical preservation of this magical area for future visits.

Thanks for looking



Photography Excursion – White Pocket, Arizona

Posted in Travel Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2010 by macdanzig

Photo Trip Report of ‘White Pocket’ located in the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area.


I believe that in order for person to find their true calling, (no matter what that calling is) they must first set out on the path that separates ego from the equation.  There are a many ways of creating this phenomena, but the main goal should be the complete removal of the stain of current human culture.  This is not a modern dilemma.  This is what man must deal with as he continues to draw himself farther away from the natural world he emerged from.  For my own body, in particular, putting myself in the atmosphere of a timeless place, untouched by human manipulation, is the best ticket there is…


Remote locations that few people venture to here in the Southwest seem to have a magnetic quality for me.  Add to that a beautiful, bizarre and other-worldly landscape, and I’m planning the trip already.

The area known simply as ‘the White Pocket’ in northern Arizona fits that bill perfectly.    Just 6 miles east of Coyote Buttes South, (another gorgeous and remote location itself) White Pocket contains some of the most astonishing geology you will ever find anywhere on earth.  Like Coyote Buttes South, most of the formations are layered sandstone, made from different generations of sand dunes deposited hundreds of millions of years ago during the Jurassic period.  Geologists say that every time a new layer of dunes was blown onto an existing layer, the ones beneath it were compressed and hardened by groundwater minerals.   These crossbeds often have different colors because the mineral deposits in the groundwater (sometimes rich in iron) varied from generation to generation…  The formations at the White Pocket are distinctly different from the ones you’ll see at Coyote Buttes because much of the top layer is as the name states: ‘white’.   This is because the last generation of sand that solidified over the white pocket area was rich in silt.

All of that gives a fair idea of the basis behind how these formations came to be, but the truth is, nobody really knows exactly how the formations here came to take on such a chaotic appearance.  There are abundant signs of soft-sediment deformation, but in ways that aren’t normal.  I am obviously not a geologist, but I’ve heard theories of earthquakes, floods and volcanic action during the sedimentation process…  If any of that means anything to you, that’s great.  If not, that’s ok too, because visual stimulation is something anyone should be able to enjoy, regardless of your interest in geology.  Although I’d have to admit that this landscape may be too chaotic and random for some people’s taste.

Supposedly the area was named by cowboys and ranchers who settled the land in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  ‘Pockets’ generally referred to areas of hard rock in the desert where rainwater would collect.  Cattle still roam somewhat freely in the Pariah Canyon wilderness and the white pocket is still used as a water source by many animals traveling the sands from Autumn to Spring.   In the middle of the formations there is still the remnants of an old dam wall built by ranchers to help keep more water contained.

The formations here lack the perfect symmetry that has made “the Wave” in North Coyote Buttes so famous.  And because of that, it is much harder to photograph.  You can spend days here (trust me I know firsthand) and not even come close to capturing the pure cacophony of swirling rock the way your eye saw it.    I would need a week here to even begin to do this place justice photographically, and as I write this I am realizing that words do very little to explain the feeling you get when standing in the midst of these ancient monsters.

To me, there is something very special about desert areas with aesthetic appeal that also see very few human visitors.  The silence is deafening.  The environment unpredictable and inhospitable.  That is what attracts me to places like this rather than the better-known parks.  Take for example Zion National Park:  It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but unless you’re there during winter, you’ll be constantly rubbing elbows with fellow photographers, hikers, old ladies with disposable cameras (flashes on all the time), soccer moms, baseball dads, nature nuts, confused city folks, tourists of all kinds, bikers, and whining children who just want to go home and play Xbox (among others).   Now don’t get me wrong, I like the company of other people as much as the next misanthrope, but you have to admit there’s something stripped away from the feeling of a wilderness area when it’s been turned into an outdoor mall…  You’ll get none of that in White Pocket or Coyote Buttes South.   There are no main roads that join landmarks together, no overlooks and no nearby lodging.   This is why I seek these sorts of places out.  And unfortunately that’s why they are becoming more and more popular every year.  I shouldn’t complain since I am part of the problem: photographing the place and blogging about it.  But in the tradition of being an American citizen, I’ll go ahead and complain anyway.

Getting there isn’t easy.  In fact, it can be completely impossible if you don’t have a vehicle with high clearance and a good 4wd or Awd system.  The closest towns to this area are Page, Arizona to the east and Kanab, Utah to the west.  Both of these “cities” could be considered “in the middle of nowhere” to many people as it is, but then there’s the venture from one of those towns (take Page for example) to the White Pocket itself which includes 35 miles on a 2 lane highway, followed by 20 miles on a rutted-out one lane dirt road and finishing up with a 15-mile plow through the driest, deepest sandy back roads you’ll probably ever encounter.    I won’t publish directions, but as the old saying goes -‘seek and ye shall find’.  There are plenty of detailed directions to the White Pocket if you’re willing to do a web search.

Another thing that’s a plus about White Pocket is the fact that you don’t need a permit to legally go there, unlike Coyote Buttes North and South.  This makes planning your trip a little bit easier.  Those wishing to legally obtain a permit for Coyote Buttes (North especially) have to jump through a series of hoops which is honestly a good thing in my opinion, because it keeps the hordes of tourists away.  With White Pocket, the last 10 miles of “road” are the hoops you have to jump through and that itself will discourage a lot of people.  Still, on my last visit, there were two other parties camping there besides mine, and an average of 3 to 4 vehicles a day came through for day-hikes.   The good thing is that most likely anyone you run into out there is going to be a decent person.  Most people visiting are serious photographers or nature enthusiasts/adventurists.     There is a feeling that the BLM may have to start issuing a permit system for the White Pocket in the future.  Only time will tell.

If you’re going to visit the White Pocket or Coyote Buttes South, you are going to be driving through some very deep sand.  Don’t even bother trying to get there in a passenger car.  You can get to the Coyote Buttes North trailhead in a small car, but you won’t make it to White Pocket.  I suggest bringing an air compressor and deflating your tires to around 18-20 psi.  This will help your vehicle glide over the sand a little better.  Use the air compressor to bring your tires back to normal psi when you return from the sandy roads.   A shovel is a must in case you get stuck.   The most difficult thing about these deep sand roads is that there are abrupt patches of extremely sharp, uneven rock here and there throughout the trip.  In order to get through the deep sand you need to keep up your momentum because without traction, you will get stuck in the sand if your vehicle stops. – But in order to get through the rocky parts of the road without blowing a tire (like I did this last trip) or bottoming out and damaging something crucial underneath, you have to slow to a crawl…  This means you have to keep your eyes open at all times and be ready to quickly slow down when the sand turns to a stairway of sharp rock.  This can be very nerve-racking (or very fun, depending on how you look at it.)   I drive an 09 Subaru Forester which is an underrated and very capable off-road machine.  It has gotten me there and back twice now, but I have seen more than a couple pictures of American 4×4 trucks stuck in the deep Paria Sand.

Another thing to consider is bringing some extra floor mats or strips of old carpet in case you do get stuck…  These can be tied to your rear forks so that you can keep going through the deep sand once you get going again, without having to stop to pick them up and risk getting stuck again.   The hardest part of the drive is coming back from the White Pocket, about 2 miles from it-  A steep winding hill that you will go down in order to get there.  The main difficulty is that at the bottom of this hill, there’s an old dry creek rut that makes gaining momentum for the hill impossible.  But chances are that if you got there, you will make it back- no problem.  Obviously, there’s no cell phone service out there, so keep that in mind when planning.

As stated before, photographing this place is not easy.  There are so many twists, turns, peaks, valleys, and utterly strange shapes here that it’s hard to make a traditional landscape or abstract composition work.  This forces you to think outside the box photographically.  Like most landscapes, early morning and evening offer the best light.   If you go between October and March, you may be lucky enough to have pools of water to photograph as well.   On my most recent visit, I spent my time in the hard mid-day light exploring the surrounding area.   This was an excellent exercise which only left me yearning for more exploration.   I was able to hike up to the highest point in the general area – just east of the White Pocket, and take This Panorama of the landscape from atop a huge sandstone cliff.  Although not a technically great shot, it’s unique and pretty interesting as it shows a seldom-seen view of this location, looking down onto the White Pocket from above.   I have made some ‘snapshots’ that work with the interface of the Gigapan site so that you can get a better idea of how the landscape is spread out.

When you look at the broad landscape from any high vantage point in the White Pocket, you will see Coyote Buttes North, Buckskin Gulch, and countless unnamed and largely unphotographed rock formations tossed throughout the Paria Plateau.  This scene makes me want to spend a few weeks backpacking in the area, simply exploring – photography being secondary.    One thing to remember is how extremely delicate the terrain here is.  Please be careful where you tread.  A misplaced foot can crumble a formation that took millions of years to form.

White Pocket is one of those places that leaves you wanting more…  When the light was poor, I found myself simply enjoying the scenery and the immortal feeling of this remote place.  So much time (hundreds of millions of years) has gone into creating this place and it’s a privilege to be able to enjoy it in this relatively untainted state without the rush of a highway buzzing in the distance or any other man-made distractions.   Places like this still exist in the United States and I suggest going there and experiencing it for yourself if you’re anything like me.  Just don’t forget your camera and plenty of water…   As for me, I’m already scheming on when I can steal away and get back out there…

Thanks for reading



Here are a few related links you may find worthwhile:

The original Synnatschke blog post from ’05 that still contains some of the best info on this place.

Photographing Arizona blog entry on White Pocket and Coyote Buttes South.

A Panorama I took from high on a eastern cliff of the White Pockets and surrounding area.

A Panorama taken at sunrise from the atop White Pocket itself, of the Paria Canyon wilderness area (including Coyote Buttes)

Lower Antelope Canyon

Posted in Featured Photos, Travel Reports with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2010 by macdanzig

© Mac Danzig

Tucked into a convenient location just outside of Page, Arizona and less than 5 minutes from Horseshoe Bend, is the popular Antelope Canyon.  It is broken up into two areas (Upper and Lower) and is governed by the local Navajo Tribal Council.

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon see a good amount of tourism during the busy seasons (Spring and Fall) and although breathtakingly beautiful, they are not spots known for complete solitude.   However this should not stop you from visiting and seeing the amazing formations in the slots that have been carved over millions of years as water cut through sandstone.   The town of Page is an excellent place to stay during a trip to the National and Tribal parks of the Southwest.   I often use it as a halfway point to lodge between trips to Coyote Buttes and Monument Valley.  You may also find yourself here if you visit Grand Staircase Escalante.

These slot canyons can be extremely hard to expose for, depending on the time of day you decide to go, but well worth the challenge.  Antelope Canyon is one of the few photographic locations that is usually best in mid-day light when the sun is high, making it a perfect place to shoot in between the normal landscape spots of the area which require morning and/or evening light.    The following shots were all taken with the Canon 5D and the 17-40 L.   I recommend changing lenses as seldom as possible here, due to the high content of sand and dust on the slot canyon floor.   Strong winds can kick up a small sandstorm without warning.

© Mac Danzig

Rather than writing a long-winded essay on this well-known geological attraction (there is plenty of info throughout the internet),  I’ve decided to share some of my favorite shots from Lower Antelope Canyon, which sees less visitors than it’s Upper counterpart and is just as full of limitless photographic potential….


© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

Thanks for looking


Featured Image – Horseshoe Bend @ Dusk

Posted in Featured Photos with tags , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2009 by macdanzig

Horseshoe Bend at Dusk


Technical Data:

Camera: Canon 5D

Lens: Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fisheye

Aperture:  F/11

ISO: 100


Story behind the photo:

Hello, everyone and welcome to the first installment of my photography blog.   I plan on sharing with all of my readers, technical reviews on equipment and locations, as well as image processing techniques, essays on the art of still photography and detailed stories behind the capture of each image.   Thanks for reading.

On my way back from a photography trip early this past spring, which included Grand Teton National Park, Canyonlands and Monument Valley, I stopped by Page, Arizona again to visit a favorite spot of mine: Horseshoe bend.

For those of you who have not yet experienced this place, it is truly one of the most spectacular views in the American West.  Although it is fairly easily accessed via a one mile hike, and during tourist season is not exactly a place of complete solitude, the feeling you get looking out over the huge expanse of the Colorado River (1000 feet below) on the cliff’s edge is truly overwhelming.  There are rarely locations as immediately photogenic as Horseshoe Bend, but you have to do a little waiting to get the best light.
I wasn’t completely happy with the shots I got there the last time I stopped by, so I tried my hand at a sunset shot, this time using my Sigma 15mm fisheye (a lens I didn’t have during my last trip to this spot).
With my 5D mounted on my tripod, I bracketed 3 shots due to the heavy contrast of the scene.   The bend can be photographed during any time of the day with good results, but in order to get the sunset’s sky in it’s true beauty after the sun has already set on the horizon and left the foreground dark, one must either blend exposures, or use a Graduated Neutral Density filter.   In this case, a GND was not possible due to the physics of the fisheye lens I was using.
Those of you who know my work understand that although I don’t do HDR that often, when I do, I try to keep the realism of the scene, especially when dealing with images of nature. I have to say that I haven’t been truly happy with a landscape shot of mine like this in quite a while. It’s a good feeling.


thanks for looking




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