The Road to Glacier and Rocky Mountains - Part 2
I published my first article about my upcoming trip to Glacier National Park in the middle of May and it is hard to believe in is the end of June already. So much as happened since that original article so I will break down the updates into sections. I don't have any epic landscapes to share with this article right now, but I hope to be able to have that option in the near future after I get back from my trip.
Probably as important as anything I will share is that I have expanded the scope and duration of my original trip. I will now be spending some time in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to include Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding areas which will include some remote BLM landscapes. My Colorado itinerary is somewhat defined, but also purposely open for good surprises. Some of the launching points will include Brown's Canyon, Estes Park, Buena Vista, Crested Butte and others. It really all depends on what I connect with at each location and how long I stay or move on. I am especially looking forward to hiking to some Alpine lakes at sunrise and sunset and experiencing nature's magic hour in such beautiful places.
A lot has transpired on the gear front. First, I did some testing with my Epson V750 Pro scanner with oil mounting and was able to improve the sharpness and quality of my scans. In short, I basically found that wet mount scanning can create sharper scans on the Epson V750 scanners. You can read more details about this in an article that I wrote. If a person wanted to create photo books or make prints up to 20" or so, I think the Epson V750 and now newer model V800 would be a very effective tool for that. Without question, it is more than good enough for web-based images. I use it for scanning web outputs all the time versus firing up the big scanner.
I also acquired a Creo iQSmart professional scanner that can scan films up to 11"x14", technically 13"x18" at an amazing true hardware resolution of 4300 DPI. I also got the oil mounting kit with the unit and the results so far are nothing short of amazing. As with anything, there is a little bit of a learning curve to understand the subtle nuances with the Kodak Oxygen software and the quirks of the system. My goal is to create the equivalent of a digital RAW file from my scans so I can edit in Photoshop for my final image. The new scanner does not eliminate my darkroom work, it is simply offering a high-end professional option for my hybrid work when I want to use film as my capture medium and print digitally.
From a digital workflow perspective, the new scanner has given me the opportunity to use film ranging from 35mm to my 11x14 large format in scenarios where I would have needed to use my Phase One Back on my Hasselblad or my Nikon D810 system. This investment is my long-term commitment to film as a capture medium.
To provide a little more insight, I will describe a few scenarios where the new scanner has opened up new possibilities for my work. For my epic landscapes I plan to mostly use my Chamonix 8x10 large format view camera with my Nikkor 150 Superwide or my Fuji 450mm for a little compression of the mountains. I will be pulling a fresh box of Velvia 50 from the freezer for this trip. My goal is to hopefully use all 20 sheets in the box over the course of my three week trip in a manner that is deserving of the effort and expense. I won't simply create an exposure because I think I need to. The new iQSmart scanner provides a limitless opportunity for creating very detailed and large gallery prints for my nature healthcare work and its ability to capture details that I can't even see with my eye when looking at the film.
I hand made a custom 4" x 10" pano dark slide out of one of my 8x10 sheet film holders so that I can create two pano images on one sheet of 8x10 film. I am not sure I will want to create any pano's, but I suspect I will based on the sweeping landscapes that I will be visiting. I like the 1:2.5 aspect ratio that the 4x10 provides. It satisfies how I like to see wide scenes without being so wide that it is almost distracting. I have a 6x17 roll film back adaptor that I will probably use a few times which is a 1:3 ratio to see how I like that rendering of these epic vista landscapes. It is increasingly difficult to include a foreground, mid-ground and background when using the 1:3 aspect ratio, so that is another challenge for me in regards to my style. I also have a 6x12 roll film back that I use on my 4x5 view camera which provides the 1:2 aspect ratio. I often can make multiple images from large format sheet film just by varying the crop aspect ratios. This is another huge advantage of the new scanner. In any event, it will be fun to explore these options.
I plan to use my Fuji 690 camera very frequently. First, it is an incredibly simple and high quality piece of equipment. The effective focal length in 35mm terms is about 28mm I believe. For the huge epic Rocky Mountain and Glacier mountain landscapes, I already know that I like that focal length. The large 6 cm x 9 cm (2.25 " x 3.5") film affords a limitless opportunity in regards to print size when scanned with the new iQSmart scanner. I have already tested some Velvia 50 chromes that I created with the Fuji and I was really impressed. When I scan the 6x9 film at full resolution of the scanner I get a digital file that is 9675 pixels x 15,000 pixels. My Nikon D810 is 7360 x 4912. It isn't all about pixels and resolution and that is one reason why I use the Nikon D810 for digital work. It has a very good dynamic range as compared to the current Canon lineup. Printing the scanned 6x9 film image at 300 DPI would yield a 50" x 32" print without any resizing in post production. Keeping in mind proper viewing distance for a print that size, a DPI of 240 is more likely what I would print at. At 240 DPI you could create a print that is 62" x 40". I print that large for my healthcare nature art work, but I suspect a lot of people would not have that requirement.
For smaller subjects such as wildflowers or even macro work, I love to use my Hasselblad 503CW or my Pentax 645N. I love to use Portra 400 so that I am able to handhold at very reasonable shutter speeds and still create very sharp images. Now when I want to create a very large print from one of my medium format 120 negatives, it is a non-issue with the new scanner.
I explained all of the above because I wanted to share a practical perspective on how the new scanner has positively impacted my options. I can now backpack to more difficult locations because the Fuji 690 is very small and light compared to my Ebony or Chamonix large format systems. The same goes for my Mamiya 7 system. I don't have to sacrifice quality or be concerned about my ability to produce high quality prints for my clients. Not to mention that using Velvia 50 in 120 format is astronomically cheaper than 8x10 sheets that I have to purchase from Japan now because it is no longer available in the USA. I am not sure how much longer Japan will have a supply, but that is another matter.
It is hard to know where to start with all the preparation that I have been doing over the last couple of months. I have invested many hours researching potential areas that meet my creative style. I have bought hard copy maps and a ton of books on the areas ranging from natural history to hiking books, and even photo books by other landscape and nature photographers. I continue to study the paper/laminated maps on a regular basis and imagine myself being there. I want to know the relationships between the areas and think about how the light will be in those locations at different times of the day.
I have spent many hours on Flickr and other photo websites in addition to Google Earth and with photo planning tools to help me prepare and make the most of my investment. It is an expensive proposition to travel from the Midwest to the Rocky's and up into Glacier through Montana and into Canada over a three week period. I want to be as prepared as I can, but also allow the flow of what mother nature decides to reveal to shape each day.
I have really amped up my game on eating and nutrition research for this trip. I frequently travel to remote locations for days and even up to two weeks at a time, so I have many of those trips under my belt as a means to know what to expect. My basic plan for eating is to eat as much natural and raw food as I can. This means fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and so on. It is critically important to eat and sleep well on trips like this so that I can be effective and stay focused on the opportunities at hand. I have cold storage in my Sprinter and the ability to carry plenty of water too.
I even researched options for doing laundry on the road and taking real showers. When you are not at home and have all of those convenience under your foot, it makes you appreciate them even more.
I will list a representative diet that I eat while on the road like this. For breakfast I will typically eat a piece of fresh fruit (e.g., bananas, apples, or strawberries) and I will usually have a handful of raw nuts too. I try and avoid eating sugar-filled meal bars as much as I can. When I have no other option I usually keep Cliff bars and Nature Valley bars as backup plans. For snacks throughout the day when either backpacking or just running around, I will have things like carrots, a piece of fruit that I have not eaten at another meal, raisins, organic beef jerky, almond butter (comes in small single serve packets) on some type of multi-grain cracker, and so on. For dinner I try and always have a cooked meal if possible which includes foods like brown rice with some canned chicken breast, a salad if I was able to find some fresh locally, etc. I also carry dried meats and cheeses with me in my pack and a special brown rice that is precooked and stays good for many years until opened. These options last a very long time which make them very appealing for remote trips. I tend to mix brown rice with some canned albacore tuna or chicken and make a meal out of that. This is one of my favorites when doing remote backpacking because it has protein and carbs and honestly it is very tasty. Certain breads from a local bakery also stay good for many days and even more than a week, so I will pick some up when I can and dip it in olive oil to have with a meal or as a snack. When hiking in the mountains at high elevations it is important to drink plenty of water and eat carbs. I have a 12V small oven (sort of like a crock pot) that I use inside my Sprinter to cook and I also have a single burner propane stove that uses a small 1 lb. propane fuel tank for when I want to cook outside. I pack all these foods and items in clear plastic bins and store them in the back of the Sprinter which is all inventoried and available for search via my phone.
I love the quiet and serenity of nature as much as anyone you will likely meet. I also like a few of the advantages of modern times while traveling. My Sprinter is basically a small little house (7 foot x 12 foot) that I have been customizing since the day I got it and I don't think it will ever be complete. It isn't fancy but every inch inside is used with a purpose. I take things slow and try temporary solutions first, before committing to more permanent solutions. I think I had it for over six months before I was ready to build the main storage area and bed. I wanted to be sure that is what I wanted.
I have a very simple, but highly effective storage system and a full size pillow top mattress on top of the storage platform. The storage has a series of clear plastic storage crates that I selected for their size before I designed the storage system. They stack on top of one another and they fit perfectly and snug in the area that I built. I wanted to be able to know exactly how many storage crates that I would be able to use before making any permanent changes.
I have a small Jobo system that I bring with me in the field to develop E-6 slide film so that I can see those big beautiful chromes while in the field. I also have a small portable darkroom where I can make small 8x10 and 11x14 b/w prints in the field.
I even have a small recliner that is next to a window when I want to relax or research the next destination. I have small solar lamps for reading at night and I have an extensive 12V and A/C inverter system that I designed and installed to be able to use my laptop of communicating with family and friends and update my social media sites. I find that I do some of my best writing when I am out on trips because I am focused and not distracted.
I have a portable Wifi unit that has pretty reasonable access to the Internet, so I can check email and research things from the field. The Wifi is based on the ability to get an LTE or 4G signal.
My 12V power system is a deep cycle AGM battery that has a pure sine wave A/C inverter for those electronic items that need A/C power (e.g., my computer, TV, DVD player, etc). My system is rated for 3X of my current capacity or needs. I have a portable set of solar panels that fold up into a case and I recharge my deep cycle battery anytime that I need to via UV rays from the sun. I love being able to have and make my own electricity without any additional costs. I also have a secondary battery in the Sprinter that is charged when I run the vehicle and this powers my small refrigerator. This is where I keep my film and water to drink that I want cold. I also like to keep my apples and oranges cold too, so I put them in there too. I will write more about this topic in future articles.
I wish I could report better news on the training front, but the fact of the matter is, I have been traveling extensively for the last four weeks and my original regimented plan for training has been non existent. As I write this article today, I am finally able to spend some time at home and I am going to kick my training into high gear. I have no fancy plans, just the basics (more weight lifting, stair climbing and hiking hilly terrain with a loaded backpack, flexibility exercises, and so on).
I will keep you posted on the next steps in my journey in the near future.
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