Lines, Composition & Sharpness

Lines of composition at White Pocket
This will be a more technical entry featuring the sandstone wonderland of White Pocket.  I'm still sorting through and picking out the "keepers" from my photo trip there last month.

Sharpness and vignetting are two key photographic characteristic related to aperture.  When setting an aperture, a very small opening such as f/16 tends to reduce vignetting and enhance the depth of field (how much will be sharp and "in focus" whether near or far from the camera).  This attitude of "I'm going to get the maximum depth of field" attitude works well for some and I've used it for years.  This is especially helpful in the corners of a photograph (where sharpness tends to deteriorate).  This problem is pretty exclusive to wide angle lenses.

I changed wide angle lens from Canon's 17-40 f/4 L to the more pricey 16-35 f/2.8 L specifically to get more corner sharpness.  The 16-35 is sharper and I've not regretted the move.  But I still found I'd be shooting at f/16 for the corner sharpness factor even when I could get an outstanding depth of field at a larger aperture.  This approach does work.  I have gotten some great shots.

But there is one problem:  the sharpness in the center of a photograph is usually best at f/8 or f/11.   By shooting f/16, I get the most "in focus" although my central area isn't as sharp as it could be.  This may be hard to appreciate until you see it with your own eyes on a big screen at full resolution.  Or on a  large print.

There is a solution:  a newer, better, sharper lens.

Prime lenses have more sharpness.  Really big primes take sharpness to an extreme.

This shot, taken with the Canon 17mm f/4 L tilt-shift lens has sharpness in the corners and then some!  I shot with an aperture of f/11 for this photo trip and I've found that the sharpness in the center and corners is fantastic.  This lens really delivers!

The above shot was taken with two frames, one shifted slightly lower to include more foreground, and then stitched together.  ISO 100, f/11, 1/80 second.

Compositionally, I used the lines throughout the landscape and in the sky to direct the viewer to the center of the photograph.  The lines sweep in from each corner of the sky and directly from the lower left.  The right side also sends more lines in towards the center.  Hope you like it.

White Pocket Pools

White Pocket Arizona Pool
White Pocket, Arizona:  a natural pool in the desert
 White Pocket: a jumble of sandstone like no other.

White Pocket: a remote and small location in the middle of the Paria Plateau.

White Pocket: the end of a journey across the desert on 30 miles of unpaved road, the last 5 miles being deep sand.

White Pocket: a worldwide landscape photography location so much so that while I was there no less than 8 other groups came and went, one was a family of 6 from France.  None stayed as long as I did.  Most were there for 2 hours and then left.  That seems shameful as it takes numerous hours simply to reach this spot.

Well, I planned a summer trip to the desert for photography.  Summer and desert usually don't equal a good time, but I had planned to hike the famous Buckskin Gulch.  This slot canyon would be cool and shaded.  Perfect for summer.

Unless it rained. . . .

A prolonged and more powerful summer monsoon season came through the southwest this last month, dumping water everywhere.  Each day there was rain and more rain scattered from Las Vegas to Moab.  Several days before the trip, I watched the forecast turn from worrisome to scary.  The Buckskin Canyon became dangerous to enter and had a 13.5-foot flash flood the day before I was to go.  The BLM also reported multiple washouts in the dirt roads, including the Cottonwood Canyon Road.  Taking this all in as I was driving out of town towards the Paria Plateau, I tried to formulate a new plan.  Buckskin Gulch was lethal.  I needed somewhere that would be safe but also beautiful in these conditions.  White Pocket fit the bill.  Not only are the sandy roads easier to drive on when wet, I hoped all the empty pockets in the sandstone would be full of water when I got there.  How much rain was needed to fill these?  Had it rained enough?

When I arrived early in the morning, another lone visitor was just leaving.  It was 9 AM.  The best morning light was already gone, but I started wandering around the area looking for photographic subject.  No sense waiting in the car, as there was no shade for it and temperatures were already hot and sunny.  I started exploring to the far right (east) and happily found that water had filled up a pool:  a good sign.  I continued and was thrilled to find pool after pool scattered throughout White Pocket.  The brain rocks sandstone formation has most of these ponds/pool.  I had hit the jackpot, having arrived during the perfect time to capture this small oasis.

The hot morning had unrelenting sun.  The afternoon brought dark clouds and lightning.  From 3 to 5 PM, it rained hard.  Nonstop water poured over all the cliffs and filled all the pools even more.   I took shelter and just waited.  I could not do anything else.  All other visitors had come and gone by this time.  I was alone.  As I looked across the plateau towards Buckskin Gulch 20 miles away, I knew that a flash flood raged through the 2-ft wide and 200-ft deep slot canyon.  There was no escape.  I was glad to be here at White Pocket.  Later the sun came out and sunset was spectacular.

The pool in the picture above is right in the middle of White Pocket with a view of the Lollipop, tucked between three brain rock peaks.  Beautiful green-blue water filled up that pool to a depth of 2 feet.  When it rained, the overflow went down a small waterfall to another pool below.  You can see parts of that pool in this picture.  I found this pool to be the most beautiful of all and returned here to cool off twice this day and once the next.