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A little time in the canyon


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Spent an hour or two in Big Cottonwood Canyon making photos. Something I've been wanting to do for some time. It was last week, fall of course. The sun doesn't reach into some stretches this time of year, and much of the canyon was in deep shadow. Part of the inspiration for this ride was my mother who asked a couple of weeks ago if we still had fall color. I told her the great carpets of color on the hillside were gone, but there were still pockets of color here and there. So I went looking, and of course found more than I expected.


There were these spent flower heads mounded along the banks of the creek in the lower, sunlit reaches of the canyon:




Here the rich colors of autumn, tawny sere grasses, the floating yellow leaves fallen from narrow leaf cottonwood, mingle with deeply tannic relict flows in Big Cottonwood Creek. The reflected light echos the leaves. In spring this spot will be a roaring torrent that fills, or even overfills the creek to it's banks:




There was no ice on the canyon roads this day, though you can see the sand truck had been around. These two surprised me but I got a couple of shots. They were taking full advantage of the conditions. I missed what the lead bike was, but the second was a red Ducati:




They don't call it Big Cottonwood Canyon for nothing! The cottonwoods really come into their own at this time of year, when the hillsides have faded to a pastel wash, and the aspens have dropped their clear yellow leaves, still the creek beds are alive with long lasting color:




This shot is framed on the left by a clump of red twig dogwood. I like the contrasts of colors with the dark water:




I was walking without my reading glasses and almost missed these guys hanging out on the dogwood. Fortunately the viewfinder works just fine with distance-only vision. I love the background colors of the dogwood leaf in this shot, and the lacquered look of the lady bug's shell:




... and in this one the background is portrayed in an entirely different manner, the bug being right on the leaf:




These sunflowers are native and patches of them line the roadsides throughout summer and fall, but it was surprising to find one this late. It's a bit small, but lives sheltered in the undergrowth along the creek. Probably the flowing waters moderate temperatures so close to the creek bed, allowing this one to hang on all by itself. The sunflowers are a favorite food for the various finches we see around here:




Another lone specimen in about the same sheltered spot:




The creek is down in there somewhere. At the top in red is a Canyon Maple, also called Big Tooth Maple. These line the creek but most had lost their leaves by now. The pioneers tapped these trees for sugar in the early days:




Some of the trees still bore fruit. But I have to say this particular harvest was somewhat unexpected:




As you run up and down the canyon the rocks change dramatically. Here they have been layered, twisted and folded:




Some leaves:




Deep shade will keep this section of the creek wet and cool until summer. Soon this wetness will give way to frozen icy sculptures:




Oh yeah, it was a ride. Here, just entering the canyon, where at lower elevations there was still some color on the hillside, you can just make out a bit of windshield in this shot off the bike:




And here is a little more convincing shot:





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Nice shots, What did you take these with? Canon or Nikon. I shot Canon when I get the chance, mostly to the dismay of my friends



These are with a Canon Rebel XSi and the kit 18-55 mm lens or the Canon 100 mm macro lens.


I don't have an opinion on Canon v. Nikon since I have only the one dSLR and have never shot with another. I kinda regret not getting a Sony, or one of the other ones with image stabilization in the body. Much as I love and use my macro lens a lot, it seems to me macro is where IS would be of great use, and Canon doesn't have it there yet. Nikon does have that option, but when I bought didn't really have a body I liked. Now that the D90 is out... hmmmmm.



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I'm pretty much always in aperture priority. The macro lens is 100mm so I alter aperture to achieve from 1/50 s (nearly always unusable), to about 1/500 or faster if more light is available. I figure I have a slim chance if I can get up to 1/100 s, a pretty good chance at 1/200 s. But, here's the clencher: you need about f/8 to have anything approaching the kind of depth of field you want to shoot something like a blossom and have all of the flower parts in the focus, and f/16 or higher is much, much better. So although I'll bracket lower f stops, they aren't likely to be great shots. I will also bracket iso up to about 800 if necessary. I have gone as high iso 1600 by mistake, and the results were ok for internet... don't know about printing.


So even though it's a fast lens, going to f/2.8, I'd really only use that sort of aperture for a portrait, not a macro shot. The lens does make great portraits at f/2.8!


Bottom line, I couldn't use the macro lens in the deep shade of the canyon for macro shots. 800 iso just wasn't getting me into 1/100 s range even at f/5.6, already too low an f stop for anything but a two dimensional subject, or something farther away.


I figure with Nikon VR (IS) providing three to four stops improvement for camera shake, I could have achieved maybe 1/200 s at f/12 or thereabouts under the canyon conditions... likely get some really nice shots that way. Instead I shot with the kit lens for the most part, except the lady bugs which were in a better lit area.


The other problem with macro is subjects moving. Flowers blowing in the breeze for instance. The only way to resolve that is higher shutter speed. I can't tell you many times I've wished I could get the shutter speed up and retain a nice f stop up over 12 or so.


Bottom line, for great macro you need both a fast shutter and well stopped lens. The Canon macro lens is super sharp, has great optical performance in virtually every respect, and is a very well respected lens, but give me VR or IS please.

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I have enjoyed Big Cottonwood Canyon since I was a boy, in the '50's. I enjoy a ride to Brighton once a week for lunch at the store during riding season. Your photos have captured many of the reasons why this is my favorite local ride. THANKS

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