View Full Version : Colorado River Trip

Don Boyd
7-Jan-2008, 11:53
I will be doing a 21 day trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek) beginning mid-Sept. I would love to hear from others who have done the trip with their view camera. In particular, I am interested in: shouldn't miss locations, focal lengths, packing suggestions, how to keep Quickloads dry, resources - books, articles, etc, and any other advice. I'll be taking my Arca-Swiss 4x5 and using Velvia and (probably) Astia 100 Quickloads. :)

Kirk Gittings
7-Jan-2008, 12:01
Really sweet! I've never done this. I tried a couple of times but it always fell through. If I remember right, the only thing electronic you use is a spotmeter? Things that don't dry out quickly (or at all)-electronics, film and lenses. Pack these especially well and bring backups if possible.

Dealing with contrast can be challenging down there if the sun is out. I would do some thorough testing with pull processing on my chosen films.

Have a great time.

Duane Polcou
7-Jan-2008, 13:16
To see lovely photographic examples of the places you will be seeing , try to get copies of
"Down the Colorado" by Eliot Porter (4x5 color)
"The Hidden Canyon" by John Blaustein (35mm color)
"Grand Canyon" by Jeff Garton (4x5 color)

8-Jan-2008, 21:45
Hey Don,

I did this trip in August of 2007, and it was incredible. We were limited to 16 days, 21 will be awesome. I was not a LF guy at the time (I'm still not, just got the last of what I need in the mail today to expose a sheet of film!) I have written a "photo itinerary" article that may get published sometime in the next few months. I'll e-mail you a copy of it. Some of my shots are at my web page: www.greggwaterman.com I'm slightly embarrased to send you there after seeing your page, but it will give you some idea of what is down there.

I would say do your homework before you go by looking at some books (Blaustein's sounds good, I used "The Grand: The Colorado ..." byt Steve Miller. But the main thing is this: even with 21 days you still won't be able to see and do everything you want. And weather or water condintions may not bee what you expected. But you will still have more photo opportunites than you will be albe to take advantage of!

I went to grad school for 4 years in Cruces, at a period of my life when I was doing no photography. It is unfortuante with all the palces I went when I was there. Did a lot of hiking and rock climbing in the Organs, and we walked our dog at least once every day in the high desert above town. Got to see the Oragns with all kinds of alpenglow, fog pouring down the canyons, etc. Probably best I was not interested in photography at the time, or I might not have finished grad school!

Gregg Waterman

Raymond L. Fenio
8-Jan-2008, 22:45
This a great trip. I went on a 6 boat private 21 day trip pulling out at Lake Mead. I ended up solo in my cataraft and did not want to risk my 4x5 and wanted something simple. I took an old fuji G 6x9 with a couple lenses and my old nikon F a two lenses and a pentax spot. There are some good photos to be had from the boat and I am glad I took these easy to handle cameras. I left the cameras in the padded packs and placed them in metal ammo boxes. They are heavy but bomb proof,water proof, and easy to securely strap to the frame. These are available at most army surplus stores. If you are going on a commercial motorized trip you will have the luxury of a bigger boat that is less wet. It was a fantastic trip and you will find as many photo ops on the trails as you will on the river. You should carry a river guide that describes each rapid, hikes and attractions.

Ray Fenio

Don Kellogg
9-Jan-2008, 07:39
I have done this trip four times. The last time was about five years ago and was led by Gary Ladd. Gary has written about and photgraphed extensively in the Grand Canyon. The trip was sponsored by Arizona Highways and was good because it was geared to photography and we were able to capture the various scenes at more or less the proper time of day for the light. The light can be very harsh with lots of contrast issues. You might contact Gary for tips. He lives in Page, Arizona. I took a fairly large steel ammunition case lined with foam rubber all four times with medium format equipment. Most of the river outfitters supply small ammo cases for cameras but they aren't nearly big enough for large format gear. You can get such an item at army surplus stores. You should have no problem with large format gear if you have the proper way to store it. Everything and everybody will get wet (very) so be prepared. You can use a wet bag that is supplied but it's a hassel to get in and out of and doesn't have stiff sides for protecting your stuff. Make sure everything is well tied down; I have a very nice tripod, alas, now resting at the bottom of Crystal Rapids when our oar boat capsized there 35 years ago! You might take a smaller waterproof camera such as a Nikonos for use in wet situations. Also, a Sun Shower bag is a good idea; the water is very cold and never warms up the entire length of the trip and it's nice to have the opportunity to have a warm shower. I'd like to go again!

Don Boyd
9-Jan-2008, 11:01
Thanks to all for your responses. Kirk, I'm beginning to think about the limits of contrasty but limited dynamic range chrome film and the potential benefits of the greater dynamic range of negative film. I have shot some Kodak Portra 160 (VC I think) but am wondering if there are other suggestions for negative film that comes in 4x5 Quickoads or Readyloads.

I have a Pentax 6x7 but would prefer to take the 4x5 because I like making large prints. For practical purposes I still wouldn't be able to shoot the Pentax from the boat so am just as "grounded" with it as I am using the 4x5. I have a small digital point and shoot that I could bring, and while I'd like to have a high quality DSLR, I don't think I'll have the financial or time budget to get one. (Plus, my eyes start to cross whenever I see all the buttons and decision making requirements of the upscale DSLRs.)

Don Boyd
9-Jan-2008, 11:08
One additional quesiton for those who have been there. What focal lengths did you use and based on your experience now which would you recommend?

Kirk Gittings
9-Jan-2008, 11:15
I like the new Fuji color neg films in readyloads. I use Pro 160S. It definitely has a greater range than even Astia. Who does your scanning? WCI? I find it a bit harder to find someone who knows how to scan color negs.

Don Boyd
9-Jan-2008, 11:25
Kirk, I haven't printed anything large yet from my negatives but am considering trying Danny Burke, who at least from his website, seems to like negative film and recognize the difficulties of getting good scans from it (http://www.dannyburk.com/drum_scanning_color_negative_film.htm)

In fact, I think I'll send him a note and ask for a recommendation from him.

Andrew Eschbacher
30-Jan-2008, 12:48
I will be doing a 21 day trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek) beginning mid-Sept. I would love to hear from others who have done the trip with their view camera. In particular, I am interested in: shouldn't miss locations, focal lengths, packing suggestions, how to keep Quickloads dry, resources - books, articles, etc, and any other advice. I'll be taking my Arca-Swiss 4x5 and using Velvia and (probably) Astia 100 Quickloads. :)


I wish I could join you. I'm suffering from canyon withdrawal. I've done four river trips in the last six years and I can say that you will have a life-changing experience. I've taken my 4x5 and digital/35mm cameras on each trip. Since you are going on a 21 day river trip, I assuming that it is an oar trip. If so your packing needs will be different. My trips were motor trips.

The best thing you can do is to get in shape. Not only will you be helping to load and unload the boat(s) twice a day (and set up lunch) you also have to set up camp and tear down your camp. In September, you will only have 12 hours of sunlight so you don't want to have to rest to regain your energy so you can hike up into North Canyon. I spend my time in the gym using the stairmaster. There are very few flat hikes in the canyon. Hiking in the canyon is not easy (but it is fun). Get some good sandals (chaco's seem to be a favorite) for boat and camp wear. Some kind of camelback hydration system that you can clip to you camera bag or wear under your life jacket is also helpful -- it helps to keep down the water bottle clutter.

I would bring a pelican case to keep your film as dust, sand and water free as possible. Paint the case white to avoid cooking the film. I have seen other photographers use old ammo cans to keep film dry.

As for film, I used velvia 50 and provia 100 quickloads. Bring a spare quickload holder and ground glass. I shot 1 to 2 boxes a day. Bracketing is your best friend. The canyon can be a high contrast environment but most if not all of your large format shooting will be done early in the morning or late in the evening. The side canyons are where some of the best photography can be found. You'll be using nice low contrast reflected light off of canyon walls in the side canyons

Keep your camera in a Lowepro Dryzone bag, if possible, and then keep that in a large drysack. You only want to get into your pelican case only while off the water.

I have a Tachihara 4x5 and my lens choices are somewhat limited. I used a Schneider 80mm, Fujinon 125mm, Gold Rim Dagor 150mm and 210mm, a Schneider 270mm and a Fujinon 400mm Telephoto. All the lenses are kept in two Gnass Gear lens cases along with extra cable releases.

Bring a carbon fiber tripod. Your knees will thank you. I made the switch from aluminum to carbon fiber after my first trip. I kept my tripod in an ordinary tripod case. Your tripod will take a beating while being used in the canyon. I've had a tripod submerged up to the head at least once every trip. Really Right Stuff makes a head that will handle your 4x5 quite well.

Bring a digital (or film camera) for the boat. Some of the best images from my last trip are from the boat. I used my old Nikon D70 as my boat camera. I kept it around my neck and used a gallon freezer zip-lock bag to keep the spray off it. Be prepared to have to repair/service whatever camera you use. It will get trashed. My D70 still works but it is in bad need of servicing.

As far as locations, every ten feet is a good location. Some of the highlights are: North canyon, national canyon, Havasui canyon, Matcatamabi (sp) canyon, veaseys paradise, olo canyon, monument canyon, lava falls, Whitmore canyon, Nankoweep grainerys, Conquistator Aisle, Elves chasm, Confluence of the Little Colorado, Deer Creek Falls, Shinumo Falls, etc. Some of these are campsites, others are day use only. My last trip was with Gary Ladd and he decided to see the lesser visited places along the river. It was great not to be in competition for campsites from other groups and I have some awesome images from those places.

The first book I would pick up is Gary Ladd's "Grand Canyon - Time Below the Rim" book. Next would be "The Grand" by Steve Miller. I also recommend "Breaking into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon" by Louise Teal and
"There's This River..." By Christa Sadlerso so you can get a feel for what 21 days on the river will feel like.

As far as clothing, wear stuff that you don't care about trashing. I wouldn't bring more than two or three changes of clothes. You'll want rain gear, long underwear, fleece but don't go overboard. I've spent 40 days in paradise over 4 trips and there is nothing more frustrating then to pack and unpack something out of your drysack that you just don't need. Bring crazy glue and lots of it. Your fingers will split due to the low humidity and alkaline water. Using crazy glue to seal the cracks works much better than a bandage. Here's a link to the Arizona Rafting Adventures website that goes into all packing and clothing needs: http://www.azraft.com/gc_info-equip.cfm?HeaderOpen=submenu3.

If you have any more questions, just send me a pm.

Hope this helps,

Don Boyd
30-Jan-2008, 19:58
Drew, wow thanks! I'm out of town at the moment but when I return home I'll take a closer look at the wealth of information you shared. I probably will be contacting you.

Yes, it is a non-motorized trip, so I'll be out for 21 to 24 days, depending on where we decide to take out (Lake Mead or earlier). While I don't usually shoot much negative film, I have been thinking of trying some Fuji 160 or Kodak Portra to use on some of the wider dynamic range scenes. I have been weighing the merits of bringing along a digital camera so your comments have been particularly helpful there. I don't own one so it would have to be a purchase (h-m-m-m, prosumer or lower end dslr).

I have offered some inducements to my trip mates to exchange $ for prints for some of my camp chores, trying to free up more time to shoot. Three weeks is a long time on the sleeping mat and I know from experience if I'm fatigued I don't shoot well.

31-Jan-2008, 01:11
I'm slightly embarrased to send you there after seeing your page, but it will give you some idea of what is down there.
Gregg Waterman

You have no reason to be embarrased about anything in regards to your photographs. Very nice work. It's obvious you worked hard to make these images.

31-Jan-2008, 17:07
Remember one thing, the only place in the canyon you can get poison ivy is at vaesey's paradise. You have been warned.

Don Boyd
29-Mar-2008, 16:15
A few updates on planning for my Sep. Colorado River trip: I have purchased a Pentax K20d and a 10-20mm lens for shooting from the water and for the super-wide canyon shots. I also will be adding a 100-300mm lens and a 1.4 teleconverter for the Pentax to bring in some of the wildlife I might see (it also meets some other needs I have for long range bird shots). Bill Gates I'm not, but it's fun to act like it and in the spirit of helping the economy I have also added a Storm waterproof case to carry my 4x5 gear and a Lowepro waterproof bag to haul the dslr stuff. In one Lowepro user report, the reviewer said that he actually swam with his bag in the water while on his river trip. (I think I'll double bag it anyway.) The Storm case is the largest size that I can use as an airline carry on so it will do double duty when I travel with my gear.

Gregg, did your article on the "photo itinerary" ever publish and if so how can I see a copy of it?

Andrew and others who have used their 4x5 gear on the river: what focal lengths did you find yourselves using most frequently. Currently, I have a 75, 90, 150, 200, 300 and 450. There's limited space in the Storm case I'm thinking that I won't take more than 3 or 4 lenses so am looking for some help based on your experiences.

Gary Ladd's book was one of my favorites on the Canyon even before I knew that I was going. And now, I have read Steve Miller's, The Grand, Jeff Garton's book and a couple more.

As a test I recently shot some Fuji 160S but have not yet had it developed. I plan on going a week early to shoot from the north and south rims, and if I have any energy left after when the trip ends mid-October, I hope to catch some fall color from above. In my consulting practice I have a client in Las Vegas and while there will be doing some runs to the south rim to see if I can add some images between now and September. It's not always easy to catch bad weather from the rims. I'm pretty sure I can do a large Grand Canyon and Colorado River Show at the gallery I'm at in Las Cruces and if I'm feeling ambitious (and energetic enough) may look for some other venues in southwest towns to present the show as well.

Thanks again to everyone for your suggestions and well wishing.