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Land, Light, Computer:  The Colorado Plateau with a Digital Twist
by Tony Kuyper
NOTE: this exhibit appeared in September 2006. Click here to visit the current showcase.

All other exhibits: Click here to access

Note: For best viewing, set your monitor to High Color or True Color and set the color temperature to 5000K.  These images have been prepared with a Gamma of 2.2, which is typical for a Windows monitor.  If you are a Macintosh user, use the sRGB calibrated profile in the Color section of your Monitors & Sounds control panel.

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Antelope Canyon (93k)


Antelope Canyon

The first five images in this showcase are of slot canyons.  Antelope Canyon is the most accessible.  It's close to Page, Arizona, a nexus of Southwest tourism, and adjacent to a major highway.   As such, it is frequently visited and often photographed.  Sunlight in this canyon bounces off the walls to create some of the most spectacular glow effects that can be recorded on film.  Lower Antelope Canyon has just the right depth and orientation to permit great photography.  The shifting light allows for a continuous string of glow-light compositions along its short course for many hours each day.  A clear day in April, May, or September is my favorite time to photograph here.

Canyon Candy (91k)


Canyon Candy

Antelope Canyon also provided this image.  The blue rock is in shadow, so its color comes from the light reflected from the clear sky.  The glowing rocks are lit from sunlight reflected off the canyon's walls, which is enriched in the warmer wavelengths.  Juxtaposing the colors in the same frame creates a composition of contrast.  After scanning the slide, the computer was used to strengthen the contrasting colors and balance the contrasting brightness.

The Beacon (78k)


The Beacon

A wide-angle lens provides the exaggerated preeminence of the foreground object in this scene.  Abundant glow-light supplies the dominant color.  As this slot canyon is particularly narrow, it was a fortunate circumstance that allowed the tripod to be set just right in order to define the glowing shape against the slightly darker background.

Stone Waves (62k)


Stone Waves

The slot canyon where this image was taken is poorly oriented for photography.  Good light happens for at most an hour each day and shifts rapidly.  The rainbow-like colors on the wall are the result of reflected light illuminating the upper parts while the lower portion remains in blue shadow.  The computer was able to bring out the color and texture in the dark blue areas while preserving the detail and brightness of the warm highlights.

Slot Canyon Archway (49k)


Slot Canyon Archway

I like this image because of the unusually strong sense of directional light for a slot canyon photograph.  The reflected glow-light in slot canyons is often diffuse, but here it comes from behind the arch with enough intensity to actually cast a shadow of the arch's protruding arm.  While the ground and wall behind the arch are indeed bathed in direct sunlight, the reflected light which illuminates this setting is actually quite weak.  The film needed exposure for over 20 seconds to properly record the scene, and the shadow went unnoticed until I saw it on the transparency.

Toasty Mittens (66k)


Toasty Mittens

This image exists because of a failed attempt to capture a full moonrise flanked by The Mittens in Monument Valley.  Although it was cloudy when I left home, I was hoping that there would be enough clear sky to provide the image I wanted.  Instead, the cloud cover increased.  Fortunately, the western sky was more cooperative than its eastern counterpart.  The sun broke through just at sunset to light the tops of The Mittens in a fiery finale.

Control Tower (78k)


Control Tower

Jet contrails are one of my least favorite manmade objects that all too often pollute beautiful scenery.  On this particular day, however, a fragile sandstone formation, often referred to as a hoodoo, brought order to the wispy cirrus clouds that sometimes develop when contrails disperse.  There was a surprisingly large amount of glow-light on the hoodoo that I attribute to the flat sections of rock reflecting sunlight upward onto the vertical surfaces.  As a result, it was relatively easy to preserve the saturated sky color and good cloud texture while bringing out the rich warm colors of the rock.

Rock Window (92k)


Rock Window

The rock window that overlooks Monument Valley provides one of the best views through a sandstone opening anywhere on the Colorado Plateau.  I had three goals in mind when framing this image: clouds in the sky to keep it from being a blank blue, clouds shadowing the foreground rock to keep its color soft, and the monuments in full sun with no cloud shadows on them.  After waiting several hours, I was rewarded with the image I was seeking, but shifting light permitted only one exposure.  Upon viewing the developed transparency, I was disappointed that the foreground rock was too dark to provide a decent print.  Since then, I've come to realize that the film's interpretation of a scene isn't necessarily final.  Careful digital manipulation of the scanned transparency allowed my original visualization to become an actual photograph.

Mesa Overlook (104k)


Mesa Overlook

I consider this image to be one of my luckiest.  I had no plans to be out taking pictures this evening but received a last minute invitation from a friend to ride along on an after-work outing to a nearby mesa.  While my friend went hiking, I searched for photographs.  The scenery and the clouds from a passing cold front presented some dramatic possibilities.  This exposure was made right at sunset.  I particularly like the way the foreground rock appears to be floating due to the low angle of the sun.

Corona (93k)



In case you're wondering, this is an image of the main leg of a large sandstone arch.  I had been struggling for nearly an hour to photograph the whole arch from a distance but didn't feel entirely satisfied with the view.  As I walked underneath the arch and into its shadow, I noticed that the base was glowing from light reflected from the wall anchoring the other end.  As with the sun's corona, which is seen during a total solar eclipse, the arch's glow became visible once I stood in it's shadow.  Freed from the overpowering brightness of direct sunlight, it was easy to spot this image of the glowing pedestal contrasted against the shadowed canyon wall.

Coyote Butte (89k)


Coyote Butte

"A river of lace" is how one friend described the foreground of this image.  It is only one of the many unusual sandstone features that await hikers in this section of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.  Although regular visitation has diminished the wilderness experience, there are still many wonderful photographs to be made here.  Entry is by permit only.  Reservations can be made up to seven months in advance.

The Other Side of the Mountain (106k)


The Other Side of the Mountain

This is another example of an incredible sandstone arch with an unbelievably beautiful view through the opening, this time of Navajo Mountain.  I live just south of Navajo Mountain.  The arch is located on the north side, hence the title.  I was fortunate to have the place to myself the evening I took this image, but as the area becomes more widely known, I have a feeling it will attract more interest as a photographic subject.

Twin Falls, ZNP (100k)


Twin Falls, ZPN

While I had visited Zion National Park dozens of times prior to October 30, 2000, I had never been privileged to see the waterfalls that were purported to occur after heavy rains.  In the early morning hours of this day, however, it started raining and continued to do so for two hours.  When it was over, there was snow on the rim and water cascading into the canyon from hundreds of waterfalls.  The sights and sounds were the essence of beauty.  This is my favorite photograph from that unforgettable day.

Blue Ribbon (117k)


Blue Ribbon

The "Subway" hike in Zion National Park is a spectacular dayhike featuring a flowing stream at the bottom of a deep canyon.  This picture was taken just downstream from the hike's namesake formation where flowing water has created an attractive series of waterfalls and unusual erosion features.  Although it was late morning, the canyon's shadow still bathed the area in the soft, blue light that reflects so nicely off the water.  Reservations for this hike can be made at the park's backcountry office.  Starting the hike soon after daybreak insures plenty of cool shadows for both hiking and photography.

Riding the Subway (105k)


Riding the Subway

This is the Subway in North Creek in Zion National Park.  Here, erosion from the flowing water has started carving into a softer layer of rock.  This allows the upper layers to be undercut resulting in the rounded, tube-like feature that gives the area its name.  There are many things to like about this place: the metallic glowing wall in the background, the softly flowing water, and the multicolored floor that results from algae and salt deposits.  My favorite element, though, is the illusionary green pool.  Velvia® film intensifies its color and by doing so adds a wonderful sense of mystery.

Maple Blaze (114k)


Maple Blaze

This image was a pleasant surprise.  My zoom lens creates considerable flare with point-source light, such as the sun.  I intentionally set up the camera and tripod for this shot so that the leaves blocked the sun completely.  My objective was to capture the backlit glow of the leaves contrasted against the dark tree trunks.  As expected, several exposures show exactly that.  Fortunately, though, a small sliver of sun shone through on one frame and created this perfectly off-centered sun-star.

Interestingly, the sharpness of this image is too severe when enlarged.  While the hard edges are true to the film, they don't capture the softer sense of the backlit leaves.  The final step in making both the Internet and print versions is the addition of a small amount computer-generated blur.  This softens the hard edges somewhat and creates a warmer glow.

Sunset at Square Butte (59k)


Sunset at Square Butte

Square Butte is a prominent sandstone formation southeast of Page, Arizona.  Approaching it from the east on Highway 98 provides a spectacular view from inside the vehicle.  At 65 mph, though, there's not much time to enjoy its beauty.  In my own frequent drive-bys, I started seeing its sillouhette as a good subject.  Since it is located just a few miles from my home, I could choose the best time to photograph it.  An evening with a clear western horizon and billowing clouds overhead looked promising.  I drove out just before sunset and caught this scene from the shoulder of the road.

About the Exhibit:

"The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance." --Ansel Adams, The Portfolios of Ansel Adams

"The print is our opportunity to interpret and express the negative's information in reference to the original visualization as well as our current concept of the desired final image." --Ansel Adams, The Print

Ansel Adams realized that creating a "fine print" or "expressive print" as he called it, involved more than capturing the scene on film.  While Adams emphasized "visualization" in the field as the most important factor in creating a photograph, he believed that the darkroom was an essential element in the artistic process of making pictures.

In this spirit, post-camera creativity played a significant role in the images presented here.  Instead of black and white negatives, color transparencies are the starting point, and instead of the darkroom, a computer utilizing Photoshop® software is the tool.  There are no in-depth details of the process, no effort to persuade viewers that the computer offers a superior way of making prints, and no judgement as to what is right or wrong about using digital technology to make photographs.  Instead, this exhibit is about seeing our color transparencies as the beginning of a creative process.  It's about light and the new capability to interpret film-captured light using digital technology.  And, yes, of course, it's definitely about the extraordinary landscape of the Colorado Plateau.

All images in this showcase are made from a single 35-mm slide or a single sheet of 4x5 transparency film.  Each was professionally drum scanned to capture all the available detail.  The tasks of burning, dodging, cropping, cloning, masking and adjustments to color balance, contrast, and saturation were accomplished with the aid of a rather ordinary 400 MHz Windows®-based computer.  What you see are my best renditions of the light recorded by the film.  More importantly, the images are also my best memories of how these scenes made me feel.

About the Photographer:

I moved from Iowa to northern Arizona in 1983.  At the time, I was unaware of its beautiful and diverse landscape.  Fortunately, new friends quickly showed me around my new neighborhood.  Canyons, mesas, mountains, monuments, rivers, overlooks, switchbacks, forests.  It didn't take long to realize that I was living dead center in the most beautiful place on the planet, the Colorado Plateau.  A Nikon FM2 35-mm camera became one of my first major purchases.

My earliest images were taken with this camera and Kodachrome® slide film.  A few years later, a good friend introduced me to black and white photography.  Shortly thereafter I bought a 4x5 format view camera and numerous accessories.  I set up a darkroom in my kitchen and proceeded to create my own pictures.  The expressive control of printing was great, but I eventually grew tired of darkroom labor.  After 10 years I called it quits.  I went back to shooting color transparencies, this time with the 4x5 camera and Velvia® transparency film.  The year was 1997.

I purchased a new computer and Photoshop® software the following year.  It soon became apparent that this combination allowed me to control color printing the same way I had learned to control black and white.  The skills from the darkroom decade were instantly applicable to the images on my computer monitor.  I also learned that modern film and digital technology allowed me to produce extremely sharp enlargements from 35-mm slides.  I abandoned the 4x5 camera and returned to my original 35-mm Nikon®.

The camera and the computer are now inextricably linked for me.  I love sitting at my computer creating the final interpretation of a scene as much as I love to be outdoors with the camera, searching for pictures and exposing film.  It's an engaging process that satisfies my soul.  I appreciate this opportunity to share the results with you.

To see more of my pictures and to learn about my workflow, please visit my web site,  Also, please contact me with your comments.  I'd love to hear from you.

Please note:  All images featured in this showcase are Copyright(©) Tony Kuyper, all rights reserved.   These images are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws and may not be used or reproduced without permission.  For licensing information, or to order prints, please contact Tony Kuyper.
Find photos of the Southwest and Colorado Plateau in Photographing the Southwest and Land of the Canyons, the Photo Trip USA landscape photography guidebooks.

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