JHP Newsletter - 2005, No. 1, 20 January
Equipment: Sigma 120-300 f2.8 APO EX IF HSM
I finally broke down and bought a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 APO EX IF HSM. I had been thinking about getting this lens since hearing Joe McDonald sing its praises while on the reptile shoot in June 2004. I was hesitant to get it for two reasons. First, it's not a Canon lens, and the only other non-camera-manufacturer lens I owned, a Sigma 50-500 F4-6.3EX APO RF for my Maxxum 7, didn't stand up to the use I put it through even though the EX series lenses are supposed to be built to pro-level standards. The 120-300 feels well built, and Joe and Mary Ann McDonald haven't had any trouble with their lenses, so maybe my first experience with Sigma was marred by a manufacturing problem. Second, the 120-300 doesn't have an image stabilization (IS) system, so its usefulness will be limited mostly to tripod shooting. While I shoot almost everything from a tripod anyways, I do occasionally shoot handheld when I'm panning for birds in flight or shooting from a boat. Because this lens will largely be a replacement for the Canon EF 100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS USM, I'll probably be torn between the extra speed of the 120-300 and the IS of the 100-400. I will keep the 100-400 for now, because it's smaller and lighter and will be more convenient for long hikes.
The primary reason I got the 120-300 f2.8 is for its speed, and I'll be taking advantage of that speed on my upcoming trip to shoot gorillas in Rwanda. It's dark in the forests where the gorillas are, and when I shot gorillas in Uganda with the 100-400 f4.5-5.6, I only got a handful of acceptable images because the shutter speed I had to use wasn't fast enough to stop their motion. Hopefully this time, with a lens that's twice as fast, and a digital body that can shoot acceptable-quality images at two ISO stops faster than my old film body (with ISO 100 film pushed to 200), I'll get many more useful images.
Travel: To Long Beach and Back
I spent New Years visiting friends in Long Beach, CA, and in order to help rationalize the road trip from CO, I made stops along the way to shoot.
First stop was Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM. For those not familiar with "Bosque," as it's referred to in photography circles, it's a place where thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese winter. And for those not up on their Spanish, the place name means "Apache Woods," and was given by the early Spaniards who while traveling from El Paso to Santa Fe, were frequently attacked by Apache camped among the cottonwoods in the flood plain of the Rio Grande. After the river was dammed, halting the annual floods, man stepped in and recreated a series of ponds and wetlands that are flooded and drained each year to provide a suitable habitat for the wildlife.
Next stop was an overnight at Grand Canyon National Park. Because I left Bosque later than I had planned, and then ran into some delays along the way, I didn't get to the park until the canyon was mostly in the shadows — too late to shoot. :( The next morning, it was completely overcast, ruining the photography. While Grand Canyon was a bust photographically, it was a winner gastronomically — I had a fantastic dinner of elk tenderloin medallions.
After leaving Long Beach, I headed to Death Valley, a place I hadn't been for a number of years. I had been planning to go to The Racetrack, an area of the park I had never been to before. It requires 4WD to access, and is not accessible after it rains because they don't want to have footprints on the usually dry ground. I knew things weren't going to go according to plans when I was driving through the Mojave Desert with intermittent rain, and there were pools of standing water on the ground. During the drive over the mountain passes into Death Valley, the rain changed to snow at about 4000 ft, and it was quite a site to see the desert covered with snow. It was also quite interesting, as I was descending from one of the passes, when my rear wheels tried to overtake my front wheels. Things seemed to move in slow motion as I was sliding down the gently curving road and realized that I wasn't going in the direction in which I was steering. :) After a rather large steering correction, I regained control, and didn't even come close to running off the road and down the hill. :) The ground in Death Valley was also saturated, so I knew The Racetrack was out, and I was surprised that some of the paved roads were closed due to mudslides.
Then I headed to Bryce Canyon National Park, and went over one of my favorite sections of road in the US — Utah 14 east of Cedar City. The winding road climbs up from the Escalante Desert to the Markagunt Plateau through steep valleys and forests. The drive was especially pretty with fresh show on the evergreens, and the two or three feet of snow already on the ground made it look like a winter wonderland. The light around Bryce Canyon was at its best as I was coming and going, and I got some good shots of Red Canyon, part of Dixie National Forest to the NW of Bryce.
(just NW of Bryce)
Then it was over to Arches National Park, and the weather wasn't very cooperative. There was a solid layer of clouds when I arrived late in the afternoon, so I just scouted for places to shoot in the morning. As the sun went down, it peeked through a small break in the clouds, and then came out again shortly before setting to create some magical light. Clouds rolled in overnight, and sunrise was a non-event photographically. Ah, the perils of trying to do photography on a whirlwind tour.
I'm off to Africa in about three hours! Yes, this newsletter has been delayed as I've been getting things done before heading out. I'll be going on three back-to-back photo safaris with McDonald Wildlife Photography in East Africa. We'll spend about two weeks in Tanzania, a week in Rwanda for gorillas, then about two weeks in Kenya. Then I'll go to South Africa on my own for about a month. I'll update you after the East Africa leg.
James Hager Photography :: www.jameshagerphoto.com