© Ken Doo Photography
A slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by water rushing through the rock. Slot canyons are deeper than they are wide and extremely beautiful and dangerous. The top of a slot canon can be less than 12" wide while 100 feet deep and range from yards wide to less than 12" wide at the bottom. Slot canyons be very easy to enter or very difficult - it all depends on the way it was made. Most slot canyons are formed in sandstone and limestone rock although some are granite. Utah happens to have the largest concentration of slot canyons in the world and can be found in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world is located approximately 30 minutes north of Page AZ. There is a significant danger of drowning in a slot canyon, distant storms can cause flash flooding in slot canyons (which is the main method of formation). One needs to look at the weather not only in the immediate area but the surrounding area as well; if rain is called for do not enter a slot canyon. Slot canyons normally offer only one way in and one way out; it can be dry as a bone in the slot canyon however if you hear what sounds like a locomotive coming - it's too late. Please heed this warning.
Okay we've discussed what a slot canyon is and how dangerous they happen to be. A typical slot canyon can be stunningly beautiful and that's why I like to photograph them. It's been several years since I last went into a slot canyon; so long in fact I no longer have the camera I used to capture the images.
Ken Doo and I had been talking about meeting in Page AZ to shoot slot canyons for several months. This seemed like a very good idea as it would give me the chance to see what I could capture using first a rangefinder camera (Leica M9) as well as a technical camera (Cambo WRS1000/P65+).
The very first piece of photographic equipment one needs to capture images in a slot canyon is a tripod as your typical capture will be several seconds long and you want to avoid camera shake. The second on the list is a remote shutter release as you want to try not to touch the camera any more than what you have to. The third is the camera. Please note you'll be in a dark environment and the first instinct will be using a flash. While you may certainly use a flash the colors will be washed and you'll end up wondering why your images don't look like those you've seen other places.
The images posted here were all taken using a Leica M9 and a Leica Elmarit 24mm lens. I kept the ISO as low as I could and opened the f/stop and shot slow.
Using a rangefinder camera is different from almost all other types of cameras. It isn't a point-n-shoot where you have this large screen on the back to help you focus and frame the shot. Neither is it a DSLR or type of camera where you hold it up to your eye and look through the lens to frame the capture; neither are the lenses autofocus.
A rangefinder type camera such as a Leica M9 is very much an old school camera system which has a digital capture ability. The way to properly focus the image is looking through a small viewfinder where you'll find a box within a box. Using this series of boxes you turn the lens until both boxes are aligned together and you see a clear, sharp image; once you have that all you need to do is activate the shutter. Of course there's more to it than that. A typical rangefinder camera is totally or near totally manually operated with manually operated f/stop and shutter speed. A rangefinder camera is the type of system that is almost as slow to use as a tech camera and that's why I like using it.
My thought about using the M9 in slot canyon was how well will it hold up. Will I be able to achieve critical focus. And could I keep up with Ken shooting side by side as he used his Phase One DSLR and new IQ180. In the end I was pleased.
The next edition will discuss using the Cambo WRS/P65+ in a slot canyon.
Let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.