I made the image Lower Calf Creek Falls Detail in Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on a blistering hot day. From delicate and subtle landscapes to jarring topography, Southern Utah is an always changing and wondrous portion of the planet. The three-mile round trip walk was indeed a warm one. My wife Anne and I walked at an accelerated pace from the most intense exposure to the sun to the mild relief found in the shade. Upon turning the last bend in the trail, we entered a cool and verdant paradise. The lush canyon was filled with the delicate whisper of the falls ahead, and we were immersed in a cooling mist. With gently shifting winds, the autumn flow of the fall was never the same for more than a few seconds.
We spent a rejuvenating few hours photographing the falls, as veils of water constantly changed in the shifting breeze. We would wait for just the right instant to release the shutter–often being a second too early, or a few seconds too late. Each of the twelve 4×5 negatives I exposed that day was unique. The negative I finally printed was the only negative where the water pattern formed a design that was exactly what I had hoped for. It was one of the few days where we used all of the film that we had with us in our camera packs.
You can see a reproduction of that 4×5 inch Kodak T-Max 400 negative (Figure 1) as it would appear on a light box. It was processed in Kodak Xtol developer, and given N+1 development to increase the contrast. After processing a negative, I always make a low-contrast contact sheet, as shown (Figure 2). I gleaned this approach from studying, and later working, with Ansel Adams. He liked to make low-contrast contact sheets so that he could reveal all of the tones in the negative that could be rendered on the paper. In the contact sheet, the dark areas are often a little smoky, and the highlights may be a bit dingy, but with practice one can visualize the possibilities of the final print.