8 minute read
A bastion of beauty and brilliance: Zion National Park gets the macro treatment, courtesy of Karen Hutton
Equipped with GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, Karen Hutton recently trekked to Zion National Park, Utah. Amid the reddish Navajo Sandstone, an unspoken energy was beginning to materialize.
“I wanted to go somewhere I’ve never been, where I’d have no expectations,” she begins. “I wanted to go in the fall, and witness those gorgeous colors. Zion has such a broad variety of vast elevations, light and subject matter.”
Foregoing a more conventional means of capturing landscapes, Karen faced a challenge. Her macro glass was ideal for capturing surrounding idiosyncrasies. It was perfect for interpreting particularities. But when it came to extensive vistas, the lens was a more unusual choice.
“There must be a million shots of this place – iconic pictures. You feel like there’s a spray-painted outline of feet at every vista point, every outlook.” She laughs before continuing. “On the practical side, I liked the idea of showcasing range. People think of 120mm as solely macro, but they forget it’s also a great all-rounder.”
Images in Karen’s catalogue uphold the exactness one expects to meet with this lens, but then there are the landscapes – enormous spaces that draw around 4.3 million visitors to Zion every single year. Contemplating the power of these outlooks, she recognized that effect didn’t exist in the totality of the image. Instead, the design was multidimensional, encompassing innumerable parts and pieces, each as remarkable as the last. These ingredients comprised the grandeur of what Karen saw, and ultimately, what she was able to photograph.
Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/120 sec at F13, ISO 800
Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/500 sec at F11, ISO 500
“I wanted surprising images that nobody would think of. Macro is very meditative and exploratory. It raises more questions than it answers. Creativity is a call-and-response process, and seeing Zion this way was like walking through a doorway to another world,” she gushes. “It opened up a new way of seeing, thinking, experiencing, and creating. This might sound like a paradox, but as my vision got wider, it also became more focused.”
For broader, more expansive landscapes, Karen joined multi-shot panoramas together, creating a unified amalgamation of images, fused as one. Because of the lens’s relatively long focal length, the field of view was especially narrow, so sewing multiple exposures together became necessary. The end-to-end sharpness was an exceptional draw.
“There’s a way of using this lens… you can get incredible variety. I did a few multi-shot panoramas – and ended up with a really unique perspective that way. Very intense, crisp imagery. From a purely technical standpoint, that was interesting. A macro lens lets you find the heartbeat of a place.”
The more Karen looked through her viewfinder, the more she began to appreciate the idea of fractal designs. Moreover, she started to acknowledge the ways they informed the bigger picture.
“Smaller elements making up a bigger whole,” she confirms. “Humans are designed to respond to patterns. When you’ve looked at this through a macro, you wonder about these things more intently. You begin to consider the more substantial questions. It really does take the breath away. It’s present in everything we see and love – multiplicity, adding up to something bigger. That formula is here.”
When we first encounter something remarkable, we’re likely to be affected by its completeness. But it’s only when we really see that the internal structures become visible. Upon closer inspection, intricacies reveal themselves. Karen uses a universal language to impart this experience.
“It’s like falling in love with someone,” she notes. “You start to appreciate the slighter quirks. That’s what I see when I put a macro lens on. The way the light fell in certain areas, for instance, it’s always spilling and pouring. It doesn’t just hit, it has this movement, this caress. I knew that would happen, but not on this scale: it elevated everything. Zion really is epic.
“Once the sensor gets that big, it adds so much definition. The separation of plains is amazing – the depth in the elements is unique to large format. It takes the tonal range and ramps it up, pushing it to an entirely new level. And you have the ability to control those elements. I like to post-process, but a lot of these photos only needed very light enhancements.”
In the late 1800s, Mormon pioneers were some of the first explorers to arrive in the south of Utah. Initially named ‘Mukuntuweap’ or ‘Straight Canyon’ by John Wesley Powell, the park’s name would soon shift to reflect the piety of its discoverers (‘Zion’ is an ancient Hebrew word indicating refuge or sanctuary). Once home to the Anasazi tribe, occupants of the park stretch back as far as 1500 B.C. Karen knew a wide-ranging story was woven throughout these canyons. It was present in the insects, the flora… water flowing through the slender chasms of the Virgin River.
Training her lens on the streams, she soon became transfixed by the water and its kaleidoscopic forms, dancing and swirling across the frame in vibrant flecks of color. Here, the macro’s typical functionality became apparent.
“I was at Kolob Terrace, but didn’t see those patterns and refractions until I looked at the LCD. It was so beautiful. You wouldn’t stop to notice that… but this camera illuminated it. It was like blood under a microscope, the land’s plasma.”
As well as getting to grips with Zion’s calmer wells, streams would also form the basis for some of Karen’s more airy snaps – ghostly depictions of the river cascading through stony avenues of granite.
“I like long exposures, but still want to be able to see the threads,” she explains, illustrating this image and its various links. “Those photos were aesthetically pleasing, but I also wanted people to grasp the ethereality of the water. I use my FUJIFILM because it helps me convey feeling. As photographers, our medium is light and time, vision and actuality. GFX100S is the first system I’ve found that meets me halfway.”
Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1.4 secs at F11, ISO 200
Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 3.5 secs at F11, ISO 200
Endeavoring to create imagery that expresses her spirituality, Karen’s photos speak to the grace of Zion. Reviewing an image of a tree emitting golden streaks of light, she discusses the driving force behind her passion to create.
“I like to see behind the curtain. I never set out to take pretty pictures – I’m propelled more by the why, and love to see the refinement at play. One particular photo encapsulated that attitude, which I called ‘Autumn Liftoff’. I dragged the shutter and got some motion blur… maybe a third of a second. The background was so dark, and it looked like a choir to me. The elevation, the lift… it was practically transcendent.
“I don’t want to sound clinical, because this whole place is so otherworldly. What you discover is that ‘epic’ isn’t a matter of size, it’s a matter of design. We all have that connection with nature. In the shapes, the light, even the mathematics of it all. It’s a quantum experience, and weirdly biophilic. Looking through this macro lens just makes it explode – awe is transformative when you realize you’re part of something so much greater. While here, I had that experience every day.”
French philosopher René Descartes once defined wonder as an instinctive feeling. Exploring our tendency to react emotionally to unforeseen phenomena, the father of analytic geometry identified awe as a characteristically human sensation – the fundamental means by which we relate to the world. In many ways, he wasn’t mistaken.
Throughout the ages, this simple, psychological occurrence produced some of art’s most revered works. Monumental in scope and implication, man has labored to exemplify that which stirs, mystifies, and astonishes. Just how does the poet convey the way the clouds carve to reveal the spotless moonlit vista? How exactly can the musician compose a melodic testament to sunrise in the big city, its latent potential cast in that singular stillness of daybreak? And what’s to be said of the landscape photographer, surveying the scenic terrain, searching for the soul and spirit of the space?
In the end, wonder is about what you feel, and Karen Hutton’s photographs operate somewhere between the fantasy and reality of that emotion. It might begin with realism, but where does it end up? When you get to know someone, you learn their moods, their flaws, their inner workings. In order to understand Zion, Karen had to meet her with macro. There, she found the tacks that tie this tapestry together.
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