Photos & Projects

Photographing An American Road Trip – by Daniel Sigg

July 16, 2020

Our daughter moved to Scottsdale Arizona, and my partner Amy and I helped her move her belongings with a large U-haul trailer from the Twin Cities. All this happened in middle of June, with COVID-19 cases still being reported across the country. We planned for a three day (two nights)  drive to Scottsdale (about 1600 miles), and spent most of those days on the road and the rest in hotels sleeping.

On the way back, after we dropped off our daughter and the U-haul trailer, we decided to spend a little bit more time on the road, and explore Northern AZ, Utah and Colorado and some beautiful landscapes along the way. We had a chance to visit Northern Arizona (Sedona, Horse Shoe Bend (and Navajo Reservation, Antelope Canyon was unfortunately closed due to COVID-19)), Zion National Park and Bryce National Park, and many pretty sites along the highway. I thought it would be fun to briefly discuss the gear I brought and share some of the images.

Our car and trailer after almost running out of gas, somewhere in Colorado, Portra 400 Leica M3 Summicron 50mm v3

The gear and the film stocks

As much as I have been into minimalism (see my recent post on this), I decided to bring 3 film cameras on the trip. In order to be truly minimalist, I maybe should have just brought one, but I wanted to be able to photograph both 135 and 120 formats and also be able to quickly change between the color and B&W. I also wanted to have some redundancy in case there would be a malfunction. So having said that, I think the gear was fairly minimal with regards to lenses (50mm on Leica, 28mm on Nikon FE, and 50/80mm on Hasselblad 500cm), but still not minimalist!

A quick change of film stocks is easy on the Hasselblad by simply switching the film backs (no need to finish roll).  For 35mm cameras, this is obviously a different story. Thus, I thought two 35mm cameras loaded with different films were the way to go.

My double-stroke 1955 Leica M3 was loaded with 35mm color film (Portra 400 and Ektar 100) and a 50mm Summicron f2 v.3 and became my dedicated color 35mm camera on the road trip. I have not spoken much about this lens, but it is light, super compact, and probably one of the most underrated Leica 50mm Summicron lenses, and I simply love it. It’s glued to the M3 and my only other lens, a 90mm Tele-Elmarit, gets hardly used. (I have a larger portrait project in mind and hope that this will change!).

My Nikon FE (see my review of that camera here)  were loaded with 35mm B&W film (Ultrafine Xtreme 400 and Delta 400, both pushed to 1600, both bulk loaded);  my lens was my trusted 28mm Nikkor 2.8 (a great lens, also allows for quasi macro shots); this was my dedicated 35mm B&W camera setup for the trip.

With this setup,  I had an opportunity to quickly between the two focal lengths and between color and B&W, color at 50mm focal length,  B&W at 28mm, in 135 format.

The 120 format Hasselblad 500cm backs were loaded with Portra 400 (A16), Ilford FP4 and HP5. Lenses I used were the 80mm 2.8 and 50mm f4,

After having photographed almost exclusively black and white for the last 9 months or so, I thought this trip would be great opportunity to get back into color photography. While I usually self-develop my film, I decided to use a local lab (West Photo, Minneapolis) for my color development.

The images

Portra 400 35mm (C41 at West Photo, Leica 1955 double-stroke M3, Summicron 50mm v3)

I mostly used sunny 16 for my exposures, and tend to overexpose by 1 stop. The negatives were scanned with Nikon Z6 and a 105mm 2.8 Nikkor Macro lens, and converted via Negative lab pro in Lightroom Classic. I did have to do a lot of clean up in the skies, but otherwise, was happy with the negatives. West Photo is reasonable ($5 / roll film processed), and since I typically haven’t been shooting much color, lab development made sense. I used the Linear Deep tone setting most often for all color images, and the Kodak color profile. I did not change hardly anything else in most images except a slight contrast increase.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Zion National Park Area, UT

Keyanta, AZ (Northern Arizona, Najavo Indian Reservation):

Sedona (AZ)

Ektar 100 35mm (C41 at West Photo, Leica M3, Summicron)

Same process as above.

Zion National Park

Northern Arizona (close to Antelope Canyon):

Outside of Zion National Park:

Delta 400 @1600 35mm  (Nikon FE, 28mm 2.8, self developed in Ilford DD-X 1:4)

Developed in tank using Ilford DD-X and massive dev chart.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT:

Ultrafine Xtreme 400 @1600 35mm  (Nikon FE, 28mm 2.8 self developed in HC-110 Dil B)

Developed in Patterson tank, using HC-110 Dil B and massive dev chart suggested times. Personally I thought the negatives turned out a little thin, but this was easily corrected in post.

Zion National Park, Utah:

Outside of Zion National Park:

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona:

Portra 400 120 6 x 4.5 (C41 at West Photo, Hasselblad 500cm with 50mm and 80mm lenses, A16 back)

Developed at West Photo, similar processing as above.

Outside of Zion National Park, Utah:

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona:

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah:

Final thoughts

I absolutely love road trips. And can’t wait for the next one!

As much as I like the Hasselblad 500cm and its lenses rendering, I ended up using the M3 with 50mm Summicron f2 version 3 and FE with 28mm Nikkor 2.8 way more. There were a total of 8 completed rolls of 36 135 film versus only 1 completed roll of 120 and two partially exposed B&W films (2 Portra 400, 2 Ektar 100, 2 UFX 400 and 2 Delta 400).  Medium format is fun, but the 35mm’s cameras ease of use with its ability to quickly get out of the car, grab the camera, take a shot, or bring it on (longer) hikes due to their smaller size and weight all seem to favor in my case the 35mm cameras.   While the 120 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives out-resolve any 35mm negatives, I am quite happy with the image quality from the 135 images and also plan to print some of those photographs in larger format. I only completed 1 roll of 6 x 4.5 Portra 400, and a half roll of Ilford FP4 and HP5 each. Basically, the medium format camera rarely came out of the car.

Would I do anything different with regards to the gear or film stocks on the next road trip? Yes, I might leave the medium format camera at home and only bring a 35mm camera (either the same setup or just one camera with two lenses, 28mm and 50mm).

Please let me know your comments below. I am particularly interested what your current or perfect travel road trip film camera set up is (including your favorite B&W and color films).

I always love to connect with other photographers, so feel free to connect with me via Instagram or my website.

Thanks, Hamish, for the opportunity to post another article, and thanks to all the fellow photographers for reading.

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Malcolm Myers
    July 16, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    I did a US Road Trip of my own back in 2006 (during my digital dark age). On my way I saw Bryce, Zion and Antelope Canyon, as well as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Of all of them Bryce was the one I found the most spectacular. I’d recommend anyone go there if they can. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 16, 2020 at 9:36 pm

      Malcolm,

      Thanks for your comments! I had to laugh at your “digital dark age” comment! And I completely agree with you with regards to Bryce, it is stunning indeed.

      Cheers,

      Daniel

  • Reply
    BG
    July 16, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    Great photos, Daniel! That Horseshoe Bend shot with the Hasselblad is amazing, so much punch and crispness. I like the Nikon pics from Zion, too, especially the one with the tree in the foreground. These bring back a lot of great memories for me, having camped in all these places growing up. I think my favorite focal length for shooting nature and landscapes is 28mm. I’d also take a nifty 50 as a back up and for some less-often close up shots. I have an old 6×9 120 folder that works great for landscapes. Nice job!

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 16, 2020 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks for the comments! 28mm is indeed a great focal length for nature/landscapes. And 6×9 folding camera sounds wonderful as well!

  • Reply
    lasousa2015
    July 17, 2020 at 1:51 am

    HI Daniel, wonderful images. I remember fondly a trip to Sedona. Unfortunately I left the film uptake spool for my M3 at home and there was no camera shop to give a replacement. I shot 6X6 Rollei and digital. How do you shoot 6X4.5 with the Hasselblad. Do you have a mask? Thanks for the great post. Louis.

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 17, 2020 at 2:14 am

      Hi Louis!

      Thanks for your comments! That’s too bad that you left the M3 uptake spool 🙁

      With regards to Hasselblad 6×4.5, I have a A16 back that is designed for 16 6×4.5 photographs. I use a “tooth pick” mask, as shown and discussed in this link (they also have a pdf to create your own masks in this flickr discussion): https://www.flickr.com/groups/hasselblad/discuss/72157624257882833/

      Cheers,

      Daniel

      • Reply
        Kim
        July 17, 2020 at 4:52 am

        Great photos. Do you get more shots with 6×4.5 or still 12 shots? I noticed you said A16 back that is designed for 16 6×4.5. Thanks

        • Reply
          Daniel Sigg
          July 17, 2020 at 5:00 am

          Thanks!!! Yes, with the A16 back you do get indeed 16 6×4.5 format shots. So, that’s pretty cool. As another reader mentioned, the masking of the viewfinder needs to be considered for correct/precise compositions. I am using a simple “toothpick” method for framing the 4.5 framelines (see flickr discussion), and that works really well.

          Cheers,

          Daniel

  • Reply
    Lee
    July 17, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Seems smart to have two 35mm cameras with you so you can quickly switch between focal lengths or color vs. B&W film. Love the shots of Horseshoe Bend. However, not strictly related to photography, your Toyota RAV4 is only rated to tow 1500 lbs. Don’t you think you exceeded the safe towing limit of this vehicle, considering the already heavy weight of such a large trailer. Glad you completed your trip without issue.

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 17, 2020 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks for your comments! The trailer was indeed very heavy and your point is well taken. The rating of the hitch on our car is actually 4500 pounds, so I was told by U-Haul that this trailer is fully compatible and safe with this trailer/car combination.

      • Reply
        Lee
        July 21, 2020 at 5:53 pm

        I really think it’s important to convey just how dangerous towing that trailer was. UHaul is wrong and following their advice put you and your family in danger. It’s not just the rating of the hitch that matters, it’s the power of the engine, the robustness of the transmission, the strength of the brakes, the capacity of the car’s cooling system, and the capability of your suspension. The rating of the hitch might be 4500 lbs, which would make it a class 3 hitch, but that doesn’t mean your car can safely tow 4500 lbs. Class I hitches are rated for up to 2000 lb with 200 lb tongue weight. Class II hitches are rated for up to 3500 lb with 300 lb tongue weight. Basic Class III hitches are rated for up to 6000 lb with 600 lb tongue weight. If you want to calculate the towing capacity of your vehicle in a quick and dirty way, you subtract the Curb Weight from the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), or you can use an online tool like the one linked below, which shows the towing capacity of a 2017 Toyota RAV4 LE to be 1500lb. https://rv.campingworld.com/towguide

        • Reply
          Daniel Sigg
          July 21, 2020 at 6:15 pm

          Thank you for sharing this additional information! It does seem irresponsible to pass this vehicle/trailer combination as safe!

  • Reply
    Kate Johnson
    July 17, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Gorgeous! I’ve been to all of these places. You did a great job capturing them.

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 18, 2020 at 2:11 am

      Kate, thanks for your comments! These places are so beautiful, it was hard to put the camera down! Cheers, Daniel

  • Reply
    Christian Schroeder
    July 18, 2020 at 11:45 am

    Hi Daniel,

    thanks for this very enjoyable and informative post!

    With regards to your images, I strongly prefer your black-and-white interpretation of the scenes. In my opinion, their gritty, contrasty look fits the – quite regular – patterns of the rocks perfectly. An elegant way to deal with the harsh sun in the midst of the day. I also like the wideness of your 28mm lens.

    As you asked our travel set-ups: I recently spent some days at the countryside with my parents-in-law. That meant strolling around and lots of bicycling. My kit consisted of three different cameras: a portable medium format option (Plaubel Makina 67), a “serious” 35mm (Leicaflex SLR) and a “casual” 35mm camera (Ricoh point-and-shoot). I took most shots with the Leicaflex, roughly two rolls of Portra. Whereas these SLR-made images turned out as I expected them to do – so kind of business as usual –, the brave little Ricoh surprised with some meaningful (to me) portraits and family snapshots. By the way, I loaded the point-and-shoot with TriX. Especially with humans, black-and-white can give the photographs a certain severity, which I like. The Plaubel returned home without having exposed a single frame. I attribute this to a unconscious barrier in my head: if it is medium format, the scene should be really worth a medium format shot. So I’m ending up being too picky and always fall back to my 35mm options…

    How to conclude? If I bring along only one camera, I will definitely end up using it (or I don’t take a picture at all, which is pretty unlikely). If I have a choice, I will stick to the comfortable solution.

    Cheers,
    Christian

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 18, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      Hi Christian!

      Thanks for your as always very thoughtful comments! I agree that the B&W shots are definitely more interesting artistically. I think what I like about the color shots is that they are more documentarian and represent the trip and mood of the scene close to what we saw. The American Southwest is a lot about color, but you are also correct that there is so much about pattern and tones.

      Also thanks for sharing your travel setup!

      Take care,

      Daniel

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    July 19, 2020 at 4:16 am

    Hi Dan,
    An interesting article. I can’t shoot a decent nature photo to save my life, so I’m impressed by how you conveyed the openness of the west, and the sculptured rock formations. I’m a longtime admirer of the American artist Ed Ruscha, so of all your pics, the one of the car pulling into the gas station w/the UHaul is my favorite. What can I say?
    I hope you’re staying healthy at home and your daughter is fine. Scary times.

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 19, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for your comments! I really love landscape photography, so it was definitely a welcome break from the lockdown to go on this road trip and do some of that. What are your favorite subjects?

      Thanks for pointing out Ed Ruscha, his work is inspiring! On that note, before the lockdown earlier this year I had a chance to visit the Edward Hopper exhibit in Basel Beyeler Foundation (Basel is my home town) with my brother. You have probably seen Hopper’s gas station painting (see https://www.fondationbeyeler.ch/en/exhibitions/edward-hopper). The Hopper exhibit was fantastic and was only topped by the film by Wim Wenders shown within the exhibit (in 3D!) where they recreated several of Hoppers paintings with sets and actors …

      Cheers,

      Daniel

  • Reply
    David Campbell
    July 20, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Generally a nice bunch of shots, both color and black and white. I’ve lived in Arizona all my life and these places look right at home to me. Unfortunately, these images seem to suffer somewhat from the same complaint I usually had for so many years trying to shoot landscapes with color print film — often they look washed out and over-exposed, though mostly the bright highlights. It seems particularly true of the Zion shots, but also in many of the others. One of the least affected is the first shot with the trailer, which looks great. You said you purposely over-exposed by one stop, so maybe that’s all it is. But the sun out here in the west is brutally bright except for the golden hours, so it’s almost impossible, it seems, to avoid blown out highlights. It’s one reason I long ago switched to transparency film (mostly Kodachrome , but often Ektachrome) when I shot landscapes. In my last years of shooting film before going digital, I switched to some of the Fuji negative films because the prints came out well-saturated. The b/w shots look overly contrasty as well, as it looks like the middle tones are somewhat missing.

    I apologize for sounding overly critical. Just wanted to pass along a couple observations. I see so little film imagery these days I guess I get carried away when I see it!

    Please continue the good work!

    David

    • Reply
      Daniel Sigg
      July 20, 2020 at 3:09 pm

      No apologies needed. Yes, the color images were overexposed by one stop and many of those shots were very bright mid-day. I think they represent pretty closely of what we observed, and I wanted to show the brightness of those days. I don’t think there are blown out highlights (at least from when I edited them in Lightroom), but I definitely was on the bright end of the spectrum (for the color photographs). That was the intended look I was going for and I wanted to show the brightness.

      With regards to the black and white. Yes, the contrast was a deliberate a priori choice of mine. I shot these the 400 film at 1600 and was going for a super contrasty look.

      Cheers,

      Daniel

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