I emailed my photo shoot plan to Bret Edge, one of my favorite southwest photographer who runs a fast upcoming gallery in Moab. Within minute Bret got back to me and asked me to switch Mesa Arch for Dead Horse Point for the sunrise slot. It was a sixty four thousand dollar tip! It was almost an hour past sunrise when we arrived at Mesa Arch. On the easy trail towards the arch, I was praying that Bret was right, and right he was. We saw the arch glowing warmly from a distance as we turned around a corner. And there was nobody other than a lone photographer! He looked at us and said, “Great timing guys. A few minutes ago, this place was was a jamboree of photographers.” You bet!
The arch collects the light reflected by the slick rock below for a good two hours after sunrise, a well kept professional Southwest photo secret. Photographers arrive here at sunrise and then jostle to get the right angle. Many tripod mounted camera means you are stuck in one place with one angle through the morning only trading places when other photographers are ready. And here we had the arch to ourselves. We shot for an hour, exploring every angle, every nook and cranny of the sunlight bathed ceiling. And when we left, the arch was still agog in orange, and the washerwoman was still busy with her clothes.
|Photography Tip: Arrive an hour after sunrise. Have the wide angle mounted on your camera. Meter for orange. Use your tripod.|
Photo op or not, I cannot drive past an Anasazi ruin without at least peeping in, even if it is just a granary. A short hike took us to the top of the Aztec Butte and we followed a small trail that dropped us on a slick rock. The granary is built deep into a recess near the top of the hill. The roof of the alcove was catching the reflected sunlight. I lay flat on my stomach to get the texture of the rocky floor in the frame. The upward angle also helped me change the scale of the granary. The granary so tiny, I had to bend while standing under the roof.
I wondered what the granary was doing here without any Anasazi dwellings nearby. Was this just a cache?
The craggy unforgiving terrain of the southwest screams death. There are many ways to die here– of hunger and thirst, drowning and dehydration, of a broken bone and a misread landmark, of carelessness and overconfidence. Standing atop the Green River lookout, I had to stop being philosophical and make a photo. A thunderstorm was brewing on the horizon. Dark clouds were dripping down on the mountains like oil from a leaky engine. It was late afternoon but the light was fast fading. I knew this shot would need post production. It is then a simple matter of composition and a tack sharp focus.
|Photography Tip: Arrive late afternoon which the sun is still midways in the sky. Any later and the canyon will be I the dark. Use a zoom lens (70-100mm.) Decide how much sky you want.|
Sunset was still an hour away and the light was already turning golden. But standing at the Dead Horse Point, the problem was apparent to me. The sun was on the wrong side. Or said differently, I was here on the wrong end of the day. For this photo to be striking. you want the east side of that island well lit, created by river Colorado making a U-turn.
|Photography Tip: Arrive before sunrise.|
We pulled over at an unnamed rim and walked down an unmarked trail. Unless you do that, your album will look like a rim drive – a collection of photos taken from popular outlooks and overlooks. We scrambled a couple of miles through thick undergrowth, across narrow ledges littered with loose stones, over dry washes until we came to this canyon. There was no going further without ropes. The view was breathtaking, sculpted over a million years by the wind and water. Far away, river Colorado snaked through a chasm she had judiciously cut for herself. Tall cliffs plummeted to the canyon floor. The valley was still. Nothing moved. I could have come here a thousand years ago and it would have been exactly the way it is now.