A Few Days In The Unsettled Desert

When you head off to a different location for a few days of photography you dream of conditions like these. I was very lucky that on the first night I arrived in Canyonlands National Park I was treated to this dramatic sunset over the Green River and White Rim from Grandview Point. I’ve been trying to photograph Canyonlands in conditions like these for years and finally after many visits was lucky enough to get both sun and rain. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8E FL ED VR lens

At least once each year I take a sabbatical from photographing Rocky Mountain National Park and head west to Utah for a few days of photography. Whether I end up in Bryce Canyon or the Moab area depends on a couple factors (Jeep week in Moab being one). Usually this coincides with spring break and both my wife and daughter get to tag along with me and we all get to spend time outdoors, hiking, exploring and spending time together.

It’s a nice change of pace and I welcome a few days out in the desert as the winter months begin to release their grasp on Rocky. This year we spent the better parts of four days in Moab. It’s an easy 5.5 hr drive from my house in Erie and it nice to get to a location and be able to spend sometime in a few spots waiting for the favorable weather for landscape photography.

When we made plans to stay in Moab for part of the week I had no idea that Arches National Park would be undergoing a major road construction project. Sunday through Thursday nights a construction crew is busy repaving the main park road and there would be no access to Arches National Park from 7:00 PM until 7:00 AM as the construction crew would have the road shut down overnight in order for them to work unhindered.

When I first heard this news posted on one of the social media sites, I was a bit dismayed. The timing of the closings would for all intense and purposes prohibit photography of sunrise and sunset in Arches National Park while I was in town visiting. While I love Arches National Park, I’ve spent plenty of time photographing the park and eventually I realized the overnight road closings would actual be a good thing. While I was staying in Moab, other than day hikes with the family, I would have to photograph other locations around Moab, something I often don’t do when the close convenience and easy accessibility of Arches National Park is available.

While in Moab conditions were very good for photography. Warm weather the weeks prior to my visit had pushed some of the wildflower blooms ahead of schedule. Lots of beautiful red paintbrush covered the desert floor. I was also lucky enough to be on the front and back end of two large pacific storm systems that passed through the area when I was visiting. While nobody wants rain while on vacation, photographers love unsettled weather as it creates the possibility of dramatic conditions and lighting. This certainly held true during this visit to Moab. Rain, storms and pot holes filled with fresh raindrops all helped to make for a successful trip to Utah with a couple of great sunsets and sunrises thrown into the mix.

So while its back to photographing Rocky (poor me), it was great as always to get back out to red rock country and enjoy some different scenery and weather for a change. Nothing makes you appreciate your own backyard more than photographing in somebody else backyard for a few days.

Even with the road construction in Arches National Park making access nearly impossible. I was able to get a Saturday morning sunrise from Arches before leaving. With a good rain falling on Moab the night before, I knew this would be the morning to attempt to photograph the Courthouse Towers reflecting in the short lived water filled pot holes. A break in the clouds and fog at sunrise resulted in near perfect conditions this morning in Arches. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 ED AF lens

Photographing Big Mac’s

Photographing icons is always and interesting experience as a landscape photographer. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most photographed locations on the entire planet. Mesa Arch is iconic for a reason but expect to be joined by lots of other photographers making similar images or an often photographed location. While it can be fun to photograph icons, it can also be stressful and less rewarding then photographing lesser known locations. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR
Photographing icons is always and interesting experience as a landscape photographer. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most photographed locations on the entire planet. Mesa Arch is iconic for a reason but expect to be joined by lots of other photographers making similar images or an often photographed location. While it can be fun to photograph icons, it can also be stressful and less rewarding then photographing lesser known locations. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR

I’ve just returned from a few amazing days out in the red rock country surrounding Moab,Utah. Specifically, I spent time photographing Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. It was certainly a nice change of pace and it’s always fun to get out of your comfort zone and work in different surroundings. In the past I’ve spent a fair bit of time photographing the area around Moab, mostly with my 4×5 large format film camera. Even so, it felt like it had been eons since I last photographed the area.

With my photography focusing mostly on Rocky Mountain National Park and a four year old daughter at home, I’ve spent much less time photographing the red sandstone of Utah then I care to admit. Finally however, I had the opportunity to return to the desert for a few days of photography and fun. I must admit I felt both a bit out my element while also torn deciding which locations I should attempt to photographs. Moab and the National and State parks surrounding the town are filed to the brim with iconic locations to photograph. At times it seems as if you only have to go a few hundred yards to find yet another iconic western vista. In the past I’ve photographed many of these locations and over the course of the last few years I’ve seen thousands of jaw dropping compositions on both magazine covers and on the internet.

This of course led me to question both what I was seeking to accomplish photographically speaking and furthermore how did I feel about standing next to a dozen or more other photographers while trying to make a meaningful connection to the landscape as well as meaningful images. Guy Tal, a Utah based photographer and writer whom I greatly admire once commented, and I’m paraphrasing here that photographing Mesa Arch was like going to a five star restaurant and then requesting the chef make you a Big Mac. Guy’s sentiment certainly resonated with me.

So after spending a few days photographing some of the lesser visited locations in and around Moab, I wrestled with the thought of heading over to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands as I peered out my hotel window at the cloudless nighttime skies. Without clouds in the sky, Mesa Arch seemed like the most logical location to head out too. Dramatic skies are always a great asset for landscape photographers but Mesa Arch is one of those locations that can be dramatic both with or without a cloud in the sky. Could I do it?. Did I really want to head out to Mesa Arch, claim a spot early and then line up with throngs of other photographers to shoot sunrise from one of the most photographed locations on earth?.

With some reservation and a lot trepidation I decided I would indeed head out early and at least experience photographing at Mesa Arch once again. It had been nearly 12 years since I had last photographed Mesa Arch, so I figured at the very least I could not be accused of personally photographing a location to death.

I arrived at the Mesa Arch parking lot over two hours before sunrise. Even though I believed I had arrived early, I found the parking area bustling with activity and headlamps. Most of the parking spots had been filled and I could see other photographers preparing their equipment and gear for the short hike to Mesa Arch. I’m grumbled a bit to myself as I grabbed my bag and headed out on the trail toward the arch. Perhaps I thought by some fluke only one or two other photographers would decide to show up this day. In reality I may was in a bit of denial myself over where my decision to photograph had led me.

When I arrived at Mesa Arch I found three or four other photographers already setup. We joked about all descending on this ‘hidden gem’ at the same time, exchanged pleasantries and attempted to work as courteously with one another as possible. Within 20 minutes or so of arriving and setting up, a workshop had joined the photo line along with more photographers. Just before sunrise someone took a head count and it was just under sixty people waiting for the sun to rise under Mesa Arch.

It was a different and unique experience that morning at Mesa Arch. The only similar scenario I can think of would be standing along Maroon Lake photographing the Maroon Bells at the peak of fall color season. Maroon Lake however, has a lot more space and shoreline than does the area surrounding Mesa Arch so one does not quite have the same sense of crowding like you do in the tight confines around Mesa Arch.

After what seemed like an eternity, the sun rose, I made some pleasing images of this iconic location. I had some nice conversations with other photographers but felt a total sense of relief as I hiked back out to my car after sunrise. Hiking out the stress of shooting this busy of a location quickly receded and faded. I could hear the birds in the tree’s and smell the sweet spring air again. I thought about Guy Tal’s comment. I chuckled to myself and thought, ‘I’m good for another twelve years’.

Opening Day

Yarrow blooms from within a Juniper Skeleton. I photographed this shot in the area just outside of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark II 24-105mm F IS
Opening Day, for Baseball that is. This has to be my favorite day of the year. It signals an end to what always feels like too long of a Winter. It signifies that Springs is here, and Summer will here even sooner. Each day stays lighter longer, and the Sun begins to feel warm and comforting again. Of course for every Baseball fan, hope springs eternal on this day. Every team starts off 0-0, and every team still has hope.

For Photographers, the time around Opening Day also signals a change. New opportunities will soon present themselves. Snow draped pine trees and peaks will soon begin melting. Leaves will start to bud on Aspen trees and Maples. Grasses in the Meadows will begin turning from brown to green, and sooner than later will begin to yield the first wildflowers of the year. It’s also a time to pull out the map book, do some research and start planning where our Summer photo expeditions will take us. Hope does indeed spring eternal on this day. Excitement builds not only for what the Baseball season holds, but for what new opportunities, trips, circumstances and places the budding new photography season holds. Lets go Yankees!.