Leaving the herd behind at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
As a full time professional nature photographer, I often find it essential to shoot icons. I don’t usually want to or have a great drive to photograph in these locations for one reason alone. They’ve been shot too many times before. Take Delicate Arch for example. This is arguably the most photographed natural arch in the world! People come from across the globe to visit Arches National Park and hundreds, if not thousands of photographers flock to this location every year. The vast majority of the herd take the same shots from the same vantage points. You can see the finely worn indentations of tripod holes pounded into the slick rock. So why would I want to visit this location and is it possible to come away with a unique image?
To answer the first question, the reason I came to shoot Delicate Arch was because I was one leading a photo workshop in Arches and Canyonlands, and it would be sacrilege to not take the group to the most iconic arch in the world while on a workshop in that very park. And the second reason, it is an absolutely beautiful location and if I want to further market and sell my images from the southwest than I had better have a nice and hopefully unique collection of images from these desert icons. So starts my thinking on just how unimaginative most photographers can be. While at Delicate Arch along with at least 100 other tourist and at least 15 other photographers, all of the tripods were all lined up in the classic position at the back of the bowl to shoot the arch against the La Sal mountains, the classic shot. Let me be honest here for just a moment. Do I have a classic shot of Delicate Arch from the back of the bowl? Yes! Would I shoot it again from the classic position? Yes I would, but only if there was something truly magical happening. I mean I would need some really dramatic clouds over those La Sal’s or a double rainbow cresting down on the arch with a pot of gold on the other end. The evening we were up there with the group there were no dramatic clouds, no rainbows and no leprechaun touting a pot of gold. Just your average high pressure skies and not a cloud in sight! It’s under these conditions that a photographer must begin to really think outside of the box and work hard to create a unique image of an oft photographed subject.
Take this image for example. When we first arrived up top and after consulting with my group, I do what I most often do when shooting a location, leave the camera in the bag and take a walk around. I study the subject, the light, the weather, look at the angles and try to get into a rhythm with the place. That’s when I came up under the backside of the arch and noticed that the sun was arcing it way down and towards the opening of the arch from the back end. I went back and got the group and drug them down to this spot. For this image I set the camera low to the ground with an extreme wide angle to include not only the arch but also the area of sandstone catching light in the immediate foreground. I patiently waited for the sun to set into the small opening and them began to create the images. Often times the difference between a good image and a great image is the decisive moment!
As sunset approached, I found a spot just below Delicate Arch with some great sandstone striations leading the eye deep into the image and creating strong visual impact. I set my camera low to the ground and kept inching forward every couple of minutes as the sun retreated towards the horizon and the shadows grew longer on the sandstone. This shot was taken just as the sun was about to crest the horizon. The warm side light, raking shadows and color juxtaposition between red sandstone and blue sky was so arresting. I couldn’t have picked a better spot to record the last wonderful play of light and land at this icon of the west.
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