I got lucky on this shot of Turret Arch framed through North Window in Arches National Park. This iconic location is a tough spot to come away with original compositions, but with a little personal vision and a helping hand from Mother Nature anything is possible. First of all, the classic shot is a horizontal composition with north Window filling the frame and Turret Arch in the center. Add in some bold first morning light and you’ve got yourself the classic icon shot. For me, I pre visualized a vertical comp going way wide and a prayed for some interesting clouds above. To my delight, the cloud shape formed a perfect V pushing the eye back down into the image and refocusing the viewers attention on the main subject, Turret Arch framed by North Window. I also included a bit more of the bottom of the arch as well to create a sweeping C curve formed by North Window.
Behind the Rocks bathed in sunset light under the La Sal Mountains from Poision Spider Mesa, Moab, Utah
I made this image on the last night of another epic western trip to Colorado to shoot wildflowers and monsoon light and then a brief foray into Moab to work some desert light before heading back. On this fateful eve, myself and fellow photographers Alex Mody and Chris Kayler took Alex’s tricked out 4×4 monster FJ up onto Poison Spider Mesa to shoot this not so iconic location from a spot about 2/3 of the way up the mesa. The trail was rough and involved some serious rock crawling and super technical 4×4 maneuvering to get to our intended spot. Arriving with a couple of hours to spare before sunset, we decided to venture onward and upward towards the top of the mesa. The road continued to deteriorate, but we landed safely on top with no problem, or so we thought!!
As we turned around at the top of the loop and began back down on flat and smooth packed dirt, we felt the truck buckle and bounce on the driver side. Thinking at first we had hit a rock or were perhaps dragging something, Alex stopped the truck to inspect. To our horror the axle had snapped at the joint and the tire was buckled under the front of the car. Now that was an OH SHIT moment for sure! With no other options, we put on our backs what we could carry and began the long 5 mile walk down the mesa to the trail head where my Element was parked. Not being able to get to our original shooting location in time, I settled for a telephoto comp as the light broke and bathed the fins of Behind the Rocks in glowing red light for only moments before the sun disappeared once again behind monsoon clouds on the western horizon. As we made our way down the trail in the gathering darkness, I was struck by the unconditional beauty and unforgiving nature of the desert and just how lucky we were to have broken down on this evening in the the land of burning rock and big sky.
On a recent adventure to the Colorado Plateau, after leading a 5 day photo workshop in Moab, Utah, good friend and colleague Ian Plant and myself spent a night out at the Towers of Silence in Wahweap Wash. Wahweap Wash Hoodoos are located inside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on the southern Utah border near Big Water and Lake Powell. There are two ways to get to the hoodoos, you can either drive in via a series of rough 4×4 roads from Cottonwood Canyon or if you happen to be driving a little piece of crap rental car, you can walk up from just outside of the town of Big Water.
We started our hike late in the afternoon under the burning heat of the spring sun and slugged and kicked our way through pockets of deep sand and many, many stream crossing before reaching the Towers of Silence after about 6 miles of walking. The day was clear and only a few clouds floated by in the sky. We quickly set up our camp for the night and then grabbed our camera gear in search of a few compositions in the fading light. I was at first, not very excited about the evening shoot. The lack of clouds and no direct light on the stone hoodoos was not looking so good for creating any dramatic landscape images. Either way, I headed out and started searching for possible nightscape compositions.
To my surprise while scouting out a comp for a possible nightscape, I noticed a single cloud blowing in from the east and just beginning to catch the last magnificent rays of sunset light. I quickly framed up a wide-angle composition from below the tallest and most photographed Hoodoo and patiently waited for the cloud to drift over head. To my luck and surprise, the cloud held onto the amazing light just long enough to get off a few shots before the show was over.
After catching those last rays of light, I moved into position to record a static star field image of the Tower of Silence. Only after working on the shot for about 15 minutes, I went for my fleece only to realize I had left it back at camp. The desert night was quickly becoming very cold and so I told Ian that I was going to retreat back to camp to get warm and start a small squall fire to keep us warm over night.
About an hour later, Ian came running back into camp thanking me profusely for starting the fire. We didn’t realize it at the time, but my small fire had been enough to illuminate the canyon walls and hoodoos of in the distance. Ian announced that he had spotted a white ghost hoodoo that I scouted earlier in the day that was catching light and a faint shadow on the back of the canyon wall. We ran of into the darkness to investigate the possibilities of shooting a starscape .
After a few high ISO test exposures and careful framing of the composition ( I was trying to pay careful attention and do a bit of guess-work to have the north star off-center to the right so the star trails would lead the eye back towards the hoodoo and it’s shadow), I was now ready to run my 40 minute exposure. I tripped open the shutter and we both fumbled our way back into camp. After a quick drink, we were off towards the wash to find dead wood to continue to stoke the fire making sure the scene was properly illuminated and bright enough for the shadow to cast on the canyon wall.
After a few drinks it was off to bed for a long cold night. My gear kept me warm and I awoke in the morning at dawn feeling refreshed and ready to go. We just so happened to be at the Towers at the right time of the year to get direct first morning light. I started out back on a hill shooting the towers with my telephoto lens to compress, but was unhappy with the results. I moved in close and used my wide-angle and the curving white badlands to lead the eye into the scene.
After a great morning shoot, I headed back to camp to pack it in and have a quick bite to eat. The sun was still quite low in the morning sky and the desert sage caught my attention in the backlight. I pulled out my telephoto and went waking along the wash looking for the right composition. I was lucky to find it before the sun moved too high in the sky and the soft glow was over.