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Posts tagged ‘utah’


North Window frames Turret Arch at sunrise, Arches National Park, Utah.

Window on the West

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

Fins on Fire

 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.


New Addition to the Website, Adventures in Light!

“Adventures in Light” takes a look at the creative, technical and digital darkroom techniques used to create some of Joe’s most popular images! Current entry online is “Ghost of Wahweap” from Joe’s last journey to the Colorado Plateau!

Read Joe’s first post, The Ghost of Wahweap now online!!


Ghosts of Wahweap Wash, Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, Utah

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.


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.

Be sure to visit my website for our current schedule of photo workshop near and far as well as browse our galleries of fine art prints, purchase boos on nature and landscape photography and visit our photo tips page for thoughtful tutorials and insights on the making of my images from capture to post processing.


Heavens Gate. Delicate Arch Starscape, Arches National Park, Utah

I just returned home from 13 days in southern Utah with fellow photographer and friend Ian Plant. The first part of the trip was spent leading our Arches and Canyonlands Creative Vision Photo Workshop. After that we spent time in the Page and Escalante area backpacking and exploring slot canyons and sandstone rims.

This is a shot from the last evening shoot with the workshop group. After the light faded, we positioned the group below Delicate Arch and set up a starscape. This is a 30 minute exposure at 1 hour after dark with a twilight exposure for the glow on the horizon blended in. The arch was illuminated with about 20 flash bursts and a red gel.

Thanks for having a look and best of light,



Join me for an exciting workshop in the canyon country of Moab Utah!


I am happy to announce our first Creative Visions workshop for 2010 in the rugged and beautiful canyon country of Moab, Utah. This workshops shooting locations will take place in Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point and other slickrock locations surrounding the Moab area.

Click here for more information and to register

The Workshop
Looking to take your creative expression to the next level? Creative Vision Photo Workshops are designed to challenge you to reach new heights with your nature photography. Join Creative Vision instructors Ian Plant and Joseph Rossbach on an intensive, multi-day field and classroom instructional workshop that will help you create photographs you’ve always dreamed of making.

The Destination
Arches and Canyonlands National Park contain some of the most breath taking scenery in the United States. Chocked full of hundreds of natural arches, slick rock canyons, balanced rocks and wild vistas this 5 day workshop will explore the very best these two locations has to offer.

The dynamic forces of wind, water and geologic upheaval have created a landscape of extraordinary beauty and have left for us a plethora of photogenic treasures. We intend to visit as many of them as possible during visits to Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point State Park, capturing the textures, contrasts, and surprising formations of this high desert region.