National Parks and especially our country’s national monuments have been in the news lately. Utah has some of the most beautiful landscape settings in the entire Southwest. From the hub of Moab you can easily visit Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and the one pictured: Canyonlands National Park. Each one has its uniqueness, and as a group they compliment each other with their bare bones geology revealing stunning rock formations.
Canyonlands has several show-stopping photography opportunities. Some are less known than others. This one is no secret at all though. Mesa Arch at sunrise — its the classic landscape photo. The sense of depth is enormous. The arch is just beyond reach, and nicely contains tall spires and mesas of the mid-ground, then the La Sal Mountains anchor the perspective on the distant horizon. For most any landscape photo the sense of depth is vital, and the window framed by Mesa Arch delivers the gold.
A sense of time gives a photo the feeling of being alive. A landscape scene works best when there is a presence within the scene that is seemingly changing right before your eyes. A fresh wildflower has that quality, as does a passing cloud or storm, and in this case the bursting energy of the morning sun. These moments of time are fleeting in their pristine beauty. This moment in time here in Canyonlands had the pure essence of a fresh, new day. That presence of a sunburst, caused by diffracting light, also captures our attention in a way we find engaging.
An environmental effect on natural light is another quality that makes a landscape photograph pleasing. The underside of Mesa Arch begins to glow as the colorful sunrise light bounces up off the cliff in front of it. The bright orange light being cast from below is fairly unique, and makes this a popular spot for photographers and other visitors alike. Get there early. You’ll be hiking in the predawn dark with a headlamp, and unless you’re the first one to arrive you’ll need to join the community of tripods being guarded by serious photographers. I had heard tales filled with frustration. I had just the opposite experience.
Upon arriving I asked if it was okay to set up, placing my tripod closely to the person on one end of the line. The tall man next to me had a soft German accent. We chatted in the dark. I was lucky because there was a small group of photographers, and the man next to me couldn’t have been nicer. Camera LCDs glowed in the dark, headlamps went on and off, adjustments made, anticipation growing, and when the sunrise started, we got lost in our quest for the perfect image.
The under-belly of the clouds had betrayed the hiding sun. Slowly, without making a peep of sound, a bright point of light came alive on the horizon. Cameras clicked, and clicked. Each photographer was trying to capture their masterpiece of this scene. I must have shot a hundred or more frames. Bracketing exposures for ideal lighting, pausing, watching, triggering another series of images as the sun slowly climbed up under the arch.
Many have been here before, and many more will follow. But for right there, right then, it was ours. It was our special time to witness the beginning of a new day in one of the most picturesque settings on the planet. I’m still working on my new book about the Four Corners region. Books take time and that’s what I like about them. They take time to make, and hopefully, they last for many years to come. And in those pages will be the excitement of finding beautiful places and capturing their essence to share with others.