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Desert Southwest Photography Workshop: Arches & Canyonlands National Parks - April 6th & 7th, 2013

"What's your favorite workshop"? is a question that I often get asked. My answer is, "I don't have one favorite, but several are at the top of the list".

One of those list toppers is our Desert Southwest Arches and Canyonlands NP workshop. The Utah desert has some truly amazing landscape features, from the highly recognizable red rocks, to the more intimate details that only a desert landscape can offer.

My fellow instructor, Scott Donschikowski and I set off in early April for an exciting Southwest road trip, where we would teach three separate workshops in three different, yet equally amazing locations. Arches and Canyonlands NP would be our first stop.

Thirteen eager students met up with us at the Holiday Inn Express in Moab, UT on Friday night, for a meet and great. Scott and I welcomed everyone, and we got to know each student, with a round of introductions. We had many returning students and some fresh smiling faces as well. After the group was all aquatinted, I went over the itinerary for the weekend. Saturday was an early start, so we said our good nights and turned in for restful nights sleep.

Day 1:

The hotel was nice enough to have some breakfast items out for us, so all could fuel up with coffee and breakfast before our early departure. Scott and I ensured that all were loaded up into our very cool Mercedes Sprinter van, otherwise know as the ApCab. We headed into Arches NP for our first stop of the day, The Windows. It's a very short hike to an outstanding view of the Turret Arch, seen through the North Window. There was plenty of different vantage points, so Scott and I split up and took the students around to view the different options. We assisted with the proper settings, such as, aperture, iso, white balance, and focal distance, while explaining the reasons for each setting. It was like a well timed orchestra, once all the students were set, the show started. Mother nature provided us with a beautiful sunrise, with just enough light to bath the North Window with a stunning orange glow. The students were capturing some truly epic shots. Once the best light was over, it was the perfect time to show the students how adding a sense of scale to a scene can be a lot of fun. Scott was kind enough to hop up in the bottom portion of the North Window, and he not only stood there, but jumped up, throwing out an outstanding karate kick. The images that I was seeing on everyones LCD screens where simply fantastic, and the excitement was palpable.

After exploring the entire windows area, we headed over to the large an impressive, Double Arch. This arch was featured in an Indiana Jones movie, during the opening scene, so you know it's impressive! Scott and I helped with some creative compositions, and encouraged the students to explore some different points of view. The sun was started to move higher and therefore create some harsher light. This was our que to take an afternoon break, for some lunch and an afternoon siesta.

All were rested, and the angle of the sun was on the decline, therefore we set out for our sunset shoot at Delicate Arch, located in Arches NP. This location requieres a bit of a hike, including some elevation gain. Therefore Scott and I ensured we got there in plenty of time, allowing the group to walk at a leisurely pace. Everyone made it up with no trouble, and quicker than Scott and I thought they would. That afternoon some clouds moved in, so we all watched and waited to see what these clouds would do. Meanwhile I passed around some snacks, apple slices, cheese, and crackers. We decided to move into a different vantage point, as it looked like the sun would pop through, shortly before it was to set on the horizon. That is exactly what happend. Everyone was set up with a nice composition and the right settings, when the sun popped through the clouds. All were giddy to see the beautiful sunstar there were capturing, along with Delicate Arch bathed in a warm glow of golden hour light. It was well worth the hike, and the wait. The perfect ending to a fantistic day in Arches NP.

Day 2:

Another early start, fueled with a quick breakfast. After loading up in the ApCab, we made our way into Canyonlands NP. Mesa Arch is a highly popular sunrise location. The arch itself, and the around surrounding the arch, is not very big. We arrive while it's still dark, to ensure we get a preferred vantage pint for our students. Upon arriving, Scott noticed that the milky was was still highly visible in the still dark sky. We made our way down to the trail to the arch, with headlamps and flashlights, and quickly got everyone set up for some star shooting. It was lot's of fun, and the students captured some awesome images. Once the sky started to get lighter, Scott and I made sure that everyone changed their settings for appropriate daylight conditions.

As the sun rises, it not only bathes the underside of the arch with a remarkable glow, but the low angle creates the ability to point directly at the sun, creating a sunstar. Scott and I walk around to be sure all the students have the right settings and postion for this epic sunstar event. We spent some time exploring the area around Mesa Arch, and then headed down to the road to our next destination, Dead Horse Point State Park. Located just outside Canyonlands NP is the very cool Dead Horse Point. This location would remind you of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado river snakes through the canyon below, approximately 2,000 feet below the canyon rim. The park has some beautiful viewpoints of the canyon and also some nice smaller features, including small twisting juniper trees. The students explored the photographically rich area for an hour or so. Belly were started to rumble, so break-time was immanent. Some of us met up at a very cool little breakfast/brunch place in downtown Moab, to fuel up, then it was back to rest and recharge our batteries at the hotel.

After our mid-day break, we all piled into the ApCab for the last time. A few stops were on tap for the remainder of the day, the first was Park Avenue. With high canyon walls on either side and a hiking trail that descends downward, the location has many wide open viewpoints, as well as many intimate detail shots. The students were really coming into their own, and set off to explore, and capture some interesting images. There were some nice puffy white clouds and the deep blue sky complimented the rich orange landscape extremely well. After a good bit of exploring we brought the students to an area called the Garden of Eden. More time to explore and come up with some different view points, and creative images. Memory cards were filling and batteries draining, so it was time to make our way to the final location, Balanced Rock. Another iconic spot in Arches NP, the Balanced Rock really does appear to be balancing on top of a gently leaning, cylindrical rock mass. Scott and I assisted the students with finding a unique perspective, while incorporating some interesting foreground elements. Some clouds had moved in, so we did not have a colorful sunset, but that didn't damper things one bit. The students still captured some cool images and were giddy with all their images captured over the past two days. We all went out to Moab Brewery for a conversation filled dinner, over good food and drink, before saying our final farewells.

Scott and I would be heading on to teach our Grand Canyon Workshop, and to our pleasure, we would have 4 of our Arches and Canyonlands NP students joining us for that adventure as well.

Until Next Time!

Ellie, Scott and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team

P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.


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