Radiant red rocks, Sapphire blue skies, and perfect postcard clouds. These were the conditions that summed up our Desert Southwest Arches/Canyonlands Photography Workshop experience.
Scott and I met up with our excited and eager students on Friday night at the Holiday Inn Express in the lovely town Moab, UT. We had many return students and met some fantastic new ones as well. After a round of introductions, Scott and I went over the itinerary and details for the 3-day adventure in beautiful red rock country.
In order to capture the images in the ideal light, we have to rise early. Day 1 began at 5:30am. The hotel made sure we had fresh hot coffee and they even had breakfast ready for us as well. Everyone fueled up and hopped in our Aperture Academy van, affectionately dubbed the ApCab. We rolled into Arches National Park and made the gentle hike out to our sunrise spot at the North Window. It’s a little scramble in order to get the best vantage point, which allows you to see the Turret Arch, through the North Window. It’s a classic and lovely view. I made sure everyone made it to the vantage point safely and then helped them get set up with the proper lens and settings to capture the best shot. Mother Nature was not as cooperative as we would have liked, and the morning clouds obscured a bit of the light. Adjusting the white balanced helped warm the rocks up nicely and the clouds behind the Turret Arch were shaping up perfectly. To add a nice sense of scale, Scott made his way into the large arch and supplied us with some nice jumps to capture an exciting sense of scale. The group then walked around the windows area and eventually up to the Turret Arch for some fun images, using the stairs as a nice leading line, up towards the arch. Scott and I went over changing your point of view and angle to create more compelling images.
We had spent a part of the early morning at this location, so it was time to meander to the next spot. Double Arch was within walking distance. Most walked down to the impressive series of arches and few rode in the ApCab with Scott. The impressive arches that make up double arch were featured in the opening scenes of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. The larger opening has a span of 148 feet and a height of 104 feet. The sun was starting to break through and it was creating the perfect opportunity to explain exposure bracketing. Scott and I encouraged all the students to explore different vantage points and angles. Once everyone had his or her fill of the double arch, we moved on to the last morning location, Organ Rock. Scott and I had checked out the area a day prior and were very excited to find that the recent rains and left some pools of water in the rock depressions. These pools provide a nice reflection of Organ Rock, and the beautiful blue, cloud filled sky. Scott also found some vibrant Red Indian paintbrush flowers, to add yet another stunning foreground element. The students worked on some different angles and incorporated the many interesting foreground elements. The morning really flew by, and it was almost lunchtime. Scott drove us back to Moab and we took a much need afternoon break, to recharge and refuel.
After break, we pilled back into the ApCab and went back into Arches National Park. First stop of the afternoon was Park Avenue. Another location featured in the Indiana Jones movie. The towering red rocks ride up on either side, mimicking towering city skyscrapers. The deadwood of the Pinion pine in this area makes the prefect foreground element, or embracing the tree as the main subject. The next stop off was a really nice lookout area. Scott and I helped with some instruction on single row panoramic images. This was the perfect overlook for a pano shot. The conditions were ideal, as we made our way to the final shooting location, Balanced Rock. It really does appear to be balancing precariously. We took the group on an adjacent hill; in order to better incorporate the snow covered LaSalle Mountains. It was a little bit of a waiting game, as the sun danced in and out of the clouds. Shining through at just the right time, the golden light of the late day, made the Balanced Rock appear to glow. Scott and I had the students use a longer focal length lens, to achieve some nice telephoto compression of the amazing mountain range in the distance. As the light faded, it was time to call it a day and head into Moab for a nice dinner.
The start of day 2 brought a more reasonable starting time (this would make up for the following days start time). We all had time to eat the wonderful free breakfast. After which we moved out of Moab and down to the UT town of Blanding. There are many Indian ruins around this area and we wanted to visit one Anasazi ruin in particular. They call this ruin House on Fire. Once you make your way out to the ruins, it’s easy to see where the name came from. The cliff dwelling Anasazi granary appears to be ablaze, due to the unique rock characteristics. A native cactus and a “placed” piece of deadwood provide interesting additions to the granary images.
We encouraged the students to move around and look for different angles and points of view. After working the area for quite some time, memory cards were starting to fill and batteries getting drained. This was our queue that is was break time. After the mid-day break we went out for an afternoon, to sunset shoot. Scott and I were excited to share a new location with our students. Highway 128 runs along the Colorado River and has some fantastic scenery. Fischer Towers are along the scenic drive, and a main attraction in this area along the Colorado. The towers are made of sedimentary rock, which contain varying amounts of hematite. Giving the towers their unique color variation and shape. Scott and I took the group to an overlook along the river. This particular overlook had amazing views of the towers reflected in the meandering river. Many different vantage points at this location made for unique images from all. Some stayed along the river, while others headed up the neighboring hillside, for a higher point of view. The light was simply perfect, as the Fischer Towers lite up with beams of golden sunrays. It was truly a stunning sight. For sunset we went to another location a little closer to the towers. A small hillside provided just enough height to capture the towers and surrounding 365 degrees of gorgeous sunset color. Dramatic clouds coupled with vibrant sunset light, yielded some truly amazing results from everyone. As the last of the light faded and a few drops of rain ensued, it was time to hit the road. We encouraged everyone to hit the hay, as the final day would require the earliest rise time.
Our final day would require a very early start because we covered some star photography before the sunrise. Departing our hotel while the skies remained nice and dark. Upon arrival at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, there were a few other folks who had the same idea. Scott and I led everyone down the path to the arch, slowly because of the darkness. We got everyone set up quickly, as to extinguish any headlamps or flashlights, so the star shooting could begin. The Milky Way was highly visible due to the dark skies in this region. Scott and I made sure all had the right settings to capture the pinpoint stars. Raising the ISO and setting the shutter speed for 25-30 seconds and also cooling off the white balance. Once everyone was comfortable with the settings and composition, I light painted the arch with the soft and even light of Scott’s old fashion Maglite. The students were giddy with the beautiful results they were capturing of stars and softly lite red rock arch. As it gets closer to sunrise the sky began to lighten, so it was time to switch gears and think about shooting sunrise. We made sure everyone reset their cameras to the proper settings, changing the ISO, white balance, and aperture back, in anticipation of the sunrise shoot.
As we got everyone in place, other photographers started to show up and the small section in front of Mesa Arch filled up quickly. As the sun rose and cleared the small cloud formation on the horizon, it lit up the underside of the arch in a gorgeous orange hue. The main attraction however is the sun itself, as it creates a stunning sun star, right in between the horizon and the arch. Scott and I made sure everyone had the right aperture to create the best sun star. The results on the LCD screens were just beautiful, and the early rise didn’t seem bad at all. As the sun rose higher and became brighter, it was time to pack up and head out for one quick stop before break. Dead Horse Point is just outside Canyonlands National Park, although it shares the same canyon system as the neighboring national park. The Colorado River carves a large 180-degree turn, creating a horseshoe pattern. The overlook has some fantastic vantage points of the canyon and river below. Some of the class had fun photographing each other on the sandstone pedestals near the rim of the canyon. With a wide-angle lens, it appears as though you’re on the cliff edge, when in fact you’re safely away from the edge. Because we had a yoga teacher in the workshop, we did some fantastic yoga poses on the perches, a little jumping made for some fun and interesting lifestyle images. After the fun we made our way back to Moab for a much needed nap before lunch. We all met up at a restaurant in town for a delicious group lunch at the Peace Tree restaurant. Good food and great conversation ensued. After lunch we had a short break before heading out for our last destination, Delicate Arch.
The hike up to Delicate Arch is not the easiest hike, as the trek to the arch is all up hill. What goes up must come down, so the way back goes much faster. We took our time hiking up and took intermittent breaks for a sip or two of water. Scott and I made sure everyone carried water on the journey. A small group of us did a celebratory group shot at the top of hardest accent. It was a good excuse to take another break and have a little fun in the process. Once you arrive at the very top and see the arch, the hike becomes well worth it. Scott and I directed the students to a couple different areas and let them choose which they liked best, before having them set up. I then passed out some treats we brought up, apples, cheese, crackers, and salami. It was a little like tailgating, as we waited for the sun to dip a little lower on the horizon, and bathe the arch and surrounding sandstone bowl in the stunning orange hue. Once the glow stars, it’s not long after that some shadows from the surrounding sandstone creeps into your scene. As this happens, I move some of the students around to a different vantage point, in order to capture the sun as it gets close to the horizon. The students were capturing a superb sun star. It all happens so quickly, but I was hopping around from student to student, just to be sure everyone had the right settings to properly capture the scene and the striking sun star. Once the sun dipped below the horizon it was time to make our way back down to the ApCab. We made it down easily and just as the sky grew dark. Scott drove us back to our hotel and we all said our fond farewells, and heartfelt thank you’s.
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.