Photographers are a funny bunch. The average person gets up in the morning, walks outside and sees sunshine and blue skies and thinks, “Man, this weather is awesome!” Photographers, on the other hand, see a vast canvas of B-O-R-I-N-G. We want storms, cotton candy clouds and drama! Caveats apply, of course, i.e. nobody in their right minds wants to photograph a slot canyon when storms are looming. I mean, I’ve done it and I almost paid the price for it, but that’s another story.
On the day I made this image I showed up for sunrise at Mesa Arch, lined up in the dark alongside a handful of other photographers with our tripod legs intertwined and shoulders nearly touching, all of us eagerly waiting for that glorious red glow on the underside of the arch. We waited. And waited. And waited. We checked our watches to confirm that the time for sunrise had come and gone, but…where was the glow?
As has become common in the West, wildfires were ravaging a forest somewhere and thick smoke from the fire had found its way to Moab. The canyon below Mesa Arch was hazy and it became clear that there would be no glowing arch today. Several of my fellow photographers packed up and left, a few stayed in place and burned through memory cards, and I decided to walk the canyon rim.
As I walked, I noticed that early morning sunlight coming through the haze created a warm, golden glow while backlighting created dramatic silhouettes of arches and towers in the canyon below. These features are typically viewed through Mesa Arch, which itself is usually photographed with a wide-angle lens. In those compositions, the arch is the main element while the other features nearly disappear due to the way very wide focal lengths exaggerate foregrounds while minimizing backgrounds. It occurred to me that an opportunity for a truly unique image was presenting itself. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of the conditions, so I put down my pack, got out my 100-400mm lens and attached it to my camera.
I’m a huge fan of using long lenses for landscape photography. They allow us to hone in on interesting scenes, extracting a tiny slice from within a big landscape. With the camera and lens on a tripod I found myself moving left and right, trying to frame Washer Woman Arch, Monster Tower and Airport Tower in just the right way to prevent overlapping or converging lines. When I finally succeeded, and I saw the image on the camera’s LCD screen, I knew I’d made some magic.
I can’t say that I’m the first person to photograph this view, but I’d never seen a version of it before. I led photography workshops in Canyonlands for many years, and I always enjoyed taking clients to Mesa Arch, helping them get the icon shot, and then watching their eyes really light up when I showed them how to create a similar image with their own telephoto lens!
Tech Specs: Camera, lens, Lightroom. ;-)
Canon 1Ds Mark II
Canon 100-400mm lens at 235MM focal length
1/20 sec at f/29
RAW, processed in Adobe Lightroom and Nik Software
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