Professional nature and adventure photographer Bret Edge writes about the process involved in creating his image of Landscape Arch framed by a weathered juniper tree in the Devil’s Garden area of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.Read More
I haven’t heard the term “iconography” in a couple of years, but in the past it was used to describe, in a somewhat derogatory or condescending manner, the practice of seeking out and photographing the icons of landscape photography: Delicate Arch, Snake River Overlook, Zabriskie Point, etc. Used in a sentence, it would be something like this: (Look down nose and speak in an intentionally nasally voice) “Ugh. Can you believe these people sharing photos of Delicate Arch? Don’t they know that there is nothing new to photograph there? Iconography is just sooo lame.”
Many years ago I wrote an article for the Nature Photographer’s Network website titled “Iconography: A Fresh Perspective”. It was, essentially, written in defense of those who, like myself, enjoy photographing well known, iconic locations. NPN was and still is the premier website for nature photographers to connect and share their work in a friendly, supportive online environment. In the article, which you will find below, I shared tips on how to create unique images at even the most iconic locations. I still believe that photographing iconic locations can be a powerful learning experience for new photographers and a valid creative exercise for seasoned ones. However, given the overcrowding issues at many of these locations and the unfortunate and sickening incidents of vandalism that are becoming more common, I’ve got mixed emotions about promoting iconography.
That original article was written ten or more years ago. Re-reading it today, the content is just as relevant but I believe there are new considerations to be made in light of the increased visitation and changing visitor demographic. Many of these can be summed up with one simple sentence: Don’t be an asshole. Seriously. I’ve heard photographers scream at families to “get out of the way!” while they’re briefly standing under Delicate Arch for a keepsake photo of their one and only visit to Arches National Park. At Mesa Arch I’ve seen photographers jostle others out of the way, or move a neighboring photographer’s tripod without permission. We’ve all heard of the truly enormous assholes vandalizing rock art and ruins (read my thoughts on this here), stealing the mysterious moving rocks at Death Valley’s Racetrack playa, toppling hoodoos in Goblin Valley…the list goes on and on. Here’s my advice: just don’t. Just don’t be that guy or gal. Be considerate of others. Expect large crowds at most iconic locations and understand that every one of those other folks have as much right to be there as you do. Your big expensive camera doesn’t give you any special privileges not held by all those other tourists. Figure out how to work around the crowds. Don’t climb inside ruins so you can build a fire for more “natural light” in your starry sky photo. Think, “Would my mama approve of my behavior or would I be getting an ass whoopin’ right now?”
Don’t like crowds? Consider an off-season visit, or if a location is normally photographed at sunrise, check it out at sunset. Try to find an alternative location from which to photograph. I’ve shot Delicate Arch at sunrise and Snake River Overlook at sunset, the opposite of what is typically recommended at both and you know what? There were fewer people and I made quality images at both locations. Consider it a challenge to your creativity. Or, if you just can’t play nice at the icons, don’t go. There’s no shortage of truly breathtaking scenery that you can have entirely to yourself.
We photographers shoulder much of the blame for the overcrowding we’re seeing now. We produce gorgeous photos and share them online, where they are viewed by Clark Griswold in Illinois, who decides that this summer he and the family are hoppin’ in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and driving across the country to see the Grand Canyon for themselves…multiplied by thousands. Given that it’s partially our fault the icons are so busy, shouldn’t we visit them with a measure of grace and humility?
Original NPN Article
The 1.5 mile trail to Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, is a rite of passage for many nature photographers. We heft our heavy packs and start out across the gentle sandy path, cross the footbridge and are soon standing atop a short series of switchbacks. Squinting into the western sky, we have a raven’s eye view of the small parking lot full of vehicles and buzzing with activity. Continuing up the trail we ascend a wide swath of steep sandstone, using small cairns to guide us to the top of the otherwise near featureless rock. Not long after summitting the big slab of red rock, we walk along a trail literally carved into a wall of sandstone with a precipitous drop to our left. We round a bend and without warning, Delicate Arch makes a grand entrance right smack in front of our disbelieving eyes. Through its massive span are the snowcapped La Sal Mountains, whose prominent peaks contrast sharply against a brilliant blue sky. The scene before us is quite literally postcard perfect. As our initial awe fades, our eyes stray from the beauty of the scene before us to the chorus line of photographers lining the narrow strip of sandstone at our feet. It appears as though every inch of this small parcel of real estate has already been claimed by photographers and tourists who have all come for the same reason; to watch Delicate Arch awash in fiery hues during the final few minutes of the day. So much for solitude!
Chances are this scenario is precisely what comes to mind when you think of Delicate Arch. There are tripod legs crossing tripod legs, random banter about photography gear and, during the last few minutes of golden light, the cacophony of a dozen shutters whirring in unison. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the arch all to yourself and go home with a unique photograph of one of the most popular destinations in any National Park? Well, you can. Keep reading and I’ll tell you how.
Icons have reached “icon” status for good reason. They are jaw dropping, heart thumping, grab you by the throat and slap you around gorgeous. In most cases they have become natural ambassadors, welcoming the throngs of tourists who infuse the local economies with a steady cash flow. Therein lays the “problem”. All those tourists have come to see with their own eyes the icon they have seen in countless magazines and postcards. They all hike the same 1.5 mile trail and take a seat on the sandstone next to their fellow tourists, some of whom have come armed with tripods and cameras. Ninety nine percent of them return home with the standard “La Sal Mountains framed by Delicate Arch” photo that has graced many a postcard. They are oblivious to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there is a unique composition just around the corner, or down in the sandy bowl or across the way on that imposing bluff. Along with that unique composition often comes something that so many photographers rightfully seek: solitude!
I’ve learned that there are two simple rules to finding a new angle of an icon in peace and quiet, away from the crush of the crowds.
1) Visit in the off-season
Most iconic locations have an “off-season”, or a time when visitation shrinks to a mere fraction of the hustle and bustle experienced during the prime time. During the winter months you will most likely find yourself among only a few other hikers who have come to watch sunset at Delicate Arch. On my last visit, in January, a whopping five people had gathered for the day’s curtain call. During spring and fall, it is not uncommon for over 100 hikers to be in attendance here.
The off-season also has other wonderful benefits. Hotels in Moab can be had for $50/night…including breakfast! The Arches campground is nearly a ghost town during the winter, offering solitude and a place to pitch your tent that you won’t find in the summer.
2) Scout it out!
Whether you choose to visit during prime time or the off-season, scouting the area can and usually will reveal a number of unique compositions away from the crowds. Arrive at the trailhead a few hours early and use the extra time to explore the area around the icon. At Delicate Arch, there are a number of wonderful photographs to be had from inside the large bowl just below the arch. Or, scramble up to the bluff behind the arch for uncommon views of its backside which, in winter, receives most of the warm sunset light.
If you are pressed for time or simply too lazy to explore, bring along a model. Including a person in your photo can lend scale to the scene and create a very different perspective, even if the overall composition is a fairly common one.
Whether photographing an icon or an unknown spectacle of nature, photographers take pride in creating images that move the viewer. But, there is a certain degree of satisfaction that comes from putting your own individual twist on an iconic scene and coming away with an extraordinary photo.
I have been told that there isn’t a single scene at Delicate Arch that hasn’t already been photographed. I have no doubt that many would say the same about the Maroon Bells in fall, Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point or the mighty Tetons from Schwabacher Landing. I only hope that those who hold such a narrow-minded view won’t discourage others from experiencing the fulfillment that comes from challenge of discovering a new perspective on an old favorite. To me, that is what iconography is all about.
Old Man Winter strikes Moab again! Yesterday the weather forecast called for a 30% chance of snow which of course ended up being 3” of snow in town, likely more in the parks. Unfortunately, both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are closed to all vehicle traffic so bring warm clothing and a desire to posthole or snowshoe for several miles to access any of the winter wonderlands inside either park. No dout, you will be rewarded with solitude and so much beauty it almost hurts. Or maybe that’s your frozen fingers?
Dead Horse Point State Park should be open but call first to verify that the roads are plowed. Other areas in BLM control are open but again, the road maintenance workers have their hands full so it’s hard to say when the lesser traveled roads will be relatively safe to travel. Big thank you to all the men & women running plows today!
Forecast for the rest of the week is looking pretty darn spiffy. Mostly sunny or partly cloudy with high temperatures in the 30’s. This snow isn’t going anywhere for a few days and I suspect even next weekend will provide opportunities for winter photography.
Headed this way to take advantage of the snowy conditions? Be sure to check out The Photographers’s Guide to Winter in Moab on my blog. Totally free resource with lots of great information on how, when and where to shoot wintery scenes around Moab.
Learn Moab winter photography tips and a few fantastic locations to shoot snowy scenes from local professional photographer Bret Edge.Read More
Hello…is anyone still there? Anyone? Well, after a much needed break from photography, social media and blogging I’ve got an itch that needs to be scratched. Wait, that sounds bad. What I mean to say is that lately I’ve been kinda missing the whole writing thing and with 2019 right around the corner it seems like a good time to reinvigorate the MPW blog.
What can you expect? Truthfully, I don’t yet know. I’ve got a few ideas churning in my head, a few of which I’ll rattle off below, but I’m also very interested to hear what you, my readers, would like to see me write about. Got ideas? I know you do and I’d love to hear them! Send me an email or better yet, leave a comment on this post. Interested in writing a guest post? Get in touch; I’d love to hear your suggestions.
Here are a few of the things you can expect to see popping up here on the blog this year:
Landscape, nature and adventure photography tips, tricks and techniques. I’m working on an article now in which I will discuss the various types of light available to outdoor photographers and how to use each one effectively. Also look for wildflower and fall color photo tips.
A pretty comprehensive look at the various resources available to help photographers plan productive photography trips.
eFotoGuide is awesome, but there are so many stellar locations around Moab located outside the National Parks that I’ve decided to write a blog post or two to help photographers find some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path spots.
Behind the Image features, wherein I will post an image and write about the backstory of that image - how it came to be, anecdotes, etc. Less focus on the technical aspects and more focus on the emotional side.
Gear reviews because, well, I’m a gearhead and I think people enjoy them.
Current Moab photography conditions, especially frequent updates during wildflower and fall color seasons. I’ll also post when the snow flies or potholes are filled with rain after a sweet thunderstorm.
So, there you have it. I’m excited to be back and look forward to interacting with y’all again. Keep your eyes on this space because there’s lots of great stuff to come. Oh, and be sure to check out my all new photography website featuring several never before seen images. The site won’t officially launch until mid-January but you can grab a sneak peek right now at www.bretedge.com.
UPDATE 10:40 AM: The snow is still coming down and we have about 2” accumulation in town, likely a little more in Arches and Canyonlands. I have been told that the roads in both parks will not be plowed as a result of the shutdown, so travel at your own risk. There is some fog in the area that will make for interesting, moody images.
Looks like on the last day of 2018 the weather Gods have decided to gift photographers with a blanket of snow here in Canyon Country. The white stuff started falling around 6:00 AM and it is predicted to continue snowing through noon today. This typically results in outstanding winter photography for a day or two, petering off to good winter photography as the snow melts and is tracked over by humans and wildlife.
The big variable right now is the federal government shut down. I don’t know when the roads in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks Will be plowed, if at all. This could make for very difficult or even dangerous access at the parks. I will update this post if I learn more. However, Dead Horse Point State Park and all of the surrounding 2,000,000 acres of BLM land are still open. The same considerations should be given to travel in these areas.
Not sure where to photograph in Arches? Pick up a copy of eFotoGuide: The Ultimate Guide to Photographing Arches NP for only $15 and you’ll discover all the details on where, when and how to photograph over 20 stunning locations in the park. Your purchase helps me to maintain this website and continue to provide real-time photo conditions.
Now get out there and create some beautiful winter photos in the Moab desert!
Bloomin' Wildflowers and Reflective Potholes
The last time I wrote an update I warned you all about the quickly melting snowcap on the La Sal Mountains. Luckily, we've had a couple great storms come through the area and they left behind a healthy dose of snow on the peaks so they're actually looking better now than they were a month ago. That said, I seriously doubt that snow is going to last more than two to three weeks.
Those storms also dumped quite a bit of rain in the desert, filling area potholes to near maximum capacity. Larger potholes will hold water for several weeks but the smaller, more common ones will be empty within a few days. Get here while the gettin's good as it's always fun to photograph reflections of arches and towers in these ephemeral little pools.
Lastly, the wildflowers are coming along nicely. This is not going to be a banner year for them but there are enough blooms around that finding a floral foreground won't require too much work. Prince's plume is looking very healthy, as are the claret cup cactus blooms. Mules ear is just starting to bloom and will likely peak in most areas some time in the next 7 to 10 days. I've seen a few Whipple's fish hook cactus starting to flower, some nice clumps of lupine and, surprisingly, there are even a few bright red Indian paintbrush flowers clinging to life at the edges of slickrock and sand dunes.
That's all for now. Oh, one last thing: I've still got one spot available for my Undiscovered Moab Photo Tour next month, May 15-17. Click here to learn more about and/or register for this opportunity to explore and photograph some remote and stunning landscapes around Moab!
Wildflowers, Waterfalls and National Park Status Updates
UPDATE: March 30, 2015 - Yesterday on a mountain bike ride I saw quite a few wildflowers popping up in the desert north of Moab, even a handful of desert primrose that were looking very healthy. None of the more showy wildflowers are blooming yet, i.e. mules ears. We haven't had any rain or snow (in the La Sals) for well over a week. The snowcap on the La Sals is melting off fast.
Wildflowers and warm weather are here! Okay, so the wildflowers are nowhere near peak but they are starting to pop up here and there. I've seen some really nice bouquets of indian paintbrush at lower elevations as well as a few small white, yellow and purple flowers (sorry, I'm not much of a wildflower recognition expert). Cottonwood trees are just beginning to leaf out and their vibrant green leaves are always a lovely contrast to the rich red sandstone.
Area waterfalls are flowing nicely as the warmer weather melts snow in the La Sal Mountains. Speaking of the La Sals, they still have a snowcap but if they aren't visited by any more winter storms this spring the snow will disappear quickly. Compositions that include the La Sals always look better when they mountains are coated in snow.
Most of the 4x4 roads are open and in good condition, or as good as can be expected of a 4x4 road. As an aside, the National Park Service is considering the implementation of a permit system for day use of Elephant Hill and the White Rim in Canyonlands. For better or worse, you would be wise to keep an eye on the progress of this initiative. Construction on the new, larger parking lot at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is now underway. Visitors will be impacted. For more information please visit the Arches NP website.
That's all for now. As the wildflower season progresses I'll post frequent updates, hopefully with a few photos, to give you all a better idea of what's happening around Moab in real-time.
Planning a photo trip to Moab? I offer private photography workshops that are designed to get you to the best spots at the best times for incredible photo opportunities. Click here to learn more about a private photography workshop with me.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! There's fresh snow on the ground in Moab and fog swirling around the cliffs. About an inch fell at 4,000', which means Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point will all be blanketed in just enough snow to turn the red rock into a winter wonderland. The La Sal Mountains are completely hidden behind a thick layer of clouds and when those clouds finally part, the snow capped peaks will be looking their very best for the cameras.
All main park roads are currently open. Expect some slick, icy spots and drive accordingly. We're already seeing a few patches of blue sky peeking out from behind gray clouds and the landscape is intermittently spotlighted, creating interesting opportunities for photography right now. The storm is predicted to leave the area some time tonight. Sunrise on Saturday morning (Dec. 27, 2014) should be spectacular.
I'm planning to visit Arches this afternoon for a sunset shoot - if the weather and clouds cooperate. If so, I'll update this post with a photo of the current conditions.
Snow is falling in Moab and it's beginning to accumulate on my lawn, which means higher elevation areas like Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point will be under a thin blanket of the frozen stuff. The forecast is predicting that it will snow for several more hours today.
The three prime opportunities for winter landscapes will arrive as this storm breaks up, tonight at sunset and tomorrow morning at sunrise. If the storm begins to break apart during daylight hours, the best place to be is in Arches National Park, as rays of sunlight will break through the clouds and spotlight various features in the park. It is highly likely that you'll find arches and spires playing hide and seek in patches of fog. Tonight and tomorrow morning the snow will remain pristine and untrammeled at most locations. If you've ever wanted a photo of Mesa or Delicate Arch under a blanket of snow, now is your chance. Get to Mesa Arch at least one hour before sunrise to ensure that you won't have to compete for tripod space as even in the winter, it is a popular location.
EDIT: At 1055 today the snow in town has turned into rain due to warming temperatures. Arches NP will likely see a mix of rain and snow. At 6,000' in Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, it will be all snow. The snow level is around 5,000'.
*The photo at top is not from today but is a representation of what you might find tomorrow morning if the Gods of Light are with you. ;-)
Update on Moab photography conditions on December 14, 2014. Fresh snow and rain has created interesting opportunities for photography in the state and national parks around Moab, including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.Read More