Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Ultimate Guide To Arches & Canyonlands
They may be two of the most photographed parks in America, but you still can get original images with a plan and the right astronomical tools
Landscape Arch, the longest and most fragile arch in the park, gets sunrise light at any time of year. Time your visit for October 2 or March 7 (plus or minus a few days) around 3:40 p.m., and you can shoot the sun kissing the thinnest part of the arch. Viewers’ eyes will be drawn to the brightest part of the image—the sun—and then to the thinnest part of the arch, emphasizing its fragility. I handled the extreme contrast with color-negative film.
If Delicate Arch is the most famous sunset shot in the area, then surely Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky mesa of Canyonlands National Park is the most famous sunrise. During the fair-weather months, even at sunrise, you practically need to take a number to get a space for your tripod. Although the weather is benign in summer, it’s not the best time to photograph Mesa Arch. The sun rises directly over the La Sals, which means the light is less colorful by the time it reaches the arch. Shooting directly into the sun also magnifies problems with haze. In summer photographs, the La Sals are often almost invisible behind a shroud of backlit dust. I decided to photograph Mesa Arch in January, when the sun rises as far to the south as it will for the entire year. At the latitude of Arches, the angle of sunrise (and sunset) varies by more than 60º from summer solstice to winter solstice. By choosing to photograph near winter solstice, when the sun rises well to the south of the La Sals, I was able to capture the most colorful possible light and to minimize problems with haze.
In January 2008, with the predawn temperature in the single digits, I relocated the tiny but tough juniper I planned to use as part of my foreground and set up my 4x5 field camera. A heavy bank of clouds covered most of the sky, leaving a narrow gap at the eastern horizon that was rapidly closing. With only minutes to spare, the sun rose into the gap. The dark clouds blocked the bright, white light from the sky around the sun, and the vibrant color of undiluted sunrise light blasted through the gap, turning the clouds a fiery red and the foreground snow magenta. Two minutes later, the light show was over, but I already had captured my favorite image of Grand View Point.
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