Thursday, May 1, 2014

Return to the Southwest - Part I: The Landscape

   Recently I traveled solo to the deserts of the Southwest, one of my favorite places to photograph. I started in western Utah near Kanarraville and began heading west towards Page. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit some slot canyons I had not yet explored, and revisit some I have shot in the past. Slot canyons are best photographed on clear days, so that the full sun produces reflected light on the sandstone of the canyon walls. I hoped everyday, therefore, for clear skies during the day, and dramatic clouds at sunrise and sunset; my favorite for creating dramatic landscape imagery. While I spent several days exploring the slots, I frequently drove two hours or more to reach a location to camp for the night, and hope for dramatic conditions. While the slot canyons were the highlight of the trip, camping alone in some of these remote areas was a priceless experience. Sufficed to say, I got burned on more sunrise/sunsets than I care to recall, but such is the nature of landscape photography. I did visit some amazing locations (some with no photos to share, unfortunately, but I'll definitely keep going back until the conditions are right).

   The first night I spent along the Paria River, with unique painted hills similar to the Painted Desert in Arizona.

"Painted" - Prints Available

   Another area I have been to before and enjoy visiting is the Vermillion Cliffs wilderness. A long off-road drive with a 4WD capable vehicle is required, but the reward is beyond words. An alien-like landscape with countless photographic compositions awaits. When I visited here in 2011, my two buddies and I were the only ones there. This time, there were at least 15 other people camped out, most of whom were other photographers. This place is becoming more well known, and more crowded each year. I have yet to experience explosive skies here, and there are many compositions I have found that I intend to explore again in the coming years.

"Survivor" - Prints Available

   While in the area, I was lucky enough to acquire a ticket to hike Coyote Buttes North, otherwise known as "The Wave." This oft-photographed location is limited by the state to just 20 visitors per day. A three mile hike through the desert brings you to "The Wave," a small, but unique sandstone formation with swirls of colorful sandstone.

"The Wave" - Prints Available

   Just a short hike uphill is another "wave," one more visually appealing in my opinion. Many people don't stick around in a place where the only refuge from the mid day sun is a shadow created by a small rock. Just before sunset, however, one's patience is rewarded as the warm glow illuminates this sandstone in soft light just before the sun sets below the horizon.

"Encore" - Prints Available

   The opportunity exists for countless intimate compositions, isolating interesting patterns of sandstone as well.

"Opposing" - Prints Available

"Bending the Line" - Prints Available

   My most successful landscape photos happened at Stud Horse Point, just outside Page, Arizona. One particular day I got an incredible show of light. Stud Horse point is an oft-photographed location, both because of its visual interest, and because it is readily accessible, just a short drive outside Page, Arizona. I drove there mid afternoon one day, but had no data access prior to check the weather conditions. There were 40mph winds all afternoon, progressing into the early evening. Being that it was my first time to the area, I did some scouting, but ended up having to seek refuge in my car from time to time after getting blasted with sand in those strong winds. In doing so, I missed a brief rainbow (shucks), but late in the afternoon noticed a wonderful Virga formation in the sky.

"Sheltered" - Prints Available

   As the afternoon progressed towards sunset, the winds were unrelenting. There were a lot of clouds, but a clear break towards the west at the horizon. So I knew that something special would happen at sunset. As soon as the sun went down, the sky exploded with under lighting. I shot multiple compositions over the course of the 15 minutes or so the sky was on fire, constantly changing and shooting towards the color as best I could. Several photos worked out well, but none as good as this one.

"Together Alone" - Prints Available

   It was truly spectacular to witness these changing conditions (on my birthday no less). Around 8pm the winds subsided, and I slept at Stud Horse Point without another soul around for miles. The sky cleared overnight, giving me my second wish of clear skies for shot canyon photography the following day.

Stay tuned for Return to the Southwest Part II: Slot Canyons, to be released on my blog next week.

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