My favorite park in Utah is Canyonlands National Park. It has incredible scenery and low visitation. Those two combine to make it my must visit place when I am around Moab. On my last trip there I stayed up there for six straight days. It was finally needed both fuel and water that made me drive to town. The rest of the time I had Island in the Sky to myself.
One of the areas I made a couple of visits to was Mesa Arch. This is the classic Canyonlands image and one I got a really nice one of on my visit in 2008. I wanted to see if I could do a little better this trip.
The most important factor for a good Mesa Arch image is clear sky. It goes against what I normally want as a photographer but clear sky gets you that wonderful glow just after sunrise. The other big factor is crowds. In 2008 there were easily 45 photographers there one morning all jockeying for tripod positions. This trip it was much nicer. One day had 20 or so, which is still very crowded but my second day it was myself and two others.
By camping in Canyonlands I have a huge advantage over the folks who drive up from Moab. They have a 45+ minute drive. I have about a 90 second drive from the campground to the trailhead. So while most people are trying to convince themselves to get up and go, I am already on location.
Being the first one there also means I get my pick of spots and when you have a large format camera to fiddle with you need time. I had already planned out my image and set up my tripod and camera in the dark long before daylight. I do not have to focus yet, I just got the spot. The glow happens after sunrise so I have plenty of time to compose and focus.
Luckily when only two other photographers showed up it was easy to get all the images you wanted.
For me the ideal image of Mesa Arch is one that captures the glow, that you can see the Washer Woman Arch in the distance, has a sunburst, and excludes most if not all sky. Remember that you are usually here on a clear sky day and what you will see is many people compose very wide and get a great deal of sky in the image.
I was using my widest lens too, a 75mm (about a 24mm for those who shoot full frame digital), but by getting there early and knowing where the sun would rise I was able to leave only a small gap of sky there and have the rest be rock and canyon.
Compose right. Focus. Set to f/45 and wait for the sun. When it made it's appearance I fired off about 10 sheets. This was one of the best.
You can see the set up and location. Then you can see my final result. This was a 4x5 chrome on Velvia 100F. For comparisons I have my 2008 attempt at this as the banner on my WildernessPhotographer Blog.
The 2008 version was on Velvia 50.
I like them both, but is either one better?