Three Keys to Getting Great Photographs

April 16, 2014  •  2 Comments

Sunrise Panorama at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkSunrise Panorama at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkSunrise Panorama at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch Panorama, Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah

Panorama stitched from 5 portrait orientation photos

A funny thing happened when we visited Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.

Key #1: Preparation

I knew for several months that I wanted to shoot sunrise here.  The shot itself is so iconic that Windows uses it as one of their desktop backgrounds.  (I even told my dad that I wanted to bring back a photo he could use to replace it!)  I added it to the itinerary for two straight days so I'd have a backup if conditions didn't cooperate.  I knew from talking with other photographers that we needed to arrive well before first light to stake out our spot and not miss the grand spectacle.

The preparation-- doing my research and getting up early-- is part of "doing what it takes."

With all that planning, my brother and I woke up at 4am in Moab, UT and arrived at the trail head by 5:30.  (The sun would not rise until almost 7:15.)  With only two other cars in the parking lot, we kept warm in our rental vehicle until another car arrived.  The next car turned out to be a fellow photographer whom I'd sat next to the previous evening at Delicate Arch for several hours.  The two other cars also gave up their passengers, so together, we made our way to the short but dark trail with only headlamps to light our way.

We found Mesa Arch without much trouble.  As the first faint glow of dawn crept over the horizon in the east, we began to set up our tripods and wait.

(As a side note, it feels very strange to begin setting up for a photo shoot when there is essentially no light.)

Waiting for sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkWaiting for sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkWaiting for sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Waiting for sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Key #2: Patience

We enjoyed the next hour making conversation, trying to ignore the cold, and enjoying the increasing light over the arch and the canyon far below.  We took turns scanning the horizon, trying to predict exactly where the sun would make its appearance.  A slow trickle of photographers made their way to our site, be we each stayed confident that we had our best spots picked out.

Right on schedule, the sun made its way over the mountains to light up the arch, and for ten whole minutes, the sound of rapid-fire shutters filled the otherwise peaceful morning air.  The shot below (taken from the setup shown above) looks a lot like the Windows background and the shots everyone else took that morning.

Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkSunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkSunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch at Sunrise in Canyonlands National Park

And that's when something funny happened.

After 10-15 minutes, the sun hid behind a small patch of clouds over the mountains, and most of our fellow photographers left.  The photographers who had made their own plans, risen as early as us, followed the trail through the dark, and waited outside in near-freezing temperatures for more than an hour packed up their gear and left.

Key #3: Anticipation

Once the sun rose over the cloud, it had finally gained enough prominence in the sky to light up the canyon floor.  It still lit up the arch magnificently, but the canyon took on a whole new depth as it, too, became illuminated by the first golden rays of the morning sun.  That's when I composed this panorama: Sunrise Panorama at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkSunrise Panorama at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National ParkSunrise Panorama at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch Panorama, Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah

The other photographers had the patience to wait for sunrise, but had not anticipated the BEST light.  We left about 45 minutes after sunrise with some beautiful shots, including the panorama, that ended up being among my favorites from the entire trip.

Exercise preparation, patience, and anticipation, and you'll start to see and take better photos.

 

Thanks for looking,

Adam@LiC


Comments

Adam Hoskinson | Landscape and Travel Photographer
Thanks, Matt!!
Matt(non-registered)
Awesome shot, Adam.
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