Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Favorite Photo Locations - Arches National Park - Part 1

I am often asked about my favorite locations for photography. I usually answer by saying I don’t have a favorite because I have photographed so many spectacular places that I can’t pick a favorite. I been fortunate enough to photograph many wonderful places so I’ve decided to write a series about some of them.

I recently returned from Moab, Utah, so I’ll begin there.

Moab is the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands national parks along with Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River Canyon, Castle Valley and others. With so many places to photograph near Moab, one post can’t begin to cover them all so I’ll  start with Arches National Park. Even then, I will need two posts to cover the park and they still can’t provide a lot of detail.  

Arches is the closest park to Moab. The entrance is just about two miles from the Colorado River crossing as you head north from Moab. This park is known for its arches but it is filled with rock formations of so many sizes and shapes that, in a drive through the park, you may imagine groups of bears or penguins while others may see something entirely different in the same formations.

So, where are my favorite photo locations in Arches? To answer that question, I will lead you through the park from south to north as you travel from the park’s entrance. After passing through entrance gate, you will climb through a series of switchbacks until you are high above the valley. The first pull off along the park road is at the Moab Fault. You will find some interesting information here about the formation of the area but it is not a photo site.

Park Avenue
My first stop for photos is at “Park Avenue” on the left side of the road. This is a canyon created by a mass of red rock on the left and high fins on the right. The shape of the sandstone fins roughly resembles the buildings you might encounter walking along the skyscrapers in large city; hence the name. Park Avenue can challenge a photographer’s ability, as it is such a large expanse. The one mile hike through Park Avenue, which ends at the Courthouse Towers Parking area, offers many photo opportunities along the way. Morning and evening offer the best lighting.

Park Avenue is the first photo stop along the Arches National Park Road
After leaving Park Avenue, you will pass the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint on the right. The rising sun lights up many prominent features along the park road including The Organ, The Tower of Babel and Sheep Rock. The La Sal Mountains Viewpoint is a good place to capture warm light on them. 

 The Three Gossips
The Three Gossips is one of my favorite rock formations in Arches. It can be seen from the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, but you get a much better view from the Courthouse Towers parking area. This rock formation looks so much like three people together that those who don’t know its name, think that “The Three Kings” would fit. Indeed it would.

The Milky Way rises above the Three Gossips
The three gossips is one of my favorite formations in Arches

Balanced Rock

From the Courthouse Towers parking area, the park road crosses Courthouse Wash and takes you past the Petrified Dunes.

Petrified Dunes in Arches National Park
There may be photo opportunities here, but my next favorite stop is at Balanced Rock where there is a fairly large parking area. This is one of those head scratcher formations that makes one wonder, not only how it got there but why it hasn’t come tumbling down. It is best photographed with the late afternoon sun.  

There is a short hike along a boardwalk past Balanced Rock which leads to a nice viewpoint of the rock formations called the “Garden of Eden”. You can also capture Turret Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the background from this location.

Will Balanced Rock some day become unbalanced?
The moonlit night sky over Balanced Rock
Windows Area
Just past Balanced Rock, there is a right turn that will take you to the Windows area. Your drive will take you past the “Garden of Eden” on your left. The garden is a line of interesting rock formations. Many people are so intent on getting to Windows, that they don’t even see the beauty of this area. It is massive, hard to capture in a photo and there are few pull offs along the road.

When you reach the end of the road, you will see more arches at one time than anywhere else in the park. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your car but you will want to. From the parking area you will be able to see the North and South Windows as well as Turret Arch. There are other smaller arches there too.

A trail from the parking lot leads up an incline to the arches. The hike is only about a quarter of a mile and while it is uphill, it is not a difficult climb.

Approaching the North Window

Turret Arch photographed from the trail between the North and South Windows

To capture the classic shot of Turret Arch through the North Window, you have to walk through the North window, and down the other side. Stay to the left and follow the trail up to a rather precarious perch at the end of the trail. This is not a place to stand. Stay low, put your camera on a tripod and set up your photo, staying as low to the ground as possible. A fall from this location could be fatal. Keep in mind that the Windows area is very busy so plan to get there early when everybody except photographers are still in bed. Every photographer wants to get this shot, so there may be a line. Wait your turn patiently.

Turret Arch through the North Window
The trail to the North Window branches to the right where you can get a good view of the South Window and Turret Arch. The South Window doesn’t offer the same kind of photo opportunities as the North Window but Turret Arch can be very nice, especially early in the day when the sun is low in the sky. The arch will be in shadow except where the sun shines through the South Window and lights up a portion of the arch.

When you’ve finished there, either walk or drive the short distance to Double Arch. This is a beautiful pair of massive arches that get less attention than they deserve. The hike from the parking area is relatively short with little elevation change. You can photograph Double Arch from a distance or from very close up. You may be tempted to climb to the bottom of the opening of the west arch. It is an easy climb until you get to the last 10 to 15 feet where the wall is straight up. If you decide to climb it, make sure you are wearing shoes with good grips. You may want to have someone there to help you with your gear as you come down. The up is difficult. The down is very difficult. Double Arch is one that is easy to forget, but you will be doing yourself a disservice if you do.

Double Arch as seen from the approach

Part II of Arches National Park will cover the hike to Delicate Arch, the Firey Furnace and Landscape Arch.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Easy Composite Strategy for Creating a Great Waterfall Shot.

Waterfalls are one my favorite photographic subjects. I like to use slow shutter speeds to capture that flowing silky look. To do that, I try to use a 1/2 second exposure. If the water is flowing fast, a slightly faster shutter speed will accomplish a satisfactory result, but when possible I stick to a half second.

Unfortunately, such a slow shutter speed may eliminate a feature that a faster shutter speed would have caught. Look at the two photos below. The one on the left captured the look I wanted and while I like it a lot, one thing I liked about this waterfall was the foam that it created in the pool. A close look at the photo on the right reveals that I captured the detail in the pool that is missing from the the photo on the left. So does that mean I can't have the best of both worlds? Not at all. Combining the best features of both photos is easily done. Here's how.

In the field, you must use a tripod to capture the waterfall using different settings.It is important to get the exact same composition for each photo. That's why a tripod is a must. For the photo on the left, I used a shutter speed of 1/2 second. For the one on the right, I shot at 1/60 second.

When shooting at slow shutter speeds, you will be using small apertures, like f-16, f-22 or even smaller. Small apertures will keep everything in focus. I made the shot on the left using an aperture of f-22. The shot on the right was made at f-8. While everything in it is in acceptable focus, the foreground on the photo on the left is much sharper.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Once you have your photos, open both of them in Photoshop. Click on Window, Arrange, Tile All Vertically. Photoshop will place both photos together on your screen. Click on the photo with the attributes you like most. (In this case, the photo on the left.) We'll call it photo 1. Then press and hold the CTRL key, then press the J key. That will create a duplicate layer. Then use the Move tool. Using your mouse, grab the layer and move it over photo 2. Then press and hold the shift key and release the layer. Using the shift key will perfectly align that layer from photo 1 over the photo 2. When you've done that, close photo 1.

Now click on the add a layer mask icon. Here's where the magic happens. Use a soft brush and set the opacity control to about 30%. Use it to paint over the area of the pool where the bubbles and foam are on the layer below it. Paint until you get the effect you are looking for. Here's my final photo.