Arches National Park, Desert Southwest Photography Workshop | October 2021

3-Day Desert Southwest Photography Workshop: Arches & Canyonlands National Parks - October 2021

As we entered Arches National Park and made our way up into the heart of the park, we could make out the faint silhouette of the many monoliths that dot this incredible landscape. As we arrived at our first stop, the La Sal Overlook, the glow of the sunrise was starting to illuminate the skies to the east. Soon this ancient landscape would bask in the glow of the rising sun, and we would be ready. Welcome to the Fall 2021 Aperture Academy workshop in Arches NP.

As you look across the valley one can’t help but imagine the awe felt by those who first came upon this truly unique landscape – such a geological formation is only found in this one place on earth. Guests lined up their tripods, dialed in their settings, and prepared for the morning light show. The cool fall air provided us with a clean, clear atmosphere which would lead to crisp, detailed images…and nipped a bit at our fingers and toes. The vibrant morning light did not disappoint as we captured a variety of compositions as well as a few panoramic images. I worked with everyone to fine-tune compositions and worked on lessons to control exposure as the light intensified.

With many new images captured we moved deeper into the park, finding many great compositions which included near/far situations with smaller apertures (higher f/stops) to ensure sharp focus throughout. I also worked with a couple of guests on capturing multiple frames with various focal points that we later used for focus stacking, a technology that helps ensure the sharpest end result of a scene with a complex depth of field. The puddles of waterfront recent rains provided us with opportunities for reflections too!

From there we made a visit to one of the park's more unique features, balanced rock. This giant rock sits precariously atop what seems like a fragile base. It appears as if it could fall at any moment! We walked out and around Balanced Rock and captured sun flares off the edges and used nearly objects such as dead, gnarly trees, as a foreground to create unique compositions.

We concluded our first morning at the famous Park Avenue, a giant V-shaped sandstone formation with towering hoodoos and giant fins of stone reaching 100 feet into the Utah skyline. We used very wide lenses to capture the enormity of this location, as well as some panoramic tricks to try to capture the expanse.

After a mid-day break, we headed deep into Arches National Park to Devils Garden. We walked out the trail through the Devils Garden land fins towering around us. If you ever wanted to know what an ant feels like take a walk through these formations should give you a good sense of just how small we really are in this world. This 306-foot wide arch, the longest in the world, is only 11 feet thick at the thinnest point. It is a marvel to behold.

We arrived at Landscape arch, set up our gear, dialed in our compositions, and took a few test images to ensure we were ready for tonight’s grand finale – night photography. We sat and enjoyed our dinner as we watched the sunlight fade and the moonlight begins to creep in.

As stars began to appear, we used apps on our smartphones to detect Saturn and Jupiter as they shined bright in the early evening sky. It wasn’t long before conditions were just right and we began running long exposures. We used the 500-rule of dividing 500 by the lens focal length to determine the maximum shutter to ensure pinpoint stars. (500/50mm = 10s, 500/24mm = 21s). We started with a series of test images and zoomed in to ensure both sharpness (proper manual focus) and that our stars were indeed dots and not small streaks. See, with your exposure longer and longer you begin to capture the rotation of the earth. Pretty cool, but tonight we were after tack sharp stars to enhance the moonlit Landscape Arch.

With some great images captured, we made the short walk back and concluded for the night. It was time to head back to the hotel for a good night’s rest so we could start early again tomorrow for sunrise.

The next morning, we arrived early at the Windows district of the park and made our way up to a famous arch called the North Window. It was filled with a few people waiting to witness the sunrise to the east. Our focus (pun intended) was Turret Arch to the west. We found a nice spot to set up and after a short wait the warm morning sun lit up the landscape and we worked quickly to capture the scene. From here we walked over to Double Arch, a gigantic towering set of arches in a tight rock formation that towers 112 feet from the desert floor. Nearly impossible to capture in its entirety without a fisheye, we worked through various compositions and used some individuals in the images for a sense of scale.

The mid-day light was hard to work with but we made one last stop for the morning at Sand Dune Arch. A short walk through the sandstone fins to the arch provided a great experience for everyone.

In the afternoon we loaded up gear and dinner and make the hike up to Delicate Arch. Many high clouds had moved into the area during the day and things were looking really promising for our sunset shoot. We arrived at the arch about an hour before sunset and this gave us plenty of time to set up, eat dinner and then capture the light show.

As the sun dropped to the horizon the light on the arch and surrounding rock formations glowed. It is truly a spectacular sight to witness and the banter of the group gave way to shutter clicks as everyone was focused on capturing the scene. The backdrop of the snowy La Sal Mountains combined with the high wispy clouds made for incredible images and everyone was really pleased. This was such a great way to round out this workshop.

The next morning, we slept in a bit and then gathered in the conference room of our hotel for post-processing. Lots of downloading, sorting, and feedback sessions ensued. After about 3 hours each guest had identified and processed some of their favorites and I worked with everyone to get the most out of the work they have produced. We talked a lot about enhancing light in natural ways, stitching Panos, converting to monochrome, and more.

A big thank you to our guests in this workshop. So many familiar faces and past memories to reflect on as we created new experiences. It was truly a fun workshop!

Until next time,

Stephen and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team



P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.

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