We are delighted to receive this rich report from Induro shooter and Moab local, Bret Edge. Stay tuned for the end where you can have a chance to shoot with him!
by Bret Edge
Mention Moab to a nature photographer and they’ll likely drift off to daydream about massive sandstone arches, red rock spires piercing a clear blue sky and rugged canyons carved by muddy rivers. The breathtaking scenery that surrounds Moab attracts photographers, tourists and adventurers from around the world who come to enjoy what is affectionately nicknamed “Canyon Country” by locals. With two national parks, a state park and over two million acres of high desert and alpine landscape to explore, planning a photography trip to Moab can be intimidating even for seasoned travelers.
As a local photographer, I’ve spent years developing an intimate knowledge of Moab’s seasons, light and locations. I wrote this guide to help traveling photographers make the most of their time in the Moab area – you’ll spend less time scouting and more time making quality images!
Lay of the Land
Moab acts as the gateway town to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The entrance to Arches is less than ten minutes north of town. Canyonlands is divided into three districts: Island in the Sky, Needles and The Maze. For the purposes of this guide, when I refer to Canyonlands, I am referencing the Island in the Sky district, which is about 45 minutes northwest of Moab. Dead Horse Point State Park is located near the entrance to Canyonlands and is also a 45 minute drive from downtown Moab. I often recommend that photographers who only have a couple days in the area shoot sunrise in Canyonlands or Dead Horse Point and sunset at Arches, which puts you closer to your hotel or campsite at the end of a long day.
Arches National Park
Though Arches is small in size, it is absolutely packed with jaw dropping views. Every bend in the road reveals another exciting scene, some of which may seem familiar, as many movies and commercials have been filmed in the park. Arches offers opportunities for sunrise and sunset photography and even a few mid-day options – a rare treat indeed!
One of my favorite sunrise locations is The Windows area, which is where you’ll find the iconic view of Turret Arch framed through North Window. Obtaining this perspective requires a bit of a scramble but the reward is one of the Southwest’s most iconic views. Other great options for sunrise in Arches include Courthouse Towers and Landscape Arch. In autumn, cottonwood trees along Courthouse Wash are ablaze with bright yellow leaves. They’re an interesting foreground for grand scenics and are wonderful studies for those who enjoy the intimate landscape.
Take a Ranger guided tour through the Fiery Furnace in the middle of the day to take advantage of reflected light inside narrow passages between sandstone fins. At sunset, visit Balanced Rock or the Fiery Furnace viewpoint for dramatic views that include vibrant sandstone and snowcapped peaks all in the same composition! Canyonlands National Park
If endless canyon views are what you seek, you’ll find them in abundance at Canyonlands National Park. Though it won’t be obvious in your photos, many of the most popular vistas require little to no hiking to access. And, setting up your tripod at the edge of a cliff provides a unique birds eye view of the expansive landscape far below your feet.
My favorite spot to photograph sunrise isn’t actually in Canyonlands, but we’ll cover it here since it is very nearby. Dead Horse Point State Park overlooks a gooseneck on the Colorado River 2,000’ below and your views extend well over 50 miles to distant canyons and mountains. From here, drive into Canyonlands to photograph the La Sal Mountains and Washer Woman Arch framed through Mesa Arch, the underside of which glows with reflected light up to two hours after sunrise. Another great sunrise option is Grandview Point, which offers multiple interesting compositions as you walk along the canyon rim. At sunset, there is no finer place to set up your tripod than Green River Overlook. Gazing upon the White Rim below and the Henry Mountains in the distance, you may well find yourself feeling infinitesimal.
In spring, look for a tall, feathery yellow wildflower blooming at the edges of cliffs. The princes plume flower is a wonderful foreground element. In July and August, Moab is visited by almost daily thunderstorms in the afternoon. Watching these magnificent storms roll across the desert from any viewpoint in Canyonlands will surely inspire you to trip the shutter button. The ominous clouds and scattered light that accompany thunderstorms often create conditions that are ripe for black and white photography.
Scenic Byway 128
Not all of Moab’s iconic scenery is located within a national park! Scenic Byway 128 leaves Moab and travels through the Colorado River canyon and provided non-stop opportunities for photography. Side canyons lead to interesting Native American rock art and ruins and, in a thunderstorm, you’ll find waterfall after waterfall cascading off the tall cliffs. Approximately 16 miles from Moab, the narrow canyon opens up for the first time at Castle Valley, home to many plateaus and spires that are reminiscent of a smaller version of Monument Valley. The most prominent feature, Castle Tower, offers opportunities for sunrise, sunset and panoramic photography. Other nearby named landmarks include Round Mountain, The Priest and Nuns and Parriott Mesa – all of which are fun to photograph.
A few miles farther down the road you’ll reach Fisher Towers. This area holds the tallest freestanding sandstone tower in North America – The Titan. At almost 1,000 feet from base to summit, The Titan is a most fascinating photographic subject. Adding to the allure is the fact that the Cutler Sandstone that accounts for the majority of the area is among the deepest red in the entire Moab area. At sunset, it almost appears to glow from within.
I hope this guide inspires you to plan a visit to Moab and that it helps you to create stunning images while you’re here. If you need a little more guidance or are interested in learning a few skills that will help you make even more impressive photographs, please consider joining Jason Hatfield and me at our upcoming workshop in Moab on October 9 -12, 2014.
All photographs in this blog post are ©Bret Edge – all rights reserved and used with permission. Induro supports photographers’ rights – please respect them and do not use, take or borrow other people’s photography anytime or anywhere without permission. Thanks!