Canyonlands National Park: Mesa Arch Sunrise

Mesa Arch is a Mesa Arch is a spectacular stone arch perched at the edge of a cliff with vast views of canyons, rock spires, and the La Sal Mountains in the distance.  It’s on the eastern edge of the Island in the Sky mesa in Canyonlands National Park in northern San Juan County, Utah, United States.

This hike to Mesa arch is level, easy and only 1/2 mile long.

Canyonlands is adjacent to Arches National Park. The drive from Moab, Utah to the arch takes about 50 minutes per Google and about 40 minutes if you drive like me.

The nearness to Moab and the short easy nature of the hike makes this an extremely popular site.  You will not have this location to yourself except maybe at 2:00 AM and perhaps not even then if Milky Way shooters are out and about.

Plan the Shot

To get this shot, you need to be at the arch no later than 45 minutes before sunrise and that’s likely cutting it close.  There are 5-7 prime spots (elbow to elbow) and there may be 25 people or more at the arch at sunrise. If there is a photography workshop going on, forget about it, unless you beat them to the spot.

Assuming you get to Meas Arch in time to get a good spot, you still need clouds. And you need to have an idea of what exactly you will be doing. You might have a minute or two to get it done, at most.

Feature Image Details

This is a panoramic blend of several different exposures. One set was just before sunrise and one just after sunrise.

Normally, I take vertical images to make a horizontal panorama but I knew the light would be changing extremely fast. To reduce time, I took two horizontal frames instead of my usual six vertical frames.

I also used a Canon 11-24 F4.0 L lens at 24mm, not exactly a routine piece of equipment, but that was not necessary. Any 24mm lens would have worked.

The 11-24mm lens produces an exceptional starburst pattern. So does the Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens.

The Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens doesn’t. It has to do with the number of diaphragm blades in the lens. An even number of blades produces that number of rays. An odd number of blades produces double the number of rays.

  • The 11-24 has 9 blades producing 18 rays
  • The 16-35 has 9 blades producing 18 rays
  • The 24-105 has 8 blades producing 8 rays

If I am shooting towards the sun looking for a starburst, the 24-105 lens is out, unless I need to be over 35 mm.

My general lens of choice for most landscape photography is the Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens.

So why did I then use the 11-24?

I planned on doing this one shot, then changed my mind. Two shots is double the number of pixels minus any overlap.

If you are at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky district, the Arches is nearby. For most, it’s probably the reverse.

Arches National Park Images

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

2 thoughts on “Canyonlands National Park: Mesa Arch Sunrise

  1. As always great pic ! Thank You for the lens advice Mike. I’m having trouble seeing more than 16 rays. Is it from the overlapping ?

    1. with an odd number of blades, 9 are strong and 9 are weaker
      The weak ones my not show up against the shy. Heck, even strong ones might not
      But if you assume they are evenly spaced – they are – then you can note distances and see where the missing ones should be.

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