Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is a fairyland of red, orange, and white hoodoos and spires. The rim elevation varies from 8,000 to 9,000 feet.
Winter comes early. The park is open year-round but rooms at the lodge are generally closed January and February.
Rooms in the park can be difficult to obtain, so book early.
The shots in this article were taken in November. We were booked at Zion National Park which is about 90 minutes away, but when the weather forecast called for snow at Bryce, I double booked for a night hoping to catch snow on the hoodoos. These are the resultant images.
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 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.
Arches national Park is a red-rock wonderland in Southern Utah. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks.
Landscape Arch is in the “Devil’s Garden” section of the park.
Like the “Windows” section, “Devils Garden” is very popular and it can be difficult to find a parking spot at times.
Fortunately, the best time to photograph this arch is at sunrise and in contrast to the Windows, you can often have the view to yourself.
Feature Image Details
I scrambled up underneath the arch at sunrise. The composition is a single frame with a Canon 11-24 F4.0 L lens at 11 mm. This shot only woks at extreme wide angles with a full frame sensor. 16mm or even 14 mm is not wide enough.
The shot was taken at ISO 500 at F16, for 1/20 of a second.
Those familiar with the park will note that I was not on the trail. With reservations, I followed an informal trail to the top. Don’t bother without an extreme wide angle lens and excellent light.
Landscape Arch Panorama
For the above composition, I blended six overlapping images together in Lightroom with a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens at 24mm.
The images are all ISO 200, at F13, for 1/20th second.
It’s a struggle to get such an image in one shot. You can do it with a wide angle lens in landscape mode but only by pointing up and dealing with distortions.
It’s better to take a vertical panorama to minimize the distortions while increasing the number of pixels used and thus increasing the overall resolution.
One Vertical Frame
I cropped off the right and the bottom but the overall result is a whopping 8322×4303 pixel image taking 114 MB in disk space.
It’s far easier to cut out what you do not want than add what you didn’t capture.
Since you are combining images, you will end up with a huge number of pixels even when the final result is cropped.
I frequently take vertical images to make what looks like a horizontal image.
Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, in the Eastern Sierras. The lake formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.
Mono Lake has two major islands, Negit Island and Paoha Island, plus numerous minor outcroppings. Among the most iconic features of Mono Lake are the columns of limestone that tower over the water surface. These limestone towers consist primarily of calcium carbonate minerals such as calcite (CaCO3). This type of limestone rock is referred to as tufa, which is a term used for limestone that forms in low to moderate temperatures.
This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and alkali flies. Historically, the native Kutzadika’a people derived nutrition from the Ephydra hians pupae, which live in the shallow waters around the edge of the lake.
When the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the freshwater streams flowing into the lake, it lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially replenish the lake level.
Lithoid tufa – massive and porous with a rock-like appearance
Dendritic tufa – branching structures that look similar to small shrubs
Thinolitic tufa – large well-formed crystals of several centimeters
The tufa types vary interchangeably both between individual tufa towers but also within individual tufa towers. There can be multiple transitions between tufa morphologies within a single tufa tower.
I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 16mm, ISO 640 for 2 seconds. It is a panorama blend of 5 vertical images stitched together. I often stitch vertical images to make a horizontal composite. The resultant detail is amazing, as is the file size.
The feature image shows my favorite morning composition, but one thing is missing: clouds. Here are some additional images that were taken on other days.
Mono Lake Sunrise Images
The above clouds were nice, but they were not where I wanted them. I like strong foregrounds and would have loved some clouds in the feature image.
In the above shot, the clouds were in the correct direction, but the foreground is lacking compared to the panorama. In both of the above shots, I should have and would have used neutral density filters to smooth the water. For inexplicable reasons, I did not have my neutral density filters on this trip.
We visited Mono Lake 10 times, 5 at sunrise and 5 at sunset over 10 days, not necessarily on the same days.
Olive Branch Illinois, in Alexander County, is the home of Horseshoe Lake, not to be confused with Horseshoe Lake in Madison County.
Horseshoe Lake is an oxbow lake in Alexander County, Illinois. It is the site of Illinois’s Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, a state park 10,645 acres (43 km2) in size. A remnant of a large meander of the Mississippi River, it is today a shallow, isolated patch of water located near Cairo and the southern tip of Illinois.
The Alexander County lake has major problems with siltation. During the Great Flood of 1993 the river tried to shift back to the Horseshoe Lake meander, but returned to its modern channel after the flood subsided. Much of the lake resembles a swamp or bayou. This is one of the northernmost parts of the natural ranges of the Bald cypress and Tupelo trees, which are found on the shoreline of the lake. Another tree found here is the swamp cottonwood. There is a good growth of the flowering American lotus.
Feature Image Details
The feature image shows Bald cypress and Tupelo trees at sunrise.
The key to reflection images such as these is for the water to be in the shade.
Play around with various exposures and time durations.
Get low to the water! Sometimes you cannot see any reflections unless you get low. Find a composition you like, then set up the tripod in that position.
Here are some more images from the same morning.
I like the above image a lot. It distinctly shows the Bald Cypress trees. It was taken with a Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens. I did not have my tilt shift lens with me at the time. It was in the car. Had I walked back to get it, I would have missed the shot.
Perspective controls in Photoshop are amazing but it is better to use the right lens.
The above image was taken with a Canon 100-400 MM F 4.5-5.6 L Lens. I seldom carry that lens, simply because of the weight. I had it with me because I knew there were opportunities like this.
Hatfield vs McCoy
Horseshoe Lake is not a “family destination”. There are few services and unless you are interested in photography, fishing, or birding, there is little else to do.
The above images are recent and digital, but here’s my story from twenty years ago that highlights the issue.
In the immediate area, there was then and there still is today precisely one place to eat, and it’s in a bar. I sat down at the bar and asked for a menu.
Then I made a mistake: I asked the person sitting next to me a question about the number of the geese in the fall. This was the resultant conversation.
Me: Is this an average year for geese in the area.
Him: Do I know you?
Me: I’m Mike – cutoff
Him: Are you from the DNR?
Me: I’m Mike – cutoff
Him: I did not ask you who you are. I asked if you were from the DNR.
At that point, he pulled out a gun, pointed it at my head and said If you are from the DNR I’m going to blow you away.
I assured him that I was not from the DNR and he put the gun away.
I should have immediately left at that point, but I had already ordered dinner and waited for it. The man who pulled the gun on me started talking to the person next to him. The other fellow mentioned that his daughter was dating someone who he did not know.
As you might imagine from this, our “hero” said that if his daughter was dating someone he would know when he got up, where he went, and would stake him out until he knew everything about him.
The next day, I filled up at a gas station and a young kid came out to pump. This was not self-service yet. I told the kid what happened and he laughed.
He then said: “I am not surprised. In fact, if anyone sees me talking to you, I can get in serious trouble.”
The moral of this story is please do not try to talk to anyone in deep Southern Illinois unless you know them.
The park offers 90 miles of trails, beautiful lakes, and numerous waterfalls. It also offers an immense amount of biting insects (black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other major nuisances).
The best way to avoid these annoying pests (they are worst in June and July), is to go offseason. Fall and Winter are my favorite times. In the Winter the park offers both downhill and cross-country ski trails.
This post covers Autumn opportunities.
The park has three main sections: Lake of the Clouds (plus the shoreline), the interior, and the river (waterfall) section. This post covers the Lake of the Clouds section.
One can drive to the top, hike a short distance, and take the same shots as millions of others, or one can go off the beaten path. The feature image is decidedly off the beaten path.
All of these images are from mid-October. They represent what you can look forward to.
Off the Beaten Path
My wife Liz and I, along with one other person, shared that glorious sunset.
To get to that spot, one can hike along the Escarpment Trail from the main Lake of the Clouds parking lot or one can take a 30-45 minute uphill trail that I would rate as moderate. It can be a scramble in some places and it is hard to locate. The trail is near a mine on the left as one is heading up towards the main Lake in the Clouds parking area.
The spot is excellent at both sunrise and sunset. For the former, you need to allow plenty of time.
I advise taking the trail during the day so you know exactly what to expect. Here are more images from this fantastic location.
The above two images were early morning. Liz and I hiked up at sunrise. Unfortunately, the clouds were just a little late. They would have turned pink at sunrise but they blew in after sunrise.
Main Lake of the Clouds Area
I took that image from the main viewing area at sunrise. It may look secluded, but it isn’t and it won’t be.
Here is a view from the opposite direction.
That image was well before dawn. I count 13 people in that scene but there were at least another dozen downhill that you cannot see. More came before sunrise and shortly after sunrise, there were at least 60 people.
The spot is large enough to accommodate everyone. I am merely pointing out you better expect lots of other people no matter how nasty the weather. I have been to this spot when it was rainy and windy with at least a dozen others all hoping for a break in the clouds.
Badwater is the lowest point in the US, 282 feet below sea level.
The salt flats in Badwater Basin cover nearly 200 square miles, among the largest protected salt flats in the world. Salt flats are too harsh for most plants and animals to survive, yet are quite fragile. Delicate crystals are easily crushed and the relatively thin upper crust of salt can break through to the mud layer below, leaving tire tracks and even footprints. For this reason, vehicles are prohibited off established roads in Death Valley.
Badwater, shown below is the popular stopping spot. You can explore salt polygons at Badwater, but they are trampled flat. To find good salt polygons, you need to park a mile or more away and walk out over some uneven but walkable terrain.
Badwater typically has a small pool of obviously undrinkable water. The white on the ground is salt. The white in the mountains is snow.
Devil’s Golf Course
Imagine trying to play golf on that surface. The salt is razor sharp. If you fall you will get cut with salt injected straight into the cut.
The above image is the Devil’s Golf Course at sunset with a Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens. I now recommend the Canon 11-24 F4.0 L lens as a new replacement for the 14MM lens. It is the best wide angle zoom lens in the world. Period. Yes, it is very expensive. It is sharp in the corners, little or no astigmatism, or other common zoom lens flaws. At 11-24 MM it is the widest zoom lens around and it is sharp.
These images were all taken at sunrise or sunset, in the Badwater Basin area.
This a primarily a pre-dawn shot. As soon as the sun hits the opposite peaks there is enormous contrast. In the afternoon, you will be shooting into very harsh light, if not straight into the sun.
Even more so than Zabriskie Point, do not be late for Dante’s View. Plan to be at the top no later than 30 minutes before sunrise.
You do not need clouds for the image to work. Frequently you can catch the Belts of Venus, pink bands of light just above the horizon as I have in the feature image, but with some clouds.
That’s not snow on the ground. It’s salt. Dante’s View is a sweeping panorama of Badwater Basin, over a mile below.
One of the difficulties photographing Dante’s View is lack of a foreground subject. I took the feature image very close to the parking lot. There are trails, and I scouted them out, but the views do not improve much.
Second Pre-Dawn Image
If you arrive early, watch the light behind you. The above two shots were not taken on the same day.
Manly Beacon is the high triangular-shaped outcrop on the right. Manly Beacon was named in honor of William L. Manly, who along with John Rogers, guided members of the ill-fated Forty-niners out of Death Valley during the gold rush of 1849.
Get to this spot well before sunrise. As soon as the sunrise light hits the Panamint Mountain Range on the opposite side of the valley, the shot will soon be over.
Also, you need clouds for the shot to work. If there are no clouds, try another location. The sand dunes and Dante’s View (both coming up) are better choices if the light is not dramatic.