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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Arches National Park: Landscape Arch Glorious Sunrise

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.

Pano Tip

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.

For another example of this technique, please see my previous post Arches National Park: Turret Arch Viewed Through North Window

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Arches National Park: Turret Arch Viewed Through North Window

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.

The “Windows Section” of the park is the most popular area., You will not be alone in this section of the park except perhaps at 3:00 AM and not even then if there are night photographers.

Feature Image Details

This is a panoramic image. I used six different images blended together in Lightroom.

For this set of images I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens.

If I had to pick one lens and one lens only, this lens would be at the top of the list. I see things from a wide angle perspective.

The images are all ISO 200, at 17MM, F16, for 1/50th second.

Vision and Timing

Ignoring the panoramic blending the hardest part of this image is being where you need to be at the right time.

This is a classic shot, and to pull it off you need to be in the right place.

  1. Walk through the North Window, resisting the temptation to photograph the sunrise.
  2. Scramble up the rocks on the other side to frame Turret Arch
  3. Be there early enough to get a good spot
  4. Pray for good light and clouds

Points 1-3 are within your control. Point 4 isn’t. I went to this spot on at least 6 times on at least four trips with one success, my last one.

Without clouds, you are starting off with a questionable picture, With too many clouds you might get dull grey.

In regards to point 3, I was at the spot I wanted to be at least 40 minutes before sunrise.

I was too late. One person beat me to the one and only spot one can take this complete panorama sequence. He was from Germany.

The odd thing is, he had the only spot to take a panorama, but he was taking a close up that included no sky. This is a good idea with poor clouds, but a poor idea with good clouds.

I got the shot bu being patient. When the sun hit, a bit after sunrise, I asked my German fellow if he would move his tripod to allow me to complete my pano sequence.

He gave me 30 seconds. The image below is the result. I cropped the result for the lead image.

Full Pano Image

One Vertical Frame

That is one vertical frame in my sequence.

Interestingly, I frequently take vertical images to make what looks like a horizontal image.

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Mono Lake, California, Eastern Sierra, Sunrise

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.

Tufa Types

  • 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.

The above is pieced together from Wikipedia.

Feature Image Details

The feature image was taken at sunrise.

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.

Please also see Mono Lake, California, Eastern Sierra, Sunset for my favorite Mono Lake image of the trip.

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Horseshoe Lake, Illinois Sunrise, Bald cypress and Tupelo trees

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.

For the image, I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 30mm, for 1/8 of a second at ISO 400, f16.

Tips

  • 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.

The trees were hugely pointed in, but I corrected the perspective in Photoshop. A Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens would have been about perfect.

Here’s a clip of what it looked like as shot.

Perspective controls in Photoshop are amazing but it is better to use the right lens.

Glorious Sunrise

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.

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Coming up next: Another new destination.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Porcupine Mountains State Park: Lake of the Clouds

One does not have to travel West, East, South, or overseas to make excellent images. The Midwest is tremendously overlooked as a photography location.

One of my favorite Midwest spots is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Michigan upper peninsula.

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.

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Top 100 Nature Photography Websites

Feedspot just featured me in their list of Top 100 Nature Photography Blogs & Websites To Follow in 2018.

There is a nominal charge of $2 per month to track whatever sites you wish to follow and see new sites as they come on board. I consider it worth it.

Coming up next: More Michigan Autumn images.

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Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course

Death Valley National Park is a phenomenal study of erosion, weather, geology, sand dunes, salt formations, and huge spring wildflower blooms on rare occasions.

This post covers the Badwater Basin Salt Flats.

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.

Feature Image Details

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 Sunrise

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.

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

If you missed them, please check out my previous articles.

  1. Death Valley: Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Manly Beacon
  2. Death Valley: Dante’s View Sunrise
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock