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Dawn at Dead Horse Point

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 23 April 2009 in Landscape & Rural.

This image would have never happened without my willingness to be flexible and allow myself the freedom to change on the fly (to borrow a hockey term). I had set my alarm to 4am so I could drive the 45 minutes from my hotel in Moab, Utah, to the "overshot" Mesa Arch. The weather forecast the night before was for partly cloudy and I had envisioned the sun illuminating the arch through broken storm clouds. As I neared the entrance to Canyonlands National Park, I found myself in the middle of blowing snow flurries and 28 degree weather, certainly not conducive to my preconceived sunrise aspirations. Through the darkness I looked east hoping for some sign that the clouds were breaking on the horizon but found none.

I pulled the car over and thought out my options. I had photographed Dead Horse Point State Park earlier this year at sunset and was disappointed with the results as the light was too contrasty that evening. With the storm clouds serving as a "contrast reducer" I decided to give it another try. As I pulled into the parking lot, still in predawn darkness, I could see just a bit of brightness on the eastern horizon but not enough for a full sunrise shot, so I felt relieved that I made the correct choice. As an added bonus, I was the only one at the rim that morning.

I made this capture near the end of my shoot as I scoured the canyon rim (6,000 feet elevation) for foreground elements which would allow me to demonstrate a sense of scale. I make a conscious effort to put foreground elements in most of my wide shots and like to have something that speaks of the area I am photographing.

Hearty juniper bushes are plentiful in this region and the berries were also present at this time of the year (and can be seen in a bigger enlargement). I loved how the bend in the trunk of the juniper bush mimicked the bend in the Colorado River 2,000 feet below and how the light dusting of snow clung to its trunk. Finally, I decided to minimize the sky as there was only a hint of color present. I chose a low perspective with my 16-35mm lens set at its widest angle of view. I knocked down the exposure on the sky with a 2-stop hard edge Singh-Ray split neutral density filter and I used a polarizer. I then simply waited for a lull in the wind and made my capture.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 8/5 seconds F/16.0 ISO 200 16 mm

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