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The Mittens, Monument Valley

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 15 November 2009 in Landscape & Rural.


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Redwoods and Mendocino Coast Photo Workshop - June 15-18, 2010 (space available)
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Big Sur Photo Workshop Summer August, 2010 (Exciting details TBA soon)!
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Having returned from my Arches/Canyonlands workshop (which by the way was a very enjoyable workshop with a great group of participants) and a couple days spent scouting/shooting parts of northern Arizona for my upcoming Spring Northern Arizona Workshop: Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Upper Antelope Canyon, and Sedona, it's time to start wading through a bevy of images and begin processing.

One stop along the way was at Monument Valley, a definite iconic slice of Americana. A new Navajo-run hotel, The View, now sits atop the canyon rim and affords its guests this iconic scene of the famed Mittens. Along the east end of the parking area is also a viewing spot that includes desert foreground elements, which can be incorporated into the frame.

These two large sandstone boulders provided a foreground that has been used in thousands of images, though my recollection of these being the specific boulders did not come to me until I had played with various compositions for at least 30 minutes under sunset light. Finally, a couple iconic images made by Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell flooded my conscious, and I realized I was standing at the exact spot where these two legends captured their images.

Somewhat dismayed that I may simply be repeating their success's, I nonetheless pushed on with my own visual pursuit as the light became increasingly softer after the sun had set. The striated etchings on these rocks are really what caught my eye and I liked the way they moved the eye towards the Mittens. Each boulder's markings pointed towards the monolith at the opposite side of the frame (creating two implied diagonal lines) and thus forming an imaginary X-line which serves to tie the four elements together in a tight bond. I decided to try compressing the boulders with the 1,000-foot monoliths by using my 70-200 mmL lens at f/16. Careful hyperfocal focus was needed for all the elements to be sharp, thus I bracketed my focus. The subtle twilight pinks in the sky balanced the red of the rocks and the blue portion of the sky lent for some visual tension.

Time for a quick vent at the risk of upsetting some of my readers. I know this is Navajo Reservation land. But commercialism is alive and well at Monument Valley (as well as in Page, Arizona) and the tribal council regulates when and where tourists can be at any given time. We paid to take the 17-mile scenic loop through arguably some of the most impressive scenery in the country. But we were also told (in a very condescending manner) to be out by dark (no elaboration as to sunset, dusk, or pitch blackness). We were however approached by various Navajo guides all willing to take us to our desired destinations for a price. The Federal Government has no control over this National Treasure. What can be done? Nothing. We must live with the Navajo regulations as they are (or pay handsomely to break the rules).

I processed the RAW and made some localized corrections with Nik' new Viveza 2 software. There is a new structure slider that allowed me to bring out the texture of the foreground rocks. Viveza 2 will be available next month and I highly encourage you to give it a try. Please use my code (located below) to save 15% off your order!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1 second F/16.0 ISO 200 70 mm

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