Growing up in NJ, surrounded by tall oaks and other deciduous trees, I found the red rocks of the desert country simply mesmerizing. The colors are just incredible and I return year after year with one of my tours, now focusing mainly on night photography, but we never miss a sunrise or sunset opportunity, as the light is just magical. What I really like about landscape shoots is that I can pack relatively light bringing with me two camera bodies and my Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM, 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | Art, 20mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art, 24mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art, and for the first time the 24-35mm F2 DG HSM | Art. This group of lenses would allow me to capture every situation that I would encounter day or night.
I have been to the desert southwest more times than I can remember. Locations I have photographed over the years include two of our national parks in the southeast corner of Utah; Arches and Canyonlands, Monument Valley, the Slot Canyons, and Horseshoe Bend down in Arizona, and countless other little roadside attractions and scenic byways and I never get tired of it! I always start the tour in Arches and Canyonlands national park as it is hard to beat the scenery with photographic opportunities around every corner. This past May, the wildflowers were blooming all over and the mules’ ear bushes were flowering near Courthouse Tower as seen in the image below.
All the grand vistas in the area of Courthouse Towers with the three Gossips as well as the sweeping view of Park Avenue (both shown below) just take your breath away.
Day or night provide endless opportunities and being so close to the car for most of the shoots allows me to choose the best lens for the scene. In the image of the fins below, I chose the Sigma 24mm Art because I knew I was in an area where I could safely back up to include the entire composition I wanted. In the area of double O arch, it is so massive, I needed every bit of the width of the Sigma 12-24mm lens to get it all in the frame.
After a few days, we headed down to the Monument Valley Area on the border of Utah and Arizona. Most of the iconic features are actually found on the Arizona side but one place you shouldn’t miss is the Painted Desert area near Mexican Hat, Utah. Near sunset, the desert just glows! The image below is a two image horizontal panoramic stitch using the Sigma 24-105mm Art set at 87mm.
The highlight of course to the Monument Valley is going into the Tribal Park at night. You need to hire a Navajo guide for this. Unfortunately for us, the clouds had other ideas that night and while we had some decent opportunities, the image below is a great example of what light pollution can look like. This is one of the mittens, and the passing clouds were catching the glow of all the lights at The View Hotel.
As we headed over to The Suns Eye, the skies suddenly cleared. I could only fit half of the massive opening in even at 12mm!
As night turned into morning we headed off to capture the sunrise at the Totem Poles and dunes, which was a perfect end to a long night.
I always try to build in a weather day on my workshops to try and pick the best opportunity for the night shoots. Since we were able to get it into the itinerary the first night, I took the group over to Page, Arizona where we would either photograph the Slot Canyons or the precipice of Horseshoe Bend. As the clouds followed us down to Page, I decided that we would take the hike out to Horseshoe Bend. It is a well marked and traveled trail but to get an image like the one below you have to get right on the edge which is about a 1000 foot drop! Fortunately, I am not afraid of heights.
For the last few days of the workshop I chose a bit of a newer location to take some opportunities and photograph Goblin Valley Sate Park. I have been there numerous times before but it is so isolated and remote, that you really need the weather to cooperate, as it is the only photographic location in the area. As we headed out, the clouds looked promising but quickly dissipated in the dry desert heat. It is not easy to photograph the “goblins” but the abundant mules ear gave plenty of foreground focus points giving me the ability to compose without including too much of the now drab sky.
I am already looking forward to next year’s workshop out in the area and hopefully adding some new arches and formations to my portfolio. Fortunately for all of us, the area has a large abundance of natural beauty and it remains my favorite landscape destination.
Roman Kurywczak is a full time nature photographer and proud Sigma Pro team member who conducts lectures and workshops across the globe. His boutique tour company, Roamin’ with Roman Photo Tours, caters to very small groups (only 4) to provide the ultimate learning experience for participants. His down to earth and easy to follow teaching style make him a highly sought after lecturer. The author of several instructional eBook’s on nature photography, Roman strives to share his passion for photography as others have shared with him. He is married for over 26 years with two sons and lives in NJ. You can learn more about Roman’s workshops, lectures, eBook’s, galleries, and more at: www.roaminwithroman.com