Sunrise at Mesa Arch


How I Got the Shot

Friday, November 24th, 4:45 AM, my alarm goes off in Moab Utah disrupting dreams about family, turkey and good wine. I throw on my ski jacket and grab my backpack that I had prepared the night before with camera gear, tripod and monopod. I step out into the dark cold and climb up into Brian’s Jeep Rubicon. We drive an hour on winding roads unaware of the beauty around us, only seeing what’s in the headlights. I was unaware of the experience I was about to have photographing the sunrise at Mesa Arch. The sky starts to glow as we approach the parking lot for this trailhead; it’s packed! We grab our gear and hike 1/2 mile in the 35 degree cold (cold for a Phoenician) only to be discouraged by the crowd of 50 – 60 people that had arrived before us. Of the 527 square miles in Canyonlands National Park everyone seemed to be in one spot. Shoulder to shoulder and 5 deep they stood behind their tripods waiting for the sun to rise. Brian and I split up and hiked left and right along the rim to find another shot, no luck. Beautiful views but no arch.

The sun rose up off the distant canyon. Cameras starting clicking and iPhones were waving above the crowd. The polite, respectful photographers peeled off the pack after each of them got their shot. We worked our way in and set up, careful not to bump a tripod. I started shooting this incredible view, knowing that I could remove a few cameras, arms and heads in Photoshop. As the photographers cleared out we could move about and get different views through the arch. One advantage to being late to the party was that as the sun rose it illuminated the canyon below to add depth to our shots.

Although I prefer my Canon 5D for photography I have been hiking with the lighter Panasonic Lumix GH4. I bracketed the exposures planning to layer the images in photoshop to manage the wide dynamic range of this scene. However, I had enough latitude in the raw images to be able to adjust the highlights, shadows and blacks in camera raw to create my final images.

Before sunrise some sat quietly taking in the beauty. One photographer was so elated by this experience he did a handstand at the edge.

This was truly a spiritual experience.

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