Monument Valley Landscape Photography Guide
Few landscapes in the world are as iconic and famous as Monument Valley and it’s an obvious location for landscape photography.
That’s why it’s rather curious that you don’t see that many pictures from Monument Valley on the social media. I mean, of cause they’re there, but not in the amount as one would expect. Maybe it has something to do with the fact it’s located far out into the American southwest on the border between Utah and Arizona around 400 miles from Las Vegas and more than 600miles from Los Angeles. In European standards that’s approximately equal to the distance between northern and southern border of Germany.
Monument Valley is located in the Navajo territory controlled by the Navajo nation and to enter the valley there is a small fee of ten dollars for three days. There’s one main gravel road you can drive around the valley, which is open from around sunrise to sunset during winter and a bit longer during summer. There’s a lot of information to get on the official homepage when it comes to the practical stuff. During the summer period, there’s a campground open inside the valley too. If you want to get away from the main route you’ll have to book special tours with guides. The area does feel fairly commercialized but not more than the rest of the US. This land is the Navajo nation and it’s very sacred to them, so it should go without saying you of cause respect the laws and landscapes. All along the valley drive, there’s a lot of monuments to adore and photograph. Some of my favorites are John Ford’s point, which is the classic shot of the Navajo cowboy on the horse scouting the valley, The Three Sisters, Spearhead Mesa and North Window. But there’s of cause a lot of other smaller and bigger locations to photograph too. Sadly visiting in December the campground within the valley wasn’t open, so I couldn’t do any night photography in there among the buttes, but that would definitely be something to aim for. Instead, I started experimenting a bit with my polarizing filter on some locations and it really does bring out those deep blue colors of the sky and rich reds of the rocks. Remember that the polarized part of the sky runs in a straight belt across the sky 90 degrees from the sun. If you shoot wide, which I often do, there is a huge risk of just getting a dark blue band across your photo. To counter this you can turn your filter slightly – the effect will be smaller, but the sky will be more even.
Located at the visitor center the main vantage point of monument valley, called John Wayne’s point gives at fantastic view over the three buttes. There’s plenty of opportunity for different foregrounds all along the ridge from the visitor center and down to the campground. John Wayne’s point is also accessible all year round at all time.This location has been photographed in all sorts of weather and all times of
This location has been photographed in all sorts of weather and all times of day. The road beneath the ridge has been incorporated with and without light-trails. I’ve even seen a fantastic conceptual photograph where a sunset and sunrise were combined into one. If you want sunlight on all three buttes during sunset you should stick to the summer period since Merrick Butte will be in shadow from the end of October to the end of February. Making anything original here is next to nearly impossible. Unless you use Photoshop and a bit of fantasy. While in Monument Valley I got the conceptual idea of trying to mix in some northern lights. The idea is actually not that farfetched since I’ve read an article about how the magnetic poles of the Earth might shift, which could cause the auroras to hit equator. So take the last picture in this sequence, as it is; conceptual art.
Outside of the valley coming from the north along road 163, you’ll find the classic view of the road driving in a straight line towards Monument Valley. This view was made famous with the fantastic movie Forrest Gump from 1994. Along the hill, there’s three parking lots and a few side roads where you can park. You’ll of cause have to enter the road to take your picture, so be very careful. A lot of huge trucks drives along this road and as with trains and train tracks they can be hard to hear before they’re a few meters from you. My suggestion is to be at least two people there. One who photographs and one who scouts for traffic. In regard to the lens at this location, you’ll need a kit lens of 24-70mm since a wide angle easily gets way too wide.