Landscape Photography in Arches National Park
Arches national park contains some of the most incredible natural features in the world and is a must visit for everyone!
Arches National Park is located just outside of Moab in Utah and is a relatively small national park, with a lot of fascinating natural structures concentrated within a small area. There is so many structures that there’s no way I can cover them all and we didn’t get to visit them all anyway, so there’s great opportunity for you to go and explore yourself.
The first location on this list is Balanced Rock, which is located in the middle of the park. There’s a path going all around it making it possible to capture it from all angles. Sadly when we were in Arches the moon was waxing, which made the nights fairly bright and made star photography almost impossible, since you could hardly see the Milky Way. While photographing Balanced Rock we experienced both clear skies and a light cloud cover which I used for some long exposures.
Double-O Arch and Landscape Arch
In the northern part of the park you’ll find the Devil’s Garden. In this area I mainly aimed for the iconic Landscape Arch. I figured that since the sun was setting just behind it in December it could be cool to capture it during a flaming sunset. To my huge disappointment, there’s a big cliff wall just behind the arch making it almost impossible to ever catch a sunset there unless you get the completely right clouds and a really strong afterburn. That’s how much pictures can cheat you I simply didn’t see there would be a big cliff wall there. Luckily the Double O Arch was near, so we hiked around a mile to get to this arch. And what do you know… same problem. We got a beautiful sunset, but the arch was partly in shadow and the arch itself is really not that photogenic and it’s hard to find a proper composition compared to the other arches in the park. Safe to say that evening was a huge disappointment
I knew though that I did want at least one good picture from Landscape Arch. I couldn’t get a golden hour picture and a sunburst behind the arch was impossible too at this time of year. But when life gives you lemons… I had the moon and at the right time of the night, it would be in the perfect direction to make a moonburst. This is a shot which is very hard to capture in one exposure, but I figured it should be possible to get a semi-light balanced picture. You see the moon is actually very bright relative to the foreground. You’ll end up completely overexposing the moon and moonburst and get weird flares in the picture if you expose for the shadows, but if you expose for the highlights, which is the moon you’ll end up with a very dark silhouetted arch on a very dark night sky. On top of this, you’ll have to photograph with a fairly small aperture to get that star effect from the moon, which is counterintuitive to normal night photography, where you want to let in as much light as possible. This meant I’d have to make an even longer exposure to get any details in the shadows. And all this considered the moon would still be way too bright. So while there, I came up with a solution. If I kept the moon in shadow for most of the exposure and let the rotation of the Earth reveal the Moon from behind the arch for only the very, very last part of the exposure I could get a balanced picture with a moonburst and details in the shadows without using artificial light or stitch multiple exposures together.
Delicate Arch is probably the most famous and iconic arch in the world and not without reason. This lonely arch standing on the edge of the mountain rim makes for some amazing photographs, but this location has of cause been photographed in almost all possible scenarios, so it’s unlikely you’ll make anything original here. You’ll most likely not be alone either in high season, but we actually had the entire area to our selves for the most part besides a few other tourists. Also during high season bring enough water and a cap to cover for the sun on your way back if you go for a sunrise. We went for a sunrise and making your way to Delicate Arch in the dark is a bit hard, when you don’t know the trail, so I’ll recommend making the hike in daylight first. The trail is marked, but it’s still hard to see the path in the dark. If you go in the dark be sure to bring a headlamp. I’d say calculate with 75minutes from the trailhead. This should give you enough time to scout the area and capture potential clouds lit by the rising sun before sunrise. Many of the arches and other structures in Arches National Park are actually mainly known for being photographed in the light from the rising or setting sun, where the orange light lightens up the orange rock, which makes for some outstanding red colors. It is next to nearly impossible to predict if you actually get a good sunset and if you should go for backlit or frontlit and with such big elements in your photos you can’t just run to the other side of it if the light changes. So for the three sunsets, we had in the park I completely missed being at the right place at the right time. The sunrises, on the other hand, was another story. The sunrise at Delicate Arch delivered some beautiful clouds lit by the rising sun and I found some great compositions with leading lines. In December when we were there the light from the sunrise backlits the arch, so you’ll have to take that into consideration. And since I couldn’t do any astrophotography there because of the moon I decided to go for a composite when I came home.
Even though Delicate Arch is probably the most iconic and famous I’d say that I find Double Arches to be at least as fascinating – if not more. It’s located close to the parking lot in an area with a lot of other arches. It’s not easy to capture double arches and to get a great scale of it so be sure to add that human element. The most obvious viewpoint is also the one you get straight in front of it. Just google search Double Arches and the first 50 or so pictures are from that exact location. You can spice it up a bit and find some bushes or leading lines as foregrounds. If you want to capture any photos underneath the arches be sure to bring an ultra wide angle. Even with my 16mm, I had to make panoramas. As with the other locations during the night the moon lit up the entire area making astrophotography impossible. I did decide to go for some star trails instead though. But when we had waited for an hour after sunset for the darkness to come a huge Japanese photography workshop came by. They hooked the entire place for 1½ hour doing light painting, which kinda pissed all other photographers off who were there. But as a theme of this video – when life gives you lemons make lemonade. I decided to use their light show to my benefit and get the arches lit. Shooting with a fairly small aperture I was able to control all the artificial light while I was doing long exposures to capture the star trails. I would then be able to blend it all together in Photoshop later. On top of all this all the sweet Japanese photography beginners seemed to forget they had headlamps on, so while I was doing the last exposures for the star trails and they decided to leave, they kept blinding each other and everything around them with their headlamps. Now, this is not meant as complaining, but I thought it was a fun story to put in here.
Arches national park is a phenomenal national park and there are so much more to explore around the park. Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers, the entire windows section, the petrified dunes, fiery furnace and the entire devil’s garden section just to name a few. Arches is a must-see national park weather or not you’re into photography and it comes highly recommended from here even though it’s a big tourist magnet.