Heading southwest towards Monument Valley on Route 163 near the Utah Arizona border you are greeted by one of the most iconic open road views in the country. Our first glimpse of this amazing vista was in the rear view mirror as we were heading North towards Moab at the time! No doubt you have seen pictures similar to the ones posted today, however I trust you also enjoy these. Please feel free to comment on them and let me know which perspectives you enjoy the best.
The five images to follow were all taken hand-held at focal lengths ranging from 16-105 mm, with the perception of the depth of the image being progressively compressed at the focal length increases. One of the ‘rules’ of wide-angle landscape photography is to have something of interest in both the foreground and background , however this creates a problem for shots like these where the topography is pretty nondescript save for the incredible buttes and mittens that are at least five miles away. To try to follow the rules of composition, I found the largest bush along the road side and positioned it in the foreground of the image, making sure to have the camera high enough that separation was maintained between the bush and the background rock formation.
This next shot was taken from the same general spot as the first image (you can see the bush used as foreground object in the last shot on the right side of this image as well). The only differences being focal length (24mm) and lower camera height to change the perspective making the road more prominant. For this shot I was lying down so the camera was only about six inches above the road. This image is a single frame, cropped to create the panoramic look.
The last three images attempt to find a pleasing balance of perspective and composition resulting in a great photograph, or moving the image from a snapshot to a photograph.
The next image is just a snapshot, taken with the camera at standing height from relatively close to the rock formation. Being too close to the background stops the road from disappearing into a long thin ribbon which takes a way the feeling of great distances and also reduces the ability to sense just how big the rock formations actually are. Both of these problems are compounded by the longer focal length chosen to take the image (105 mm).
The last two shots come the closest to working well at conveying the feeling of what it was like to actually be there. The next image was taken from the farthest point away from the buttes which were about four or five kilometres away. It was taken standing to reduce the relative size of the road in the foreground and including a bend in the road to change the way your eyes are led towards the buttes and mittens in the background.
The last image is my favourite of this group. It was taken from a sitting position in the middle of the road to enlarge the presence of the road slightly as well as allowing the small berms on the roadside to provide some foreground interest. Plus the straight road into Monument Valley takes you immediately to the object of the image. The shot was taken at 65mm at f/16 at 1/100 sec.
The enjoyment of an image is a purely subjective thing, we either like it, don’t like it or are ambivalent towards it. The trick with good photography is to deliver images that someone other than yourself actually likes! To do that we need to learn to always be thinking about the pictures we are taking, and then experimenting with different variations of the same scene like I’ve tried to demonstrate with these images of Monument Valley. The more thought one puts into the exercise before pressing the shutter really helps deliver consistently better images. It is so much easier to improve your skills in the digital age as CF cards are inexpensive and we can take lots of images in order to arrive at a couple of good ones. For this series Deb & I probably spent an hour or so stopping at four or five different spots along the highway and taking about seventy-five images.
If you haven’t already been there, plan a trip to Monument Valley. You will be glad you did!