Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sometimes you've got to be a little bit selfish. This is Delicate Arch, which almost anyone who has seen its likeness on a Utah license plate would know is located in Arches National Park in Utah. On websites like flickr you can find hundreds of pictures of Delicate Arch that look exactly like the one on Utah's license plate. The reason for this is that not only is Delicate Arch a dramatic example of the beauty of collapsing sand stone but it is oriented in such a way that the setting sun lights up the inside of the arch with red light on a clear day. On any given day you will find at least 20 photographers setting up tripods to catch this event, praying that clouds on the western horizon don't ruin their shot. They will wait for hours for the light sun to move into just the right position. They will fiddle with their composition trying to frame the La Sal mountains in the distance with the arch. They will pass around business cards for their respective wedding photography businesses. They will also wish death on any ignorant soul who dares to actually walk up to Delicate Arch as the sun is setting to get a unique view of the awesome and surprisingly large structure.

The first time that I visited Delicate Arch I joined them and set up shop on the side of the amphitheater opposite the arch. I waited there for 2 hours as the sun set, only for it to duck behind some low clouds just as it was beginning to burn red. Some of the photographers looked like they were going to cry! I kicked myself for wasting two hours trying to get a picture that I could have bought a poster of in the gift shop.

When I came back a year later I was determined not to make the same mistake. Once I had made the climb up to Delicate Arch, I got up close from every possible angle. There are steep drop-offs "behind" Delicate Arch making the task of photographing the lesser seen side into a small adventure even requiring an alternate approach along an unmarked trail to safely reach one side (unless you have some really grippy shoes). Once I had reached the back of the arch, I tried my best to stay out of the way of the audience on the other side of the amphitheater but the place has great acoustics and I could hear much grumbling from those on the other side.

The lesson here is to never be afraid of moving away from the crowd to get a different shot of something well known. The people who insist that the only way to photograph landmarks like Delicate Arch is from the "kodak spot" are killing creativity and ruining your vacation! Let people walk into your pictures, they give them a sense of scale. If you're trying to portray desolation at Delicate Arch, you're not fooling anyone who's ever been there. If you're really intent on joining the horde of people selling the same post card, invest in photoshop and clone the people out.

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