Capturing Canyonlands

I spent the last few days chasing light and dodging lightning in Canyonlands National Park.

As I hiked around the Needles District, the ever present pop-up thunderstorm made exploring the wide open spaces a challenge. Despite those pesky storms, I managed to find a few good windows when the light was at its best .

For a few years now I have wanted to capture the essence of the desert in Utah, but every time I came home with images, I felt they fell short. So with perfect wildflower conditions this season, I have made it a point to seek out the best wildflower pockets around Utah, and attempt to capture the elusive desert image. I captured the below image as the final moments of sunset caught a low hanging rain cloud just above the cliffs of Indian Creek. I had scouted a runoff wash earlier and found a composition I believed would make for a beautiful sunset if the light began to go nuts. As usual, that composition didn’t work out, but luckily just down the wash, another fishhook cactus was in bloom and I was able to compose a composition before the light disappeared ( a matter of 3 minutes).


Many people think of deserts as arid wastelands, and while some certainly are, most are incredibly diverse and dynamic landscapes. My wife captured 38 different species of wildflowers on her phone over a 4 day period. I managed to capture one. But to me this one image is the culmination of a lot of preparation and research, lack of creature comforts (i.e. showers, toilets, beds) and time and calorie consuming leg work. Any more images I capture of the phenomenal display of desert wildflowers this year will only be icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake,

check out the smooth glazing on this geyser formation near the Green River. At sunset the waters change a myriad of different hues thanks to reflected light from the sky.

The finely layered pools of the geyser allow for endless intimate compositions. I could have spent multiple days exploring the 60 foot area picking out detail after detail. Here is a more traditional landscape image of the location. You can see the finely tiered layers as they rise towards the geyser.


After I was done playing in the pools I headed to the Needles District and sought out the first image in this post.


Once in the Needles District, I hiked out to Chesler Park to get closer to the unique formations. Although the light wasn’t perfect, I managed to come away with a few good shots that I am proud of, including one panorama from right after a heavy downpour as the sun set behind the clouds.


Needing to get back to civilization before someone mistook me for a new species of desert primate, I reluctantly packed up my belongings (now coated with a layer of red earth) and began the trek back to Salt Lake City. I made a few stops along the way. One to an arch near Moab which is now all over the internet, a roadside petroglyph, and another lesser known location (which will remain anonymous) that required some decent rock crawling and low gears.


What A Trip!! I think I returned home with quite a few keepers. Im heading to Arches next, to continue my wildflower search, so check back next Tuesday (21st) for a trip report.

All images © Andrew Lockwood 2019

Knowing When To Give Up

You drive 6 hrs to a location you want to photograph the next morning.

All of your planning and weather apps say it’s going to be the best sunrise of the 21st century.

You sleep curled up in your car, and forego breakfast so you can be on the trail quickly.

You hike out into the wilderness at 5:00 am with a headlamp while the world is still dark.

You spend an hour canvasing the area for that perfect composition.

You find it and set up your camera.

As the sun begins to rise you anticipate how beautiful this image is going to be.

The sun comes up and,


The light begins to “pop off” and illuminate the scene behind you…

Knowing when to give up on a composition is an important lesson for photographers. Analyzing the scene and knowing a few variables will allow you to make an informed decision about whether anything will materialize within your composition. Noticing there were very few clouds above my subject, and seeing how the light was flooding the scene behind me, I made a quick decision to adjust my composition to the other side of this hoodoo.

Thankfully I had scouted a few different compositions in case this very scenario were to happen, and I was able to quickly set up before the beautiful morning light disappeared. It’s important not to get glued to any one composition since variables in weather can affect your image’s outcome. When shooting sunrises and sunsets where it’s important to have a good base of high clouds, I tend to try and find 4 solid compositions; one facing north, one south, one east, and one west. This way when the light begins to go nuts and I’m in the wrong spot, I don’t have to forfeit the morning photoshoot and can still get a great image.

Below is the image I captured once I adjusted to the scenario unfolding around me.


As you can see, by paying attention to my surroundings, and giving up on the other composition, I was able to create a far greater image. After I had this image in the bag, I was able to play around a bit with some other compositions I had in mind.


The Grand Canyon: A photographer's paradise.

As outdoor photographers we strive to bring the incredible beauty that we witness in the natural world to our viewers. Sometimes even the greatest photograph cannot do a place justice. Such is the case with the Grand Canyon. Words are hard to describe it, and a photo is worth a thousand words, and yet I still find myself struggling to convey the immensity of this place.

The Grand Canyon is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Perhaps this is because to believe in its immensity, one must see it in person.

I only spent two days on the rim of the canyon, and I can honestly say that there is a lifetime of exploration here. On my first evening I walked along the south rim, to Hermits Rest (the last stop on the shuttle) in search of a composition I had yet to see online. I knew I wanted to see the Colorado River below, and capture the rays of light from the setting sun as they flooded into the canyon. I have never been to a national park as crowded ( Zion National Park was a close second) and navigating the throng of people was difficult at times. I managed to find a secluded spot between two shuttle stops, that I thought would give me the best chance of the image I was looking for. We set up shop and waited (and waited). When the light finally got good, I took two images. The first image I took was the layers of rock as they receded into the distance. The second image I took of the Colorado River as the sun began to set.


The following morning, I woke up for sunrise and wandered out to see what I could find. I didn’t stray far knowing I had to leave for home shortly after sunrise, so I wandered along Mather Point behind the visitor center. I was surprised at the lack of people out. I had always heard that sunrise in the Grand Canyon can be a busy affair. I had the majority of the area to myself and didn’t feel crowded as I set up a composition. There were beautiful lenticular clouds above the canyon as the sun began to rise. A pinkish orange glow began to light the scene in front of me, and I took two more photos. One capturing the lenticular clouds and the vastness of the Grand Canyon, the other a close-up of a light ray as it fell into the canyon.


As I begin blogging more frequently, I hope to bring discussion into the forefront of the blog.

Which of these four images is your favorite, why? Don’t like any of them? I want to hear about that also.

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Rain Rain Go Away...

After a few days reprieve from the driving winds we experienced in Death Valley and the Alabama Hills, we headed back out I-80W to explore the Big Sur coastline, and Yosemite National Park. Our first stop was just outside of San Francisco, where we camped at Bicentennial Campground in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. At sunset we crossed the bridge and made our way to Marshall Beach. Sunset was not going to be visible due to incoming storms still out at sea, so I focused on the bay instead and created a moody long exposure image.


The light faded fast, and the tide was coming in as well, so I packed up after this shot and headed back to the campground. When morning came, we made a short drive to a viewpoint overlooking the bridge so I could capture San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the bay in the background. Sunrise was much kinder than the previous night’s sunset, and I managed to capture a warm glow across the bay that would prove to be the last time we saw the sun for the remainder of the trip.


When the sun became too harsh for my photographic liking, we packed up and made our way to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is an incredibly peaceful place and is located in an unassuming valley. In fact I didn’t believe I was there until I stepped out of my vehicle. The place is incredibly quiet and intimate. I could have spent a few days here, however we had other plans and this was just a side trip. After about 4 miles of hiking I found an image that I had hoped to take. I searched for a nicely spaced set of Coastal Redwoods that had foliage entering the frame from a few select angles to naturally vignette the behemoths.


Happy with the image, and knowing we had a four hour drive down the coast to Big Sur, we reluctantly left the peaceful solitude of Muir Woods, and headed down the legendary Highway 1. Unfortunately for us, rain, rain, and more rain was on the way, and as we arrived at our campsite we realized it was going to be a tough couple days. We headed to Mcway Falls, a popular destination along Highway 1 where a forty foot waterfall falls onto a sandy beach in a small alcove among towering cliffs. To my delight we arrived and there were not many photographers in the area (probably due to the inclement weather forecasted). I was able to set up a composition with some wildflowers in the foreground. The area seemed heavily trafficked and I was careful not to add to the damage that had been done to the area. Julia Pfeiffer State Park was closed due to storm damage that happened in 2017, and a bit from this year as well, and the only area where these falls are viewable from is the car park off Highway 1. The weather was turning on us and I framed my composition to exclude the horizon because it was as bleak as could be, and instead made the focus the vibrant wildflowers that pointed out to sea.


As I packed up the camera and made my way back to the car, the first evidence of what the night had in store made its appearance. After a nutrient packed dinner of “Beans n’ Weenies” (look it up), we went to bed early, determined to get up and try to get another photograph of the area. Mother Nature had other plans however, and after being buffeted with torrential rains the entire night, we arose to our tent site actively being turned into a lake. With 4+ inches of standing water and a small stream flowing into it, it was safe to say we were done here. Miraculously, the interior of our tent stayed dry and we were able to pack up our sleeping bags and pads in relative comfort. The tent on the other hand had to be balled up and thrown into a trash bag to be dried out somewhere else. We looked at the forecast for the next few days and realized that the storm of storms had descended on Big Sur and was going to make its way towards our next destination over the following few days. We made the decision to jump ship, and headed for Yosemite National Park in hopes of beating the storm. We found a cheap AirBnB just outside the park since our tent was incapacitated, and made that our base of operations for the next two days. Yosemite was drier than Big Sur, but not by much. A winter storm had devastated much of the valley floor, and our original campground was closed due to fallen trees. Nevertheless, as we came through the tunnel the following morning, I can honestly say that my jaw dropped. Filled with fog, and with dense clouds above, the sense of mystery over Yosemite Valley was indescribable. I set up the camera at the well known Tunnel View parking area, and waited for the magical moment. Thankfully it came, and I managed a series of images over the next hour as the sun steadily rose. The first image I took in tribute to the great Ansel Adams who helped make this valley famous. El Capitan is shrouded in cloud on the lefthand side, while Half Dome is just barely visible almost dead center. Bridalveil Falls is in the right third of the image while the Merced River can be seen snaking around the valley floor. This is a popular location to photograph, but the spitting rain and cold temps kept most of the photographers away.


After I took the traditional image of Yosemite, I was drawn to the different shapes of the landscape. I got out my 70-200 lens and focused in on El Cap, which was beginning to peak from the clouds. The warm yellow- orange morning light mixed with the blueish- purple rain sodden clouds would have made color theory gurus go insane as the two colors blended effortlessly together.


I quickly shifted my focus to the forest on the valley floor as the fog began to overcome the area, set a composition, and fired the shutter again.


Moments later, the fog settled in so thick you could stir it with a spoon. I decided to make my way to the valley floor to see what it had to offer. I tried hard to forget the images I had seen of Yosemite, and focus on what was happening in the moment. Because of the thick fog and time of year, many of the traditional shots and locations were inaccessible. In a way this made me happy because I was able to focus on photographing things my way without social media, and other photographers influencing my work. I captured a few images through the fog that I am happy with. We hiked a total of 9.5 miles and didn’t see the sun once before we made our way back to our AirBnB.


The following day we arose to conditions similar to that of the previous morning. Fog covered the valley floor and El Cap was stubbornly cloaked in cloud. I set up my camera anyway and donned my rain gear. I stood on a bank of snow for an hour before the sun illuminated some clouds that were hanging over the valley. I took my final image of Yosemite.


We ended our trip a day early because the storm that hit us in Big Sur had finally made its way to the mountains; promising feet of snow in certain areas. Ill equipped for such an expedition, we packed up shop and headed home before the mountain passes became impassible. I hope to return to Yosemite someday and photograph it in a different setting, but my first experience was truly unforgettable.