Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch at Sunrise is one of those iconic locations that attract a ton of photographers. Since the area around it is not that big, you need to get there early to stake out your desired position. I went here as part of a photography workshop with The Digital Photo Workshops. We started arranging our carpools at 4:30 am in order for us to get there with plenty of time to set up. One of the benefits of going on a workshop, is that they get you to the right places at the best time. 🙂

A tripod is a must for this early hour so everyone has to get in real tight and close as you can see from my cell phone shot.Inline at Mesa Arch

The difficulty I had in choosing my location was that I was using a Canon 60D with a 18-200mm lens. The 60D is a crop sensor rather than a full frame so my angle of view is 1.6x whatever focal length I’m using. The widest I could set my lens at was 18mm which if you multiply that by 1.6 gets an angle of view around 28mm which isn’t that wide. To get the whole arch in my frame, I would have needed to back up, in which case I would have had a long line of photographers in my shot.

The spot I was able to get was on the right side of the arch that along with the foreground rock gives the illusion of a window opening. I knew I wanted to capture the sun as it “burst” over the horizon and that I wanted to be looking through the “window”. I achieved that by collapsing my tripod as low as it would go and sitting down. Not the most comfortable shooting position for an extended period of time 🙂

I setup my camera in Aperture Priority at f/16 to capture the sun as a starburst and to maximize depth of field. I also turned on auto-bracketing, which takes three pictures at different shutter speeds, for every push of the shutter button. The three exposures can be combined in post processing to create HDR images.

With the tripod and camera setup, now it’s time to wait for the sun to make an appearance. This is where the ability to be patient kicks in. I find being with a group helps pass the time. Another benefit to being with a workshop group. On my own, I tend to get bored and impatient and leave places earlier than I should.

This next photograph was made at 6:09 am. It’s light enough to see all the detail in the landscape and has a very cool look to it.
Mesa Arch Morning

This next photograph was made at 6:39 am. The difference 30 minutes can make. I’ve captured the sun at a position that creates a starburst, and the landscape has a much warmer glow. See what I would have missed if I had left after the first photograph?

Mesa Arch Sunrise

The post processing of this image was done back at the hotel during time set aside during the workshop so that the instructors can provide guidance. Jeff, one of the instructors, made suggestions, I would have never thought of on my own.

The combination of being in the right place at the right time with guidance on post-processing, led to one of my most successful photographs.

Click to see my SmugMug gallery from this trip.

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