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Green River Overlook at Dawn

Green River Overlook at Dawn, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Green River Overlook at Dawn, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Walk up to the Green River Overlook in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah, and the first thing you’ll notice is the scalloped cliffs of the White Rim more than a thousand feet below. A telephoto shot that includes only those curving ramparts, however, doesn’t really capture the feeling of being there. To give the image depth and a sense of place, I wanted an interesting foreground. I arrived before dawn during my first try at finding a great shot and began scouting along the rim. With time running out before sunrise, I picked out the best foreground I could find – a middle-aged Utah juniper – and set up. After photographing a mediocre sunrise, I continued scouting and was both frustrated and excited when I found a juniper with far more character just a hundred yards away. In the dim, pre-dawn twilight, I had overlooked a much better shot than the one I’d actually taken.

I returned before dawn for several more mornings, this time using the more interesting tree to frame up the White Rim far below. One morning a broad bank of clouds, which was behind me and out of my frame, lit up a spectacular red. The colorful clouds, in turn, threw a soft, pink glow over the entire scene in front of me. By the time I realized what was happening, it was almost too late. I was only able to expose two sheets of 4x5 film, each requiring a 30-second exposure, before the glow faded. The unusual light makes this image my favorite rendition of a remarkable place.

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