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Think You've Been There, Shot That? Think Again

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Do you feel like you’ve shot everything worth shooting at your favorite national park? Digging deeper may yield fresh results. Here’s how I learned this lesson at Arches National Park.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve photographed in Arches. I shot some of my very first landscape images (really bad ones, if truth be told) in Arches nearly 40 years ago. In 2007 I spent several days figuring out the best time of year to photograph each of the major arches. I knew that at the latitude of Arches the angle of sunrise and sunset varies by about 60 degrees from winter solstice to summer solstice. With that in mind and a compass in hand, I hiked every trail in the park and decided what time of year would provide the ideal lighting angle for each photogenic formation. I even wrote an article for Outdoor Photographer titled The Ultimate Guide to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, describing the results of this effort. Over the next decade, I returned again and again, slowly working my way down my shot list. By last December, I was sure I had exhausted Arches’s photographic potential.

Then I visited again, and was surprised to find that I really hadn’t discovered every possibility after all. The main goal of the trip was to shoot the December 13-14 Geminid meteor shower in Canyonlands National Park, but I added a little extra time after the main event to shoot in Arches. As I was planning the trip I tried to think of fresh possibilities. I knew I would be shooting near winter solstice, when the sun rises and sets farther south than it does at any other time of year. I hoped that would allow me to make some unique images, since I would be able to exploit a lighting angle that would only be possible in mid- to late December.

Figure 1. Turret Arch through North Window, Arches National Park, Utah
Figure 1. Turret Arch through North Window

One of the most famous shots in Arches is the view of Turret Arch through North Window, normally shot at sunrise (figure 1). What if I shot it at sunset around winter solstice? Could the sun set through Turret Arch as seen from North Window?