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.
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?