Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and Tips

Ask anyone who has visited Horseshoe Bend to describe it and I bet that I can predict the reaction:  They will hesitate, then a sly smile will creep across their face…they will slowly shake their head and say:  “Oh yeah…Horseshoe…Wow… you have to see it yourself.”

Horseshoe is one of those places that truly are more emotionally impactful in person than you could ever think possible if you have only seen it in photos.  Try to imagine this…you walk about 30 minutes over a featureless desert landscape…there really isn’t much to see…some mountains out in the distance…lots of sand and slickrock…maybe a Jack Rabbit or two bouncing between brown and thirsty plants.  Then, suddenly, the path ends.  Actually, it doesn’t end, it simply disappears as it abruptly ends at a sheer 1000′ drop.  No handrail, no signs, just this:

Horseshoe Bend Sunset: One of those "OMG" moments. Click on this photo to see a full resolution image.

Horseshoe Bend Sunset: One of those “OMG” moments. Click on this photo to see a full resolution image.

Look at the bottom of this photo…that is a straight drop down to the river…nothing to stop you other than a couple sandstone outcroppings that might slow you down a bit as you bounce off of them:)

Photographer at Horseshoe Bend Arizona. Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

Check out the front leg of the tripod…next step: 1,000 feet straight down!

This vista WILL get your heart kicked into overdrive.  In fact, I’ve seen some folks actually crawl up to the edge on their bellies to take photos because they didn’t trust their legs. But in all fairness, I won’t deny that I had second thoughts as I set up my tripod on the edge. If you are ever near Page Arizona, then this is a stop that you really have to make…it is a visual and emotional powerhouse!  Interested?  if so, then read further for my Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips.

The Basics:

  1. Horseshoe Bend is a loop of the Colorado River 5 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell (just south of the Utah line).  It has its own parking area on the west side of US 89 about 4 miles south of Page, Arizona.  The GPS coordinates are: 36.876246,-111.502788.  This link will show you the parking lot location on Google maps.
  2. There is a (small) sign for Horseshoe Bend, but it is easy to miss.  However, if you keep looking to the west you will see the parking lot…there isn’t a whole lot else out there.
  3. The path to Horseshoe is very easy to follow.  It is about 3/4 of a mile but much of it is over loose sand, so the going is slow.  It is mostly downhill (something to remember for the walk back).  It should take you about 30 minutes depending on your pace.
  4. There is no shade, no water, no bathrooms.  If you are there in the middle of the day during summer, you will need to bring plenty of water.  A hat and sunscreen would be good to have with you too.
  5. It can be pretty windy…bring your sunglasses
  6. Be prepared to meet folks from all over the world!  I had two guys from France on my right a German to my left and a photographer from Mumbai India spent twenty minutes asking about my camera.  You will be surprised how friendly and talkative folks can be when they have this scene before them.

    "Sunset Self-Portrait"

    “Sunset Self-Portrait”

Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips for my fellow Photographers:

  1. Most photographers are going to visit Page because of Antelope Canyon.  The nice thing about Horseshoe is that you can photograph it before or after your day at Antelope.
  2. How much time should you schedule?  Well, if you jumped in your car in Page, drove to the parking lot, hiked to the site, snapped off a dozen shots and hoofed it back to your car, you would be back in Page in less than a total of 2 hours.  If that is all the time you have, then fine.   However, if your schedule isn’t too tight or if you are blessed with a killer sunset, you can easily spend twice that amount of time.
  3. Bring a steady Tripod.
  4. Where to set up:
    1. Once you get to the edge, most photographers just set up their tripods and go to town.  I’d bet that 99.8% of all Horseshoe photos have been taken with 100′ of each other.
    2. Do yourself a favor and show up a bit early and scout around a bit to the left and right.  You just might find a nice bush or a landscape feature that will make your shot stand out from the crowd.  The photo above, with the nice “V” in the rim that focuses your attention on the butte is probably no more than 300′ to the right of the end of the trail.
  5. Lenses:
    1. A 14-16mm lens on a full frame camera will let you capture the whole panorama in a single frame (you will need a 10mm lens on a APS-C, cropped sensor camera).
    2. If you have a fisheye lens, you can have fun with it at this location.  My 15mm fisheye came in handy here.
  6. If you don’t have a wide lens (or if you want a super-high resolution image), you can stitch together a panorama in Photoshop.
  7. Time of Day:
    1. To get an idea about how the light at Horseshoe changes over a day, check out this link.  It shows a wonderful series of photos by Brian Klimowski from pre-dawn to late evening.
    2. My personal favorite time of the day here is sunset.  One hint: most of the scene won’t be in direct light, you will need to use HDR or a strong ND filter to tame the dynamic range.
    3. If you can’t schedule this for a sunset shot, morning can be good as well…
    4. Mid-Day will light up the full scene.  For example here is an afternoon shot I got a few years back:

      Horseshoe Bend Arizona. Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

      Mid-Day perspective

  8. Time of year:
    1. The drama of this scene is undiminished no matter what season you get to see it, however, summer during the rainy (monsoon) season can provide dramatic clouds (see the first shot above…taken in July).  I’d bet this would be an incredible to see covered in snow, but I haven’t been able to capture that shot yet
  9.  HDR tip.  If you are shooting at sunset, you will need at least a full 7 stops of exposure to capture the full dynamic range.
  10. A polarizer will come in handy except at sunrise or sunset.
  11. Be careful of your focus.  With a wide angle or fisheye lens, the lip of the cliff right in front of your tripod will be in your frame, so you will want to either crop that out of your final shot or set your focus accordingly.

There is a whole lot more to photograph in the area (Antelope Canyon, Bryce, Zion, the Wave, etc.)  If you have more than a couple hours to spend in Page, then you might want to check out this blog which gives you pointers on how to best schedule your day to maximize the photographic potential!.

You will enjoy (and certainly always remember) your time at Horseshoe bend. Have fun!

Jeff

PS:  When my son was taking this shot of the photographers lined up on the cliff’s edge he thought:  “You know…one good gust of wind and these guys will be the lead story on the TV news tonight”

Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

One little push…

 

 Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

 

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24 Comments

  1. Sazzad Khan November 12, 2017 at 7:56 am #

    Absolutely stunning photography here. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Naim Islam October 30, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Amazing Guide Idea and the place is really so beautiful. I’m very much attract about your tips. Thanks.

    • Jeff Stamer October 30, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

      Glad you found the guide helpful Naim!

  3. Solaiman Sumon September 26, 2017 at 5:05 am #

    Great guide you have published with us . I’m inspired after seeing your post . Hopefully you will share such post regularly , thanks .

  4. Miriam June 17, 2017 at 3:25 am #

    Hi there – I am going to Horseshoe Bend in July. Every since I was at the Grand Canyon and watched people jump to the lower rocks and get on the edge of the canyon I have gotten terribly afraid of edges. In order to get good shots at Horseshoe Bend, do I need to place myself on the edge or can I stand back a few feet? Any advice is appreciated.

    • Jeff Stamer June 21, 2017 at 8:12 am #

      Hi Miriam,
      I understand that feeling…that one good gust of wind could overcome my sense of balance and then… The good news is that you can get a good shot even if you are a few feet back from the edge. I’d suggest you bring a full sized tripod and extend it to its highest setting…it will be a bit hit and miss until you get the framing right, but it will allow you to get the same perspective you would if you were standing right on the edge. Another way to do this is to belly crawl up to the edge and use a really short tripod…like a gorilla pod. You might look funny but you will get the shot!
      The view is amazing…hope you enjoy it!
      Jeff

  5. Anila July 16, 2016 at 1:49 am #

    The way you have described Horseshoe Bend, I was getting feeling of visiting this place! Its beautiful in one word, and I guess not filter has been applied here. Though seeming difficult still I would love to capture this moment.

  6. Divya May 15, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    Let me start with…..A serious fan and appreciate all the amazing hard work.
    wanted to leave a link here, since you have not seen horse shoe bend in snow 🙂

    http://kamaldivya.blogspot.com/2015/05/snow-horseshoe-bend.html

    • Jeff Stamer May 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

      Hi Divya,
      Thanks for your kind comments! I checked out your picture and boy…now I really want to head back out to Page this winter after a good snow storm! Loved your blog…keep it going!
      Jeff

  7. Arun March 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    Nice one, Jeff !! Have you tried shooting stars over the bend ?

    • Jeff Stamer March 23, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      Hi Arun,
      No, I haven’t tried that yet…but it sounds like a great idea! If you did a dual exposure…one for the landscape and one for the Milky Way I’d bet you could get a great shot. Since the Milky Way appears to the south, I’d have to get to the northern side of the Bend to get the river in the image, but I think it would work. I’d have to bring a great flashlight…I’d hate to miss a step in the dark and trip over that 1,500′ drop! Next time I visit Page, I’ll give this a try. Thanks again!
      Jeff

      • Mark September 13, 2015 at 8:57 am #

        Thanks for this Jeff, I will be visiting from Australia and driving around some of the national parks out of Las Vegas in October for about 5 days, plan to spend one day going to Antelope Canyon, then Horseshoe Bend, try to be there for sunset and then would love to do some astro photograpy there, so hopefully around October 17 or so so hopefully there won’t be any clouds and the Milky Way visible.. 🙂 You can sleep over in your car there can you and be ready to take some photos in the morning or does the car park close do you know??

        • Jeff Stamer September 15, 2015 at 10:25 am #

          Hi Mark,
          Sounds like you have a great trip planned! The car park at Horseshoe doesn’t have any fences or gates, so it doesn’t close. However, most parking lots don’t allow overnight parking. That said, I don’t know how actively that regulation is enforced. Horseshoe is only 5 miles from Page, Arizona, so I’d suggest you get a room at one of the inexpensive hotels there and just drive to Horseshoe in the morning (keep in mind that it is about a 25 minutes walk from the parking lot to Horseshoe).
          Have a great time!
          Jeff

  8. shawn March 25, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    hello,
    thank you for sharing your experience and proffesional thoughts. im planing to go photograph horse shoe bend in May. i use a nikon D7100 with a 18-140mm lens. do you think it will capture the whole horse shoe bend( with my 18-140mm)? thanks in advance!!

    • Jeff Stamer March 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

      Hi there!
      The Nikon D7100 is a fine camera but unfortunately, I think you will need at least a 10mm lens to capture the whole scene. On the other hand, if you have Photoshop, you could take multiple photos with your camera (mounted on a tripod) and then ‘stitch’ them together as a panorama. Either method will work, but I prefer using the wider lens which would also allow you to use HDR to capture multiple exposures a different exposures and thereby capture the full dynamic range.
      Best of luck….and send me copies of your shots after you visit Horseshoe, I’d love to see them!
      Jeff

      • shawn March 26, 2014 at 2:25 am #

        thank you very much for the info. i will look it up on youtube how to stich from PS.

  9. Trevor February 25, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    Hi
    Very helpful blog, thanks for the info. We’ll be there [from the UK] mid morning in August [Antelope later in the day]. I plan on using my Nikon 10-24mm for the full effect. I try not to ‘process’ my pictures after shooting so I’ll have to bracket like mad!

    Regards

    T

    • Jeff Stamer February 25, 2014 at 7:53 am #

      Hi T,
      I’m glad you found the blog helpful…it really warms my heart when someone drops me a line and says thanks. You will have a great time at Horseshoe and Antelope…nothing else like them in the world and an absolute dream for photographers! When you get back to the UK, please share with me your best shots, I’d love to see them.
      Jeff

      • Trevor February 25, 2014 at 7:55 am #

        Will do. One thing, I see mention of “monsoons” in August. Is this an issue?

        Trev

        • Jeff Stamer February 25, 2014 at 9:51 am #

          Hi Trev,
          Moonsoons is what they call their ‘rainy season’ in the southwest. This isn’t like the hurricane season we have in the tropics, with 100mph winds where everyone has to evacuate… so you shouldn’t have to worry about that. The monsoons really amount to getting a shower many/most days, usually in the afternoon. The good side of this is that you can get some wonderful cloud formations that truly enhance your photos. Just take a rain jacket, have something to cover your camera and stay out of canyons when rain threatens.
          Jeff

  10. Anya Melnyk February 8, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Very beautiful shots and such a helpful article! This becomes my number 2 place to photograph.
    Jeff, would you happen to know if there’s a way to get there without having to drive a car? I live in NYC and don’t drive but if there’s a way to get there by bus from the closest city or airport i’d pack and go!
    Thanks for your inspiration!

    • Jeff Stamer February 9, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Hi Anya,
      You will love Horseshoe…it will take your breath away! Page is a small town, I don’t believe they have a municipal bus service. However, I just did a quick on-line search and they do have a few taxi companies. Since Horseshoe isn’t that far from town, it shouldn’t cost much to rent a taxi. You could then call them for pick up when you are done photographing. Page does have a small airport with the primary airline being Great Lakes Airline. Great Lakes flies to Phoenix, Denver, and Los Angeles, so you should be able to get a connecting flight from NYC.
      Good luck and I’d love to see your photos when you get back!
      Jeff

  11. Ed Rosack August 14, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    Nice write up, Jeff. Someday I’ll get there. –Ed

    • Jeff Stamer August 14, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      Thanks Ed…you will love it when you get out there. Let me know when you go and I’ll give you some tips!

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