Tag Archives: Arizona

Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona’s Best Photo Op

You may not of heard of Cathedral Rock, but I’ll bet you’ve seen pictures of it.  Sunset shots of Cathedral Rock are one of the iconic images of the Southwest and it is on the ‘bucket list’ of many a photographer.  Situated near the beautiful and quaint little town of Sedona Arizona, it is in the heart of the famous “Red Rock” landscape that has captivated so many of us.  If you plan to make a trip to the area, then read on and let me help make the most of your visit to Cathedral Rock:  Tips for Sedona’s Best Photo Op.

Cathedral Rock perspective from Buddah Beach (location #2 on the map below)

I thought I had done a solid job researching Cathedral Rock before my first trip.  I had read How to Photograph the Southwest by Laurent Martres (a great series of books for any landscape photographer) as well as a number of other books and internet articles.  For some reason, I had gotten the mistaken impression that I could just drive up a half hour before sunset, walk five minutes down a nice little path, set up my tripod and be good to go. Well, as it turns out….you can’t.  I didn’t get a decent shot until my third trip here.  Here is what I wish I had known:

First of all, you have to find the place:

  • Cathedral Rock is located in a park about 7 miles from ‘downtown’ Sedona.  If you look online you might easily get confused about exactly where the park is and what it is actually called  (I certainly did).  Sometimes it is referred to as Red Rock Crossing Park…other times as the Crescent Moon Picnic Area Park
  •  This website provides a map and good directions.  If you are using GPS, be careful that it selects the right place.  You specifically want the Crescent Moon picnic area in Red Rock Crossing Park.  Again, leave early and give yourself plenty of time.
  • From the “Y” (intersection of US89A and 179) in downdown Sedona, drive west on US 89A.   Just outside of town, turn south on FR 216 (Upper Red Rock Loop Road). Drive about 1.5 miles and follow the signs to Red Rock Crossing. All roads except the short segment leading from Red Rock Crossing Road to the picnic area are paved
  • GPS: N34° 49′ 33.78″, W-111° 48′ 26.7114″

Plan to be at the park at least an hour and a half before sunset:

  • Why so early?  Well the first reason is because sunset will actually be 30 minutes before the “official” time because mountains to the east will block light on Cathedral Rock.  I didn’t know this my first trip and as I pulled into the park, I was greeted by an incredible sunset…but Cathedral Rock was dark: completely in shadow.  I didn’t get a shot worth keeping.
  • Second, traffic in Sedona can be challenging.  It’s one of the few places I’ve photographed in the Southwest where you have to add extra travel-time to your schedule because of traffic.
  • Third, you will need time to scout the area (see below).
  • As of June 2018, you can’t enter the park after dusk but they don’t ask you to leave if you are already there.  However, you are not allowed to stay in the park overnight (no Milky Way shots).

My favorite vantage points:

  • I wasted my second trip to the site by rushing from one end of the park to the other trying to find the ‘classic’ views I had seen in all those photographs.  The park is pretty big and if you don’t know the best vantage points you should expect to invest a lot of time scouting locations.
  • Let me save you some effort by sharing a map with my top 4 favorite spots to set up and photograph Cathedral Rock:
  • Cathedral Rock Photo Guide_0002
  • The map below covers a wider area and lets you see where Cathedral Rock is located in comparison to Crescent Moon/Red Rock Crossing Park:
Photographer's Map of Cathedral Rock

This map shows you the orientation of Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon/Red Rock Crossing Park

A word to the wise:

  • Don’t try to cross the river unless you have a waterproof bag for your camera.  Although parts of the river are shallow (there are even ‘stepping stones’ at one location), the rocks are very slippery.  I have seen a couple of photographers fall in the river and I’m sure it ruined their day.  Frankly, all my favorite locations are on the north side of the river, so I haven’t had an overpowering urge to tempt fate.

Details:

  • There are a slew of different passes and tickets for the multiple photo ops around Sedona.  I found it throughly confusing and expensive.  The one-day entrance fee (Day Pass) is $10 per car at Crescent Moon/Red Rock Crossing .  A better option if you are going to be in the area for a couple of days is to buy a Red Rock Annual Pass for $40.  It will allow you access to all the Red Rock areas including Crescent Moon and it also serves as a parking pass for all the scenic parking areas around town (otherwise, you will pay repeatedly for parking and it will likely add up to more than $40).  This link will take you to a website with details about the ticket options.

    Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona's Best Photo Op

    View from location #4. This is near the far western edge of the park

  • Although photography is best near the end of the day when the setting sun shifts the color of Cathedral Rock into wonderful red hues, there is plenty you could do here if you have interests other than photography (God forbid!)

Equipment

  • Cathedral Rock is off in the distance a bit, so you won’t need an extremely wide-angle lens.  Most of my shots were taken between 35 and 50mm on a full frame camera (22-31mm on a crop-frame APS-C camera).
  • You will need a tripod to take the long exposures necessary to give the water that entrancing ‘silky’ look.  A tripod will also come in handy since you will likely want to use HDR to capture the full dynamic range…especially as the light begins to fade.
  • Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona's Best Photo Op

    I took this shot as an afterthought, but it ended up being one of my favorites. Look for location #3 on the above map)

 

  • HDR can be really helpful here.  As a mentioned, Cathedral Rock will be shaded as sunset approaches, so the dynamic range can be quite extreme.
  • There are a number of other stellar locations near Sedona, including Devil’s Bridge, Bell Rock (covered in a previous post), Airport Mesa, Soldier Arch and the incredible Oak Creek Canyon that runs north of town.  If you like to hike, you will be in heaven.  There are an incredible number of trails that run thru some of the world’s best vistas.

Hope you get a chance to visit Sedona soon!
Jeff

Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona's Best Photo Op

The ‘classic’ view from the western border of the park along Oak Creek (Location #1). This is near the ‘stepping stones’ down a dirt path about 150′ or so beyond the end of the park’s concrete walkway. When you see a small house along the river, stop at the park’s fence line, walk down to the river and you are at the spot.

 

Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona’s Best Photo Op

 

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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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