They’re called Icons for a reason. Anytime a group of photographers get together the talk invariably turns to the list of icons we’ve seen and photographed. We can’t help it. These are places you’ve seen on hundreds of post cards, thousands of calendars, and a significant number of movies and TV shows. Sometimes we even joke about putting our tripod legs in the same holes that have been worn into the rock by untold thousands of tripods before us.
As photographers we have all visited a number of the icons. We know thousands of shooters have created images of these locations but we’re going to photograph them anyway. Just so we can say we did. Sometimes we go back again and again trying to improve on the shots we’ve gotten of a particular location. There’s a contradiction in there somewhere. We all want to create unique images to display our own style yet we’re drawn back to places we may have seen in hundreds or even thousands of images before. We swear we’re not going to photograph icons anymore. But the next year we’re right back. Where does it end?
For years I’ve wanted to get this image of Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. About 20 years ago when I was planning my first trip to Arches and the Moab area I asked a photographer friend who is familiar with the area what his favorite sunrise shot would be. He didn’t even hesitate for half a heartbeat before saying “Mesa Arch.” Based on that, I’ve been to Mesa maybe 6 times in the past trying to capture this specific image but in the past there have been reasons I couldn’t get it. Maybe I slept a little too long and missed the sunrise. Maybe it was cloudy. Maybe there were just too darned many photographers jostling and shoving for shooting space. Mostly it was because of the time of year. This time, just 11 days past the Winter Solstice, the sun is starting to move north but still very far south creating a different angle of light. Earlier in the year, either spring or fall would have the sun too far north thereby washing out Washer Woman Arch. Also, as the sun moves further south towards the solstice it has to penetrate more of the atmosphere when it’s near the horizon and that changes the quality of the light. It’s softer…redder…different than sunrise in May or September. And I finally got the shot. Now I’m left with 2 questions:
1. Could I make the image better? Well, yeah…Ultimately I would possibly have used a longer lens and stood back a ways to achieve the same viewing angle but using a more telephoto perspective to make Washer Woman Arch appear closer. But significantly better? Maybe not so much.
2. Will I be going back to Mesa Arch again? Probably…but not anytime soon. For me this was the Unicorn I’ve been chasing. The conditions were perfect, I had the best equipment I can get my hands on, and my photographic ability is at a pretty high level. I can’t imagine what conditions would possibly allow me to improve on this image. I’ve been chasing it for a long time and finally caught it.
I may go back to Mesa Arch in the future. Maybe if I’m with family or friends who have never been there. Maybe in a few years I’ll go back to remember some of the wonderful things I’ve seen in my life. But as a photographer…to capture a wonderful image….No thanks. I’ve got mine!
But what about you? Have you crossed any icons off your list because you got the image you wanted? Leave a comment and let’s discuss it.