How to Photograph Abstract Southwest Landscapes

No permits needed to photograph these buttes and mesas near Page, Arizona ©Kit Frost

Use a long lens and get down low to stack forms and compress space.  Nikon 55-300 lens ©Kit Frost

The Four Corners area of the Southwest United States, includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona and is full of locations that offer lessons in composition, light, and the challenge of “getting there”.  We have a plethora (gee I’ve always wanted to say that!) of grand landscapes. Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Grand Canyon, Zion National Parks, and Cedar Mesa, the Slot Canyons of Arizona and Utah, the hoodoos near Lake Powell, Wire Pass Trail and Paria Canyons, to name a few.  And hidden in and around all of these locations are pockets of some of the most interesting land forms in the world.  Great distances separate many of these locations, and a good plan is to pick an area and stay there for a few nights to watch the light and scout locations for the “right time” to be there for the best photographic experience.  I like to camp so that I’m very close to the locations for the first light.  I usually map out a route for a photo adventure, pick a central location to set up camp, or get a motel close to the site.  BLM and Forest Service land in the West offers free camping in some amazing locations.

Red Rock outside of Moab, looking like some sort of snake skin. ©Kit Frost

Reflections work to exaggerate abstract shapes. Underexpose by .07 and open up the shadows in Lightroom.  There is a campground nearby. ©Kit Frost

Once I’ve chosen a location for my adventure, I pour over topographic maps using my iPad app, GAIA GPS.  This application is great for downloading topo maps for use offline (and most of the cool locations in the Southwest do NOT have cell service). I “drop” pins in the locations that look right to me for selecting camp.  Before heading out, I let friends know where I plan to be; I email the topo to them. I have experienced lots of times driving down a 20 mile backcountry road when I was very glad my “go to” person knew where I was.  Plans alter but keeping someone informed is the safest way to go when traveling solo.  It’s big country out there, and that’s why I love to explore it.

Some locations are in National Parks, such as this one in Capitol Reef.  But a 50 mile dirt road is the access. ©Kit Frost

Some locations are in National Parks, such as this one in Capitol Reef. But a 50 mile dirt road is the access. A medium telephoto lens allowed for a wide view while at the same time creating some compression of space.  I love the texture of these forms. Nikon 16-85 lens.  I explored Capitol Reef last winter, staying at the Best Western nearby.  ©Kit Frost

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